Running Dresden

The room was empty except for one person when we walked in.  I had a bag full of the special FUDGE dice, the two Dresden Files RPG rulebooks and a folder of pre-generated characters and cheat sheets.  I was stressed and nervous and felt ill-prepared.  I’d had the PDFs for a few months, since I’d volunteered to do this, and while I’d read them idly, I didn’t get far until I got the books, a little over a week before my time to run.

I still hadn’t read all the rules, but I got the basics. I got Fate Points, I got the tree, and I knew what the characters were about.  I mostly got Aspects.   A character in FATE 3.0, which Dresedn Files is based on, is made of four basic parts: Skills, Powers and Stunts, a Stress Track, and Aspect.  Skills are what you think they are — they’re what you roll on to do stuff.  Powers and stunts are special things your character can do.   In terms of D&D Skill are like skills, as well as your ability to attack.  Powers and stunts are like class abilities: turning undead, or casting spells.   Aspects are like feats, feats you can name. Sort of.

The lone person in the room was sitting at my table. I talked to him a bit, he had FUDGE dice already, and a copy of the game.  “This is my Dresden game this weekend,” he said. “They were all sold out, but I had a friend give me her ticket.”  He brandished it happily.  He was from Columbus, which was good — I’d set the game there, and was worried no one at the table would get those pieces. Still, the nerves in my stomach roiled a bit, he had more experience with this game than I had.  You could say I had the aspect Sressed-Out Improviser.

A few more people showed up, and I gave folks a few minutes to settle out. A couple of other people hung around, looking for another game, and wound up leaving. I had four of six people, so I passed out characters.  Someone from Michigan actually took my Storytelling Were-Wolverine (this was her high concept, the thing she is.  Harry Dresden himself is Wizard Private-Eye).  It’s also one of her aspects.

Aspects define your character, the good and the bad.  A good aspect is a double edged sword, which allows you to do something, but can also compel you to do something.  The Were-Wolverine has the aspect Scent of a Story.  What does that mean? The player could tap it to add to her ability to track by scent.  It could be used to improver her Investigation score to help her find out something that might be newsworthy (or that she thinks might be, anyway).  It could be used by the GM to compel her to look into a story.

It costs fate points to use your aspects like this, and you get fate points for compels. It’s an incentive to have aspects which can be creatively used for and against you.  It’s a game mechanic that gives incentive to making interesting characters, and thinking imaginatively.

We got into a combat, avoiding some Zombies by directly attacking the cultists doing the drumming. Most of my campaign was cribbed from the books — I didn’t want to venture far from the source material, I saw this almost as a demo of the system and what it could do as much as it was a fun role-playing event. Two more people showed up, one who had mismanaged his tickets, and another who was trying to find a Dresden game and failing.  I let them join, probably outside of con policy, but I really wanted all the characters in play.

They were reading their aspects, which are fairly broad statements, and the short two-three sentence stories I gave them to justify them, and taking them interesting places.  They asked me questions about their characters’ situations and personality (not just their stats) and I responded with how I saw it — it was up to them to breath some life into it.  I was surprised and thrilled that they did.

“Okay, that guy now has an aspect on him,” I said, not sure I was doing this right. “Say… knocked down.

“Sweet!” says another of them. “I’m going to use that to kick him.”

“Wait,” says another of the players. “How does that work?” I explained briefly to him how players can manipulate the environment via stunts, and others via maneuvers to place aspects on them, that can then be used.  “And this is something that’s beneficial for us to do?”  Vigorous nodding around the table, and he nodded once, and got a look in his eye.

Later, playing his character to a T, he placed the completely useless Iron Balls in His Pants aspect on a Toad Demon (I told you I didn’t stray far from the books, right?), thinking he was a fairy.  His character, Coyote’s Catspaw didn’t really understand where his power came from or what was going on.  He’s an Emissary of Power, Coyote’s power in particular, but is totally a pawn being kept in the dark.  I don’t know why, that didn’t seem important yet.

We didn’t use a lot of scene aspects or compels, and I was loose on making them pay for tags.  They needed the Fate points in the end to make use of the aspects on the badguy, in order to both beat him — and to avoid being beaten too soundly by him.

This is true to the Dresden Files universe: they took a beating, but still won.  They won not by overpowering the enemy, but out maneuvering him.  The game mechanics supported that style, and it works well.  I had a great time doing this, and look forward to playing Dresden again.

Dresden Files RPG

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to run a Dresden Files RPG game at Origins this year.  The games have to be on file with Origins by March 1, and true to form, I’m fleshing it out today.  I spent a bunch of time reading the playtesting manuals, which really peg the humor and tone of the series.  These are going to be some awesome books and a very fun game.

The books are supposedly written by one of the characters, Billy the Werewolf, with margin notes from  Harry Dresden and his talking skull, Bob.  If anything, I’m having trouble focusing on the text, because the margin notes are so entertaining.  They’re perfect for the three characters, as established by Jim Butcher, and the whole thing is well done.  I’m going to be preordering them when that starts in April, and Evil Hat, Inc, the company doing the game, will be offering a PDF along with a hardcover preorder.

So I’ll have a real PDF right away, and can pick my books up at Origins.  Last year, I picked up their Spirit of the Century game, and their insomniac horror game, Don’t Rest Your Head. We haven’t gamed regularly in the past year or two, so I’ve not had the chance to play them, but maybe we’ll fix that eventually.

I am putting together a con module for DFRPG, and plan to run it for my friends (read: suckers) at PAX East.  Origins isn’t until mid-summer, so that’ll give me a chance to refine things a bit.   As it is, I’m enjoying reading the stats and writeups of the various characters and monsters.  The system (FATE 3.0) is pretty geared to storytelling, with the characters attributes being pretty much whatever they want them to be.  These Aspects describe the character, and give them situational bonuses (as well as weaknesses — the best ones do both).

For instance, the titular character, Harry Dresden, has the aspect “Epic Wiseass.”

I want to grow up to be him.

Pen and Paper: DFRPG

Earlier this week, I volunteered to run the Dresden Files RPG at Origins.  This morning, I got email inviting me to a group that has gotten me a copy of the playtester’s Alpha.  Beyond normal work, and working on tomorrow’s self indulgent character journal, I’ve been reading it.

Skimming it mostly, as there’s a lot there to see.  I hope to look at it more tonight. My first impression is that it’s very well put together. Professional quality, good graphics.  There are margin notes between Bob the Skull, Harry himself, and Billy the werewolf (who ostensibly is the one writing the game system.)  The art is cool, and there’s just tons of information, examples, and stuff there that it’s hard to absorb on first blush.

I’ve been following the development of this for years, since I was playing Evil Hat’s games long before they started making ones for real money, because they made a variant of FUDGE called FATE which, essentially, made FUDGE a bit more useful.  Both Spirit of the Centuruy (which I got last year at Origins) and Dreseden Files use FUDGE and FATE as it’s base — and those who’ve known me for awhile know I have had a liftetime love affair with FUDGE. (Certainly longer than I’ve been writing on line.)

It’s lightweight, and not very crunchy, and it’s primary downside is that it uses weird dice.  But it’s intended to be a bit more cinematic and freeform, which was a welcome change from D&D and GURPS (the latter of which is way way way to crunchy and detailed for me).  FATE just kicks that up a notch, and my reading of SotC makes me like it even more, as the players are rewarded more for more interesting characters.

So now I need to absorb enough information to put together a plan of action, in order to put a suggestion in to Origins as to what I’ll run for them.  I’m not sure what that details, but I’ve only got a couple of weeks.  Right now, I’m thinking of doing something very much based in Columbus and perhaps tied to the Modern/Fate2.0 game we played several years ago.

I’m hoping to have something to test out with the folks at PAX East, as well, if they’re interested in playing a bit of Pen and Paper. I’m pretty stoked about it, as you might could tell.

Connecting the Players to Your World

You have a bunch of players, and you’ve got a world you know they’ll enjoy playing in? Awesome!  And when they get there, they don’t care about any of that history or story, it’s just killing and loot, and you wonder why you bothered? Yeah, I get that.  When I feel that way, I start running modules.

But I don’t like it, and when I do get the players to interact with the world through their characters, everyone has more fun.  It’s the thing they remember when they talk about the campaign later. Few people remember battles — although they may remember the loot.  The battles where we still talk about them is when some interesting interpersonal or inter-character conflict happened.

A good villain will do this, if the players are invested. This requires threatening something they care about. Early in the game, that’s just them, which is why so many video games have betrayal/revenge plots.  (Not that they are all equally successful.)  Since we’re not making a video game, though, we have more options (perhaps video games could do this too, though.  The Sims does.)

With Amaranth, the players are going to be Heroes of Legend. They’re going to save the world. Yeah. Ho hum. Who cares about saving a world that only exists to be saved?    The character motivation is already there, but the players need the boost.  So what we’re going to do here is to threaten the p layers creations.  Not the GM supplied world they live in, but the one they helped create.

Phil Menard (aka ChattyDM) sparked this idea with his party creation session template. That linked up with some of the Mouseguard RPG bits I was reading, along with the My Life With Master game I’m running on Wave.  In all of these games, part of character creation is writing sentences about your character, and creating relationships with other players and NPCs in the world. The latter almost always means the players create the NPCs to have a relationship with them. Phil even has them create specific places in the world that are their favorites, and tensions with other players.

So I will be creating a similar questionnaire for my Amaranth game.  It’s started, but user feedback is welcome. It’s a wiki so make changes, or comment here your suggestions, I’d appreciate it.

Zelda and Limitations Collide

So, yesterday I listed a bunch of limitations that my game has to contend with:

  • Looting required
  • Simple system or one people are familiar with
  • Generally short attention spans
  • Almost certain attendance issues
  • Needs some role playing for the GM

To which I need to add one more limitation that I’d forgotten about:

  • Fantasy setting

I also said that I found my answers with a Zelda game, specifically Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Although, I’ll admit Phantom Hourglass also informs my thoughts (but it strongly informs Spirit Tracks, so I guess that’s okay.)  “Wait,” you say? “I thought you said video games were largely soulless, and you’re going to them for inspiration?  How doest that work?”

Hopefully really well.  Well better than D&D 4e managed it anyway.  It doesn’t fix all of my issues, but it gives me some very strong design guidelines that fit well with a good portion of my limitations.  This is pretty easy to demonstrate.

Zelda is a fantasy setting (despite the existence of Trains) with some looting — certainly there are treasure chests and pots to break all around, and they drop health and any of the consumables Link uses.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s a DS game.  That means it’s designed to be eaten in bite-sized chunks, perfect for short attention spans or the time you have to play a portable game.  It also has a structure that’s fairly tried and true, and you can leave it alone for days or weeks, and come back to it, still reasonably certain what has to be done next.

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PnP Game Design

I suppose in some ways this post will be obvious common sense.  That begs the question of why I should write about it at all, but I think it took me a while to really understand it myself, so maybe this will be useful to someone else as well.  As I described yesterday, I have the dual problems of wanting to play pen and paper games and a group that doesn’t precisely meet my needs for type of game. I’d love to play a more role-played, less combat-centered game, but my group wants to get loot and that moves you into the kill/loot/sell cycle.

A lot of people will tell you that if the group and GM aren’t in sync, or if there’s a player problem then you get rid of the player.  I’ve done this — in high school — but I can’t do it now.  My wives are two of my players; another is Girl’s husband, and still another is their daughter, my GoddessDaughter. I only have two choices: accomodate them, or not play.

I suspect that’s why I’ve been hesitant to game again.  The last time we gamed, playing D&D 4e was pretty awful — for me as a GM and for my players, as well.  It was even more about battles and the looting has become more like shopping, as you have a list of things the players want and you place them there to find when they kill the monster. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the combat really doesn’t support the attention span of my group.  Or keep me interested.

That’s when I realized I was going about it wrong.

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