Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dresden Files RPG

I'm a big fan of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher; how could I not like a series of books written in a hard-boiled detective noir style, except having them be about a wizard instead? So I was very happy when the Dresden Files RPG, having been in the works for a couple years, finally came out earlier this year. It runs on the FATE system (which can be found, for free, in a slightly earlier iteration at the Evil Hat website) , which is a very narrativist system; instead of focusing on hit points and powers and minutiae, it focuses instead on the characters and the special things about them.

One of the big things abotu the system are the Aspects; every character has some. The Aspects are chosen and created for each character in a way that works with the character, and each Aspect helps to do something - though whether that somethign is positive or negative for the character is debatable. A character who's a cabbie, for instance, might have the Aspect 'You'd Better Buckle Up'; this might help the character while driving in a high-speed chase scenario, but might also be bad when driving regularly. A character with the Aspect 'High Stakes Gambler' might be good at gambling, but when he or she loses, it will be a big loss. They can both help and complicate your character's life, and so they're an important part of the FATE system.

Being a Dresden Files game, characters can be regular humans, or they can be magically gifted, divinely inspired, or not human at all. The power level of the game determines how powerful you can be; depending on the starting level, your character will have a varying pool of what are called 'refresh' points, and those are usedto purchase either supernatural powers, templates, or simply useful talents and tricks. This is important, both because any refresh points you don't spend at character creation will be turned into Fate points (which let you change a situation in your favor), and because you always have to keep at least one refresh unspent - it reflects your free will and ability to act on your own. Without any refresh, you become a pawn of your superiors, or simply a slave to your own desires, and lose the ability to act freely - and thus be a PC.

I'll build a character assuming a setting something liek that of the Dresden Files - an urban setting, with some kind of entrenched supernatural power around. What I want to build is, essentially, an Einherjar - one of the honored dead of Valhalla, sent back to the mortal plane by Odin to watch and see what is going on, and whether or not he should be taking more of an interest in things. First, I have to choose a High Concept; this could be somethign relating to my job, something relating to my service to Odin, or a combination of several things; I'll make my Hich Concept 'Honored Dead Man Walking'. Sort of on the nose, but it works. After that, I need to choose a Trouble, somethign that complicates my (un)life with my High Concept. I'll go with 'Out of His Time'; my character, as a long-dead Einherjar, isn't as used to the modern world as he could be, and it causes troubles for him.

Next, I go through a series of phases to develop my character. First, there is 'Where did you come from?', also known as the background. My character will have been a warrior chosen to go to Valhalla, and then, long after, chosen to return to the mortal world to look out for Odin's interests; I have to choose an aspect for this phase, something relating to my background - I'll go with Mortal Wound Scar, the scar from the wound that killed him; hard to explain, but a mark of his current supernatural nature. Next, there is the rising conflict phase, or 'What Shaped You?' Being that my character is a man who died in battle, I'll go with 'Death is only the beginning' sure, it's from The Mummy, but in this guy's case it's true. Then, I move on to the story phase, or 'What was your first adventure?' As a guy who goes on to be sent out as an agent, I'll set it up so that his first adventure was a while ago, when he was sent out as an agent to take care of a problem for Odin. It wasn an ugly situation, but he was the right man, so I'll make his aspect here 'The right man in the wrong place'. The final two phases are times when my character would have 'guest starred' in another PC's stories, so I'll skip those for now, unless somebody has an idea for those; an example from the Dresden Files RPG book has Harry Dresden starring in Karrin Murphy's case, Restoration, where Harry gets in a fight with a troll and trades quips with it, leading the example player to give Harry the aspect 'Epic Wiseass'.

For the mechanical parts of my character, I need to spend refresh points and skill points; I'll start at the Chest-Deep power level, which gives me 8 refresh and 30 skill points. As an Einherjar, I'll take the Emissary of Power template, which lets me choose supernatural powers that would fit with my status. I don't see an Einherjar throwing spells around, but his somewhat hazy status between life and death grants him some benefits - I'll go with Inhuman Speed, Inhuman Strength, and Supernatural Recovery (which True Magic can negate); this makes my character somewhat stronger and faster than an average human, and lets me recover from wounds quickly and exert myself for truly inhuman amounts of time. This will cost me 7 refresh, so that's it for that category. With 30 points, I can get 2 skills each at Superb, Great, Good, Fair, and Average levels. I'll take Weapons and Endurance at Superb; I can dish hits out and take them well. I'll put Fists and Might at Great; I'm pretty good even without a weapon, and Im pretty strong. I'll take Alertness and Intimidation at Good, so it's hard to catch me off-guard and I'm scary when I want to be. At Fair, I'll take Lore and Athletics; I've picked up some odd knowledge being a dead guy for so long, and I'm still pretty spry. Finally, at Average I'll take Conviction and Survival; I'm mentally sound, and I know something about surviving in the wild, though I haven't done so in a long time. So, in the end, my character will look like:

Erik Grimson

Honored Dead Man Walking
Out Of His Time
Mortal Wound Scar
Death Is Only The Beginning
Right Man In The Wrong Place

Superb: Weapons, Endurance
Great: Fists, Might
Good: Alertness, Intimidate
Fair: Lore, Athletics
Average: Conviction, Survival

Physical (based on Endurance): 4
Mental (Based on Conviction): 3
Social (Based on Presence): 2

Stunts & Powers
Inhuman Speed (Alertness +4 for initiative purposes, Athletics checks at +1, remove -1 penalty for moving an acting)
Inhuman Strength (+3 Might when lifting or breaking things, +1 Might when grappling, +2 damage when using attacks that rely on muscular force)
Supernatural Recovery (recover from all injuries with time, recover from physical injuries as if they were of lesser severity, other skills never restricted from lack of rest, clear away minor injuries twice a scene)

Base Refresh level: 8
Adjusted refresh level: 1

this is the first character I've made for this game, so while I hope it is correct, I welcome any spotting of errors.


  1. Interesting. This is on my list of RPG's I really want to play at some point. Unfortunately the list gets longer all the time. Someday I will have time and opportunity together... maybe.

  2. pump some more skills in presence and conviction. get 4 stress slots in each of them