Magic is real. It can create, destroy, animate. It can reward or punish. It emanates from everything, the living, the dead. It comes from humans, animals, and other… things. It can allow you to shoot lightning or cause you to crave blood. It can create an impenetrable shield, or condemn you to an eternity of servitude.
It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer if it were set in the mean streets of Chicago. Werewolves, vampires, half-breeds, fey, wizards… you name it, we have it.
Welcome to the world of Harry Dresden: occult specialist, occasional consultant to the Chicago Police Department, and wizard for hire.
The character was created by Jim Butcher in his Dresden Files series. So far he’s appeared in 14 novels, a couple of other adaptations, and on a one-season series on TV (not brilliant, but still fun to watch; it’s out on DVD). How good are the books? In one, Harry, surrounded by enemies on all sides, goes into the Chicago Museum of Natural History, puts a necromantic spell on their T-Rex skeleton, and rides it into battle. I am 100% not joking.
If you like what you’ve read so far, it won’t surprise you to find that Dresden has also been almost seamlessly adapted to an RPG, using Fate rules.
Here are the 6 reasons why I love this game. Please be aware, this is a really dense rule system/background, so I’m just introducing it, and am not going to be extensive in my descriptions. If I left something out, it was probably on purpose, but please let me know!
1) The Book
The core book isn’t small (or cheap) but it’s very well written. The clarity of instructions, the art, the ordering of chapters/instructions, the formatting... every part of it was really well thought out. Firstly, you don’t need to know anything about the Dresdenverse. All you need to know is ‘The setting is a city, it’s today, and magic is real,’ and the ball gets rolling. The annotations in the book made by Harry (the core book is written like a fictional diary-type book) are really funny, and link with some of the novels, but they are totally circumstantial.
2) The Setting
Harry Dresden’s Chicago is your usual occult/magic metropolis. Behind the normal veil of daylight and normalcy lies an underbelly of nightmares. Demons, paranormal creatures, wizards, spirits, ghosts, all are very real and all have their own agendas. When those agendas collide, well, then you have a problem, and normal humans usually pay the price. Magic, creatures, belief, humans, are all in a whirlpool of actions and reactions. If you’re really, REALLY into the setting, there is another book, a twin to the core book, that just covers the setting in exact detail. Both books aren’t small, but they dovetail nicely into one another.
3) The City
The first thing that intrigued me about this game was The City creation. The game actively invites you to base your Dresdenverse game in another city, as most players wouldn’t know one Chicago road from another. Ideas and Fate aspects are suggested to make up an imaginary city (which I did), or to simply drop your magic and your vampires into your local big city/town. Look around, next time you’re driving around. Wouldn’t THAT house be haunted? And that big glass tower in the city center? Wouldn’t the Vampire Court meet in some board room inside? At the end of the City chapter, starting a trend that continues throughout the book, it has ‘on the fly’ city creation rules. The book, in an unusual gleam of self-recognition, appreciates the fact that it is, itself, MASSIVE. It is, believe it or not, 400 pages long. So at every step, it says to the player ‘I know you don’t have the patience for this, you might not even know the Dresdenverse, so here’s what you do to get this rolling.’
4) Character Creation
The choices are many, which makes this a particularly flexible setting. Werewolves, a couple of different types of Vampire, vampire-infected-but-not-turned-yet, wizard, normal human, person of faith (more of that in a bit), and Fey, are all options for player characters. Fate Aspects are suggested, but as usual, it’s left pretty open to the players. ‘On the fly’ rules are again introduced (see point 3), and a fantastic chapter with pre-made templates is also introduced. With a minimum knowledge of Fate and an hour of reading and note-taking, character creation can take under 20 minutes. Things move away from Fate with Trappings. Trapping are a subdivision of skills, as in, each skill has a number of trappings. The Might skill, for example, has as Trappings Breaking Things, Exerting Force, Lifting Things, and Wrestling. All will be under the skills’ Mod, so why do it, you ask? Some skills are subtly different depending on the situation, hence the extra level of complexity. Personally, I’ve played it without this extra level, and it didn’t break the game.
And here is where this system, at least for me, jumps off the page, pats me on the head, and runs off giggling. Now I’m not going to go too deep into the rules, but they are pretty much the best ones out there (my opinion) for magic in Fate. Magic takes effort, so it can damage you as you cast it (balancing nicely effort and effect), and super/magic powers follow a standard point system, whereupon you pay (sometimes dearly) for your enhancements. Some of these will again be counterbalanced by negative effects. Also, you can simply be a ‘normal’ human (with extra goodies, so you’re not made of tissue when compared with the supernatural things), or a human of faith. Faith is massive in the Dresdenverse. If you believe in something just enough, and if you have the power, maybe your belief is actually real…?
If you want a contemporary magic-rich system with a fantastic background and simple rules, this is some of the best stuff out there. The book is as thick as my grandmother’s bean soup, but it allows itself to be just quickly leafed through, if you just want the essentials and to start play quickly.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.