If you hadn’t noticed already, my local gaming group was one of a handful selected to help beta-test the rules in progress for Evil Hat Productions’ Dresden Files Accelerated. If you’ve read the books, the system tries to evoke narrative flavour of the Dresden Files using a lightweight ruleset. Specifically, it uses an adapted version of the Fate Accelerated Engine implementation of the Fate Core system.
We had our first session almost a week ago, and our second session will be tomorrow. As with most Fate games (save one-shots and pre-gens,) the first session was mostly focused on world and character creation. Obviously, we were going to choose to use as much of Jim Butcher’s canon as we could–but there would always be a point of divergence as we started to create our own stories.
I was fully prepared to run the game, since I have the broadest experience with gamemastering–and even more focused when it comes to Fate. This was tossed on its head the moment I asked one question: who among us was most familiar with the Dresden Files?
Once that question went to the table, the choice of game masters became clear–and I was moved into a player role. (I don’t get to be a player as often as I’d like. My experience running games, combined with some decent literary chops and a penchant for picking up new systems, tends to make me the first choice for game mastering.) The unfortunate side-effect of this was that I was probably the only person present who had read the playtest packet cover-to-cover.
Guess what? The system’s so compact that our GM was able to skim the core rules (the portions where they varied from Fate Accelerated) while we were all discussing our character creation.
Character creation itself was fairly organic, as I’ve come to expect in Fate–although this time, I noticed the process was more completely realizing the goal of free flow and exchange of ideas.
For starters, I had a couple of mantles (character types–Red Court, Fae, Mortals, Emissaries, Scions, and more) that I was eyeing–but I was fairly certain I was going to select a winged Valkyrie. After I had mostly settled on some basic abilities and a name, we discussed the idea of this Valkyrie being a direct descendant of Erik the Red. After further discussion, it was proposed that she actually had been Erik the Red. A couple of ideas were bandied about in regards to why history remembers a male, and why my character is female. My first thought was to pull inspiration from the anime Fate/Stay Night (or Fate/Zero, but more so the former,) where it turned out that King Arthur was truly Arthuria Pendragon, masquerading as a male to maintain Kingship of the Britons. One of the others suggested we could even say that the Erik that history remembered was secretly transgendered–and her transition permitted her to become a Valkyrie, though not without some internal strife amongst her own kind. To be fair, I was taken aback by the suggestion–I was surprised to hear one of the group mention it, and had to seriously think about whether I wanted to play an explicitly transgendered character. In the end, I chose something akin to my first inclination, earning on of my early Aspects in the process: Mortal History Gets It Wrong. Something that Erika Bridsdottir knows well from long personal experience.
Her Trouble Aspect arose out of choosing to have a character with perfect memory: Immortal Memories. She could remember things being different, or be trapped in her own memories. On the other hand, she’s also likely to recall the perfect factoid to be applied to the current situation.
Combine that with the Aspect Knowledge is Power, and it becomes clear that her high concept has grown from simple winged Valkyrie to Erika the Red, the Bookworm Warrior that she now is.
Each of the other characters developed in similar ways.
“Han” came to the table with a concept for a retired military man. He pitched himself as an Operator. When the GM heard about this, he instantly recommended one of two mantles for this character: Cop, or Knight of the Cross. The player loved the idea of the Knight, but was a little uncertain (almost hesitant) to grab one of Dresden’s three known swords. Though we were creating characters for the world, we also didn’t want to disrupt the canon too much. Initially, the GM was suggesting the idea that a trickster god stole Fidelacchius to give to the character. We talked around the idea for a bit, growing comfortable with it. Then one of the players suggested that since the Swords were formed from the nails that held Christ to his Crucifix, perhaps there was a fourth nail, since crucifixions at the time would occasionally use four. We had stronger buy-in from this idea, creating the fourth sword of the Cross–the sword of Forgiveness (we haven’t given it its proper name yet, none of us are that good with Latin.) Springboarding from that suggestion was the idea that perhaps there was peripheral power in the nails of the two crosses that flanked Christ’s. Add to this the thought that perhaps it would take two nails (one from each cross) rather than one to match the power level of the core three swords, and we had the implication there were at least two other swords of unknown provenance out there–an idea at which our GM was practically salivating over (especially since I had the impression he was planning to use the Denarians in our campaign.)
Puck (okay, Robin Goodfellow,) started as the Erlking’s Huntmaster, and evolved from there. The player wanted more than just a mortal brought to the Huntmaster role, and opted to select a mythological trickster with a long history.
Solara’s player started off wanting to play Molly from the books, then shifted to Michael’s wife, Charity. After talking about how we were building somewhat of our own world, she managed to combine the two characters into a single magical practitioner concept.
Each of us wound up with a potent combatant with some supernatural oomph to bring to the table:
Erika Bridsdottir, Monoc Securities Valkyrie. Historian, warrior, and occasionally the brains of the operation.
Solomon “Han” Tremblay, Canadian Special Forces Knight of the Cross. The bureaucratic might and regular tactician.
Solara, crafter of illusions. The friendly face who skirts the mind-control Laws of Magic.
Robin Goodfellow, ancient trickster Huntmaster for the Erlking. He makes things happen (though not always how we want them.)
After all this, it was clear that our common bond was as a working Monoc Securities Wet Team. (We make people disappear. Or supernaturals. Whatever the job requires.) We mentioned our shared history as passengers pursuing a mark on the tragic Flight XXX (we never numbered it,) which got all of us, save Robin Goodfellow, on to the Securities team. (Robin was present, and survived the flight, but was regarded at the time as a bystander by Solara and Solomon.)
Since we had some time left over, we started off with a mini-session!
The story begins with the team called to a briefing with Donar Vadderung at Monoc Securities. Our mission: eliminate the Wizard known only as Whitestaff.
Whitestaff had been targeting and eliminating the power players of the Nevernever, using duels to eliminate potent members of the Summer and Winter Courts (the true targets were called upon as arbiters and witnesses on said duels.) Whitestaff believed he had eliminated the Erlking, though it didn’t stick. Intel suggested Whitestaff’s next target was the head of Monoc Securities, as the man had been caught making rude gestures to the cameras outside the Dublin offices.
The team flew to Ireland, where they began their search. Solara was hoping to gather materials for a locator spell, but didn’t have a potent enough connection to Whitestaff to proceed. After finding trace evidence that suggested an old church site would provide our next lead, we ventured forth.
Erika took the lead, trusting in her memories to lead her to the church. She reached the destination only to find they had fallen afoul of a trap! (This was originally a self-compel to be found at the site of a demolition, where the characters are ambushed. The GM suggested a counter-proposal which was acceptable.) The ground collapsed around the team, dropping them into a dark tunnel.
The way back was blocked off, but there was laughter in the distance. Reasoning that whatever got in would also know a way out, the team followed the sound of the voice.
Unfortunately, Monoc’s agents were not to be so lucky. The trail ended at a skull with glowing eyes, impaled upon a spear. Once lit by illusory faerie fire, it became quite sociable, but not overly helpful. As the team interrogated the being (to no avail) it became clear it was powerful, insane, trapped, and drawing strength from the light. Further detailed and recall indicated the being was trapped by the original three ancient wizards, their likenesses engraved on the three coffins, and bearing staves of different colours–one black, one grey, and one white.
Realizing the peril was growing, and the being was a threat they were not currently equipped to address, the team ran for the other exit, this time finding what they sought. When they reached the church, the floor and ceiling were beginning to lose solidity, nearing midday, when the light of the sun would release the skull-being, granting it mobility once again.
Han reached out to his contacts to call for backup, and summon the White Council to completely encase the being once again. In the meantime, local militia provided a dark tent to keep the light from reaching the enemy.
In the end, the team was dismissed (in once case bodily evicted) to continue with their true mission.
Analysis – System
We had little direct interaction with the system, except during the character creation phase. In this portion, I have to give a great big thumbs up to Evil Hat, as it was quite straightforward to create the characters. The mantles, and the respective stunts that went with, helped set the characters within the Dresdenverse, and I doubt any of us could say our mantles were too similar to any of the others.
I would suggest the experience we had during character creation was the system working as intended, as it stayed out of our way while providing inspiration.
Our comparatively rookie GM had no problems adapting to the new elements of the system, which I suspect was also a design goal being reached.
Analysis – Game Style
I’ll admit our group comes from a more traditional gaming background, where the rules more tightly restrict and define the characters. One of the mantras I bring to the table when I’m playing, rather than running, in a game is “be very careful to retain your player’s agency.” By which I mean that a GM should allow the players the opportunity to act, and to have an affect on the situation around them.
In the mini-session, our characters found ourselves stymied by the lich (the skull on the spear.) We struggled to find an answer that would help the situation, short of “run away, and bury it as deep as possible.” This was the intent of the GM, and I think he wanted to introduce the concepts of ancient powers and the three staffs of magic.
Part of me wonders if we should have, as players, tried to “fail forward.” In other words, should we have let the lich free, a problem more immediate than the Whitestaff that was our mission? Or was calling the cavalry the right decision? While the former would have been a much more dramatic decision, would it have meant the end of our session so soon after beginning? (This was the impression we were left with in the moment.)
That said, I did mention my usual mantra to the GM. We shall see what tomorrow brings!
Hope to see you then!