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)


  1. I too felt that the order in which the book was written was a bit confusing. No having run anything FATE related I still have problems understanding some things and I have a feeling if I were to try to run it for my current group it just would not fly.

    1. One of the problems I have is that, when I try to review something, I can't "unlearn what I have learned."

      I think this is a lot clearer than the original Dresden Files RPG, but at the same time, I've read through a lot more Fate, and even run it at this point.