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GM’s Blog – Dresden Files One-off Game

By Skimble

I’d never run the Dresden Files before but I have a hankering to run the game to the extent that I’m planning to stop my long-running Geist game in favour of it. Being overly confident in my own ability to wing things I decided to learn the basics of the Fate system behind the game in a week and then run it as a one-off sampler game after the AGS Intro Meeting.

This is how it went.

The basic premise of the game was that each member of the group was an employee working for a subsidiary of a multinational conglomeration. They’d never met before but were put together for a teamwork exercise to take place out in the rural Midwest of America. In actual fact they were there to have their minor supernatural talents unlocked prior to being sacrificed and absorbed by the bad guy for power.

Before the game I recruited one of my stalwart players to portray the Human Resources manager in charge of the whole event. The idea of this was to have a more confident, in-the-know player to help keep things moving and to encourage roleplaying in the initial stages of the game. In my opinion this worked really well.

The various characters and their Aspects were:

Each character’s first Aspect is their High Concept, the second is their Trouble Aspect.

Janitor (Jaime LeGrange)

  • Psychic Janitor (Who cleans up crime)
  • Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone
  • Pride in a job well done
  • Everyone has a secret
  • I do things for myself
  • Stubborn as a mule
  • Touch Averse

HR Manager (Anson Peters)

  • Human Resources
  • I dislike my boss (but he terrifies me)
  • Rather you than me
  • Never let them see you sweat
  • This isn’t my first rodeo
  • Totally unthreatening
  • Nondescript

Vice President (Lance Raider)

  • Corporate Werewolf
  • I try to resist changing (Being a werewolf was impacting his professional progression)
  • Ruthless predator
  • I never lose
  • Rules are for nobodies
  • Vanity becomes me
  • Nobody does it better

Mail room Boy (Chad Brubaker)

  • Secret Malvora bastard
  • Nature versus nurture (Brought up to be kind & pleasant, but actually a psychic vampire that feeds on fear)
  • Gentle giant
  • Hot-headed
  • Easily tongue-tied
  • Full of self-doubt
  • No fear

Head of Sales (Linda Buxton)

  • Unknowing kinetomancer
  • Pestered by poltergeists (Unknowing expressions of her kinetomancy)
  • Always ready to make a sale
  • Mother hen
  • Team player
  • I’ve started so I’ll finish
  • Aggressively liberal

Sysadmin (Ray Kingsley)

  • Ectomancer in denial
  • I know what I did last summer (Hit & run killed a hitchhiker, who now haunts him. He thinks it’s a delusion)
  • Puzzle nut
  • Early adopter
  • Mild paranoia
  • No time for lUsers
  • Weakness for junk food

We started out with the last member of the group boarding the minibus before it left the towns behind and started heading out into the wilderness. The HR manager took the opportunity to explain the purpose of their trip (being to help build a family from the most menial employee to the VP of some division or other) and to have each character introduce him or herself to the others.

We got our first Aspect compels very quickly as the Aggressively Liberal sales team leader came to verbal blows with the vain VP. For the most part the group seemed to grok how Compels worked quite quickly, though the difference between Compelling an Aspect and Invoking one for a beneficial effect took a little while to sink in for some.

The conversation between the group flowed nicely here but I did let it get a tiny bit bogged down while I looked up the rules for Assessing Aspects. As it was I got it slightly wrong, assuming that each Shift on an Assessment roll gave an additional Aspect when in fact that was not the case.

Anyway, one of the players conveniently walked into my plot by saying he was looking out of the windows to look for their destination or other points of interest. I told him that behind them they could see a beat-up sedan following close behind, the driver looking angry and intense as he rode closely on their tail.

A few minutes of conversation later I described how the tailgater accelerated forwards and rear-ended their minibus. The mailroom boy compelled his Hot-Headed Aspect to say he stood up and leaned out of the window to shout at the driver, not putting his seatbelt on. A couple of them did put their seatbelts on but the rest were too scared or distracted to think about it.

The tailgater pulled forwards on their left and sideswiped them, driving them into the little concrete ramp leading up to a crash barrier. Their vehicle flipped, rolling over the attacking car and back on to its wheels after a 720 degree roll. I had the Janitor roll Athletics to see if he would be injured on falling out of the vehicle and he got a great success, so he was unharmed bar minor cuts and scratches.

The ones who weren’t belted in I hit with a point of physical stress to represent whiplash etc.

The janitor and the group’s driver (a creepy guy named Jimmy who was blind in one eye) got out of the minibus to go and confront the driver of the attacking car. He was extricating himself awkwardly from the vehicle. The janitor got him into a grapple and started thrashing him around a bit, but the HR guy managed to persuade him to put the guy down and leave him to Jimmy.

Jimmy blocked their view with his body but moments later the driver was lying dead on the floor with blood spilling all around him. Being a Mother Hen the sales team leader went to see if there was anything she could do for the guy. Unfortunately he was definitely dead from multiple stab wounds. He also had no tongue, but it looked like that had been pulled out by the root a long time ago.

Demonstrating the flexibility of the system I asked the sales team leader to make a Discipline roll to fend off the mental stress of seeing a recently dead body in such circumstances. She succeeded on her roll and was therefore relatively unaffected.

Aside from having to look up the skill list and trappings every now and again, I was finding the game very easy to run by now. Any roll was a simple matter of pegging the difficulty according to the Skill Ladder knowing that the default skill is Mediocre. Also the commonality between the social, mental and physical combat systems made life much easier later down the line.

Next we got to try out social combat. On finding that their phones were dead the HR guy suggested that they should just continue rolling on to their destination, where there would be working phones. The VP disagreed with this course of action, trying to fire the HR guy and saying that they couldn’t go anywhere until the police arrived. Battle lines were drawn and several of the players aligned against the VP, keen to take him down a peg or two and to get moving.

As the combat unfolded the players managed to team up quite well, using the mailboy’s Incite Fear power and other aspects applied by manoeuvre to tag team the VP and quickly lead him to the point where he preferred to concede rather than risk being Taken Out. So he took a Moderate consequence of “No longer secure in my own authority” and meekly got back into the minibus to be driven to Camp Altogether.

On reflection I probably should not have had Jimmy kill the other driver. Doing so raised the stakes and made it quite a bit harder to get the players to go along with what was happening. On the other hand it was good to try out the social combat system, which worked very well!

So the group got rolling again and finally arrived at Camp Altogether. Not being sure how the players would react as things went on my planning had pretty much ended at this point. I had a rough idea of what was going to be planned for the following day but I was prepared to improvise.

The group got to meet Sam/Stan, the Activities Co-Ordinator, who was a lot of fun to play. He was shocked but not very helpful in respect of the incident they’d just experienced, but he agreed to summon the police. While he left to sort that out the group was locked in the cafeteria for cocoa and doughnuts,  with the locked door arousing much suspicion in the group.

Eventually two cops showed up and took statements from the group, but something about their demeanour led them to suspect that the cops were not genuine. The Janitor touched one of their badges and got flashes of insight with his Psychometry power; cops being knocked unconscious and tied up.

The cops left and said they’d be in touch, leaving several of the group suspicious due to their quite unprofessional demeanour. They behaved as if they were pretending to be cops according to TV knowledge rather than as actual cops.

Out in the camp a steady drum-beat started being played over the tannoy system: thump, thump, thump. This didn’t stop until much later in the game.

With their suspicions sorely roused the group was taken to their cabin to get a good night’s sleep for the busy day ahead.

The cabin was pleasant but they were once again locked inside, making them all very uncomfortable. With its razor-wire fence, dog kennels and locked cabins, this was beginning to feel more like a concentration camp than a training camp. I had a fun scene with the Sysadmin, who saw the ghost haunting him accompanied by another, a young guy who had had his throat slit and his heart torn out. Unfortunately for him I compelled his Aspect of “Ectomancer in Denial” and said he STILL thought that he was delusional. He accepted the compel and therefore tuned them out, ignoring a big potential clue.

When the vain VP got out of the shower they saw written on the window in finger-mark “Get out while you can”.

Being a little rattled and suspicious thanks to recent events the group elected to dismantle the door look and try to make their escape from the camp. They were able to do this but not before a warning was sent to Sam, meaning that when they opened the door he was standing in front of it with the key held ready.

They bowled him over to the ground and ‘accidentally’ tried to kick him in the chin, then while he was distracted two of the group headed out into the camp to try and find out what was going on. A few minutes later the VP was separated from the others and continuing to cause trouble for the camp’s purple-shirted staff so the HR guy crept up behind him with a Tazer and zapped him in the back, then had him carted off to the ‘holding cell’.

Meanwhile the mail-room boy made a break for freedom, using a towel (and then two towels after he cut his fingers) to pad the razorwire atop the fence and flee into the woods surrounding the camp. “Don’t worry,” the purpleshirts heard on their radios, “The zombies’ll get him.”

Meanwhile the Sales executive and the Sysadmin accompanied Sam to the cafeteria to distract him, giving the others the freedom they needed to investigate as they stealthed around the camp. With his Aspect of “I do things for myself” the Janitor went his own way to try and investigate the camp’s ‘command bunker’, a secure building with key-fob operated locks.

Eventually he hit upon the idea of borrowing a purple shirt and then pretending to be a new employee to get into the command bunker. his story was a bit dodgy but he succeeded well on his Persuasion roll so the purpleshirts went along with it to a point.

Climbing a tree the mail-room boy observed actual zombies all around the area, shambling slowly but in what appeared to be an organised patrol pattern in the woods. The drumbeat carried on in the forest, repeated by speakers in the trees.

The Janitor got into the command bunker but had his story investigated. Before they could blow his cover he made a dash for the key-code locked door and used his Psychometry power to get the code. Bursting into the secure part of the bunker he jammed his stolen mop handle in the door behind him to block entry. That left just the security room (currently unattended due to the staff being outside) and a door marked “Boss”.

The first thing he did was flip a switch marked “Necromantic Drum-Beat”, turning off the incessant drumming. In the woods the mail-room boy was relieved to see the zombies become erratic in their behaviour, attacking each other and generally shambling in a disorganised and non-threatening way. With that he made his escape and went to hitch a ride down at the road.

The janitor turned as he heard The Boss’s door open. He heard a knock on the door “Open up”.

The janitor refused. In response a massive burst of flame and energy erupted through the door, burning him (a Moderate consequence) and out through the far wall as well.

A middle-aged man with glasses and an honest-to-goodness magic wand emerged, sigils on the wand still glowing red.

“Sit down,” he commanded.

The janitor refused, instead making a jump for the man and wrestling with him to gain control over the wand. He succeeded and snapped it in half. Then he drove his thumbs into the man’s eyes, rendering him temporarily blind. In the process his Psychometry gave a reading on the man, revealing his Overwhelming Arrogance.

Meanwhile in the cafeteria the sales team leader and the sysadmin made a move on Sam and the cook (who pulled out a baseball bat). The sales team leader dumped a bowl of scalding cinnamon-laced porridge on Sam’s head!

Surrounded by the ghosts of Camp Altogether’s victims the sysadmin couldn’t maintain his denial any longer and came to understand that ghosts are real, changing from being an Ectomancer in Denial to an Ectomancer. The ghosts rushed into him and fueled his Spirit Channelling, allowing him to conjure a blade of pure force that severed Sam’s head from his neck in a single blow.

At the same time the sales leader came to understand that she was responsible for the poltergeist phenomena around her and she channelled Air into a blast that made the cook hit herself with her own baseball bat, knocking her unconscious.

The Boss gritted his teeth and channelled a massively powerful blast of magic at his upstart attacker due to his Overwhelming Pride. He lost control over the effect and blew the force out from him, nuking the bunker (and the purpleshirts outside) but leaving the janitor unharmed.

As the guy then lapsed into unconsciousness from the mental stress accrued from his spell-gone-wrong, the janitor picked up the nearest piece of heavy debris and used it to crush his head. Splat.

And so the janitor went to find the VP and freed him from the holding cell, then the two of them, the sales team leader and the sysadmin made their way down to the road, where they met the mail-room boy and waited for a lift together.

I had a blast running this game. The system was simple but flexible and the use of Aspects led to some seriously entertaining moments. Everyone got really into their characters even though they had literally nothing more than the Aspects, a job title and a brief explanation of some Aspects to go on.

I thoroughly recommend the system to fans of the Dresden Files books and otherwise, and I’m looking forward to running a longer-term game of this.

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