Professor Mordarm's Mad Ramblings

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

Telling Your Story: It’s Not Just About You (A RPG Review Part II)

Posted by Professor Mordarm on June 5, 2010

So you’re chomping at the bit, ready to make your mark in the world with your own character in The Dresden Files RPG? Eager to sling spells fighting  against the Red Court? Want your character to track that “odd” witness with the pointed ears for a case? Or just want to gather power to become the next John Marcone? Well not so fast there, you need to pull back a bit. There are a few things you need to do first. Like making your city.

It’s Your City, Really

Yes you heard right, you need make your city. How? Well TDF RPG: Your Story takes the unusual first step by making players and GM working together, not to create characters, but instead creating the city setting. Now normally the GM takes care of these “setting details” in other RPGs, but TDF RPG creation rules allows the players to join in the creative process as well. By getting the players involved, you allow them get more motivated and give them a chance to make a stake in the game early on. In doing so, bullpen type sessions can result in questions that can offer scenarios that the players and GM are looking for. For example:

  • What city would you like your characters in? New York City, NY? Houston, TX? Barrow, AK? (“30 Days of Night,” Red Court style anyone?)
  • Would you like invent one of your own? (How about your own Gotham?)
  • What interesting places are there in the city?
  • What potential events can take place there?
  • Where are the player characters and NPCs going to set up shop, hang out or even hide out?
  • Who are the factions working/fighting in your city?
  • What are the supernatural wonders and terrors that are lurking in the streets?

Brainstorming ideas like this also can result in more characters concepts for role-playing, not just city creation itself. Now mind you this is all optional. If your players do not want to jump into the bones of city creation (or if you have a lazy GM), TDF RPG comes with pregenerated examples of two cities for you to jump in right off the bat, Chicago and Baltimore; each with its own personal feel and flavor. But having a group of players having a say in the setting creates feedback for the GM on what the players want to have and expect in the game itself.

Now once your group has come to a consensus on which city and why, you’ll need to break it down into a manageable format. City creation in TDF RPG has its own individual sections designed for ease of use. First on the list is Themes. Themes are similar to Aspects but have the expanded duty of expressing issues that are constantly reoccurring in your city like city outlook/environment, specific problems, groups and urban tales/events. Themes tend to stick around and are hard to shake. On the other hand, issues that causes danger to the way of life for mortals in your city are Threats. Threats describe a person, monster, group or situations that describes their methods, agendas and goals to disrupt life in the city (though some monsters need no agenda or goals to cause havoc in your city). Threats are the dramatic aspects that player characters will interact most often with, so the previous brainstorming will come in handy. As you build the mortal and supernatural populations, Locations will emerge; Neighborhoods and Points Of Interest that help flesh out your city. In addition, each site will have its own aspect and its own Faces, persons (or things) which personifies and reflects that location’s ideas and aspects and which the player characters can interact with.

Now this seems a big collaborative effort overall but the practice will come in handy. Why? Because players who aid in this creative effort will become more comfortable with the next step: Character creation.

A Lone(ly) Hero Not Makes A Story

Now character creation in TDF RPG is another activity that the players and GM work together with. It first starts with your character concepts: the High Concept and the Trouble aspects. These are the key drives that motivate your character, that keep him or her going even when everything is going to Hell in a hand basket for your character. Now some players may have trouble with expressing their characters High Concept and Trouble initially but TDF RPG can ease this step with a Template, which are character packages that help link up the other two aspects together into one simple step. Templates can help define a concept that to a familiar Deresden-verse world feel. Want to play a bitten yet still half-human Red Court vampire? An Alpha? A unknowing Knight finding his Sword? The templates can do that and more, with some creative shifting on the players and GM part. It is also during this step where the power level is decided for the players; in which TDF RPG writers also put their own humorous twist by giving examples on how “deep” you are into the world of supernatural powers. Are you just getting Your Feet In the Water with this magic stuff or are you Submerged (and possibly drowning) with mystic might?

By combining these (Template, High Concept and Trouble) into one step, one can move swiftly to the next part of creation: the 5 Phases of your characters background, a background where all the players get involved in yet again. The first two, Where Did You  Come From? and What Shaped You? helps you form your starting background, conflicts and issues for your character. What Was Your First Adventure? plays like a TV episode or movie. You can even give it a catchy title and brief one or two sentence synopsis. And if you have trouble with that, the book gives you a handy short “story skeleton” to help you kick-start the creative process. The last two phases, Who Path Have You Crossed? and Who Else’s Path Have you Crossed? makes the player pass that character sheet to two other players, who then”guest stars” that character into their own character’s episode. This is a clever method of linking up the charters history together early on and allows players to add ideas and more background to each other’s concepts. These phases also help form the character’s Phase Aspects, which as you know now, allow for Fate Points generation and use, as well as for role-playing. Adding in your Skills, Mortal Stunts, Magic and Supernatural Powers (mentioned in Part I of my review) finishes up the character creation process. Also of note TDF RPG: Your Story does offer the option for quick character creation for those who don’t want to get bogged down and get right to game-play, though its more fun to work together in my opinion.

TDF RPG: Your Story continues in further detail with ideas and rules on aspect invoking, creating scenarios, character advancement, magic use, the Laws of Magic, and much more that I can possibly cover in this review. With this much attention to detail and clever usage of ideas, one should have little problem getting players motivated in the creation aspect alone, which in turn creates more enjoyable game-play. But what if you or the players want more? Does someone want a character to work in the same station as Murphy? Be on the lam from the White Council for questionable “dark” magic? To work with Dresden on a case? Or (Hell’s Bells) match wits with Mab to fulfill a favor for the Summer Court? You can, but your going to need more story background to cover these and other scenarios in TDF universe. Just follow the next part of my review where I cover these colorful characters, groups, places and the events they cause in TDF series, in the aptly named second volume called The Dresden Files RPG: Our World.

To Be Continued in Part III: Our World


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