Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game Review

cross posted on geekgirlsnetwork.com


 I have been a big fan of Jim Butcher's "Harry Dresden" series for a few years, now.  Each time a new book is released I stock up on caffeinated beverages and stay up too late reading just one more chapter because I have to know how Harry gets out of his latest fix.  Well, earlier this month all us Dresden fans got a double-whammy of goodness with the release of the latest book, Changes, and the start of preorders for The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game.  The game is comprised of two volumes that have every detail you could possibly need to run a successful game.  They won't be available until June 23rd at Origins, but you can preorder them right now directly through Evil Hat Productions or through participating game stores and instantly receive almost-complete PDFs to tide you over until June.


    The RPG is comprised of two hardcover, full-color books, Volume One Your Story and Volume Two Our World, that together give you a complete picture of the "Dresdenverse".  Since there are 12 books in the Harry Dresden series, there is a lot of ground to cover.  The first volume is over 400 pages and hits all the game basics like creating your character, picking your city, and how things work in the universe you're about to step into.  If you are a fan of the books, you will be drawn in from page one.  They're done from the point of view of Billy(a werewolf) and filled with notes in the margins from Harry(our intrepid wizard) and Bob (a talking skull/spirit).  Honestly, those were some of my favorite parts of the rulebooks!  The snark, camaraderie, and fun of these characters is perfectly captured as they speak through these notes.  If you don't love them when you open the cover, then you will by the time you reach the last page.






    The game is based on the Fate system which combines Fate Points with character traits that are broken out into four categories.  Skills cover things you can physically do like fire a gun, wield a sword or drive a car.  Aspects describe more who you are as a character rather than what you can do and are essential for setting the tone of how you'll play the game.  An aspect could be something like, Blinding Hatred of the Red Court, because, well, they're vampires and they are pretty darn nasty.  Maybe you're also really good with a gun and can shoot a quarter tossed into the air from 20 feet away.  Well, that'd be a Stunt.  If you're more than a mere vanilla mortal and you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, then you've got a Supernatural Power.  You also get to choose what Type of character you are going to play.  Sure, you can be a Mortal, but you can also be a Lycanthrope, a Faerie, a Sorcerer or any one of a number of different types of creatures.  And yes, you can be a Wizard.


    Once you've got the basics of your character created you need to put that character into a city full of otherworldy perils.  There is an extensive amount of info on how to do this by either creating your own fictional city, using the one where you and the other players actually live or taking a city that is well-known in it's own right and then tweaking it just a bit to fit your game.  One thing that is made clear from the start is that although you can spend hours and hours researching every detail of your city, or fleshing out a 20 year back-story for your character, it's absolutely not required.  This is a game.  It's supposed to be fun.  If those kinds of details aren't your thing and you'd rather just jump in, then there's information on how to do just that, too. 


    Where the larger, more far-reaching first volume gives you the basics needed to play, Volume Two Our World is what brings all the supporting characters, monsters and factions to life.  In the course of your game, you're going to bump into a lot of characters and probably at least a few of them will have been in the Dresden novels.  This book is an essential point of reference for the GM and for the players.  It will help the GM create a believable, fully realized environment for the players and it will help the players realize just how much trouble they're in when the run up against the likes of Gentleman Johnny Marcone or Nicodemus.  (Answer: A whole heck of a lot.)


    Together, the two volumes of The Dresden Files RPG not only instruct you on how to play, but immerse you in the rich universe that Jim Butcher created in his novels.  The descriptions of locations and characters, the illustrations depicting scenes right from the books, the running commentary from Harry, Bob and Billy, all make this read like a mini-Dresden novel.  Which reminds me of the one glaring omission in Volume Two and it happens right on the first few pages.  It's a giant placeholder for what is promised to be a new short-story about Harry Dresden.  I guess that's why they called the PDF almost-complete.  This is something we'll all have to wait until June 23rd to read when the actual rulebooks will be available.  If you're a fan of RPGs and especially if you're a fan of Harry Dresden, that day cannot come soon enough!      

11 comments:

  1. So .... if you already have a RPG system you like, you only need the world book to play? Or if you are a fan, you'll have all the novels and can recreate the world in whatever system you like?

    I don't mean to sound rude, or dis all the work that's obviously gone into this particular game but I really have to ask "why?"

    The world book sounds useful,even for the hard core fan, in having all the information in one place, but does the rule system offer anything new that can't be done in, say, Savage Worlds, or Window or Traveller?

    You're obviously a fan of this series, but I can't help thinking that the words 'cashing in' are somehow attached to this project. But then I'm probably just being a boring old f@%t and 'just don't understand'. ;)

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  2. Well, if your position is that there is no reason to create a new RPG system because there are enough out there already, sure. You could shoehorn any universe(say Star Wars) into any system (say GURPS). By that reasoning, there's no reason for a Dr. Who RPG, or a Serenity RPG, or a Vampire the Maquerade RPG or any of them.

    But many of these are worth looking at because as a fan of a given universe you are being presented with a complete system where every last feature of that universe has been worked into it already. You could spend a lot of time trying to shoehorn Dresden into something that's already out there, or you could just use the Dresden RPG books since they've done the legwork to make it all fit perfectly. Every last piece of it. Every magic spell. Every character. Every monster.

    In this case, you're looking at over 400 pages in Volume One and then another 200 in Volume Two. That is a HUGE amount of attention to detail that goes way beyond "cashing-in" and just grabbing the characters from the Dresden universe and plopping them down willy-nilly into an RPG. Both books, particularly the first, not only get the mechanics, but capture the spirit of the universe and present you with a well-mapped way of playing that is rich with details that could easily be overlooked if you tried to do it yourself.

    Honestly, if there was one to leave out it'd be the second volume. This has all the beasties and would be great to have as a fan of the books as a guide to the universe even if you didn't play the game and it definitely enriches your experience. But that first book is the one you want if you really, really want to capture the heart of the novels in your gameplay.

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  3. I second the support of the system. Fate isn't just some mediocre system thrown together to take advantage of a license. It's a labor of love created by a small group of guys who love game design. I'm definitely a supporter of Savage Worlds, but Fate offers many things that Savage, or most any rpg, doesn't, and some of the system's unique properties really make it a good fit with Dresden. Additionally, Evil Hat was chosen to create the game because one of the companies founders is a friend of Jim's, and creating a game from Jim's books was something he had wanted to do for a long time. Dresden has been the companies project for *years* and it's even forced then to move up to a staff of 5 whole full time employees.
    For me, preordaining Dresden was an automatic choice, not just because I've been waiting for it for 3 years, or because I like Fate, or because I like Dresden, but because Evil Hat is a exemplary company that has amazing PR, high standards, and smart ideas. It's companies like Evil Hat that help strengthen the gaming community, so it's the least I can do to throw a little cash their way.

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  4. The vey top picture looks a little starwars, obi wan and anakin with a glowy sword. don't ya think?

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  5. Anon #1 Well stated on all fronts! Evil Hat is not a ginourmous company and this was a huge undertaking for them.

    Anon #2 That's the picture from the cover of Volume One, and it does look a bit like a lightsaber! But it's a sword imbued with the glowy power of God rather than the glowy power of finely tuned crystals. It's a subtle difference, I admit.

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  6. Cool new TFG graphic and web layout, double thumbs up!

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  7. Thanks! I am really happy with it, too!

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  8. I've played the game and the Fate system is terrific for this. I've played several "small press" games from "Dogs in the Vineyard" to "Mouse Guard" to "Chronica Feudalis" and the Desden/Fate RPG is a definite WIN.

    They also take characters that hard-core fans may not even remember and flesh them out with stat-lines and all. That was one point that the designers noted on the TFG segment on the pod-cast that I thought was great.

    I pre-ordered the book and immediately got a PDF of the product (up to that point). Even then they were "crowd sourcing" typo-edits and other things. (Make sure to tell Russ I used that term!)

    The current PDF is the press-version.

    Great product and obviously a labor of love.

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  9. You're right that the Fate system is a perfect fit for this game. I can not wait to play this with my friends. I even have a few folks online that might try to run one with a group who is spread out all over the globe!

    I think the attention paid to the universe is just incredible. There is info about characters that no one is going to remember, until they see it and then it'll bring back the memories of who that character was in the books. (Consider Russ notified, btw.)

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  10. I think we need an in-depth interview on D6G. Why should "the boys" be allowed to do the long reviews?

    ;)

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  11. Actually, Fred, I did interview a couple of the guys from Evil Hat way back in Episode 56 :)

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