World Creation in the Dresden Files RPG

The Dresden Files RPG is an evolution of Spirit of the Century, one of my favourite RPGs, and the best pulp game on the market. A large part of the design philosophy for the game is that character creation is a part of the game – the game begins with creating characters. DFRPG takes this further, formally incorporating substantial elements of the design of the macro setting into this process.

This is an idea that I think is gaining traction in a number of different games. The most obvious other example of a recent game with this conceptual underpinning is Smallville RPG, which uses an even more formal process for generating the setting alongside the characters.

I used the word “macro” above, because that is my impression of the difference between DFRPG and the process I used for Werewolf. For Werewolf, we specified the characters immediately important to the PCs, the brief was to create a feature NPC that was one of the most important people in your life. Someone you would be dealing with all the time. The NPCs and locations in DFRPG are at a greater remove, more like a landscape than a portrait. The difference in emphasis is immediately notable. The Werewolf game could easily have felt confined and claustrophobic, with a hidden world outside of the players’ sight or grasp. DFRPG provides a much better and much broader context for individual activities. However, obviously these are not as targeted or directly relevant.

In Werewolf, I asked for a simple English statement of the relationship between characters. The end point is specified, not how it came about. Players did discuss their characters’ pasts in some way to justify the relationship, but by-and-large, the relationships are a “now” statement. DFRPG calls, as SOTC did, for a story to go along with those relationships, to provide context. I found that for SOTC this worked extremely well, really giving people some starting specifics to anchor their relationships fostered in play.

The DFRPG approach corrects for a problem I had when I used my process for Acid Nights, which was that people specified a relationship and then forgot all about it. The association with a narrative in DFRPG cements those relationships provided that the subject stories are taken seriously. One tendency I saw in this specific group, was a slight tendency to treat this as a check-box: a hurdle to be jumped, rather than a necessary tool for creating a group.

I corrected for this in the Werewolf game by making all the PCs half-siblings: not a relationship you can totally forget or ignore. I doubt it would have been a problem for the Werewolf group anyway, but in terms of replicable and general expectations and processes, that is one weak point in my scheme.

At the end of character creation we had 5 player characters, some of whom were closely connected, but one in particular was only weakly and distantly connected in my opinion. Others disagree with that assessment, which is par for the subjective nature of the hobby. However, unlike the Werewolf group, there was no uniting purpose behind an association. And there is nothing in the formal process of DFRPG that ensures that there will be.

At the first session, tog42 set up a strong opening story ploy that demanded action from 3 of the 5 PCs. However, the other 2 were somewhat adrift. It’s possible that he could have thrown out a second unrelated plot to engage them, but it is completely obvious to me in hindsight that what was lacking was explicitly the kind of thing covered by Kickers – a motivating situation for the characters to open the game with.

Perhaps a more general way of stating this situation is that I don’t feel like the players in DFRPG feel the onus is on them to create story, whereas in Werewolf I tried to make that concept very clear to my group. This doubtless shows my increasing Indie streak, where the “Game Master” turns into a “Game Facilitator” – a very different proposition in detail. As a player, I am very good at inserting myself plausibly into others’ stories, and Dale’s WFRP game taught me how to balance character with story as a player. However, I find myself at the end of session 5 failing Robin Laws’ prescription for a good character.

Imagine your character is at loose ends, and the GM asks you what you’re doing. Can you describe an active course of action that you can undertake to move you closer to to this personal goal, in which you’ll have to work to overcome obstacles? If you can visualize such a scene, one that’s dramatic and interesting to describe, and for other players to listen to, you’ve got a strong personal goal. If not, rethink.

The characters so far lack their own story momentum apart from the GM narratives, something that I personally plan to rectify for my PC just as soon as I can.

Where my style is to plan Bangs and to be opportunistic with story developments, tog42 has prepared two fairly traditional investigative scenarios tied to the interests of the characters. These two adventures have been resolved while spinning off complications, locations and characters – they are a generative process. Whereas the 5 sessions of Werewolf dealt mostly with characters established in the pre-game. Having those stories resolved is satisfying in a way that the endless cycle of complications from Werewolf might not be.

To an extent this is also exciting because its an exploration of the world, but the end point of such explorations is often the starting point for the Werewolf game: sufficient story density to be self-sustaining without or with only minimal new GM plots. I suspect Nick is having to work a hell of a lot harder to prepare for DFRPG than I did for Werewolf for that reason. The sense I got from Werewolf was a closed system within one powerful family, compared to the unlimited and open possibilities of DFRPG.

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2 Responses to World Creation in the Dresden Files RPG

  1. “This doubtless shows my increasing Indie streak, where the “Game Master” turns into a “Game Facilitator” – a very different proposition in detail. ”

    Given that FATE is an indie system with a built in indie approach to mechanics and WtF has the openess of a traditional RPG (for the good and bad that that implies), wouldn’t it be more accurate to say your increasing “post Indie” streak? It seems like current terminology fails here.

    • mashugenah says:

      I think that FATE is wired to provide a different kind of information to the GM, but that the GM is still largely fulfilling the traditional role of a GM in terms of writing material rather than collaborating material. Certainly it’s a big step towards a shared narrative space compared to, say, AD&D.

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