Apr 132010
 

I’ve been twitching with anticipation since Evil Hat announced that they were working on a Dresden Files RPG. Last week they started taking pre-orders and I immediately forked over about 100 of my hard earned dollars to get it (I later learned we were getting a review copy. You win this one Evil Hat). I’d like to note that since the pre-order PDFs aren’t the final product and that I won’t actually be playing the game until I get a physical book, I consider this only to be the first half of my review.

On Price

There have been a lot of opinions flying around over the price tag on this game.$90+ is a lot to ask, especially in the independent game market. That said, the core rules are actually only $50 which puts things closer to GURPS, D&D, and Pathfinder.  I still consider $50 to be a little on the pricey side and would have preferred to see a price more in line with Spirit of the Century. The only reason I’m willing to put down $50 per book is because of Evil Hat’s sterling reputation and my love of the Dresdenverse.

With that out of the way let’s get to the good stuff. After placing my pre-order I got download links for both PDFs. I was pleasantly surprised that I got the links right away rather than having to wait for an email.

The Dresden Files RPG consists of two volumes: Your Story and Our World.

Your Story

Your Story is the main book. It contains all of the Fate rules that you know and love, but with a distinctive Dresden twist. The book is presented as a draft copy of an RPG game that Harry’s werewolf sidekick Billy is writing. Stat blocks, examples, and even art are “taped” onto the draft. Sometimes the tape obscured the art a little bit, but otherwise everything looks nice. For the most part the art is high quality but some readers might be turned off by reused prices from the comic book.

Throughout the book are notes made by various characters from Jim Butcher’s novels. The notes often feature witty banter, chuckle-worthy one-liners, and general commentary. Most of the time I found the notes to be pretty entertaining, but I did find some of the larger ones to be distracting. The other thing that rubbed me a little bit the wrong way is that I was left wondering why Harry, Billy, et all would want to play a role playing game based on their lives? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play one about me.

The rules in the book are presented conversationally,  are explained clearly, and with just the right amount of flair. Rules are based on the free Fate system, so anybody familiar with that or anything that uses it (like SotC) should be in familiar territory with this game. Players new to the system might have some trouble at first wrapping their head around the game. Luckily the book does a great job of easing you into the system.

The character creation section is especially well done and takes you through every step of creating Harry Dresden as a character. Players choose a template which can be most easily explained as a very loose fitting class and then customize it to get the character they want. All your favorite Dresden File staples are represented here, everything from red court vampires and wizards to Summer Knights and Mobsters. You then move on to selecting your High Concept (A few words that describe the character) and Aspects. Just like in Spirit of the Century, Aspects are key points in a character’s background that act as motivators during the course of game play. You’ll also need to come up with a Trouble. A trouble is just that, something that makes the characters life difficult and can drive the story forward. There is also the fairly standard fair of skills, stunts, and powers which will become the meat of your character.

Unlike most RPGs, advancement sits in the back seat of DFRPG. You’ll earn refresh through as you play, which can be used to power your character or it can be saved up to learn a new spell or stunt. You get to do this at each “Milestone”. As the name would suggest, a milestone is a key point in the game. This will be at the end of each adventure or at the climax of a story arc. Milestones are divided into Minor, Significant, and Major. Depending on what kind of milestone your characters hit you’ll have the chance to resolve consequences, swap skills in and out, change your Aspects, or learn new stunts and powers. This type of advancement really stresses story over “leveling”, and in my books that’s a good thing.

Dresden Files RPG uses special dice called “Fudge Dice” for resolution. These are just d6’s with + and – symbols on them instead of numbers. You can make your own without much trouble. To resolve conflicts players will need to roll four of these dice and count how many + and – they get and add the result to the relevant skill. This will translate into a result ranging from poor to legendary and will need to meet the difficulty set by the GM. The game also features degrees of success which are dubbed “Shifts”. By exceeding the difficulty of a challenge a character can receive unforeseen benefits. This could be things such as gaining insight to the task at hand or by just being more successful than they could have imagined. Aspects also come into play here and can be used to improve or reduce your odds of success. It’s a good system that has worked well for Spirit of the Century. In my experience, labeling the results from poor to legendary helps keep players thinking in terms of the story rather than falling into number crunching habits. My only complaint about the system is that it is simultaneously very simple and very complicated. It requires everybody to have that eureka moment before everything comes together. Once it does it can be a very rewarding way to play.

Your Story weighs in at 416 pages and while about 10 pages of that is all you need to actually play the game, a good two thirds of it is filled with examples, character options, and the intricacies of using stunts, powers, and aspects. The remaining 100 or so pages are filled with great advice for GMs on how to put together and run a game and a Dresdenified version of Baltimore for the players to romp around in.

This is a great book. It has everything you need and just a little bit extra. The system definitely isn’t for everyone and requires a certain amount of adjustment for players used to games like D&D and GURPS, but after a game or two it should click for them. I think the books suffers a bit from leaving out an included adventure, but not enough for me to get over the feeling of glee I get from reading the margin notes.

Our World

Next up we have Our World. Again, this is a nicely laid out book in the same draft style as before. There really isn’t much to say about it. It’s essentially a collection of every major character from The Dresden Files with statistics and gone over in loving detail. As a Dresden fan I really enjoyed reading the collected notes on the various characters. Everyone is here, even The Gatekeeper. Unfortunately there isn’t as much art as I would have liked to see. I would have loved to see some art on every page, but that just isn’t in the budget for anybody but the big guys. Evil Hat makes up for it with lots of good information and a short story written by Jim Butcher himself. That short story isn’t in the early bird copies so we’ll all just have to wait until summer to find out what it’s about.

Other than the great character list, Our World also covers all the nitty gritty inner details of the supernatural world. Everything from the Unseelie Accords to the Vampire War is covered, as well as the major supernatural factions.  Harry’s stomping grounds are also gone over in detail, which is great if you plan on running a game in Chicago. Even if you aren’t it serves as a good example for GM’s that wish to “dresdenify” they’re own hometown.

While I think Our World is a good book, gamers uninterested in playing in Chicago and don’t require pre-made opponents should consider skipping it. If, on the other hand, you just can’t get enough of The Dresden Files or like the idea of having an encyclopedia for the Dresdenverse, you will love this book.

Verdict

Are the Dresden Files RPG books worth $90? I can’t say because I haven’t got the books yet. The game definitely looks solid, despite a few rough edges as far as layout and art are concerned. Fate’s strange learning curve might also turn off a few players, so if you haven’t played before I recommend at least looking over the free rules before taking the plunge. I will say that the PDFs are definitely worth between $30 and $40, but since Evil Hat isn’t selling them separately at this time, there’s no way to get them without buying the physical books.

These books have definitely wet my appetite and I can’t wait to try the game out. Unfortunately I hate to run games from a PDF and it’s just too darn big to print. I’ll be running the game in a few months when the books arrive and I’ll follow up with my thoughts on how the game plays and my groups reactions at that time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to reading my copy of Changes.

[Tags] The Dresden Files, Role Playing, RPGs, Jim Butcher, Evil Hat, Fate RPG [/Tags]

Apr 132009
 

Turn Coat, the newly released 11th book in the Dresden Files, is a major turning point for the series, both in terms of the overarching plot as well as thematically.  Jim Butcher is as masterful a writer as always, balancing deftly humor and horror, black and white morality coexisting paradoxically with dark philosophical quandaries.

Of course those of you who have read the series hardly need to be told how engaging Harry Dresden’s exploits are.  Scenes like Harry’s romp through Chicago riding a zombie T-Rex comes immediately to mind, but it is far from alone in the “freaking awesome” category of Dresden’s adventures.  For those who haven’t read the series I offer this description of Harry, given by his half-brother Thomas in the novella Backup:

Harry’s a wizard.  A genuine, honest-to-goodness wizard.  He’s Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket.  He’ll spit in the eye of gods and demons alike if he thinks it needs to be done, and to hell with the consequences—and yet somehow my little brother manages to remain a decent human being.

Urban fantasies have become one of the biggest sub-genres of fantasy recently, steadily growing in popularity since the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice.  So take it as no small feat when I say that Dresden is, in my opinion, the best urban fantasy series out there.  The stories are believable, (even when recounting the utterly fantastic) the characters likable but humanly limited and flawed.

Turn Coat wastes no time in ramping up the action.  The very first page has Warden Morgan (all around jerk and nemesis of Dresden) showing up on Dresden’s doorstep, wanted for murder and on the run.  Dresden has no reason to help Morgan, especially after all the years Morgan spent persecuting Dresden, but unfortunately Dresden knows Morgan is a jerk, not a traitor.  As a whodunit story it’s fairly straightforward, but well executed.  My only complaint is that it was a bit too easy to figure out who the real killer is, but then again the focus of the story is different than it would be as a pure mystery.

Spoiler Warning: From here on in I talk about the book’s impact on the series as a whole, so there will be some spoilers.

I spoke of this being a turning point for the series and it is in many ways.  Harry’s suspicions about a “Black Council” of wizards working from the shadows has been hinted at and theorized about in several of the earlier books, but never actually seen.  Turn Coat is where that finally changes, and the first open moves by the Black Council are made.  Their goals and size remain a mystery, but after this their existence is no longer in doubt.  The novel is also the darkest of the series, reflecting something of the maturing process Dresden himself has gone through.  Dresden can no longer afford to be naïve, convincing himself that all will turn out just fine or ignoring the fact that his world is getting worse.  People he cares about die, wrongs aren’t righted, matters and relationships worsen.  This is not a book with a rosy ending.   But Dresden goes on.  That is the key to the whole series.  Whether he is facing down fallen angels with millennia of experience, fighting skin-walkers with magnitudes of power over him, or enduring being mistaken for his brother’s gay partner, Dresden never stops.  Dresden’s open grave (a ‘gift’ from a vampire) proclaims that Harry, “Died doing the right thing.”  Of course, that vampire hadn’t planned on the grave being empty for long, but it doesn’t matter.  That is who Dresden is.  No matter how bad things get, how uncertain or grey, Harry Dresden will do the right thing.

[tags]The Dresden Files, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy Books, literature[/tags]

About

I'm a Trekker, a Brown-coat, a bibliophile, a Star Wars nut. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, mythology, anime, noir, detective stories it doesn't matter. I'm into pen and paper rpgs, console and pc games, board games. Want to argue for hours over who would win were the Enterprise-E and a Star Destroyer fight? Sure. Want to debate the advantages of the Way of the Open Palm or the Light Side? Definitely.