Cult of the Turtle

Joe Tortuga's musing on life,tech and gaming

Running Dresden

June 30, 2010

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.