Speeding Up The Game: Dresden Files Accelerated

My first true experience with the Fate system was with The Dresden Files back in 2010, and that was due to my love of the series after I picked up the novels in 2008 for some light reading during bus rides to and from work. I was hooked early on, and when I saw an official RPG coming out that wasn’t a d20 system, I jumped at it.

While the original wasn’t perfect (what game is?), I devoured every portion of it, wrote some house rules, discussed ways to hack elements of one of my favorite anime with it, helped others add in other elements, and overall had a great time with the game, especially with the support from the Evil Hat team.

When I heard about the Fate Core Kickstarter, I actually scheduled a break from work that would be long enough to allow me to run to a computer to back it, and to this date, it has been my favorite Kickstarter, as it’s the one that keeps on giving and it gives some amazing items.

Seriously. There were some lofty stretch goals at the time, the biggest of which was the $400,000 mark: Dresden Files Accelerated. While it didn’t come out in 2014 as expected, we did get a number of solid files sent out to us over the years, making this a Kickstarter that just keeps on giving.

The final PDF of The Dresden Files Accelerated arrived in my inbox a few months ago, but I had a few other items (and rants) on my docket to square away, so I couldn’t really get to it until recently.

One thing I have to say: I regret waiting, because this is brilliant and makes so many of my gaming goals that much easier.

So what’s going on here? Glad you asked! Grab a seat and let me show you what we’re getting here!

==The Pitch==

Dresden Files Accelerated takes the abbreviated version of Fate (Fate Accelerated) and twists it to fit within the setting of The Dresden Files book series. This rulebook offers rules for magic, shapeshifting, vampires, and more within it’s confines, all while remaining true to the goals of Fate Accelerated: being an abbreviated, even lighter-weight version of the Fate rules. It should be noted that Fate Accelerated turned out to be a 50~ish page book, while Fate Core broke the 300 page mark; talk about cutting things down!

==What We Get==

Dresden Files Accelerated weighs in at 255 pages, making it smaller than Fate Core but clearly MUCH larger than Fate Accelerated. Thankfully, most of this book is fluff; we are given many big-named characters and generic NPCs (the first 55 pages, actually), a sample city to work with (a tradition from the first version), and other notes to really flesh out the world of The Dresden Files.

How I sometimes feel explaining the novel series to people.

We are given a tweaked version of Fate Accelerated here, but it’s easy to pick up. If anything, you don’t NEED to know anything about Fate at all, as the book’s meta explains that the purpose is to have something quick and easy to learn, yet fast and effective to run.

==Wait…meta?==

Okay, rewind. The three previous Dresden Files RPG sourcebooks were written to fit into the Dresden Files canon as a modern day equivalent to Stoker’s Dracula, in that they were to be filled with the weaknesses of various supernatural enemies with the hopes that, when the books went public, it would allow mortals to defend themselves and turn the tide against the darkness.

The first two books had notes in the margins by Harry, Bob, and Billy, while the third book (The Paranet Papers, reviewed here) handed off that responsibility to Billy, Murphy, and Butters after the events of the novel Changes (no spoilers, but Harry wasn’t able to write).

So we always get in-character snarky comments like this in the margins and/or on sticky notes. Always fun.

Now, the onus for this has been handed off to Ivy (The Archive) at the request of John Marcone, for many of the same reasons as Dresden’s group used it for: to train people to prepare for the worst.

==The Tweaks==

Outside of the major change in actual visual design (i.e. going from a yellowed spiralbound notebook appearance to crisp pages), the game has a number of changes from basic Fate Accelerated. The changes can be summed up as follows:

Characters are given Mantles upon being created, which grant them specific stunts and other Conditions (injuries and the like) for free. This also defines what characters are generally capable of; a Changeling has abilities that a White Court Vampire cannot acquire, obviously. These allow for some fast “starter packs” to hit the table quickly, as the Mantle covers the Stunts and many of the other elements needed to finish a character.

No mantle gives a bonus to riding an undead T-Rex, though.

Mantles also grant “Condition” boxes, which fill up as Stress (on a one-for-one), and some grant special bonuses in exchange for being filled (such as a boost to powers or owing someone for being able to buy a building).

There’s also a new “Scale” mechanic, in which characters “function” at a set power level and gain bonuses against those beneath them. For example, Dresden functions at “Otherworldly,” so he is two steps above a “Mundane” goon, but he’s a step down from the “Legendary” Fae queens. Each step gives +1 before a roll, +2 after a roll, or 1 free invoke when creating an Advantage.

Magic also has a revamp, in the sense that it’s narrative (like Fate Accelerated), has a bit of a cost for bigger rituals (like in the classic rules), and you can take injuries for more power. So it’s a step toward the crunch in comparison to Fate Accelerated, but it’s a giant leap toward the narrative elements compared to the classic version.

==The Good==

As soon as you start reading, you’ll pick up on one of the best parts of the book: the banter between Ivy and Kincaid. I don’t care who you are or how tough you think you are, there’s just something about how these two interact that will either melt your heart and make you saw “aww” or start cracking up (like when the teenage girl with the sum of all written knowledge starts cursing in Hungarian at the centuries-old mercenary). Basically: Ivy and Kincaid == Squad Goals.

The snark is strong with this one.

As I mentioned above, there are some great rules additions and expansions in this book. Basically, Dresden Files is to Fate as Dresden Files Accelerated is to Fate Accelerated: a bit more complicated, but the rules are necessary to properly flesh out the setting. Unlike the original version, there’s a lot that was cleaned up this round.

For example, in the original Dresden Files RPG, most players went with a “Focused Practitioner” who was basically a one-trick pony in the magic community, or a “Minor Talent” for someone with more versatility. Even though these characters were severely limited in capabilities when compared to a full-blown wizard, having the extra points cleared up meant they could dump more points in focusing on that trick, making them immensely powerful.

But nothing compared to these goons.

In this version, they aren’t just “Wizard-Lite” anymore, but rather a severely restricted magic user limited to just a single approach and a few minor tricks. Want to be able to talk to ghosts? Great! You’re going to be hard pressed to do much with it without a ton of work and creative use of that power, though.

There’s also a few expansions in this version of the game that we didn’t have before, namely the ability to play a True Fae. Before, if you were a Changeling and made your Choice (human or fae), you could lose your character in the process by choosing the fae side as the fae (and other similar creatues) have Nature, not Free Will. Now, you can play a True Fae as a playable character and still hold a degree of choice as we see more and more Free Will being utilized by the fae. This is excellent for many potential table members, as we all hated that you couldn’t play with the Courts as much.

Yes, the Knights of the Cross are still bad-asses. No, you cannot play a Denarian. Yes, Sanya is totally a playable character.

Magic rules seem complex at first, but once you start using them, they suddenly make sense (and are much easier than the original). Before, if you cast a spell, you had to spend Stress based on how strong it was, then roll with a difficulty based on how strong of a spell you were casting. If it was a ritual spell, you had to do prepwork based on the difference between it’s power and your skill rank.

Now, if you want to cast a spell, you just explain how magic is being utilized with your Approach and that’s it; magic is more of a tool than anything. If you’re performing a ritual, you are basically taking a “Create Advantage” action with some added difficulties based on the circumstances (how long it will last), and then you pay “Costs” from a list based on how well you roll; even if you fail the roll, you still succeed due to the “costs” mechanic. Costs range from needing to collect materials to owing favors to even spending more time than you can afford on the spell, but it’s all mostly narrative to keep things moving and interesting, and I rather like it.

Finally, one of the best parts of this game is the usual love I have for Evil Hat: the support. Any time I have a question about the rules or ways to modify the rules, all I have to do is tag a few people on Twitter and I almost always get a response and a short conversation. The staff there are always solid and a pleasant to work with, which is one of the reasons I keep buying their books.

Any time I think the game is burning down, Fred and his crew are there to help me put it out.

==The Bad==

One thing that jumped out in this work, sadly enough, was the artwork. Some of the work here feels a bit too cartoony and lackluster, while others were spot on for the character or scene. It felt a bit inconsistent at times, and while some works were spot on for the feel of the scene, there were others that just fell flat. I’m also a little iffy on the “product placement” we see in some of the art; random Evil Hat logos are hidden in images and it feels kinda meh.

Something doesn’t quite look right here. . . No, this isn’t the first time the hat appears.

One thing I found rather odd about this book was actually the layout. Instead of explaining how the rules work and then presenting sample characters, we are given sample characters/statblocks right out of the gate without an explanation on the rules. Even if you’ve read Fate Accelerated, these statblocks make very little sense due to the new rules being incorporated into this version of the game.

Some of the changes might confuse old hands of Fate Accelerated (Mantles, Scale, changes to Stress and Conditions), as these things almost make this a stand alone game outside of the very basic core mechanics. In fact, knowing this game won’t give you a better understanding of Fate Acclerated because of the mechanics changes (but on the flip side, it does show what the game can do, so this isn’t necessarily bad).

On a minor note, I found the lack of focus on Dresden to be rather odd. Interesting, especially considering the POV and the purpose of the material (i.e. written by Ivy for Marcone), but still odd because it’s still The Dresden Files, after all. This new POV does expand the setting a bit as we are getting information from outside of Dresden’s knowledge base, but it just feels odd. Not necessarily bad, but not necessarily good.

==The Verdict==

The Dresden Files Accelerated rulebook is walking away with a magnificent 4.5 buns.

While I may feel a little bleh about the artwork (not as crisp as other games out there and a bit too cartoony at times in my opinion), it is well used to emphasize not only the plot, but also the rules. The rules upgrades are also much appreciated and, arguably, much needed.

If anything, this reskin of Fate Accelerated really opens the door regarding what the system is capable of and how limitations can become more narrative than mechanical (something we saw in the original Dresden Files game), and I’m loving that.

Dresden Files Accelerated is available on the Evil Hat store for pre-order, retails for $34.99, and has an expected shipping date for June 2017. Ordering the book early will net you a copy of the PDF to start reading now, which will tide you over and let you get your game started until the book is in hand.

If you enjoy The Dresden Files book series, any Fate-powered RPG, want an RPG that is more narrative, or any combination thereof, you really should consider picking this up, doubly so because Fred and his crew are amazing to work with.

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