Licensed properties are never my first choice for a game. Nor my second. Nor my third. I pass them by on the shelf. Untouched. Unloved. I’m not a big enough fan of most properties to crack the spine let alone dig into the meat of the game to get to the goodness lurking within.*
I have not read any of the Dresden Files novels, nor read the comic book, nor watched the TV show. Twelve novels, at this point, daunt me; my reading queue is quite deep and I have all the patience of a methhead. I am coming at the game as someone for whom the property has no draw. This turns out to be the selling point, if not the winning point: the Dresden Files RPG is a fantastic urban fantasy RPG which does not need the Dresden Files. It is yummy taco filling surrounded by a property corn shell — the Dresden Files content holds all the good stuff in so it doesn’t go running all over the plate but it is not strictly necessary from a meal stand point. It can just be all taco. And also, salsa.
The cheese, as they say, stands alone.
I won’t bother with a lengthy review deconstructing the 400+ page tome of the first source book alone. Suffice to say it is an excellent game, well designed and well laid out with attractive art and a flow that makes sense.** The Internets overflow with 1000 word reviews full of praises for FATE, a system I hear actually works, so go read those. I have a special fondness for the city creation chapter since, in my hoary old age, I find I have less love for vampire love then for tools and toolkits.
My gut tells me had I had this game in my hot little hands ten years ago this would be the game, the Holy Grail, the great RPG beacon in the sky shining down the light and the goodness and I would have been insufferable with it. Every game must be this Dresden Files thing. Space opera? Dresden Files. Vampire soap opera? Dresden Files. Cthulhu?
I draw the line at Cthulhu. Cthulhu is sacred.
Since I am old and I spend all my time talking about the Good Old Days, my core urge is to go off and convert it to everything I have ever played. I am giving into that urge. Here’s what I would run with the FATE version contained in the “Your Story” volume of the DFRPG:
In Nomine: I have spent years trying to convert IN to something that would work for IN and became convinced FATE was the answer a few years ago when it was in an Earlier Incarnation. With DFRPG I’m convinced; it would take some new stunts and spells in the magic section to fill it out and a mechanic to deal with some of the finer bits of IN like disturbance rules*** but it would work. It would not only work it would be a vast improvement: non-useless humans, human servants with actual power, angels and demons working in a humanity that could take them out.
One of the great weaknesses of IN was the terrible imbalance between normal humans (squishy worthless meatbags) and mid-level servitors and high-level servitors. With DFRPG still would have some power imbalances but it would be less lumpy. Now those Vampire servants of Death have worth and we won’t even talk about the serious juju those Jesuits get up to with their Relics in the Vatican basement. The world got fuller: an encounter with an Ethereal on the streets of New York has epic consequences but so does finding that Balseraph lurking in the upper ranks of the Pentagon who can send out his secret military Angel-capping squads who can actually hit with their weapons. The dangers are real and people are dangerous. You cannot let slip your faux-human mask because those guys have guns that hurt.
It would be a different game, I think. One populated with more characters. But with more than angels and demons. And I come down on the side of being good with that.
Nephilim: I have spent years trying to convert Nephilim to something. For those who don’t know (and that is everyone), Nephilim was an occult/urban fantasy RPG (a familiar genre!) from Chaosium with an extremely compelling back story and an excellent magic system in concept but terrible in execution. It was converted from an even earlier French game but bore almost no relation to the original game except the Tarot themed groups and the secret societies — of which the Knights Templar were the ultimate hunter killers.
When FATE 2.0 came out I did a character creation with Nephilim’s multiple reincarnations through history system and it worked ridiculously well but it didn’t have all the stunts and the magic system (yet) so I had a part-Nephilim. Even with DFRPG the magic system would need to be redone to pick up the Nephilim occult flavor. But there I was, reading the “Your Story” book, thinking about the Nephilim character with two Aspects: “Phoenix” and “I love Judgment — AND SO DO YOU.” And around the corner from my buddy the Phoenix Nephilim with the alchemically enchanted flaming sword are the Knights Templar with God Knows What…
A long time ago I wanted to run a Nephilim game that was based on the coming of the Fool because all Nephilim games are based on coming of the Fool. Now I am thinking about how easy it would be, with the DFRPG, to run a game based on Tarot-themed secret societies. And strange beings who live for thousands of years. And the Knights Templar. And horrible secrets hidden throughout history. And how awesome it would be.
Anyway, moving on…
DFRPG Tactical Combat: I recently read through Diaspora RPG (and so should you). Within the pages of that lovely little book is a platoon combat mini-game that runs on FATE and uses FATE characters. And once upon a time I read Delta Green.**** Who hasn’t?
So imagine a game where the ultimate capstone scene after hunting down the nest of Fey in downtown Chicago where they’ve holed up. A bit of squad combat breaks out when highly trained commandos break into the nest and start hosing it down with automatic weapons fire and arcs of mystical lightning — what squad wouldn’t have their mage units? But the Fey, they’re prepared, and they have their own squads of shape shifting were-spiders and mystical armor and the essence of Baba Yaga’s chicken footed house….
I want to marry the Delta Green pragmatic research into the horrors that lurk underneath the surface of normality with the Dresden Files groups of vampires and fairies and weremonsters. And I think it can be done with the help of a white board and some useful rules used for taking out space monsters.
So anyway I can go like this for a while because this game and this system can definitely support warring Tarot-based secret societies going to war with one another while human groups bent on eradicating the occult and supernatural hunt them all. Or maybe it can be Angels and Demons instead. Either way, the system is there, it just needs a bit of patching. A few stunts, some new spells, and it is good to go.
And now I’m thinking more about the Fool than I have in years.
Oh! One last thing, although surely this won’t be the last on occult urban fantasy games — I did look over the second book. Great if you love the Dresden Files. Not too useful if you are trying to shove Those Who Creep And Nibble into the game system.
Rob! I need a cult creation toolkit! My platoon squads of military priests need to go eradicate them with the Holy Assault Rifles of John the Baptist!
* Hilariously, I have written on licensed properties. Sadly, this property has kept me from looking at Smallville which, I have been assured, is quite good, but I have a physical aversion, almost allergy-like, to JLA.
** Rarer than it seems in RPGs. However, the index is hot linked in the PDF which made for an interesting surprise. Skim the index WOAH I’m on page 283!
*** Diaspora provides a compelling patch with shifts in their personal combat rules.
**** See? Call of Cthulhu. All roads lead back to CoC. Everyone says it goes back to D&D but they are wrong. CoC is the grand daddy of all these games and I bow before its might. And I roll d100…