Actual Play – Dresden Files (10/22/2008)

System: Dresden Files

This is also posted in the DFRPG community, but I put it here for people who don’t like to read on black backgrounds:

Here is a recap of our game. Points of confusion are in red and the recap is at the bottom if you don’t want to read through the all the action. I started by doing the following:

  1. Ask the players how their characters “normally” interacted with each other. Yes, they had been in a book together, but on a regular basis, do they call each other when something goes down, do they have a poker night, have the become close friends?.
  2. Review how aspects will be invoke and (especially) compelled. I wanted to make sure I had a good idea of how the players wanted their aspects compelled. What they were hoping to see in game.
  3. Review the rules with the players
    1. Basic dice Mechanics
    2. Aspects (invoke, tag, compel)
        How compels are used as an alternative resolution system
    3. Stunts
    4. Contested rolls
    5. Combat (stress, consequences, concessions and being taken out)
    6. Maneuvers and blocks
    7. Assessing and Declarations
  4. I discussed the mood of the game. I wanted a game close to Jim’s mood. Near noir in style, viewed in sepia tone, with a few core rules
    1. Crime always comes to a bad end
    2. Accordingly, the bad guys are always REALLY bad guys but,
    3. There are lots of shifty people in the middle, and
    4. Even the heroes are rough around the edges, full of faults
  5. I made a big point about Declarations. Harry makes them all the time and it is just as interesting when they are wrong as when they are correct. Use them. Often!
  6. We discussed character death and agreed that characters should not die due to dice rolls and if a character was in a situation where death would be the only likely outcome we would collaborate as a group to find an alternative.
  7. I brought up the mechanics that I was specifically looking to test
    1. Movement through borders (treating borders as blocks)
    2. Making/Removing maneuvers
    3. Blocks (specifically grappling)
    4. Spin (to use it or not)

The setup. Two players were present. Their characters are Zak and Reggie. In step one they agreed that Reggie would feel comfortable in the Zak vodou church. It’s got a heavy dose of Catholic elements and has an old world feel that would be comfortable to Reggie.

The situation: After the congregation, the community was going to engage in a fun game of “catch the greased pig.” I compelled Zak’s “Strong: Guns of Steel” to show off in front of the ladies and Reggie’s “Time lost frontier gentleman” to be a good sport and get in the game.

  1. Framing the scene. In the middle of poor residential Las Vegas there is an old field divided by a rusty metal fence. On one side is a grassy field (zone 1) on the other side is an old beat up playground (zone 2) across the street and are some densely packed buildings (zone 3). Each zone had fair border (+2) between them (the fence and the somewhat busy street). I described the scenery sparingly making note of the worn down nature and suggesting (but not overtly stating) the aspects it might have.
  2. Establish the groups in the conflict. There were the player characters, a group of kids and the pig. All three groups were essentially antagonistic to the others. The kids wanted to rib the adults and catch the pig. The pig wanted to get away from everyone.
  3. I skipped starting initiative because Reggie started off with a cool declaration and I let him roll from there.


Reggie: Declaration. “You wanna know the way to catch a pig? First you gotta kick it in the kidney”. Rolled Survival and got a Superb Result. The pig gained the aspect “kick it in the kidney”

Reggie: Mental Attack. Whooping and waving his hat around to intimidate the pig. Attempting to cause mental stress. In this case I let him use Survival as a social skill. Both of them rolled good. No result. NOTE: Reggie has a great survival. I was willing to give him a second roll using it (for both the declaration and the intimidation) but didn’t want it to become the catch all “pig catching” skill.<

Zak: Sprint. Attempted to move from zone one (the field) across the fence to zone two (playground) in effort to get ahead of the pig. Rolled athletics and failed (blocked by the fence)

Pig: Attempted to run Zak in circles and tire him out (maneuver). Pig rolled Athletics vs. Zak’s Endurance. Pig won and Zak gained the aspect “winded.” As a supplement action it ran under the fence to zone 2. NOTE: I wasn’t sure if athletics could be used as an attack, but couldn’t think of another way to represent the pig tiring out the people chasing it. Also, I deiced to ignore the border for the pig as it was small enough to run under it.

Kids: One of the kids tried to shoulder check Reggie and knock him out of the way. Fists vs. Fists to cause damage. Both rolled fair so no damage but they did bump into each other.

Reggie: Picked up some rocks and tossed them through the fence as a maneuver to give the pig the aspect “paranoid” Weapons vs. Athletics. Pig won. No result.

Zak: Seeing the fence was hard to climb, pulled some bars apart using a might check to give the fence an aspect “sweet spot”. Spent a fate chip to invoke “Strong: Guns of Steel” to make it happen. NOTE: I used an “average” difficulty for this as per suggestion in the book, but it seemed like pulling apart a fence should probably be harder.

Kids: One kid tried to distract Zak by teasing him for being too slow to catch the pig. Presence social attack, contested by Zak’s rapport. Zak beat the kid by 6 shifts and gained spin, calling the boy out and putting him in his place.

Other kids (the pig wasn’t doing anything because it had made it to zone 2): Called Reggie and old man. Deceit vs. Rapport. Kids did two composure stress by tagging aspect “I got my AARP card right here.” NOTE: Wasn’t sure what social skill to use for teasing and goading. Opted to use deceit as the kids weren’t doing it in earnest.

Reggie: NOTE: Player asked “Can I take my time to make it over the fence or do I have to make an athletics roll to cross it.” I explained how the fence acted as a block and he would have to roll to climb it. This caused momentary discord, but the player decided to give it a shot. Reggie made a declaration “Kids, back I my day in the army, you were always told if you want to hop over a fence, hop to the left, if you hop to the right you’ll squash your balls”. Reggie rolled and athletics declaration, which he failed (rolled terrible, -3) followed by an athletics roll to spring which he also failed horribly. I decided the outcome of the series of horrible rolls was the mild consequence “Ooooh” as Reggie only made it halfway over the fence. NOTE: I let the player make a declaration as essentially a free action, because I like what he did with it. I’m not sure if that is a good idea (as a GM, I really like declarations though so I want to encourage them).

Zak: Push through the fence. He made an athletics check and take his free tag of “sweet spot” to get through it.

Pig: Just as Zak gets through, the pig is running from some other kids the pig barrels down on Zak. Fists vs. Fists. Pig looses and runs under a slide. (staying in the same zone)

Kids: The kids heckled Reggie who was groaning in pain. Presence vs. Rapport. Reggie won with spin and the boys were chastised by the old ladies watching, one of which helped Reggie down the fence and told the boys to be respectful of their elders. NOTE: Again, not sure what social skill to use here for heckling.

Reggie: Pulled a slingshot from one of the kids back pockets. Burglary vs. Alertness. He won and put the maneuver on himself “Slingshot”. NOTE: I wasn’t sure if I should call this a maneuver or not, but it worked.

Zak: Jumps on the ground to startle the pig into running into the monkey bars and get “stunned”. Intimidation vs. the pigs Empathy. Both roll Good and the pig is stunned. This is an intention set up for a grapple.

Pig: I think about having the pig “shake off” being stunned but decide that removing a maneuver, while tactically sound is pretty boring. Instead it tries to run across the street into the housing area. This time since traffic is the border, I make it roll athletics, and it fails. Still stuck in the playground.

Kids: Having had his slingshot stolen one of the kids jump on Reggie to make him “knocked down”. Reggie uses his “Barrel Block” stunt to use Guns vs. Fists in defense. We agree that the “barrel” of a sling shot isn’t significant enough to block a blow, but snapping it at him unloaded should fend him off. It’s close, so the kid tags “I got my AARP card again” to move faster than the old man and give him the “knocked down” aspect.

Reggie: On the ground he uses his “wide eyes behind the barrel” stunt to use Guns to cover the threat trapping of intimidation and aims the sling shot right at the kid to give him the “peed pants” aspect. Guns vs. Rapport and Reggie startled the kid good.

Zak: Zak tags the aspect “stunned” to grappled the pig. He rolls might for the block and only gets average. Invokes “Strong: Guns of Steel” to improve that to good. At this point Zak is out of fate chips.

Pig: Tries to break free. Rolls a “Good” athletics to wiggle free. We look up and determine that he has to exceed the block to break free. The pig spends one of his few fate chips to invoke “greased pig” (his only aspect) and slips out.

Kids:: The kid rolls Presence to “keep his cool” and removes the “peed pants” maneuver.

Reggie: Loads his sling shot and fires at the pig in the kidney. Guns vs. Athletics to create maneuver “Pissing Blood”. Invokes his free tag of “Kick it in the Kidney to do it.” Note: all this accomplished with trading aspects but we felt this was worth while as the “kick it in the kidney” wasn’t an aspect I was going to let them use to grapple it.

Zak: Decides he wants to ameliorate the “greased pig” aspect somewhat by throwing sand on the pig to give him a “easy to hang onto” aspect. He rolls Weapons vs. Athletics but the pig is too fast.

Pig: Rolls Athletics again to run across the street into the housing area (zone 3) and make it. The pig is loose again.

Ladies on the side line: Start hollering at Zak that if he wants to catch a pig, he’s got to do with his bare hands and bare-chested. The compel his “Strong: Guns of Steel” to show off some.

Reggie: Runs after the pig but rolls horribly on his athletics checks. Invokes “Pissing Blood” to catch up with it as it’s moving slowly. Also invokes “Slingshot” to take out a traffic light and clear traffic to make it across the street.

Zak: Zak yells at Reggie that he just busted a traffic light in Zak’s neighborhood. Zak thinks about berating him and Reggie tosses him a fate chip to compel “protect the community, but at what cost” to get into a fight.” Zak now has two aspects that are compelled. I tell him he can net 0 fate chips and follow one but not the other or he can try to follow both and get two fate chips. He does both. Hulk style Zak rips off his shirt and calls Reggie out in the middle of the street.


We decided the pig chase is over. The kids will probably catch it. Now there is something more serious going on. Zak is mad as hell that Reggie thinks he can break things in his home. We start a new conflict, this time a social one.


They roll empathy for initiative and Zak wins.

Zak: Opens up with a diatribe about how his community is poor enough as is and how the white man isn’t going to be the one blamed for the broken light. He is essentially shaming Reggie. Zak rolls Rapport vs. Empathy. Zak rolls Epic and Reggie gets Mediocre. The player wants Reggie to loose this fight, but on his own terms. He invokes his “Time lost frontier gentleman” to explain that he’s out of his element and doesn’t even know what traffic lights are really for and invokes his “I got my AARP card” to say he’s an old man, don’t give him such a hard time. This reduces the shifts from 6 to 2, which he takes as Face stress.

Reggie: Makes a concession. He agrees that he was wrong and offers to pay for new traffic lights for the whole block. Reggie takes the Moderate consequence “Broke” and suffers a loss that for the time being (until the lights are actually fixed) Zak’s community frowns on him and doesn’t want him around.
So… that was our session. We had a good time but had to look things up pretty often. We managed to try out a lot of maneuvers, blocks, and moving through borders.

Here’s what we really liked.

Zak’s player has never liked grappling rules… in any system. This is the first one that he has felt pretty good about. We want to try it more.
I highly encouraged players to make maneuvers instead of constant attacks. They did this… a lot (as did I) and it really made the conflict rich and full of descriptive action.
Declarations were great. I allowed two of them as free actions. I think in the future I would probably just allow one as a free action (internal monologue) and the others would have to be made as standard actions. They really filled the scene with expectations and excitement.
I was extremely happy when one of the players compelled the other player’s character to get into an argument with his character. It made for excellent role-playing backed up by mechanics. Is that perfection or what?

What wasn’t so hot

Reggie’s player knew Reggie only had a mediocre athletics and didn’t think he could climb the fence. He would have liked to take multiple supplemental actions to get over it. I didn’t allow that though, based on the block rules. This turned out fine, but reminded me that I need to be wary of what blocks I create.
I really didn’t know what to do when a declaration came up wrong and was followed by a horrible roll. I opted for a consequence (in this case mild) which worked fine but there wasn’t any structure I could find to follow for this.
It seems to me that getting an aspect as a result of a maneuver and then removing it makes for very boring exchanges (e.g. Player: I trip him. GM: He stands up). Nothing is accomplished. It’s fine to leave in the game, but personally I wouldn’t use it “removing maneuvers” much.
When Reggie grabbed the slingshot, I wasn’t sure if I should give him an aspect “slingshot” or just treat it like a weapon. In his case he only wanted to use it for maneuvers and such, so making it a weapon wouldn’t do as much good.
Nobody tried to use the terrain aspects, which I really assumed they would, especially in the playground. I think I need to be more overt about them in the future.

Next game: Magic!

1 Comment

  1. First off, I’m playing Reggie, yay.

    Second: As a new player to the concepts of this system (ie, I haven’t played Spirit), I accidentally made Reggie really squishy all across the board, which is fine for Reggie.

    I admit to not having thoroughly read the rules, but I never thoroughly read rulebooks, so it kinda works. 🙂 Anyway, point being, there wasn’t anything that caught my eye in the skill section about the importance of the track controlling skills. Maybe it’s addressed elsewhere and I didn’t read closely enough. 🙂

    However, the game rocks. Yay Dresden!

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