The Real Story of the Spell: Cooperative Thaumaturgical Preparation in DFRPG

So, as you know if you’ve been following my blog, I’m starting a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. In fact, the first session is this coming Saturday. The past week or so, I’ve been helping my players get their characters finished up, and thinking about how I’m going to run this game.

One of the challenges I’m facing is that I’ve got two Thaumaturgists in the game. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Thaumaturgy, when it happens and you pay attention to it, can take over the focus for a significant amount of game-time, and with two Thaumaturgists, I’ve had some concerns about whether that will force the other characters into the background1.

Why? Well, because when someone decides on using Thaumaturgy, they snag the GM’s attention while they work out complexity, make up the Lore deficit, and then do the actual casting, possibly dealing with the fallout or backlash2. That can eat up a good chunk of time for every spell they cast.

And it occurred to me. One of the biggest time sinks in using Thaumaturgy is the preparation phase -  the time when the Wizard was trying to make up the Lore deficit with maneuvers. The player spends some time looking over his or her skill list, trying to see what skill will work to put a maneuver on the spell for that all-important two-shift bump to Lore, while everyone else looks on, maybe making suggestions, maybe having side conversations, maybe wandering away for a bit.

But nowhere in the book does it say that the Wizard is the one who has to put the Aspect on the spell3. In some ways, it’s strongly implied – the examples all talk about Wizards making up the Lore deficit on their own spells. But some of the things you can do to add that Aspect are not necessarily things that need a Wizard.

The main thing with spellcasting in the game is that, mechanically, it is complex enough to require attention, but all the interesting bits happen narratively. That’s why there’s a sidebar stressing the importance of telling the story of the spell – making the preparation and casting of the spell interesting and involving. So, it makes sense that, in a game where you have several characters, that a person casting a spell would rope in some of his or her buddies to help with getting things ready.

So, send your cop buddy out to check the crime scene for blood – the sympathetic link you need to the creature that killed the schoolboy. Get your rich friend to buy you the amethyst you need to powder for the ritual. Send four other folks out to specific points on the map to act as the other points of your pentagram. Get that scholar in your group to look up the proper form of address for Sumerian royalty so that the ghost of the king will talk to you. They’re probably better at these things than you, anyway.

Does that sound like cheating? I mean, you’ve got Mediocre Athletics, so you get your pal with Superb Athletics to climb the cliff face to get water from the spring in the sacred cave. How is that fair? You’ve just co-opted someone else’s abilities, right?

Fair doesn’t enter into it, in my opinion. What you’ve done is taken a character who would otherwise have been sitting around waiting for his or her turn, and you’ve given him or her an opportunity to show off what that character is good at. And the GM can throw in a bit of interesting business with the whole thing, like maybe having to dodge a rock slide or leap over a crevasse, to throw a little bit of the spotlight on that character4.

In fact, if the spell is important enough5, you can have entire sessions that revolve around the preparation for a spell. Maybe the group needs to sneak into a secure place to work the ritual. The entire process of sneaking in can be a session, adding either a single Aspect that’s needed to the spell, or even adding a whole sequence of Aspects as people deal with things during the stealth mission to make sure that things go off without a hitch.

Like what? Well, how about Security Monitors Spoofed, Guards Rerouted, Doors Barricaded, Approaches Under Surveillance, and The Perfect Spot all working to give the spellcaster enough time to work the ritual without interruption?

It’s all about dramatizing the preparation6 and involving the entire group. It’ll bring the story of the spell front and centre, and give everyone a hand in crafting it. And that just makes the game better.

It gives everyone a taste of the magical cool that is the Dresdenverse.

  1. I don’t really think it will, but it’s something to be aware of, so I can make sure it doesn’t happen. []
  2. Details on all this stuff can be found in these two blog posts. []
  3. I fully expect that many of you were there ahead of me. Sometimes, little observations like this can take a while to make it to my brain. []
  4. Remember that thing I said back here about helping each other find the cool? Well, here ya go. Concrete example. []
  5. This bit is vital. You don’t want to waste this schtick on every little spell that should be cast without any roll. Save it for when it’s something big and cool and important. []
  6. This is something I’ve been doing sort of half-consciously, but not explicitly enough, in the Fearful Symmetries game, with Izabella’s investigation of the curse on Gold Lane. So far, she’s racked up four Aspects of the spell: Bound Angel, Anchor Points, Christian Magic, and Curse of Unsleeping. She’ll be able to use these Aspects to help her craft the ritual to unravel the curse when she makes up the Lore deficit. []
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4 Responses to The Real Story of the Spell: Cooperative Thaumaturgical Preparation in DFRPG

  1. Shawn C says:

    The rules say the wizard may hire others for parts of the preparation. Specifically the second paragraph under Symbolic Links on OW 267. I do like extending that to all of the preparation. If I remember correctly, Harry has had assistance with drawing circles in some of the books.

    Have to admit I only knew that because I’ve been going through the rules to create a cheat sheet for thaumaturgy. Trying to make evaluating complexity faster.

    SC

  2. Greg says:

    I run a big group (7 players) and this has pretty much been my saving grace… even when someone is whipping up thaumaturgy on the fly (like looking into the eyes of a dead homeless man under a bridge), other players can be assisting (investigation for crime scene, scholarship for cause of death)… then the wizard tags it all. This lets me keep a spell like that in basically “actions”, where everyone still gets a turn.

  3. Zooroos says:

    I have only two players, of which only one of them is a thaumaturge, so it never occurred to me about this possibility. As usual, another great insight, thanks Rick!

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