Dresden Files RPG by Piell
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Well there's been some discussion about it, so I figured now would be a good time to review it. I'll be telling you all about an RPG based on the popular book series about Harry and his friends!
No, wait, hang on, that's the wrong Harry.
THERE we go.
The Dresden Files roleplaying game is awesome. It leverages the FATE system superbly well to both emulate the source material extremely well and be really fun to play.
What's the Dresden Files?
The Dresden Files is a series of books by Jim Butcher (currently 13 published, with one more coming before the end of the month, and twenty three total planned) Harry Dresden stars as the only wizard listed in the phone book, and acts basically like a combination of Spider-man and a noir detective. You can go to the Book Barn thread about the series to read about it, but the DFRPG books hit the highlights of the setting.
Chapter One: Harry's World
For most people, Chicago is Chicago, America is America, and Earth is Earth—but there’s more to the world than that.
Maxims of the Dresdenverse
There are a few major themes running through the books that show up again and again, and these are important in the RPG as well.
1) Monsters have nature, mortals have choice. Most monsters are just plain faster, tougher, or stronger than people. What they don't have is choice . A Red Court Vampire is always going to be looking to drink blood. A fae is always going to keep to the letter of their word (but almost never the spirit). But a mortal? They can do whatever they want to - assuming they can survive the consequences.
2) Things fall apart. The world is going to hell. People have choice, yeah, but all too many of them are making the wrong ones, and the monsters are cheering them on. The police are corrupt, ghosts suck the life out of babies, the fae work behind the scenes to control and corrupt. But some people stand against this. Wizards, people of faith, those with strange powers, and just regular folks standing against the darkness. They haven't quite given up yet.
3) Science fails. Monsters break the laws of physics as fly, ignore bullets, and tear steel like tissue paper. Around wizards, modern technology just fails. On the other hand, it can also save you. A balloon filled with holy water against a vampire, a flamethrower, pinning a faery into a steel fence - if you can figure out their weaknesses, these things can save your life. Just don't get them mixed up.
4) Belief is power. Your faith - in religion, a philosophy, your own personal willpower - can be a shield and a weapon. Miracles can happen - but that doesn't mean they will
5) Magic is what you are. If you have magic, it comes from your belief and your self, and doing magic can change you. If you start messing with dark magic, it starts messing back, and that leads to more dark magic. If you get into that spiral, it's hard to get out.
The BasicsOriginal SA post
After it explains a bit about the setting, the book goes into an explanation of the FATE system, which the Dresden Files RPG runs off of.
Dealing with the Dice
FATE uses 4 Fudge dice, which are special d6's that have a - on two sides, are blank on two sides, and have + on the last two sides. You roll four of these at a time, and each - gives -1 to the roll and each + gives +1 to the roll. Thus, you get a bell curve of -4 to +4, centered at 0. If you don't have Fudge dice, you can roll regular d6's and treat 1-2 as -, 3-4 as blank, 5-6 as + for the same result. You'll roll these against either a target difficulty set by the GM, or as an opposed roll. For every point higher than the difficulty you roll, you get what is called a shift, which generally translates into degrees of success. If you get exactly the result, you did the job just good enough to get it done. If you get 5 shifts, you did an awesome job a it.
Unlike a lot of other systems, FATE doesn't use stats, only skills, and each FATE game has a different variety of skills based on the setting. Pretty much every time you roll the dice, you'll be adding a skill to it. Skills for characters usually range from 0 to +5, with higher levels only seen in specific cases due to stunts and powers (see below). There will be a skills chapter coming later.
Aspects (and the associated fate points) are the real meat of the system. Each character (as well as locations, enemies, and many other things) have a set of traits known as aspects. Aspects are what really define your character and make them unique. They can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items, or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character. Examples are No Sympathy for the Devil, Apprenticed To A Four Foot Tall Fourth Grader, My Life for the White Council, Bloody Crazy and Bloody Minded, Veteran of the Vampire War, and Nobody from Nowheresville.
Stunts are special tricks and knowledges your character has. They generally modify a specific use of a skill, giving a bonus or making it faster, or broadening its use somehow. There will be a stunts power coming later.
If it goes behind what a normal mortal can do, it goes here. Magic, supernatural strength, flight, shapeshifting, things like that.
Fate points are the other driving factor to the system, along with aspects. Each character has a number of fate points, which you can use in four separate ways.
1) Gain a bonus. You add +1 to a dice roll. This is basically the weakest way you can spend a fate point, and you almost never want to do this.
2) Invoke an aspect. This, on the other hand, is probably the way you'll most often use a fate point. When you have an aspect that applies to a situation (for example, having No Sympathy for the Devil when fighting a demon), you can invoke the aspect and get either a +2 bonus to a roll or to reroll it entirely. This doesn't just mean your aspects, either. You can compel aspects on an enemy (Walks with a Limp), on a scene or location (Flickering Lightbulb), or even city/setting aspects (discussed in the next chapter).
3) Activate stunts or powers. Some stunts and powers require a Fate point to use them, generally particularly potent ones.
4) Make a declaration. Declarations are statements about a scene or character that are true. Generally you make a skill roll to do this, but if you don't want to take your chances you can just burn the fate point. Declarations are intended to add things that would make something interesting or cooler, and are subject to veto by the GM. You probably couldn't declare that the bad guy drops dead of a heart attack, but what if the shelf he was hiding behind contained Propane Tanks?
Recovering Fate Points
There are two ways you get Fate Points back. The first way is the easiest - you recover up to your starting fate points each time you start a session. This is known as a refresh. Some exceptions apply - if you ended the session in the middle of the fight, you aren't going to refresh until after it's over, and if you have a substantial amount of downtime mid-session you might refresh then.
The other way to get fate points back is to get compelled. A compel is like an invoke in reverse - instead of spending a fate point on an aspect to gain a bonus, the DM (or even you!) can compel an aspect to cause problems for you, and in return you get a fate point. This goes to the process- vs results-sim mentioned earlier in the thread. In a game like GURPS, an alcoholic rolls a dice every so often and if he fails, he has to go get drunk, and the player feels like he failed. In FATE, an Alcoholic goes drinking when he needs a drink, and the player gets a bonus for it. You can buy off a compel by paying a fate point to the GM instead, if you really can't afford to go drinking right now.
And that's the core of FATE! Overall, it's relatively simple but works well.
The CityOriginal SA post
Now that we've got the basics of setting and system down, now it's time to get into the creation of ... the city!
Yes, in Dresden Files you and you group create the city you'll be playing in before you create your characters. The fact that this is included in the game seems kind of strange, to me. The book series is nominally set in Chicago, but there is nothing particularly Chicago-y about the series. It namedrops landmarks once in a while, but in principle it could just be as easily set in New York or San Francisco or pretty much any other big city. It definitely doesn't have the sense of place that, say, the Rivers of London series has. Still, it's a pretty neat idea and well done.
Basically, rather than the GM coming up with everything, and everyone showing up to the first session with their characters already created, the book suggest setting aside the first session for city and character creation (character creation will be in the next update).
The first step is to choose your city (or not, as it is), and the book has a couple suggestions about how to do this. The first option is to pick your city. You probably know it pretty well if you've been living there for a bit, and even if you haven't you can walk or drive around for a bit looking for neat locations and ideas. The second option is to choose a city everyone is personally familiar with, usually something nearby, which basically gives you a bit more options while still letting personal knowledge about it to assist. The third suggested option is to use a city everyone is used to seeing on TV - Chicago, New York, etc. You get more of a caricature than the real thing, but everyone still has a starting point for knowing what it's like. The final suggested option is the "out of the box" option. The book has a detailed writeup on Baltimore, and a more bare-bones writeup on Chicago.
Researching your city
So now that you've picked a city, how do you find out more about it? You can hit the library or bookstores - librarians are awesome about finding neat things. You could travel there and just look around, hitting visitor's centers and grabbing pamphlets, stopping by any college campuses, going to coffee shops and looking for local papers. The easiest option is to search the internet, and see what you can find. And finally, there is the so-called "Vancouver" method. Rather than spending a ton of time researching, just make up whatever you want and claim it's in your city!
A city full of problems
So now that you know where to look, what are you looking for? What you need are some problems the PCs can contend with, and the DFRPG breaks it into Themes and Threats. Themes are problems that have been around for a while, and people take them for granted. It's a statement that recurs when stories are told about the city.
Some themes are general, things everyone talks about (even if not everyone is directly afected). A city known for corrupt politicians might have a theme like “If he’s a politician, he's mobbed up.”
Some themes are more specific to a group in the city. A college town with notorious fraternity of wealthy troublemakers might have “If the Beta Alpha Chis want it, they get it.”
Some themes are about cautionary tale people tell each other. Imagine the city where “If a pretty girl wanders alone at night, don’t expect to see her again” is a theme.
Threats, on the other hand, are a person, monster, group, or even a condition that is making life worse for the residents.
Some threats are people or other beings that have no clear agenda (at least, not right away), but make their presence known through their collateral
damage or other horrible calling cards. Perhaps “A new warlock is breaking the Laws of Magic.”
Some threats give you an idea of their agenda, such as “The Red Court is
expanding their territory into this city.”
Some threats are bizarre and more metaphysical than real, though they don’t threaten mortals any less, such as “The Summer and Winter Courts are using this city in their machinations.”
You'll generally want to come up with around three themes and threats.
Getting the High Level View
Now that you've got your themes and threats, you'll want to come up with Faces, which are individuals and organizations that are associated with those themes and threats. If you've got the Summer and Winter Courts of fae in town, you'll probably want to come up with a few big shits on each side. If the politicians are owned by the mob, you'll want to have a few politicians and mob bosses available. Think about who opposes the themes or threats, who wants to keep the status quo, and who wants to toss over the whole house of cards.
At the same time, what is the status quo? Is one group firmly in charge, or are several equal groups sharing the limelight? Who's got the power in the supernatural world, and who's powerful in the mundane one? Faces should have a High Concept (Troll Lord, The Power Behind the Mayor's Throne, etc) and a motivation (what do they want to change, or to stay the same?)
Once you've got some Faces, come up with some locations, either neighborhoods or points of interest. Where do the mobsters hang out? Where do ley lines of power intersect? Where do the vampires hunt? Each location should be connected to a theme or threat, as well as a face.
Now, none of this needs to (or should be) in depth. A sentence or two is enough to set the stage and spur ideas once you start playing.
Not all games are set in a single city - maybe you're a globe-trotting wizard strike force or a pair of brothers going around America hunting monsters. In this case, you just need to think bigger about locations (a small town, the big city, the middle of nowhere) and smaller about motivations (have the themes and threats revolve more around PCs than the city).
On the Fly City Creation
Of course, to some people this seems like a lot of work. In this case, just pick a city and a single theme or threat, and have the few few sessions revolve around that. Then, as the game goes on, just build on it until you have it more fully fleshed out.
Power Level/Types & TemplatesOriginal SA post
Power Level/Types & Templates
I'm skipping the character creation chapter and heading to this one first. Someone mentioned earlier that the book isn't laid out that well, and unfortunately I have to agree. At least there is a pretty good glossary and index at the end of the book.
This is basically equivalent to level in d20 based games or points total in point based games. There are four listed levels, and they determine your starting skill points, how many points you can have in a single skill, and what your starting refresh is. Refresh is used to buy stunts and powers during character creation and advancement; in play, it determines how many Fate Points you start with each session. Feet in the Water gives 20 skill points, 6 refresh, and a skill cap of +4. Up to your Waist gives 25 skill points, 7 refresh, and a skill cap of +4. Chest-Deep gives 8 refresh, 30 skill points, and a skill cap of +5. Finally, Submerged gives 10 refresh, 35 skill points, and a skill cap of +5. You can never go below 1 point of refresh - if you do, you become an NPC.
A template is a pre-packaged set of powers that are intended to cover humans and most of the partly-human types. You aren't required to take a template (and if you aren't using the Dresden Files setting most of them won't fit that great anyway), but it's a good idea and you can fit most concepts into one of them. Each template has powers that you are required to take (and thus a minimum refresh cost), and gives some that are optional.
Pure Mortal : You're just a regular joe without any supernatural abilities. You can't take any powers, but in exchange you get an additional 2 points of refresh. Pure mortals don't have to take any stunts (and can't take powers), and so they don't have a minimum refresh cost.
Champion of God : You've been called by the Almighty (in one of many possible guises) to defend against the dark. You're more than just a person of faith, you're God's warrior. You have to take the faith powers Bless This House, Guide My Hand, Holy Touch, and Righteousness, for a total minimum cost of 5 refresh. The option listed on top of that is to have a Sword of the Cross (a powerful holy sword, only 3 of which exist) for another 3 points of refresh.
Changeling : One of your parents was some type of faerie. At the moment, you are still living as a mortal. However, they always have the opportunity to make the Choice - either becoming a Pure Mortal and losing all their supernatural powers, or becoming a full fae (and possibly become an NPC as the additional powers drag their refresh below 1). The powers list is highly variable, as you and the DM work it out beforehand based on what type of faerie your parent is. This template is also used for Scions - basically half human, half something else. It's kind of a catch-all for ideas that don't fit perfectly into another category.
Emissary of Power : You're a mortal who is important because of who you represent, rather than your own individual power. Again, this is another catch-all category. You must take the Marked By Power power, for a minimum refresh cost of 1. Emissaries can conditionally take almost any power, and often have Items of Power or Sponsored Magic.
Focused Practitioner : You aren't a wizard, you're a pyromancer, or a diviner, or an alchemist, whatever, either because that's the only thing you're trained in or because that's the only thing you can do. You either take Channeling (quick and dirty magic, useful in a fight) or Ritual (slower but can be more powerful and longer lasting) for a single element or focus, either of which costs 2 refresh. You can take the Sight (magic-vision) or Refinement (but only to give you additional magic item slots)
Knight of the Faerie Court :You're the champion for either Summer or Winter. Dresden Files canon-wise there's only one of each side, but the book suggests that you can increase that number as needed. You must take either Seelie Magic or Unseelie Magic, and the Marked by Power power, for a total of 5 minimum refresh. You can optionally take other faerie powers or Inhuman Strength, Speed, Toughness, or Recovery.
Lycanthrope : Not werewolves, despite the name. Lycanthropes are connected to a wolf-(or other animal)-like spirit. On and around the full moon, they get Inhuman Strength and Recovery, and all the time they have Pack Instincts and Echoes of the beast powers, for a total of 4 points of refresh cost (the strength and recovery powers are discounted due to only in use around 5 days of the month).
Minor Talent : You don't do magic, but there's something special that you can do. You take a single 1 or 2 point power, usually from the Minor Ability or Psychic Ability sections of the supernatural powers list.
Red Court Infected : You're a vampire - and not the cool kind either. Full Red Court vampires are giant batlike creatures hidden inside a human flesh mask, drool narcotic blood, and feed on blood. Luckily, you're not a full-fledged one yet. As long as you haven't killed and fed on someone yet, you're still mostly human - just with some extra powers. The downside? When you use those powers, it gets harder to control your lust for blood. You have the powers Addictive Saliva, Blood Drinker, Feeding Dependency (actually a discount), and at least one of Inhuman Strength, Speed, Toughness, or Recovery, for a minimum refresh cost of +3. If you ever kill someone and drink their blood, you immediately "upgrade" into a full fledged Red Court vampire, usually turning you into an NPC. Options are Tattoos of St. Giles (which help you control your bloodlust) and Cloak of Shadows.
Sorcerer : Sorcerers are wizards who aren't in the White Council. They tend to dabble (or revel) in black magic, and can be just as powerful as a full wizard. They must take Evocation (quick and blasty magic) and Thaumaturgy (slower but longer lasting/more powerful) for 6 refresh. Almost every sorcerer also has the Sight, and they can take Refinement once for each of Evocation and Thaumaturgy. Note that with 6 refresh cost, you can't play a Sorcerer at Blood in the Water leve.
True Believer : More than Pure Mortal, less than a Champion of God. You must take Bless this House and Guide My Hand, for 2 points of refresh, and you can optionally take the other faith-based powers or have a holy relic Item of Power.
Were-form : Your semi-classic werewolf. In this case, you do actually turn into an animal. However, you can do it whenever you want, you aren't especially vulnerable to silver, and you can't do a wolfman hybrid form. You're either born this way or learned how to do it. You must take Beast Change, Echoes of the Beast, Human Form (discount for losing your animal powers while in human form), and at least 2 refresh from the Creature Feature, Minor Ability, or Inhuman Strength/Speed/Toughness/Recovery, as long as they are part of a creature's natural abilities. The minimum refresh cost is 3 points, but werewolves are around 6 or 7.
White Court Vampire : Now, these are the cool, sexy vampires. However, they don't drink blood - they drain emotions instead. There are three types, arranged into families. Malvora usually feeds on fear, Raith on lust, and Skavis on pain and despair. In addition they are harmed by the opposite emotion (True Courage for Malvora, True Love for Raith, and True Hope for Skavis). Unlike Red Court Vampires, White Court vampires are born, not made. They must take Emotional Vampire, Human Guise, Incite Emotion (touch only), Feeding Dependency, Inhuman Recovery, Inhuman Speed, and Inhuman Strength, for a total cost of 7 refresh. They can optionally upgrade the Incite Emotion and Inhuman Recovery powers.
White Court Virgin : White Court Virgins are those born to at least one White Court parent who have yet to kill someone through feeding on them. At this point, they might not even know they aren't fully human (and most White Court families purposefully keep them in the dark about it). They must take Emotional Vampire and Incite Emotion (Touch only). Options are to take one or two abilities from the full White Court Vampire list, but using them makes them ravenous to feed and likely to kill whoever they feed upon.
Wizard : You're a full fledged Wizard of the White Council. You must take Evocation, Thaumaturgy, The Sight, Soulgaze, and Wizard's Constitution, for a total of 7 points of refresh. Thus, if you start with one of the first two power levels, you can't yet be a full wizard.
And that's the list! Next time, I'll go through character creation.
Character CreationOriginal SA post
So now that we know what the different templates are, it's time to actually make characters! The DM will choose a power level, and each player can pick a template or make their own.
Step 1: High Concept and Trouble
The first step is to choose two of your most important aspects, your character's High Concept and Trouble. The High Concept is basically the character summed up in a couple words. Generally, your template will come into play somehow (especially for non-Pure Mortals). If you're a werewolf or a wizard or an emissary of power, that's something that defines you. But you can't just go put down Wizard, that's too boring! There are a ton of wizards out there, so you need to come up with a high concept that defines your character. You're not just a regular wizard, you're a Sixth Generation Blood Magus or the Junior Warden of Louisiana or a Time Traveling Cowboy Wizard.
The Trouble aspect is something of a flip side to this. If your High Concept defines who and what you are, your trouble defines what complicates your high concept. It could be a personal trait or an external problem. Either way, it should be something that compels you to act, something that gives you motivation to do something. Troubles will be compelled by the GM (or through a self-compel), but they can also be invoked as well. Maybe you're Death Cursed, or Only 10 Years Old, or Struggling Against an Unbelieving Bureaucracy.
Step 2: Phases
Now that we've got a High Concept and a Trouble, we need to round it out with a few more aspects - five, to be exact. Characters in the DFRPG aren't the wandering murderhobos that PCs are in a lot of other games - they have a history and contacts, and their past helps to define them. Each phase consists of two parts: a summary of what happened in a part of your life, and an aspect that reflects some part of that phase.
Phase 1: Where Did You Come From? This covers your youth to young adulthood. Most characters at this point will be human or seem mostly human. It's the "normal" part of your life.
Phase 2: What Shaped You? This is where your high concept strongly comes to the forefront, either when they acquired their abilities or when they were forced to take decisive action or make a choice.
Phase 3: What Was Your First Adventure? Yes, DFRPG have already done things by the time you start gameplay. The book suggests thinking of it as the first book/episode/case/movie starring your character. The really neat thing is that this isn't a solo story - once you've decided a story skeleton, you hand it off to another player (either randomly or just pass it around in a circle).
Phases 4 & 5: Whose Path Have You Crossed? So now you have someone else's story. Now, you work out how you were involved in it. Did you work alongside them, or help them behind the scenes? Did you oppose them at some point, or make their situation more difficult? Once you've done this, you pass the story down the line once more for a third character to work themselves into the story.
Once this is all done, you have a party of characters who are already involved with and know of each other. It's a really neat way to get everyone connected and together without having them all meet up in a tavern.
Spend your points
Here is where you spend your skill points on skills and your refresh on stunts and/or powers. Some FATE-based games work on what is called a skill pyramid, where everyone's skill points will look exactly like this, with only the skill names in different spots.
+4 bonus: * +3 bonus: ** +2 bonus: *** +1 bonus: ****
Once you're done, you just need to calculate your final refresh (the starting refresh level based on whatever power level was chosen, minus any stunts/powers cost) and your stress (which will be explained in the skill section), give your character a name, and you're done!