Friday, May 26, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Demon Cults and Secret Socieites (5e OGL)

I have been a fan of the Midgard campaign setting since I first started reading about the city of Zobeck in Kobold Quarterly, when I was still mourning the demise of the physical form of Dragon Magazine. One of the highlights of my one trip to Gen Con in 2008 was getting to actually talk to Wolfgang Baur and buy a copy of Kobold Quarterly directly from the man himself.

But, in all of this time since 2008, I have never, ever, gotten to run a game set in Midgard. I have Midgard products for the AGE system, Pathfinder, 13th Age, and now 5th edition D&D. It’s like the more systems I could support, the better the chance that I could work in a game. Alas, it has not yet come to pass.

However, those 5th edition products are coming on a much more regular basis, and the PDF version of one of the Kickstarter projects I backed has arrived at my virtual door, so today I’m going to turn my attention to Demon Cults and Secret Societies, a Kobold Press product that, while drawing on Midgard campaign material, also has support for use in other campaign settings.

Speaking the Unspeakable About this Volume

The book clocks in at 176 pages, including a couple of ad pages for other Kobold Press products, the OGL, and an index. The book has light background images that consist of various symbols, with detailed borders at the top of the page. It has full color art throughout. The artwork has several recycled pieces from books like the Tome of Beasts or the various Deep Magic supplements, but where images are repeated, it makes sense (such as when a monster from that supplement is referenced).

It may just be me, but it seems like a lot of publishers are finding a much better balance between the background images and readability of text, and this book is certainly an example of that. While visually interesting, the symbols behind the page text are light enough that they don’t distract the eye too much, but this will likely vary based on your preferences. Overall, this is a very nice looking book, and while it is all thematically appropriate, for a book on dark cults and secret societies, the colors can be very striking and bright in places.


The introduction is brief, and mentions a few minor differences that a standard D&D campaign might have versus Midgard, and that there will be notes on Midgard specific aspects of the various chapters. It also lays out the structure, which is largely one chapter per cult or secret society. Each chapter has stat blocks for cult members, a few important NPCs, and possibly spells, monsters, and magic items particular to that cult or secret society.

The chapters do not have fully fleshed out adventures, but they do have campaign arcs, with notes on the types of adventures that PCs might run into at different character levels, and how a confrontation with the cult or society might culminate and at what level.

I’ll say right here, this is the kind of thing that hooks me. I have a hard time running an adventure “straight” for too long, but I like having the guard rails of what an adventure provides, so that I can reign myself in when I get too crazy plotting out too much material for the campaign. This provides a similar structure, without fully fleshing out the adventure. As described, these are very similar to Plot Points in Savage Worlds products. There is also some similarity to the “meta-plot” episodes of a show like Flash or Supernatural, where the heroes go and do other things for a few episodes, then come back to the looming threat on a regular basis.

Black Goat’s Flock

Right off the bat, we start with a cult of Shub-Niggurath from Lovecraft's work. Since Midgard includes Lovecraftian elements, this fits both the campaign setting, and other campaign settings where those influences wouldn’t be out of place.

One of the goals of the cult is to tell the oppressed to throw off their chains and promote anarchy, but more specifically, they are trying to piece together the Viridian Codex, an ancient tome of magical knowledge granted by the Black Goat to the cultists.

The cult leaders presented are a human wizard, a sort-of insectile satyr that might be more aberration than fey, and a wandering goblin prophet that keeps getting kicked out of cities. I already love this combination of NPCs, especially when the goblins are used more as “look at the downtrodden that may rise up” than just cannon fodder for more powerful humanoid creatures.

The sketched out campaign has suggestions going all the way to 15th level, and the only real issue I’d have with the culmination of the cult’s ambitions is that there is a sky hole to deal with. I get that gates to other worlds are a staple for cults, but the sky hole is briefly described as a super black cloud, and I actually like that imagery better than accidentally invoking the third act of every sci-fi and fantasy movie for the last decade.

The thematic elements added in to this chapter include a tree-like aberration, a spellbook that grants access to the Void magic spells detailed in one of the Deep Magic supplements (with a bit of a drawback to that granted knowledge), some spells that involve shape changing, as well as a modified wish spell that always has some negative consequences.

Note: Since it comes up in each entry, the way the adventures suggestions are structured are as follows—there is a level range listed (i.e. Levels 1-3), then there are usually about three ideas in that level range, fleshed out in a paragraph or two each, describing the kinds of adventures that the PCs might have that intersect with the organization, and how those adventures might build on previous encounters. Depending on the organization, there may be suggestions for levels 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13-15, although some have a suggested arc that doesn’t make it through all of the tiers detailed here.

The Burning Rune

This cult has a nice twist to it, because as written, they are a heretical branch of an existing dragon god’s church that is now obsessed with the power of runes, revealed to the cult leader when he was wandering in the north. The cult's goals are fairly straightforward and less insane than the previous entry—they want to be THE version of the dragon god’s church, and they want temporal power.

The NPCs associated with the leadership are the aforementioned rune obsessed leader, and a phlogiston faerie, a fey creature of elemental fire. This sets up an interesting dynamic, because while the faerie is going along for the ride at the moment, she’s actually less malevolent than her partner, and might be leveraged against him.

The suggested campaign arc culminates at about 12th level, and the detailed NPCs to support the cult include dwarf runecasters and dragonkin bodyguards. While the goals are straightforward, the local politics, tactics of the cult, and the potential tension between cult leaders gives the campaign arc more texture.

There is also a new magic item, which is essentially a bomb disguised as a normal object, and a golem, which is actually an altar that houses a flame, which transforms into a guardian of the cult’s holy places. There is also a new rune, presented in a manner similar to the runes in the Deep Magic Rune Magic supplement. At this point in the book, I was starting to wonder if the cults were all themed to tie into some Deep Magic supplement (there are a few more, but it’s not a theme of every cult or secret society in the book).

The Chosen of the Demon Bat

What do you get when your cult is made up of an exiled demon lord’s servant, derro, a vampire derro, and some Mi-Go? A cult that is trying to create a moon made of total darkness to cause a perpetual eclipse is what you get.

While the story arc described is a legitimate threat, it is amusing that this section details some of the less viable plans that the derro had for blotting out the sun, such as creating a whole lot of swarms of creatures that eat fire and hoping they would fly to the sun and eat it.

Tension in the cult comes from the fact that becoming a vampire made the derro cult leader more sane than she was before, the titular demon bat doesn’t really care about the cult’s goals and just wants to get back home, and the Mi-Go advisors don’t care about any of it, but like to suggest new experiments for the derro to try out and take notes.

The suggested arc has adventure ideas going up to 15th level, since the PCs may be taking on a demon lord’s old friend and a big, fake moon. There is support material in the form of inhaled concoctions, vehicles made out of creatures plus fungus, and the stats for the aforementioned fire eating bat swarms. My favorite is probably the most low key of the supporting materials, just because of its utility--there is a spell that uses creatures like ravens or bats as spies that I think could be very thematic either for PC use or for villains in a variety of campaigns.

The Creed of All Flesh

Like the Burning Rune above, this cult is a heretical sect of an existing religion. In this case, the god worshipped by the ghouls of the established ghoul empire in Midgard. They are tolerated, but as soon as they cause too much trouble, the ghouls are waiting to drop the hammer, or allow it to be dropped.
The Creed caters not just to ghouls, but to living beings that might be interesting in eating sentient beings. While there are ghouls in the cult, there are also a lot of living mortals that just like the idea of eating people that they could have some dinner conversation with beforehand.

Of special note with this cult is that one of the branches is that of the Performance Eaters—performers that keep sentient beings alive while eating them, for an audience. This is so twisted and wrong, and for some reason I love this idea so much for a villainous cult.

The suggested campaign has the PCs running into the growing influence of the cult, and various societies being infiltrated by them, including isolated tribes and decadent nobles. I really like the culmination of the suggested arc, because essentially the cult has drawn a bit too much attention to itself, and the ghouls allow the PCs to come into their empire to deal with them before they upset existing power structures. I like the tension this could potentially create. The suggested adventures top out around 15th level, as the group gets to corner the cult in its home base and deal with its leaders.

Support material includes huge, bloated, but still living cult members that draw power from mounds of dead bodies, and weirdly mutated lesser ghouls that are ridden like mounts by the cult. There is also special jerky.

The Doomspeakers

The Doomspeakers were the first cult or secret society that didn’t immediately have me conjuring images of all the campaign angles I could use to introduce them. They aren’t bad, but they lack a bit of the personality that the previous cults have. Essentially, they are a knightly order of anti-paladins that want to crush society to prove how bad ass demon lords are. The feeling is that this is a group disciplined enough to train and form a knightly order, but they exist to cause ruin and chaos.

I think some of the impact of the group is lost when you realize that this product also has a Pathfinder version. Some of the emphasis of this group is that they are EVIL paladins, but that impact isn’t quite as strong in 5th edition D&D, where classes don’t have alignment restrictions, and NPCs might not even be built using the rules for PC classes.

They are still interesting, but I don’t know that they would be my first choice for the A list campaign villain. There is also the odd alignment issue of the characters being very disciplined, but wanting to spread chaos, which to me screams neutral evil on average. But to keep with the traditional “anti-paladin” vibe, they are all chaotic evil, because "evil opposite of lawful good."

Mechanically, there is an NPC that has a temporary hit point mechanic that I don’t think works the way it is suppose to work for 5th edition, and there is a magic item that does the same thing. Both mention that they provide temporary hit points, but there is a cap to how many temporary hit points you can get with the detailed ability. In 5th edition, temporary hit points never stack. Exceptions trump core rules, but as presented, it doesn’t sound like an exception so much as a mistake when it comes to temporary hit point rules.

Now, thematically, if you wanted to say--especially for a group that is called the Doomspeakers--that the first time you hit a given character you get 5 temporary hit points, and then if you hit them again, you get 10, and finally 15 if you hit them three or more times, that may be a scary ability, but just stacking the temporary hit points runs counter to how the rule works in 5th edition.

The Emerald Order

While this one is technically a heretical offshoot of an existing religion as well, I really like how this particular secret society feels. These are alchemists that have found some ancient tablets, and are manipulating society according to the plans laid out in the tablets they have found. There is a nice subtlety to this order compared to some of the more over the top cults.

The suggested campaign arc culminates at 12th level, with the order manipulating events so that they become the preeminent advisors to the rulers of their region. Eventually, the PCs can find the tombs where the tablets are kept, fight guardians carved out of the same crystal as the tablets, and potentially have to resist the influence of the tablets themselves.

The supporting material details a magic item made from a shard of the same material as the tablets, as well as golems also made of that material. It also details the tablets themselves. This is an instance where the structure and path of the cult are a bit stronger than the actual NPCs, but the atmosphere created by the tablets and the intrigue make this society stand out from some of the others in the book.

The Hand of Nakresh

I don’t dislike any of the cults or secret societies in this book, but there are some that I really like more than others. The Hand of Nakresh is one of the break out groups. Because of their goals and how they play out, I don’t think they would be the main antagonists of a campaign I was running, but I think they would be a strong “B” plot that was running alongside the main arc.

This is sort of a cult, but it’s also a crime syndicate. There are roachling, kobold, ravenfolk, derro, and gnoll leaders, and while they all work together, for the most part, from time to time they have a huge competition to see who gets to be the big boss, by seeing who can rake in the biggest score.
The various adventure arcs have PCs running into the strange thieving minions of this group, getting caught up in power struggles between them, and ultimately being called on to bust up the whole gang because this year’s competition has just gone too far to be tolerated by the authorities.

This section is worth the price of admission just to see the derro wizard in tie-dyed robes, and for the albino ravenfolk with a “larcenous aura” that automatically teleports valuables to an extra-dimensional space when she damages her opponents.

The Night Cauldron of Chernobog

This is another heretical sect of an established religion. In this case, the group is firmly focused on Chernobog’s portfolio of darkness, to the point of creating an eternal night. Taken by itself, this is a strong section, and would be worth using as campaign villains. From a product standpoint, I was a little disappointed at the thematic crossover with the overall goal of the Chosen of the Demon Bat.
The way the actual suggested stories play out are much different, as there is less of an emphasis on various crazy factions almost accidentally achieving their goals, and there is more of a focus on the cult leader trying to get his hands on what he needs to achieve his goals.

One of the things that I really like in this chapter is the hag coven that aids the cult leader. They function with one pool of hit points, and none of them die until all of them do. They each have their own set of actions, and each member of the coven has an unique actions that only they can perform. This is a really fun expression of the concepts of a hag coven, and I’d love to get a chance to see it at the table.

Red Sisters

I’m a little torn on this chapter. I like the organization, and would love to include it in a campaign I was running, but because of how it is presented, I’m not sure that it would make for a strong main villain, so much as a support structure for other villains in the campaign.

The Red Sisters worship the same goddess that the vampires of the established vampire kingdom in the Midgard Campaign setting worship, and they are both support staff and essentially a check on the power of the vampires, as they are allowed to punish vampires that don’t properly follow the rules of the faith.

Outside of their native lands, however, they spread the good word of their goddess, help allied forces abroad, and recruit from retreats that help women having trouble in childbirth, and from brothels. While the setting material makes all of this work, I’m not sure the described arc helps to make them the main focus of a campaign.

Unlike other cults, the suggested adventures sometimes include “if this is inside the vampire’s home country,” or “if this is outside of those territories,” and even, “if you are using this group outside the assumed campaign setting.” Most of the cult write ups assume that all of those adventures, if you want to use them, can describe an ongoing campaign arc. These don’t assume, or even make it easy, for all of the suggested adventures to exist in the same campaign.

So while this chapter provides an interesting power group for a campaign, I’m not sure it provides as many tools to use them in a focused campaign, as the other chapters do.

Before I move on, however, I have to note that I love the Blood Hound. It’s a normal guard animal that has been feed vampire blood until it’s bonded to a given vampire and gets a boost to its natural abilities, and I want to give these pets to almost every vampire I use from this point on.

The Sanguine Path

It’s unfortunate that two blood-related cults come up in the book right next to each other. I would have liked a stronger thematic difference between them, since the Blood Sisters touch upon working as midwives as well as using sex as a draw, and the Sanguine Path promotes itself as helping people with their health and has sex rituals. The Blood Sisters may have vampires as members, and so might the Sanguine Path. As you get further into the chapter, there are very clear differences between the organizations, but in a book that already has similar overlap in a lot of themes, it feels like there could have been a stronger delineation right out of the gate.

The Sanguine Path gets people hooked on blood based potions that make them better, faster, and stronger, and then those people cannot survive without an influx of the potion. This gives the path power over people that can’t easily leave the cult.

The focus of the chapter takes a hit when the differences between the city version of the cult is explored versus the country version of the cult. I like the idea of entire villages of cultists that can’t get away because of their addiction, but the described, suggested story arc bounces between city and country versions of the cult, and I’m not sure if the PCs would tie them together without a lot of strong clues. I’m also not sure they would be dividing their time between rural adventuring and city adventuring without a stronger hook between adventures. The suggested story arc culminates at 9th level, with the cult trying to blackmail their way into power.

I’m interested in this as an existing element of a campaign, but like the Red Sisters, the described story arc may not be how I would be using them.

Selket’s Sting

Another splinter group of potential heretics, this group revolves around a goddess of both healing and poison whose cultists are attempting to get her some respect in a region that is no longer worshiping her as they once did. This leads to some tactical assassinations and power plays in the region, and culminates in a campaign ending suggested for 12th level, where local leaders recruit the PCs to wipe out the cult once and for all, after a series of damaging assassinations.

This is solid stuff, but the part of this chapter I really liked was the examination of how the cult may not be 100% wrong about the corruption in the region. While it discusses characters potentially being members of the cult instead of using them as antagonists, this presentation of the cult’s point of view is also useful if you want to introduce some complexity to the campaign in the form of sympathetic, but ultimately misguided, cultists.

Servants of the White Ape

An explorer from the north manages to awaken a violent nature spirit. That spirit bonds to him, and brings along with it a cult of actual apes and locals, and there are some relic hunter friends of the northern explorer along for the ride. Now that the explorer has the avatar of the white ape and it’s follows on his side, he’s going to carve out a new kingdom, with the eventual goal of showing his noble parents back home how awesome he is now.

The additional wrinkle in this story being that now there is a disease spreading in the wake of the return of the White Ape that denies spellcasters the use of their magic, making the northern explorer he prime mover in the area, until any PCs might stumble upon his plans.

While it’s a fairly straight forward cult with fairly straight forward plans (conquer this region, then use those resources to conquer even more), elements like the magic hindering disease are a fun twist, and who doesn't want to see an army of angry apes?

Weavers of Truth

This particular organization is tied to a demon lord, but Pazuzu is subtle, and just wants his followers to lie, maneuver, and manipulate. The organization is very much driven by it’s leader, a woman that married into money and was then scorned by the nobility, and falls back on her criminal past to form a new cult to aid her.

Many of the suggested adventures have the PCs running into the cult, but not automatically as adversaries. They get maneuvered to take out other bad actors that are also foes of the cult, or to take out elements of the cult that have gone rogue.

The big goal of the organization isn’t opening sky holes or summoning nasty things, but rather pulling off a spell that literally lets them rewrite what is true on a grand scale, which is a really nice change of pace. Closing portals and destroyed summoned creatures is a staple of the genre, but clever twists are always appreciated.

There is also a great magic item associated with this organization, which is a coach that can literally sow dissent in a city as it travels through the streets.

Appendix: Antipaladins and Doomspeakers

This section eventually presents two new paladin oaths, one that details infernally bound paladins and another that presents Lovecraftian-horror aligned paladins. The explanation leading two these new oaths, however, feels a little out of place. The assumption of the appendix is that paladins are paragons of order and good, and that antipaladins must be paragons of chaos and evil.

Since this product was developed for both 5th edition and Pathfinder simultaneously, this feels like a heavy nod towards the Pathfinder side of things. Paladins aren’t assumed to be lawful good in 5th edition D&D, so leaning so heavily on the old assumption of all paladins as the ultimate good guys feels like a little bit of wasted space.

The oaths themselves are interesting, but might not get much play at the table. Since NPCs can be built without referencing PC class abilities, these aren’t as necessary for villains as they might be, and while it’s possible to use them in a campaign for PCs, there will be some issues with keeping them on the same page as a team that doesn’t want to bring about the ruin of civilization.

Fighting the Good Fight

There is a lot of worthwhile material in this book. If you want campaign ideas with some flexibility to create the details of your own adventures, you have a ton of great material to work with in this book. There are great NPC ideas in this book, and great mechanical twists on 5th edition rules in this book as well. The spells, magic items, and monsters all add a level of utility to the book beyond just the campaign structures or new organizations.

Succumbing to the Darkness

If you aren’t interested in buying more Midgard products beyond this book, you may lose out on the flavor of some of the cults that rely on the Deep Magic supplements. They are still usable, just less flavorful. There are a lot of repeated themes, meaning that you may not want to use this material in back to back campaigns, especially if you already have cultist fatigue from the earlier D&D 5th edition adventures. There are a few artifacts of the book being dual-developed with Pathfinder, like references to the witch class or monsters like the Taiga giant that don’t have a direct D&D equivalent.

The Light at the End of the Campaign

Regardless of any minor quibbles I might have over the content, this book is a gold mine of campaign ideas, new monsters, spells, and magic items. While there are sidebars that provide some extra hooks for the Midgard campaign setting, many of the cults (especially the Lovecraftian ones, or those with a broader theme) should work really well even if inserted into other campaign settings.

Fans of D&D 5th edition, and fans of the Midgard Campaign setting, should be very happy with this purchase, and the only hesitation I would even entertain is the repetition of some elements, and possibly early 5e cult fatigue.

**** (out of five)

Monday, May 15, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Dresden Files Accelerated (Fate)

I’ve mentioned before on the blog that I have a weakness for monster hunting urban fantasy stories. My favorite Powered by the Apocalypse game is Monster of the Week. My wife and I watch Supernatural and Grimm together all the time. I even watched the short lived live action Dresden Files television series. For what it’s worth, the series may have left much to be desired, but I kind of liked Paul Blackthorne as Dresden.

I wasn’t an early adopter of the Dresden Files. Eventually several of my friends raved about it enough that I picked up the books, and I was hooked. And now I’m in withdrawal. But that’s a whole other topic.
When I found out there was a Dresden Files RPG, I picked the books up almost as soon as I realized they existed. I enjoyed in “in-universe” descriptions of the case files and how to model those events in game terms. That said, I had a hard time figuring out how the game rules came together until I picked up Fate Core. The text was enjoyable, but there seemed to be enough gaps between mechanical discussions that I would lose the thread of how things worked together.

Even once I figured out how the rules interacted with one another some things nagged at me. The biggest issue is that magic, while it seemed to be as it was presented in the fiction, was more fiddly than standard Fate rules. Additionally, as presented, a lot of the character types required a higher-powered game just to fit in all the stunts needed to properly emulate the fiction.

It seemed like it would be a fun game, but it also felt as if Fate Core (which was developed after the Dresden Files RPG) presented better options for modeling some of the aspects of the setting. I got Fate Core as part of the Fate Core Kickstarter, and one of the stretch goals was Dresden Accelerated, a version of the Dresden Files RPG that would be modeled using the Fate Accelerated rules set.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting these rules for a while, and now I’ve finally read them cover to cover and here are my thoughts.

What Did the Archive Put Together?
Dresden Accelerated looks much more like the Fate Worlds of Adventure books than the previous Dresden Files RPG books. There is a very clean, consistent format to how the book looks. Where it departs from standard Fate formatting is the series of post-it notes in the margins, continuing the tradition of characters from the setting commenting on their world while presenting game rules.

The artwork is more “comic book” this time around than some of the art in the previous Dresden Files RPG books, but I think this works very well to convey the feel of the setting. I also believe much of this artwork was produced in conjunction with the Dresden Files Card Game produced by Evil Hat. Overall, it’s a clean, very attractive package, but if you want it to match the appearance created by the rest of the Dresden RPG line, it’s not quite going to match up. The PDF (which is all I have available at the time of this post), is 256 pages, including an index and an example character sheet at the end.

Invoice and The Powers that Be
The introductory material and first chapter introduce us to the convention used for this book, and that convention is that this is an “in-world” artifact, where the Archive (if you aren’t familiar with the books, she’s kind of an oracle in the setting) is presenting the book as a primer to the supernatural realms for a client, and providing simulation rules for running scenarios so that he can train his agents. The sidebars of the book appear to be post-it notes that form a running conversation between her and her bodyguard about events that happened in the setting.

The first section introduces various power groups in the setting, as well as sample NPCs that represent these various factions. In the introduction, it notes that this is a complete rule-set. You don’t need to own Fate Core or Fate Accelerated to make use of them. This isn’t intended to be a supplement to either of them. That brings us to a potential issue, depending on how you digest your game information. All the NPCs have stats provided, and we don’t get anywhere near explaining those stats yet.

If you have read Fate Core, Accelerated, and the Fate Toolkit, you can start to piece together what those stats mean, but this is a distinct set of rules, so knowing anything about those books isn’t assumed.
Regardless, the banter between Ivy and Kincaid is great, and the information on the setting is solid, and a good summary for GMs getting ready to run the game. The game stats, however, are going to be a distraction if you are reading the book linearly. Due to the running dialogue between Ivy and Kincaid, you probably will be doing this, because the discussion leads you in that direction.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go
This section deals with the overall cosmology of the setting, explaining how magic flows on the mortal realm, the Nevernever, and the Outer Gates. It is worth noting that, since this “in world” document is assumed to have been written after the most recent book in the series, the picture of how the cosmology fits together is a bit clearer than in the earlier Dresden Files RPG books.

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist
This section is a fairly detailed look at assumed behavior in the setting. It ranges from what the White Council expects from wizards, to what the Unseelie Accords expect from signatories, and then offers some discussion about what happens when people don’t follow those rules.
Of note, the Laws of Magic are presented much more as a set of laws enforced by the White Council than cosmic rules that just exist, compared to the previous Dresden Files RPG material. While the previous books were presented as Harry’s geeky friends trying to make an RPG, Ivy is presenting a much more concise explanation of the Dresden-verse as a game setting. This section uses Ivy’s perspective to solid effect.

In the previous material, Billy and Harry are piecing things together. In this, Ivy is stating what is known as fact, and speculates from time to time, but the information, both as in-world “fact” and running a game, is much more “solid” this time around.

Ironically, it’s more “solid” because, in places, it’s less specific. In the previous material, Harry’s voice is used to state things, from his point of view, that seem to be fact, but later turn out to be more malleable. In this case, Ivy is much more prone to clearly delineate what is “known” and what is speculation.

In the Beginning
This chapter is about early campaign creation. Instead of the very intensive city creation rules in the original Dresden Files RPG, there is a much more simplified, but still collaborative, process.
As an aside, I like the city creation rules in the Dresden Files RPG, but I can say that, having presented those rules to some gamer friends that were not deeply invested in Fate to begin with, they seemed like more cognitive work than they were ready to undertake.

In this “accelerated” version, you are picking what factions you want to play a part in the story, what factions you don’t want to include in the campaign, determining what the PCs know about the goals and actions of the power groups, and determining a starting event based on those goals. It’s much more focused and “jump into the action” than city creation, and it also encourages the GM to add secret goals that the PCs may not know about to the factions in play.

The Heaven of Invention
Now that you have your factions and a general campaign theme going, this chapter deals with creating characters. While the game is called “accelerated,” and it uses approaches and a simplified single stress track, it’s fair to say that this is a bit more complicated than the base Fate Accelerated rules are.

Characters pick a mantle, which gives them a few special conditions they can check off that is unique to that mantle (or unique to a few similarly themed mantles, at least). Conditions are specialized forms of Consequences that are predetermined.

There is way too much for me to go into here, but essentially, some of your conditions are meant to fuel the abilities you get from your mantle, and reinforce the ways that you would be limited, and how you would recover.

Mantles are the bundles of abilities that were present in the Dresden Files RPG to represent various character types. Instead of listing the various packages of stunts for different assumed levels of campaigns, so that you might build an apprentice or a full blown White Council wizard, you would take the appropriate mantle, and then your extra stunts and the bonus provided by your approaches will show how skilled you might be at a given thing.

Mantles also play with the scale rules from the Fate Toolkit. Essentially, if you are a mortal, you aren’t operating at scale. If you are a Wizard, you are likely operating at Supernatural scale when you use your magic, so you either get +2 on your action against someone that is below your scale, or +4 shifts if you didn’t take the +2 before resolving your action.

There is no assumption of balance between mantles. If you want a Fey Knight and a Clued In Mortal in the same group, there will be times where the Fey Knight is going to have scale on their rolls and the mortal won’t. However, there are some stunts that various mortals can pick up where they know tricks to erase “scale” from opponents working against them.

It’s much cleaner than the Dresden RPG version, with lots and lots of stunts making up an established character concept, and the specialized conditions do a lot to reinforce the “rules” of how the supernatural works in the setting, as well as general themes of the books, such as the Indebted condition. Even if a character has scale when using their abilities, they don’t always apply. For example, a wizard only gets to function with Supernatural scale when they are using their magic, so there is a fictional limiter. That said, there are times when some character types are going to be rolling with scale while the less powerful characters don’t get that benefit, so it is something you need to address when creating a party (which, to be fair, the rules mention as well).

The Play’s The Thing
If you are familiar with Fate, this is the chapter where the book explains the Four Actions in the game, as well as how to determine approaches and what approach might apply. I think approaches are explained better here than I have seen them in some other Fate products where they are utilized.

Aspects, the Fulcrums of Fate
This section gets into the types of aspects used in the game, how to use fate points, and applying rules like invoking and compelling aspects, as well as declaring details.

With Great Power
This section of the book provides the specific, pre-built mantles and stunts in the game, and gives some of the specifics of what the various mantle specific conditions mean, and how to recover from them.

The mantles are grouped under Pure Mortals, Spellcasters, Scions and Emissaries, True Fae, and Vampires. Unlike the Dresden Files RPG, you can play full “monsters” under these rules. Some of the mantles, specifically the ones under Scions and Emissaries, allow you to have some of the elements of the Pure Mortal mantles as well.

In some cases, if a stunt calls for you to be able to check off a specific condition, if you have a mantle that allows for that condition, you can probably take that stunt, allowing you to build “hybrid” characters, like, I don’t know, a wizard that is also a fey knight.

Additionally, there is some extrapolation of the setting in this chapter, as emissaries of certain fey creatures are introduced that (to my knowledge) haven’t appeared in the books, but make logical sense for the setting. This gives you some room to play with similar themes as “canon” characters, without ignoring the roles that those characters have.

So Mote It Be
Holy carp, do I like this chapter. Compared to the very detailed Thaumaturgy rules in the Dresden Files RPG, performing ritual magic is super easy—from a game resolution standpoint, that is. Essentially, you come up with what you want to do, and if you can, emulate it with abilities from stunts or mantles, if it’s something that is going to affect a character for a while.

You make a check based on how well you prepare the ritual, and if you are successful, you get to narrate the costs of the ritual. If you fail, the GM tells you all the costs for the ritual. If you tie, you take turns coming up with costs you need to pay for the ritual. Once you pay all the costs, the ritual, as you specified it at the first step, goes off.

The chapter also mentions that some ritual spells are going to be much simpler and don’t need as much effort to detail them. Tracking spells fall into this category. In this case, the fun of the conflict comes from succeeding and knowing you have everything you will likely need for the spell, to the tension of having to track down that item you need to pay the cost quickly, so you can track the person as fast as possible.

Mortals with no magical aptitude can’t perform rituals—unless they take the indebted condition to some kind of supernatural entity, and checking off indebted may also be a means of paying the costs of various rituals. This is a great, setting-reinforcing mechanic to introduce.

Wrath, Ruin, and the Red Dawn
This section goes into running the game in specific scenes, such as contests and exchanges. Most of this will be pretty familiar to gamers that have a working understanding of Fate, but one interesting difference in Dresden Accelerated is using the same style initiative that was popularized by Marvel Heroic back in the day.

If you aren’t familiar with this, the first person to go is the person initiating the conflict, and they hand off to another character, until everyone has gone once in the scene, and the last person to go in the first exchange hands off to the first person to go in the second exchange. The only difference from Marvel Heroic being that all the GM characters go on the GM’s turn (meaning it’s going to hurt even worse if a player hands off to the GM at the end of the exchange, and they hand off to themselves at the beginning of the next exchange).

This section also returns to conditions, and how to recover them. Of special note is that, while it is possible to concede just as in other Fate settings, depending on the conditions you have checked, what it means to be taken out can vary. For example, if you take the Doomed condition and get taken out—well, it is called the Doomed condition.

Because the source material is about a wizard private investigator, there is a special section on running investigations. These work, at least a little bit, like the ritual magic, in that your success and failure on checks may result in paying costs, although the “cost” may be that the group gets waylaid by thugs before they find the trail of clues. The emphasis is that the investigation doesn’t fail, it just takes longer and gets more complicated with failed checks.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles
This section deals with character advancement, when you can change your aspects, add points to your approaches, get more stunts, or even change mantles, depending on the development of the story arcs.

A Kind and Patient Master
This section is on running the game, from the GM’s perspective. It gives advice on campaign structure, deciding on what costs are in rituals and investigations, how much detail to put into NPCs characters and what stats they need, and includes some sample monsters.

For simpler NPCs, you are essentially just assigning a positive rating for things that the NPC is good at. For monsters, there isn’t a lot of structure, so much as deciding if they are immune to harm from certain things and what their abilities might be.

The number of sample monsters don’t comprise a significant bestiary. They are there to show a GM how to build their own monsters, but the amount of detail needed to run a monster is relatively minimal. Example monsters include hellhounds, ghouls, and a Faust (a mortal that has become corrupted because they sold their soul to a supernatural entity).

You also have Sue, but she's kind of unique.

We’ll Always Have Parish
This section includes a sample campaign structure, complete with pre-generated PCs, in case you want to have a group give the game a test drive before they dig into creating their own characters.
The sample campaign is set around New Orleans, and provides some factions operating in the area, some sample NPCs, and presents their opening moves, just as detailed in the campaign creation rules in earlier chapters.

In this case, you have werewolves and fomor encroaching on a power vacuum created by the disappearance of Wardens of the White Council, with the stakes being the stability of supernatural politics in the United States’ southern region.

Like Baltimore and Las Vegas in other Dresden Files RPG material, it provides an area that is detailed enough with Dresden-verse elements to make it feel appropriate, but remains far enough removed from Chicago to keep characters from tripping over canon, if they don’t want to do so.
It’s worth noting, as well, that the sample pre-generated player characters are also interesting enough to be good contact NPCs if the players do make their own characters. Even if they don’t base themselves out of New Orleans, they have built in contacts if the GM or the PCs decide to go on a road trip to Louisiana. Character concepts include a half-naga changeling, a retired Knight of the Cross, and a White Court Vampire that feeds off fear and works in a hospital.

Index and Play Aids
In addition to the index, there is a nice two-page summary of rules that not only covers the base actions of Fate, but also gives a step by step summary of things like recovering conditions or performing ritual magic, as well as ranking the different scales that exist in the game.

Places of Power
The banter between Ivy and Kincaid is entertaining throughout. The setting is presented as a game world perhaps a bit more clearly than in any product for the line so far. Mantles enable “mixed parties” that resemble the inspirational material much more closely. Magic and mantles are much more clearly presented than before, and retain enough special rules to make them feel specific to the setting, but also have the increased flexibility that feels much more native to Fate games.

Bad Pacts
While entertaining, the order of presentation (setting first, rules second) might be confusing for some readers, and unlike game rules that don’t have an ongoing “narrative,” there is a suggested “right order” to read the chapters. Playing a group with mixed scale mantles is certainly possible, but if the GM isn’t careful about the challenges, some players with mantles that aren’t of a higher scale may feel outclassed.

I had to think a bit to include any downsides to this book. They exist, but they tend to be minimal or situational.

Before I go much further, I think I also need to point out that all the comparisons with the Dresden Files RPG aren’t meant to beat up on those rules. They were created before there was a Fate Core, to be a specific RPG for the Dresden Files, and they were made with assumptions based on the earlier books in the series. They are a solid, fun set of rules, that I, personally, felt were a little too complicated in some areas.

Dresden Accelerated just feels like it sings on every level where it engages. It presents the setting in enough detail to make it gameable, without bogging down with too much setting detail for a core rulebook. It gives great, setting specific examples of rules first introduced in the Fate Toolkit. In some cases, it does a better job of explaining the Fate rules than other Fate products have done, possibly owing to the ability to give setting specific examples of their application.

The book is going to appeal to multiple people. It’s a great “in-world” artifact for fans of the books. It is a solid set of rules for displaying optional rules in Fate. If you are a fan of the Dresden Files specifically, it’s a great set of rules, but even more broadly, if you are a fan of Urban Fantasy or Monster Hunting genres, there is a ton of material to use from this book.

I think I may have to give in and give this one:

***** (out of five)