Actual Play – Dresden Play-test (10/27/2008)

System: Dresden Files

We had most of our crew together and started our Dresden play-test.

Cast: Zak, Reggie and Xin Gao.

I started the game with some compels to bring the characters right in the middle of the conflict and to bring them together.

Reggie was playing the slots, bored, early in the morning when Sherry and Wanda, two old ladies (the Crones) flanked him and began to play slots on either side of him. Sherry started talking to Wanda about trouble she had crossing the street near the Luxor, some dog was loose. She mentioned that someone should do something about it. Sherry apparently thought her slot machine was broken because the red light was flashing. The old ladies left and teller came up behind them to tell Reggie his slot machine was flashing because he won more than it could pay out. I triggered “No such thing as a free lunch…” to compel him to go look for the dog.

Zak had been possessed by the Loa, and came to consciousness being chased down a street by cops with blood on his hands. I compelled Houngan: Priest of Legba to put him in immediate trouble. Zak escaped the cops by diving into the NeverNever.

Xin was performing at Cirque and send to do an “extreme” performance. I compelled Were-tire Acrobat to make him to work and then “Dogs are Loyal but Cats walk Alone” to outshine his partner Jade and push her to go beyond her normal limits. The rigging was set up so that she could potentially get hurt, all to appeal to a particular clientele, to fellows dressed up as pharaohs, undoubtedly from another show. After finding out that they were the ones that put the pressure behind the performance, Xin decided to investigate.

The story proceeded from there. Instead of my normal breakdown of what worked, what could have been improved, I’m going to further divide the sections into my GMing and the system. In some cases the lines are blurry.

As a GM, what rocked:

The female characters came off as powerfully sensual but capable. It is key to me that women are both strongly feminine without being helpless creatures waiting to be saved. Tara, that woman attacked I the alley was thankful for Reggie saving her but still had spirit and was able to help him escape from the Black dog that chased them. Jade, a character that came up out of thin air is fit, petite and pleasant on the eyes by fiercely determined to put on the best show she can. Margaritte, even though in a hospital, held it together enough to tell Reggie about the attack on her and what Zak had done to protect her.

The Crones were great. I think I just love playing old ladies, especially in pairs. I had essentially the same old ladies in my Mage game, as great aunts of a Mage who were always getting into things. I tried not to lay it on too thick, but I had a lot of fun playing them.

I managed to slip in some foreshadowing details. It made me happy that the players recognized things before I described them mechanically. They new they were talking to fey, they new something was happing at the Luxor, etc. The leaps weren’t huge, but I was happy they weren’t puzzled.

The player interactions were awesome. This doesn’t really belong in the “As a GM” section, but it doesn’t belong in the system section either and I’m not dividing things further. Reggie and Zak have some great chemistry and some excellent internal conflicts. I kept thinking about Angel and Spike when they were talking to each other… to me that is gold.

The story is sufficiently complex. There are women being hurt. A mysterious black dog attacking people. Unhappy Ogres kicked out of their house. A big fey procession. A hotel renovation and a Native American Art Exposition. All of these things tie back into each other and all provide leads to follow up on. See below, however for the downside to this.

As a GM, What could have been improved:

I forgot to put the conflict in their faces. I made two pacing mistakes that in retrospect I’m annoyed about.

  1. When they were first investigating the Luxor, I gave them some tangential details about the changes and insinuated that there was a private contractor who was organizing it. I gave them a name but should have just had the contractor show up and talk to them. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and it should have been sooner.
  2. Here’s the big one. I didn’t put the screws on. They bumped into a pair of summer court ogres that said they would meet at the Voodoo Lounge to discuss what they were mad about. That was shit. They should have just said, right there in the street. “This is our home and we’ve been locked out of it. If we can’t find a way in we’re going to destroy it. Nobody violates our territory.” The ogres represent the stories pacing. If the players don’t figure out what’s going on, they are going to start hurting people. It was a huge mistake not to bring that out in the first session. As is I think the players don’t feel much immediate pressure on them to figure out what is happening. The dial is at 5 and it needs to be at 11.

I think of great descriptions in my head but they always come out too wordy. As I’m trying to describe the scent of the pharos, I stumbled over words. The description of Tara was also flimsy. I need to remember short, succinct descriptors or phrases that convey the sensory input I’m going for.

While complex (which is good), the story is a little confusing. I want a bunch of disparate elements that interweave, but they connections need to be made clear once they are seen so players don’t become overwhelmed by the possibilities. I wasn’t clear enough.

A minor but dumb thing with timing. When Xin went to pursue the Ogre/Pharos, they should have been long gone, but I had them still in the street. I guess they could have stopped for a hot dog, lingered around for a bit, I mean they had no reason to make haste, but what I should have done instead was let the player think of a way to track them. I mean, c’mon they were dressed as freaking Pharos, it’s not like it would have taken rocket science to put it together that they came from the Luxor. The goal was a good one, to keep things moving, but the execution was poor. I should have put the ball in the player’s court.

Another minor but potentially VERY confusing bit. I completely flipped-flopped Summer and Winter court appetites. I had these two Summer court ogres getting exited about a woman nearly falling to her death from an aerial. It would have been beautiful and full of sorrow. GREAT for Winter, totally wrong for Summer. Oh well, they are Ogres, they’ve got strange tastes.

As a system , what rocked:

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth putting down again. I love using compels as plot hooks. It’s like “Here’s an adventure to go on AND a cookie to get you started.” This works so incredibly well that I want this in every game. It works especially well in Dresden because the players start so short on fate chips. YES YES YES!

Declarations worked well again. This time the declaration failed and created a complication, which was just as entertaining as it working. Very happy with this, although I’m not sure if I’m using it correctly. I’m allowing players to make declarations based on any appropriate skill. Want to know about where to punch a dog, roll fists. Maybe it should be survival instead, or maybe only scholarship. Going to have to check this but I hope that it isn’t only scholarship, because I love it when players do it.

Maneuvers, as per standard fate, were flung all over the place. We had pinned, clubbed, seeing stars, and a few others. This is core to the system and I know it doesn’t need to be tested, but it’s worth noting that I think having few fate chips makes players more interested in creating aspects they can tag for free, rather than having to spend fate chips. So, if anything Dresden made maneuvers better.

Spellcasting. We did some Thaumaturgy. Three spells in particular.

  1. Using a persons blood to determine if they are alive. I set the difficulty for this at Fair (+2) because the person was in the hospital and while easy to find with a Contacting roll, would be harder to see or have a doctor tell their status.
  2. Using that same blood and a voodou doll to experience that persons’ sense. I called this a great difficulty, but think I retrospect to gain all five sense I probably should have made it higher (maybe even as high as legendary) with the option to do fewer sense at a lower difficulty.
  3. Sending a message through the NeverNever to a recipient using their hair and a vodou doll. For this one I didn’t require a roll, as we agreed the difficulty would be trivial.

Overall, the spellcasting felt like it did what it was supposed it appropriately. (WOOPS, I just realized Zak may not have had his Staff of the Loa with him. Hmm, have to check on that)

As a system, what could have been improved:

I felt pretty awkward framing some conflicts. We had one where the stage hands were trying to prevent Xin Gao from getting onstage and rescuing his partner. I agreed to let him use Athletics to move there, essentially as his attack to overcome the obstacle of the stage hands. He rolled something like Epic and defeated the Conflict in one roll. I guess that, mechanically is fine, but it didn’t satisfy what I was trying to simulate. Another conflict, with a Black Dog, the stakes weren’t really clear. This could be as much being unfamiliar with the system as it is anything else.

We ran into an issue with compels. The rule is say yes, roll dice or compel. What happens when the compel is refused? Do you go back to rolling dice, or do you just say yes? I was a fan of the later, but the players (to their own detriment) wanted the former. Not sure about this.

All right, this is going on 4 pages, and I have a 3 hour long recording of the session. I think I’ve done enough on this session. I’d like the other’s thoughts though, leave a comment.