The Dresden Files
Recently, I’ve been playing a new pencil and paper table-top RPG under the moniker The Dresden Files. It’s only been around since June of this year, and it takes a while to overcome the behemoth that is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). A few of my friends began playing in September and, more or less, on a whim I joined the group as an inexperienced wizard, against my better judgment, and I was immediately hooked. The Dresden Files is based on a series of novels, under the same title, by Jim Butcher and uses the “Fate system” as a core mechanic (as opposed to the D20 system), I’ll explain this later.
I hate to compare The Dresden File to D&D, but I suppose it is a must in the Tabletop RPG world, so let’s get on with it. The Dresden Files is, comparatively, a much more role-playing based game than D&D. I know what you’re thinking, how could one Role Playing Game (RPG) be more RP (Role Playing) focused than another? While D&D has the capacity for roleplaying, characters are often more focused around combat and support of that combat. While someone in D&D may be experienced in diplomatic relations, it’s often
simpler to alleviate tensions by killing whatever is opposing you. D&D rulebooks are filled with pages and pages of how to build your character for combat, how to level him/her to be better at combat, and things you can buy to use in combat, with relatively few entries on what to do elsewhere. It is best played running around a labyrinthine cavern in search of massive serpentine fire breathing lizards. The Dresden Files, on the other hand, focuses almost entirely on the role playing aspects of RPGs. Yes, you can build your character to be an epic fighter, but he/she will probably be just as good (maybe marginally better) as anything else of your template. The ability of a character is based solely on the ability/creativity of the player and adventures are anything but ordinary.
The Dresden Files is based on the FATE(Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment) system, which places the emphasis of the game squarely on roleplaying rather than rolling dice to decide what your character can and can not do. For every action, you roll four six-sided dice and everything above 4 adds 1 to action and everything below 3 negates 1 from it (3 and 4 both being neutral) so that, on average, you should be able to perform as well as you normally could but, with a little luck, be able to do something extraordinary. Within the game all characters start out as average (i.e. a natural +0 to any given skill) and only through aspects do they gain bonuses to particular skills.
For example, if a character, we’ll call him Rocky, had the aspect “Street Brawler” from growing up on the mean streets and having to fight for his bread then he might have a good (+3) rating for fist, meaning that he was skilled at using his fists for punching things. Now, if our friend Rocky was given the choice between using his hands or a crossbow to fight someone then this aspect could be invoked (by the player) or compelled (by the GM) to use his fists and not the crossbow. If the GM (Game Master) were to invoke this aspect, possibly because he sees it out of character for Rocky to not beat the hell out of his opponent, he would be awarded a fate point, which the player, we’ll call him Sylvester, can spend to invoke any of his aspects or override a GM’s compel. That’s it. That’s the FATE system in a nutshell. Simple, right?
The Dresden Files extends the simple FATE system to include wizards, vampires, fey, even the Elder Gods. An entire world is crafted, based on novels by Jim Butcher under the same name, on the idea that these supernatural occurrences and creatures are and always have been a part of the human world and the humans are, on average, a bit too dense to figure that out. Granted, there are laws set in place by the supernatural beings to avoid total cataclysmic devastation to the world that they also happen to frequent. The two rulebooks for the The Dresden Files follow the idea of a game based on role-playing rather than rules and take
most of the time explaining, in general terms, how the world works rather than citing specific rules for each and every event, apart from the few pages explaining how the FATE system works. Let’s take magic for example. In D&D there are hundreds of pages detailing how specific spells operate and they can and cannot do. If your character doesn’t happen to know the exact variation of fireball you would like to use then you can’t cast the spell.
In The Dresden Files you need only decide what you want the spell to do and it does that, provided you pump enough power into it (which will likely have negative consequences on your character if you overdo it). It’s then up to the GM to decide whether or not what you’ve done is physically possible and, if it is, the collateral damage. Some people like the structure provided by traditional systems, but others prefer the free flowing nature possible in something like The Dresden Files. Mostly, the space in the rulebooks is reserved for giving examples to make sure that everyone understands how things work but are also dripping with background story and humorous additions from the “characters” writing the books. It can be pretty hilarious while reading rules when a Monty Python reference pops up in the margin. Overall, the rulebooks are fun to read, something which I often find missing from traditional roleplaying books.
The Dresden Files, and likewise the FATE system, probably won’t be replacing Dungeons and Dragons any time soon but, at the very least, is an incredibly fun setting to gather around with friends and beat up some monsters, go to a movie, or whatever else you might have in mind. The setting is not limited by countless rules but a few guidelines that allow for players to create their own story rather than play one out. Just look at my group: A classy emotional vampire, a pizza loving faerie, a mostly normal girl who can turn into a cat, a demon possessed clone of a vampire hunter, and an inexperienced magic cop who has no idea what he has gotten himself into.
The two rulebooks “Your Story” and “Our World” are available for digital download on the Evil Hat Productions website for $40.00, not a bad price split among a few friends. For the physically inclined, hardcover editions are available for a little more, $49.99 and $39.99 respectively, but also come with PDF copies.