Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dresden Postmortem

There's a reason I haven't been doing any actual play posts of our Dresden Files games, and that's because I haven't been all that pleased with how they've gone. I do want to go into what I think were the reasons behind this, as well as the handful of interesting events, both good and bad.

The first problem was the power level. We decided to go with the highest starting power level because we wanted to play with all the toys, particularly with the spellcasters. This was a mistake on a couple of levels. First, playing with all the toys meant playing with all the rules, which I'll talk about more later. Second, the sheer power of a group of five Dresden level characters is enormous, and the books do little to help you deal with this.

The rules mention the possibility that the books are an account of a solo adventure, and I think our play confirms that. The entries in Our World are all woefully underpowered when it comes to challenging a group like the one we had. It more or less takes a plot level NPC to make the characters break a sweat. With more experience I'm sure I could have dealt with this, but I didn't yet have that experience, so that's why this was a big mistake.

The second problem was the players, in which I include myself. I'm not blaming the players, they were all a great bunch, both the regulars and the ones new to the table. Unfortunately, the couple of guests we had to the first two sessions had playstyles that didn't quite mesh with the existing group. Our group tends to be more narrativist and they were more rules oriented. Specifically, they knew the rules better than I did in most cases, which is something I'm not used to, and was unprepared to deal with.

Combined with my need to confirm things, this led to a great deal of page turning and rules reading when we should have been playing. It had the plus of leaving me much better acquainted with the system by the time the first two sessions were over, but the minus of making those sessions less enjoyable.

A third problem was that I'm just not that big a Dresden fan. I like the books well enough, but they don't generate a great deal of enthusiasm for me. I actually read the books because I'm a fan of the Fate system and knew that the game was coming out rather than having read them first and then gotten the game because I was a fan. This led to a certain level of apathy on my part when it came to preparing for sessions, and that was reflected in how the sessions themselves went.

A factor that wasn't necessarily a problem, but which became apparent in play is that the Laws of Magic are a "Big Deal". Now, the novels say they're a big deal, but in practice they're simply a plot device that either restricts Dresden's actions or triggers important plot twists. They don't work that way in the game. In the game they present a big massive potential for unintended consequences. This can be a cool thing as long as the players are prepared for it, but I don't think that the game books do an adequate job of portraying the potential pitfalls.

The way this came up in our game was in the climax of the first adventure. The players had to stop a ritual that was threatening to waken a great evil. The ritual was taking pace in a field and one of the casters used a fire spell to roll through those casting the ritual in the hopes of disrupting it. What wasn't apparent, because of the high grass in the field, was that there were a number of victims lying bound in the grass awaiting sacrifice. These victims were incinerated in the blaze and the end result was a rather massive breaking of one of the laws.

This could have been a very cool thing to explore, but the important thing is that none of us in any way had intended for it to be a possibility. It didn't dawn on me what was going on until after the action was taken, and I was the only one with a grasp of the overall situation. In fact, it wasn't until after the session was over that I fully grasped the implications. This is largely my fault for not fully grasping the significance of the laws in the game, but it's a mistake that I think could be made by a lot of GMs.

The biggest disappointment with the game was that fate points proved meaningless. The players could simply deal with the stuff I threw at them without needing to use them. The players took them from me because they liked being compelled, but they didn't need to.

Things I'd do differently if I had to do it over again? I'd start by going with the lowest recommended power level. This means fewer rules to deal with, and you can use the stats straight out of Our World to challenge the party with. I'd only go with the highest power level if I was playing with one or two players, or if I had a lot more experience with the system.

The group became disenchanted enough with the game that we ended up deciding to forgo our final planned session and instead made characters for our upcoming Pathfinder Kingmaker scenario/campaign. That probably says more about how enthusiastic we are about Kingmaker, but I'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

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