Professor Mordarm's Mad Ramblings

My mad thoughts on tech, news, and geek phenomenon.

Stars and Stones, A New Post and Review! (A RPG Review Part I)

Posted by Professor Mordarm on June 3, 2010

Due to some unexpected delays I’ve been unable to post until now, so I need to get back in the groove. So to do that I’ll post my review of one the few RPGs I am actually looking forward in running this year: The Dresden Files RPG.

The Dresden Files RPG draws its source from the best-selling books of the same name by author Jim Butcher. The books (now in its 12th in the series) covers the “case-files” of one Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. (He’s in the phone book). The series have proven so wildly popular that it has spawned a TV series and now its going to debut as a new RPG at Origins Game Fair, June 23, 2010 by Evil Hat Productions. Now other game publishers have attempted to take a popular series, tried converting it into a RPG format and have met with various degrees of success and/or failure. But Evil Hat Productions, working in tandem with Jim Butcher (a big plus in my book), have taken the time and effort to produce a RPG that actually shows tremendous role-playing potential. Also Evil Hat is taking an extra step: If you pre-order the books, they will give you the PDFs versions of the books for free in advance.

The RPG comes in two volumes, each named Your Story and Our WorldYour Story covers everything you will need to get started and playing in the rich world of The Dresden Files universe itself without having to read the series (though I highly recommend it, they are a great read). Our World covers in detail, all the characters, factions, places and events leading up until “Small Favor” of the Dresden Files book series. As I will review a bit from each RPG book, I thought it prudent by covering on the RPG system itself and how it is an effective means of role-playing in The Dresden Files universe.

The FATE System

The Dresden Files RPG (TDF RPG) uses a modified version of the award-winning Fate system, to help express the urban and supernatural feel in all its gritty glory. According to the Fate website, the system stands out by using:

… a free RPG system that focuses on telling stories and balancing characters based on story significance, rather than points and cool powers.

Now most of you are thinking how the heck can you tell how powerful and/or useful I am without a definable numerical stat? Well the Fate system uses an idea called Aspects to focus how a character is defined and used, making it quite flexible to fit any character concept. For example, you can use aspects to define your core personality traits and behaviors. So following this concept, instead of being a simple “12th level human wizard” or some such, you have aspects like Harry Dresden, a “WIZARD PRIVATE EYE” who is “AN EPIC WISEASS” and is “PERPETUALLY BROKE.”

By invoking these aspects, either positively or negatively, one gains or uses Fate Points, which the Players and GM use to effect Fudge Dice rolls, invoke/resist aspects and cause dramatic events. Also by invoking aspects, dramatic role-playing opportunities spawn more often that could be normally missed in traditional RPGs. And this aspect idea is not limited to characters; you can also apply aspects to items, places and even events, which in turn be invoked by the players and GM to affect the game session.

Covered in the Fate system are Skills as well as Mortal Stunts and Supernatural Powers. Magic itself is covered in almost overwhelming detail by their own Spellcasting, Thaumaturgy, and Sponsored Magic sections. A player uses these abilities, by using only 4 Fudge Dice, which keeps the rolling down to a minimum. A player rolls or shifts to meet a difficulty rating, scaling from Terrible to Legendary, using their own skill/power/magic rating as a base. Rolling well, shifts the degree of success up, but there is no negative shifts. You either meet (or beat) the difficulty or you don’t. Though rolling badly can present great opportunities for role-playing. Also these rolls can cause Stresses (Physical, Mental and Social) and Consequences (Mild, Moderate, Severe or Extreme) to the character. Stresses are pretty much self-explanatory, suffer too much and your out for the scene. Consequences are different as they are aspects that are negative effects that can last for long time.

To gain access to various stunts, powers and magic, the player must spend his or her Refresh Pool to buy these abilities.  But the Refresh Pool has a second vital duty. Its used to set up your base Fate Point pool that’s used in the TDF RPG. The Refresh Pool is a brilliant tool used to keep game balance; the more Refresh you have, the more Fate Points you have to use, reflecting the player character’s ability to choose his or her Fate (Note: also by scaling the starting Refresh pool the GM can set the power level of the player characters quite easily to any level). The less you have, the less chances you have to change your Fate in the game, which then reflects the character’s need to follow his or her instinctive and sometimes monstrous nature. So the more you buy, the more you risk. Anytime a player’s character falls to 0 or less Refresh in his or her pool, that character has become an NPC, unable to do anything but follow his or her instincts. For a mortal character, a 0 Refresh equals to losing something vital that means being a human, their humanity and thus becoming a NPC as well.

So by reflection, you can be a powerful supernatural being that can (and often does) overwhelm most mortals but the price is possibly becoming nothing more that an instinctive, inhuman monster. And while a “vanilla” mortal can become a powerful force in TDF RPG, like John Marcone, they still have all the all human strengths and weaknesses of one.

So by combining these ideas and concepts, the Fate system is well suited to cover the base mechanics of the TDF RPG, but that is only scratching the surface of these wonderful books. It also uses an ingenious method of character creation which leads into the next part of the review, Your Story.

Continues in Part II

Telling Your Story: It’s Not Just About You

Dresden Files RPG: Your Story

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