Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Dresden Files RPG Volume 1: Your Story

This RPG uses the FATE system. It is a licensed product based upon the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.

First Glance: First thing I see when I look at the Dresden Files RPG is a HUGE book, thick covers, thick pages, and in full color! The artwork is decent and full color it definitely evokes images from Jim Butcher’s iconic series The Dresden Files. Just looking at the artwork you can easily pick out scenes from the various books. The game is written as though Billy the Werewolf is creating a role-playing game, in the Dresdenverse, and Billy, Harry, and Bob are making comments about the book as though they were critiquing a final draft.

Main Review:
            If you’re familiar with FATE, you will immediately recognize the aspects and skill trees. If you’re unfamiliar with FATE, in a nutshell, the system uses simple skills trees and fudge dice, story-telling is encouraged by both players and game masters through use of FATE points, and the aspect system. Aspects cut both ways, as the player can use an aspect to get bonuses, even reroll a poor result, while the GM can do similar with his own NPCs or he may compel the players into action by offering FATE points as enticement to play into the negative side of an aspect. A good example of an aspect that everyone would recognize, Indiana Jones; “Why’d it have to be snakes?” Now the player could use the aspect to keep his cool by spending a Fate chip, or the GM could compel the aspect and perhaps make him freeze-up unable to move while the trap closes in on him.

            What sets the Dresden Files RPG apart from other FATE system books is the refresh system. The refresh system lets pure mortals like Karrin Murphy adventure beside a full-blown Wizard like Harry Dresden. Part of character creation is choosing a template, whether you want to be a Knight of the Cross, a Wizard, or just a plain old cop, there’s a template to satisfy your desire. These different power levels allow mortals more FATE chips, for example Harry only has 1 refresh point, thus he starts with 1 fate point to use typically. Karrin, has a few nice stunts, and extra FATE chips to get her through the rough times. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than a wizard.

            A big part of character creation is city creation; this part of the game creates threats and the faces of the city, and comes before actual creation of the characters, since some characters might be imagined in this phase. It’s best to play in your own city, as you know all the local haunts, sinister locations, etc. Say you don’t like the Mayor of your town in real life, perhaps in Dresden Files he’s a Red Court Vampire. The cold-hearted landlord downtown, maybe he’s so cold-hearted because he’s actually a member of the Winter Court. Playing in your own backyard can be very rewarding because the land marks are familiar. In San Diego imagine all the cool locations, San Diego Zoo, Belmont Park, Scripps Aquarium, Black’s Beach, UCSD, SDSU; now think about assigning aspects, is the location a threat or theme.

            In general, this game is EPIC! It bridges the gap between hard simulationist and pure story-telling. The rules are fairly easy to understand, and incorporate all you need to run your own games in the Dresdenverse. If you’re not a fan of Harry Dresden you can still play in the game just fine. This is in my Top 5 Game systems list.

Artwork: Excellent. (Good for Quality, EPIC for content.) Parental advisory, there is some artwork which is a bit racy for children.

Replay Value: Excellent, as an RPG, replay is typically good, Dresden Files is no exception.

Comprehension Level: Excellent. The rules are fairly easy to understand, the most difficult rules are rules which only the GM really needs to know the mechanics for, such as the Sight. The magic system while slightly complex is easy to understand once you’ve played it a few times. You do need to read the entire book before play, skimming won't work even for experienced GMs.

Humor: Great. There is some great humor in the book, the interaction you see between Harry, Bob and Billy, is right in line with the wise cracking wizard for hire.

Game Mastering: Excellent. Fairly Easy system to run, prep time isn’t too lengthy, with easy to create maps divided into zones instead of tactical maps, this means less prep time. The system allows for EPIC! Storytelling with lots of flexibility; the one drawback being that the monsters are in Volume 2: Our World.

Play level: While the system isn't as complex as Pathfinder, it's not as simple as Savage Worlds, it falls somewhere between the two. It's a mid-range, possible for newbie gamers to play but running would be difficult.

Family Rating: PG-13, As the Dresdenverse can be quite brutal and scary, parental guidance is suggested, while my own kids aren’t going to read the Dresden Files any time soon, I’d let them play this game.

Price Tag:
Volume 1: Your Story. This is required to play and will set you back $49.99 MSRP.

Value: Excellent, As nice as Black Library books, only $10 cheaper.

Overall Rating: EPIC! If you want to run Dresden Files, this is it. Conversion to other backgrounds isn’t too difficult either.