As an NPC, I do a lot of work with tabletop roleplaying games, often as the GM. As a librarian and a lover of fantasy/sci-fi, I work with a large number of books.
It should then come at no surprise that I’m a fan of The Dresden Files novels and the RPG produced by Evil Hat.
If you’re curious about the FATE system, there are plenty of resources available to see how the game works, and there’s even a fully legal way to acquire the pdfs for free. FATE has become one of my top three “go to” games for fun and events (Edge of the Empire/FFG’s Star Wars games and Marvel Heroic are the other two), and with the right group, I’m sure you’ll see why.
In any case, this review is about the newest book of The Dresden Files RPG series: The Paranet Papers. This book has been “in production” for quite some time now, so there’s been a good deal of hype; it was originally teased sometime within the first year of the game being released in 2010 (now I’m feeling old again).
Before I go full-bore into this, I want to note the following.
- All images here are used under protection of Fair Use (I even got the okay from Evil Hat to be on the safe side).
- All images are from the PDF version of the book, edited to remove excess and to fit on the page (my apologies if anything is hard to read!)
- I have a HUGE amount of respect for Evil Hat. That said, I didn’t think it was fair to show off stat blocks and the like, and instead I’m focusing on some of the lovely art and the meat of the book itself.
In any case, here we go!
Welcome to “The Paranet Papers!”
This book takes quite a few steps away from the two volumes that came before it. The first volume, “Your Story,” gives you all of the game mechanics you would need to run the game, as well as some sample characters and even a sample city in the back. You really don’t need much else beyond that first book to get started; you don’t even need to know much about the novels, as this book will bring you up to speed (enough to play in the game, anyway). It’s also designed as though it were written by the characters of the novels, with notes from Harry Dresden and friends in the margins.
The second volume entitled “Our World,” on the other hand, is basically an oversized “Who’s Who” of the first ten novels, giving you information, stats, and some extra possible rules of everyone Harry and friends have met, again with plenty of notes in the margins by the characters discussing the various events.
This volume is a combination of the two. It adds some new rules later in the book, and it acts as an updated “Who’s Who” as the characters have “leveled up” between novels.
The real meat of the book actually comes from the expansion of the world itself. Not only are we given an update as to what’s happened in the world after the event of the novel Changes, but we are actually given information about different parts of the world to allow players to do more outside of a Chicago-like city.
We are given enough information to run games in Las Vegas, Russia in the early 1900s, an area of the Everglades, South America, and everywhere between (literally; there’s an entire chapter on traveling if your group wants to be a traveling band of murderhobos).
As in the previous book, we get a number of notes written in the margins by Harry’s friends (as Harry went “missing” at the end of Changes; if you haven’t read it, go do it!). Some of these notes are setting specific, talking about how magic could work, statting opposition, or even just discussions and correlations about specific events as they can be connected (like comparing someone from the Russia chapter to someone from the chapter on travel). Other notes are on game mechanics, there to help the players and the GM get a grasp of how the mechanics are supposed to work.
The Book Quality
You may have noticed that they kept their old notebook-style paper just to keep things in line with the story they have going, but the book itself is hardcover, so don’t worry!
It’s a nice size volume, slightly glossy pages, and it’s durability appears to be similar, but improved, compared to the previous sets. The first printing of the previous books saw a number of complaints regarding how the binding held up. My copies are still (thankfully) going strong after multiple conventions and campaigns, so I’m not too concerned with this book falling apart anytime soon.
What You Get
As I mentioned before, you get multiple chapters on locations, explaining how a campaign in any of these locales could work. While the original only focused on Baltimore and Chicago, this book decides to go global and even add some history into the mix (as is the case with the Russian Revolution).
Each of the location chapters is chock full of information on the location, the time frame (when applicable), a new collection of “Who’s Who” including Faces and Threats, and sometimes even new rules on things as needed. This is especially true for new player character templates or possible rule conflicts (as some of the NPCs are pretty beastly).
Honestly, the book is worth it for these chapters alone. Each one arms the GM with a list of ready-made NPCs, some sample PCs for each location (many of which can be easily transferred to another locale or timeline if needed), smaller locations that can be easily dropped anywhere else (like putting the one club from Vegas into your favorite town), and some in-depth information on the overall location that can be easily transferred to another urban fantasy campaign.
After you get through the buffet of characters, locations, and storyline, you finally get to a rather small section on rules updates. These updates are tied to very specific rules from the core rulebook that were rather frustrating to utilize at times and created quite the stir in the forums, leading to these changes. I haven’t had the chance to test them, but there are some things here that were common houserules amongst fellow GMs, as well as new ways to shorten some of the previously drawn out mechanics (which is a very welcome section to see!) and ways to make magic a bit more versatile like we see in the books.
The final part of the book is an expanded Who’s Who from the novels. We are given statlines (if at all possible) or the various “people” we’ve met from the end of Small Favor through Changes, including the short stories to date. We are also given updates on certain characters, as many of them have grown by leaps and bounds since we last saw them (see the picture of Toot further up), while others that were killed off were given a note (one even gets a eulogy). Some of these updates are minor as the character simply had the chance to improve (such as Molly learning more magic, or Murphy adding on more skills), while others were given “improvements” as they were lowballed in the first book (such as Listens-to-Wind gaining shapeshifting, or McCoy having an item called the Blackstaff to go with his office and title).
As a final note, I love the way the book layout works. The artwork is variable, ranging from sketches to “photos” of characters and locations. Everything is set up as though it is a homebrew collection of notes being passed around from person to person, each scribbling in notes, attaching post-its, photos, or even just taping in notes from another source. It’s an odd touch, but I find it a nice aesthetic considering the setting and the circumstances. It also helps the artwork stand out, as it clearly serves a purpose while looking nice at the same time.
Where’s The Downside?
As much as I want to give this book a perfect review, I can’t. I really, really want to, but absolutely cannot.
First, the book has a number of scattered typos, repeat/improperly placed text (I believe there’s an entire paragraph like this in the Russia chapter), spelling errors, and incorrect font styles (e.x. in one section, the comment is clearly that of a character, but it’s just standard font). While this isn’t a deal-breaker for me, it is rather frustrating considering how long the book has been worked on.
Second, the “new rules” are very similar to things that were brought up on the forums years ago. Granted, it could be one of those “chicken or the egg” moments, but it feels a little disheartening to me that the “new rules” section primarily consists of what was once homebrew speculation on the forums and little else.
Finally, the book ends rather abruptly. Granted, Volume 2 ended with a note about an area in Chicago, an invite to email if you are “on the same beat,” and after the index, random bits of artwork regarding the series. This one literally just ends on the stat block of Donar Vadderung and a post-it note asking if that’s really the end. Granted, they gave an in-character reason for the sudden end, but it felt like most of the modern-day novels: not sure how to properly end it.
Should You Get It?
If you like The Dresden Files novels, then yes, I would suggest it. If you like the previous books of The Dresden Files RPG, then YES, YOU NEED TO BUY THIS. Even with a few flaws, it’s still a well written supplement with fleshed out locations/settings, amazing characters, useful NPCs and NPC updates, and official rules that may make your game more enjoyable.
That, and you’re supporting a smaller game company that does wonderful work. Go do it!
Why shouldn’t I get it?
If you don’t like FATE, the Dresden Files, RPGs, or urban fantasy, you’ll hate this. But if you’ve read this far, chances are you are interested in one of these many things.