Actual Play – Mankiller Island Doesn’t Take Prisoners (8/13/2010)

GM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Kristin, Sean and Fattig
System: Dresden Files

Happy Friday 13th Yo! We didn’t have a haunted game at all! No creepy stuff here. Sept maybe the warlock that was summoning outsiders… and being trapped in a storm drain with three hungry (as if they are ever not) ghouls. It was a cake walk.

Here’s the deal, we swam some, froze some, and eventually found a way into this light house by falling down a dune and landing on a storm pipe that led in. There was much nudity on the part of our were-spider and this discussion of junk.

Once inside, after much banter, we got attacked by Ghouls. It was a rough fight, the kind I really like. They were great (+4) at everything physical (fist and athletics) as well as pumped up with inhuman speed, inhuman strength and claws making even a graze from them very dangerous. Fights like those are full of maneuvers, blowing through fate chips, near misses, and nasty consequences, which I love. Some things I thought worked particularly well for my character, who is good at Craftsmanship (+3) but only Average (+1) with fists was to start making declarations (in this case, that ever storm drain needs a turbine to funnel the water out) and the tag those aspects for effect (to turn on the turbine and trip said Ghoul into it).

After that we found Mercutio downstairs with his three bound hags. So we found one of the sorcerers in Atlantic City, who was powerful enough to bind three Hecatean Hags to his service. Holy crap! We bantered a bit until I just couldn’t resist making a social attack on him (threatening him with the White Council’s wrath) and then things went down, in a bad way.

Luckily we were below water level next to the ocean, and had a combustible generator in the room… This led to explosions, the basement being flooded, and magic not working so hot. For my part, I dished out two nasty blows, one social attack that gave Mercutio the severe consequence “hunted by the white council” and another mental attack to break his circle and his control over the hags. For all that though, we got served up as bad as we dished out. Saul took a severe consequence “Murcutio’s black blood” which now runs through his veins as a result of a powerful force attack he ate and Donnie took a severe as well: Punctured Lung. Bad stuff. Great fight.

What rocked

I love, love, love Shaun’s format he’s had in the last three games. Let em mess around then slam them with something. Let the attack from last session be a lead for their investigation next session. This way we literally do push forward by getting messed up. It’s SO DRESDEN!

The fights have been brutal. We’ve been way outmatched and taken some nasty consequences because of it. I like it. I like folks wielding Weapon 4 attacks. It means that even a graze is going to put you in consequence area.

Jameson’s feeding has become more prevalent as well, because of all the crap we’re going through, he’s had to draw on his supernatural nature a lot, which has drained him… a lot! I’ve been digging the hunger rolls.

Our enemies are scary within the fiction and the mechanics have backed that up. Sometimes things don’t mesh that well (perception of danger doesn’t equate to mechanical danger), and Dresden has done a great job of matching danger in the books to danger in the game.

Having characters without great physical skills has not totally handicapped us (but see below as well). It’s just meant we proceed down other avenues.

Mercutio got an aspect in the game. Mortimer’s mentor. Mortimer was Saul’s uncle who was killed by a warden. Things just got very, very personal for Saul.

Getting compelled by the aspect “Dante’s Inferno wasn’t the Half of it” to accidentally soul gaze a Warlock and see who he really was… WAS AWESOME!

What could have been improved

I said above that I liked how the non-physical characters were still dangerous. It’s true, but I also feel like there are fights (and or creatures) where social attacks shouldn’t work. I’m thinking of a fight in the books where there is some plant monster that just trashes the hell out of Harry and Murphy. It’s utterly unintelligible and is on a path of destruction. No amount of intimidation would work on this thing. That’s kind of how I was feeling about the Ghouls. Of the three of them we defeated two by cowing them with social attacks. It just seemed like too much of a stretch. “Okay Ghouls… I know were stuck in this storm drain right now in the middle of nowhere… but if you mess with me, House Anders is going to know and they’re going to rip your ugly heads off and use them as lawn ornaments.” Maybe? I mean, Ghouls aren’t especially dumb. Maybe it would work, but it just seems far-fetched. And yet, for two of us, social attacks were the only chance we had. Something, like using our opponent’s maneuvers against them, just feels wrong about it. Maybe I’m overreacting and maybe I’m just too much of a character masochist.

3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Mankiller Island Doesn’t Take Prisoners (8/13/2010)”

  1. Well you are a character masochist, but I don’t think that invalidates your point.

    I haven’t pick up dresden yet, but I’ve encountered similarly “silly seeming” damage in 4e dnd of all places. Namely the Bard. The running joke is that when a Bard does his at-will attack, he’s doing self-esteem damage.

    Social combat, while definately worthy of having a mechanics to represent their existence, should have limits to their effectiveness.

    I personally believe that physical and social combat should exist on the same continuum of “problem solving”. As in, there should be some problem that brute force can never solve (and tend to make worse), as well as some situations where the plant monster doesn’t care who you are and is going to rip off your face. Otherwise, you’re devaluing one in favor of the other. For 30+ years physical combat has reigned supreme over social combay in RPGs, I feel that the answer is not to swing the pendulum the other direction and make social combat “better”. They should be equally powerful in their quasi-mutually exclusive spheres of influence.
    7th Sea’s repartee system is an excellent example of said system. However, it tends to be the first mechanic “discarded” in the name of more swashbuckling combat.

    1. Hey dude, thanks for your thoughts. We too have had something of a laugh at the bard.

      I don’t think Dresden has made social attacks “better”, in fact they are typically worse unless you’re just punching someone, most physical attacks are made with weapons that do extra damage (significantly extra damage). So I don’t think the problem is that the pendulum is swinging the other way, but that players can take advantage of whichever option works for them.

      In some ways this flexibility is great, Wesley and Inigo had both a duel of blades and a dual of wits as they continued to compliment the others style, while telling them which form would be most appropriate for the combat as well as tricking each other with the whole “I’m not left handed business”. This could (and should) be done in fate as a series of maneuvers and attacks, both social and physical.

      But what kind of kills me is when the players, on a meta-game level say “these guys are tough as shit to kill, so lets intimidate them instead, their empathy is crap and they don’t have much social stress.” Mrgggl. Very conflicted here. The same move can be brilliant (in the fiction) if presented with the proper justification and window dressing.

      1. I understand your position, but I wanted to expand on my earlier comment. I guess I should have used the phrase “defeat an encounter” instead of “combat”.

        My main point should be that “intimiate” should not simply be “low-physical, high-social stat characters ‘attack’ method”. Perhaps instead of a continuum, perhaps overlapping ven-diagrams which leave room in the middle for “either kill it or intimidate it” option.

        As for FATE itself, the one thing that I’ve encountered that can be frusturating is when a character’s primary “skill” tends to overlap/trump other skills. Often in Hacked FATE games, the character that has “Excellent” in something like “Magic” or “psionics” trumps everything else. Which is why I enjoy Brian Isakoff’s L5R LARP hack, since it doesn’t possess one of those trumps everything else skills.

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