[DFRPG] Occult Toronto

Started by Erik Weissengruber, January 07, 2011, 06:04:55 PM

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Erik Weissengruber

Opening up a thread about the Dresden Files game I am running and am setting in Toronto.

Heavy on the supernatural, but with low-powered PCs.  Promises to be a challenge for the characters and for me to run.

I have had mixed results in the FATE games I have run before.

In these posts I hope to address

  • Group setting creation
  • Driving scenarios with Aspects from setting creation
  • Working with Compells

What I really want to do is employ the setting/scenario/Compelling mechanics AS WRITTEN and examine their efficacy.

Moreover, there is a Social Contract angle I want to follow: I am running what will be a series of linked one-shots, essentially.  I have to keep my sessions short and occasional because of family and work commitments.  Perhaps the creative group buy-in delivered by setting creation will be enough to provide the binding threads that I can't put together with regular and extensive gaming sessions.

Phil K.


I just moved my Friday night gaming group into a Dresden Files game from D&D 4E. There have been a few problems I've experienced, mostly due to creative agenda issues. I've got a group of six players, four of which had not read the Dresden Files when we sat down to do character creation. I think the lack of setting/color familiarity may have thrown of character creation and player buy-in a bit. The choice to switch games was mine, in a purely autocratic fashion I'm not entirely proud of. I was getting burnt out on D&D and wanted a change. Didn't get everyone on board beforehand. Rookie mistake, one I should have avoided.

Anyway, what I'm saying is I think it would be beneficial to a DFRPG game (or any game based on licensed material) for the players to all be familiar with and bought into the setting already.

Getting used to compels and having enemies tag aspects have been the hardest things for me to get used to. I look forward to hearing how your experiences go.

Erik Weissengruber

-- I have done some short series and some one offs of various games with the people in question.  It's not as if I was trying to push a group in a direction.  It was more of a "hey, we've hung out a few times ... ya wanna help me design a Dresden Setting?"
-- That means, on one level: "Hey, let's play the game of setting creation."
-- On another, it means: "Hey, if this works out well, we could get a series of games going."

-- Like me, they had kinda heard of the Dresden world and game, had peeped at a few of the comics, but not much deeper than that.
-- We didn't begin with questions like "imagine if the White Council were trying to recruit Toronto's wizards."  I started with "hey, what do you guys think of what's been going on in Toronto recently?"  Then we talked up the Dresdenverse in very vague terms, but then moved on to brainstorming along the lines of "what kind of weird or spooky stuff have you imagined happening in Toronto?"  I have these decks of kiddie cards, one of fairies and one of monsters.  We consulted them as oracles: each player picked a fairy and a monster and imagined how the creature they grabbed would end up in the Toronto landscape.  Still have no idea about what to do with the Phoenix (at least Toronto has Persians, Chinese, and Europeans so you have three cultural zones that love that there flaming bird).  And now I have to actually try do do something cool with Unicorns!

-- I have had little series of games start and then derail because people didn't like the kind of colour other players were introducing.  And SotC, Starblazer Adventures, DFRPG and other FATE games do not put the GM in position to keep a tight lid on those things. 

More to come.

Phil K.


Sorry if the previous post came off as accusatory; I wasn't implying that you were railroading a group into a new game, just trying to share my mistake.

I think having everyone invested to the same degree, with the same goal, is a good place to start. At least part of the problem I've encountered has arisen from the varying levels of buy-in to the source material/setting.

The monster and fairy cards sound interesting. Unicorns in the Dresden Files have been portrayed as much darker than in typical fantasy. I'd have to go back and check "Summer Knight" but I believe it was described as a large, powerful horse of dark coloring with a razor edged, spiraled horn. It was portrayed as one of the enforcers for the summer court of faerie. Definitely not your sign of purity and chastity from typical fantasy. Don't know if that helps at all.

Erik Weissengruber

No, no, no your tone was very civil and straightforward.  No probs there!

I was simply trying to say I am in the middle of forming a new creative group.  The challenges there are MUCH different from shifting the practices of an existing, functioning group.

I was just trying to get some common Colour.  We had talked about some serious real-life feelings about Toronto.  There is no WAY I could make Toronto seem as gritty as Chicago or East St. Louis or Baltimore.  So a bit of the light fantastical was another way to go -- the books themselves have some goofy fey behaviour in them.

And on Unicorns as something fierce and intimidating: part of the challenge is to bring in some of that feeling of unease that accompanies the fairy realm as you get it in ancient ballads like "Tam Lin."

Can the use of Aspects and focus on Milestones and character advancement bring that into being?  We shall see as we shall see.

Erik Weissengruber

The book has a procedure for creating scenarios out of character Aspects.

I designed such a scenario, but one of the players pulled out of the next session.  Hence, a redesign is in order.

The AP report will take into account what it is like to rework an already created scenario in accordance with the book's guidelines.

I will post both the original prep notes and the modified ones.

(can't do it yet 'cause of fear of spoilage)

Erik Weissengruber

The scenario creation guides in DFRPG revolve around Aspects

One suggested procedure is to:
* Gather together the Aspects from the character sheets, and from the city creation documents (High Level concepts, Locations, and Faces [Major NPCs]
* Select a variable amount depending on the length of scenario you want to create (a short one, like the one I have in mind is to have 2 to 3 character Aspects and 2 to 3 City Aspects)
* Pair the Aspects in relationships marked by potential Co-operation or Tension
* Add NPCs or create hooks that exacerbate Tension or encourage Co-operation

I have hooked up that procedure with some advice about play scattered through the rulebook:

* Exacerbate Tension or encourage co-operation by introducing NPCs, framing scenes, or using Compels

Compels are when you suggest immediate, short-term, or long-term complications that a Character could suffer because of one of his or her Aspects.  The reward for accepting this complication is a Fate point.  The Compel can be resisted by paying a Fate point and -- my house rule -- contributing a fiction-consistent reason why THIS time your character resisted going with his or her established personality traits.

I followed the procedure and came up with a 4-character set-up featuring 2 NPCs from the character creation process.

And then 1 player dropped out.

I spent a little time thinking how I could move things around to keep the NPCs in play and to keep some of the hooks I had in mind.

And then I stopped.

This time out I had committed myself to see how an Aspect-centred game worked.  None of the reviews or APs that I have followed document how well or how poorly and Aspect-centred game worked.

The temptation was to keep my GM situations and characters in place while thinking of ways to shoehorn the players into it.

It all felt a little to like my early ways of designing scenarios and so I scrapped the initial set up and will go for something tailor made to the 3-character Aspect set.


Hi Erik,

what a coincidence, our group has just decided that our next-next game will be a Dresden Files game based in Toronto.  I haven't read the rules yet, and we're probably 2+ months away from starting, but I'll be watching this thread with interest!

For inspiration, one of our group recommended googling "urban spelunking in toronto".  I did just now... very interesting.

Good luck with the game,

Erik Weissengruber

Toronto is low on the violent crime.  But, like all of Canada, we have weak laws for prosecuting criminal organizations and we have poor nation-wide banking and securities regulation.  That means we have criminal syndicates for moving drugs, stolen cars, people trafficking, cybercrime, but no real flashy street-level violence.  None of my players jumped at that.

The process of city creation really brings out what your players find neat about the city in questions.  So our City Sheet has none of the touristy stuff, just places that have lodged themselves in my players' memory.

FREX: One player had a cell phone snap of a bizzare tree from the Toronto Islands: One half was a verdant green and the other half was skeletal.  So the Half-Tree is a Face for the Toronto Islands locale.  UC College is a gothic, gargoyle-encrusted college and is believed to be haunted.  That ended up on our city sheet.  Ryerson Theatre School is housed in a former teaching hospital and some of the blood gutters from dissection rooms are still visible.

Our players have direct (and shared) experience with these places.  The challenge is to take that resonant colour and hook it into Aspects that are strong enough to become the driving gears of the game.

Erik Weissengruber


Opening colour scene: a hulking man comes out of a City Hall meeting.  He has vowed to keep street kids away from a new subway line on Queen Street, he is priming himself for violence, and his transformation into something more than human is done in a risky way (the NPC is compelling some aspects to get some Fate points)

Up, above the streets of Kensington Market, a rhizome of shacks, racks, hammocks, and lofts is spreading.  It is the nebulous headquarters of the Fleet of Feet, a loose aggregation of minor talents and sneak thieves who are the couriers, messengers, and go-betweens of Toronto's occult underground.

One of the PCs -- Locke, a streetkid/Borrower -- gets a call from a wannabe who wants to join the organization.  He can pass the membership test: bring a piece of filched magical gear from some dangerous locale.  She is unimpressed until one of her personality traits compels her to at least check out what the kid has to offer.

Across town two pals from a Toronto RPG group are trying to organize a weekend game. Simultaneously, both are hit by some kind of electrical hex from their phones.  This is payback for Ben's Spirit Battle (again a compelled Aspect) and Sam's "Looking for a client who won't kill me" (the being punishing Ben is also punishing Sam for helping Ben).  Sam's Lore saves him, but Ben is knocked out cold.

[this was a bit of a pro-forma exercise in showing how accepting Fate points for compels can come with consequences as well as a way of softening all the GM fiat-ing I was doing]

Back in Kensington, Locke rounds a corner into an alleyway and sees the kid who contacted him in the hands of a hulking thug who is beating the kid to death with fists the size of hams.  A quick intimidation and Locke agrees to step away from the alley way with a promise -- an oath, no less -- that the tough guy will let the kid live after tough guy has completed a search.  Locke, backed by some members of the Fleet of Feet (she has them as an Aspect, but I forgot to levy the Fate Point for Locke's player declaring a bit about the fiction) goes back into the alley.  All the kid has is a lighter, some loose change, and a poster advertising a reunion of the punk band Stark Naked and the Fleshtones.  The three drag the kid to St. Michael's Hospital after Locke writes a note telling the kid not to bother trying to get into the Fleet.

Sam -- a ritualist specializing in overcoming the hexes that spell slingers put on technology -- traps the fetch that has been sent to sabotage his phone and bikes over to Ben's house.  The two of them try to figure out what is going on and to deal with the hexing that is coming their way.  They question the fetch who is bound by oaths not to reveal certain information.  But they get a rough description of the figure responsible for their troubles and who has been butting in on their phone lines leaving cryptic warnings about "not respecting his domain."  Sam puts a ward on Ben's phone against any who would try to hex it -- and the mysterious "Psychopomp" who has been hexing them gets burned.

[Sam's ritual, aided by Ben, does exceptionally well on the roll to control the magic, so I added a 7-shift sting to the first person who dared try to hex the phone.  The Psychopomp's hex was reversed and intensified so he had to take an Extreme consequence]

Over in Kensington, Locke is contacted by a mysterious spectre who asks her to aid him in finding out which supernaturally gifted person took out his messenger, the streetkid beaten in the alleyway.  The spectre holds out the promise of a future supernatural favour if Locke can identify the person who did the beating.  Locke keeps mum about the fact that her meddling with the poster triggered the magic that the spectre had embedded into it and initiated a massive explosion at the hospital as a consequence.  She takes the spectre's offer.

[Locke's player refused when I compelled her "Leaves no job left undone" Aspect but jumped at the in-fiction offer made by the spectre she later learns is the Psychopomp]

Locke enlists her pals Sam and Ben in the investigation of the kid's beating.  Locke uses her power to shrink small and at the crime scene she discovers one of the kid's teeth and part of a police-issued and Sam checks out a scannable parking ticket.  These help Ben's Investigation roll.  (The players' Assess rolls set up some free Tags for Ben and he made out well).  Ben is certain that both were deposited in the alley mud at the same time and establish a direct link between the kid and whoever beat him -- either a cop, or a guy with a lot of parking tickets.

That evening the trio check out the gig.  But they have to bypass a construction site for a new subway line on Queen street.  Which happens to be guarded by the dude who unleashed the beatdown on the streetkid.   They are briefly caught up in the anti-subway protest and catch a glimpse of an old bank building on whose side their is a freeze of a 19th century figure who looks a lot like the spectre that visited Locke and who fits the description pieced together by Sam and Ben.  Locke shrinks and hides in Sam's hexing hoodie and they get close to the cop and get his name and number.

They rock out.

After the gig they think of summoning the shade of the streetkid but the presence of the cops dissuades them.  They make for the Fleet's headquarters but the police are looking for anyone with information about the streetkid's death and the explosion at St. Michaels.  The trio then head to the University of Toronto and take shelter in one of the campus's student activity centres.  They assist Ben in a spell which allows them a brief visit by the shade who informs them of his killer's true name -- the officer at the demo having put on a false one -- and they then contact the Psychopomp.

He accepts their gift of the name, admits his own foolishness in persisting in his persecution of Ben and Sam.

I soft pedaled the compels.  Locke refused one of mine but I did not levy the Fate point.  Getting through the mechanics of spellcasting and learning how to shape the fiction with Aspect created through Assess or Maneuver, never mind learning about the consequences of initiating or suffering an Attack, was more than enough.

Sticking with the Aspects and tying every piece of improvised NPC action to Aspects brought about consistency to the unfolding fiction.  I am not sure if it supplied drama.  The players are all friends and bring a lot of smart ass humour to the game.  But their wisecracks to my would-be demigod spectre were in Harry Dresden's spirit.  Everyone had fun.

But I think the players got a sense of how fragile their PCs are.  They can do incredible stuff like trap gremlins in paper or part the wall between living and dead.  But 2 of the 3 both lost conflicts (they didn't know about the Conceding option) and suffered Mild consequences.  One -- the spellcaster -- too 2 Mild consequences and a Moderate due to drawing too much power for his spells.  And some of those consequences linger a long time.

I think any drama will come from the unfolding medium and long-term impact of taking Consequences and dealing with the small-c consequences brought about by accepting my compels.

I did not use the option of compelling characters to accept automatic failures.  That kind of hardball will come in later sessions.

Erik Weissengruber

The Actual People, Actual Play podcasts on DFRPG raised some points about scenario creation.

At one point in the series, the GM notes that his attempt to create a trail of clues occult mystery was less than satisfying.  He set up a mystery but used some compels to get the PCs on track and with 1 simple Research declaration a big mystery was solved.  The players complain that this compel took us out of the atmosphere of mystery, and the GM himself said that creating a trail of clues mystery scenario just didn't seem to work:

Episode 36 The Dresden Files RPG: It's a Mab Mab Mab World

In later episodes the GM talks about creating a scenario simply by putting laying out NPC motivations, goals, personality traits.  And then compelling the NPCs and choosing their actions based on that.  Working from the overlap between PC and NPC aspects seems to have produced more satisfying play than establishing a set of causally linked clues with an implied sequence of discoveries:

Episode 41 The Dresden Files RPG: From Dusk Til A Fistful of Dollars

Erik Weissengruber

Locke has the Aspect "Network of the Unwashed (the Fleet of Feet)"

Her player also talked about bringing two of them along to assisst investigations.

That Aspect was one I wanted to focus on in the scenario.  But when the player did not use the Aspect as a simple bonus to a Skill roll, or an Assess/Block/Maneuver/Attack, I was unsure what to do.

Looking back, it was one more area where I should have stuck to the Fate point mechanic
* want that amorphous network to aid a roll, pony up 1 FP
* want to have them in a scene, 1 FP each, for EVERY scene in which you want them to have mechanical efficacy

1st Impulse: Come up with some "GM controlls the backstory and the introduction of NPCs" b.s. reason why they would not want to be there, to cover up the fact that I wanted to have a 1 PC-1 supernatural bad NPC scene.

2nd Impulse: Let them come along but rig the scenes so that the 2 assisting guys could not really do very much
(a.k.a. "passive agressive Illusionist cop-out")

Better Solution.  "Right, you want Briggs and Mayor to be there in the confrontation?  O.k. 1 FP each to make the Aspect Declarations "Briggs is there" and "Mayor is there."   For now, they will function as Aspects.  If I get around to statting them up, be prepared for them to complicate your life.

Brining as many decisions as possible into the "Fate Point -- Compel -- Aspect" mechanics is the better way to go.

I used to play FATE with an emphasis on the Skills, and tried to devise scenarios around the Skills characters had picked. 

The engine of the game is, I now think, the Aspect/FATE Point economy, with that FP currency connecting decisions about the fiction, scene setting, character efficacy, and task resolution.  Backstory is going to stay my GM preserve, but will be firmly within the City Creation parameters set up by the group.  Scene framing and NPC behaviour has to be open to currency-powered input from players and sometimes the players have to be open to currency-powered GM input into their NPCs.

Erik Weissengruber

Sorry ...

GM input into their PC's.

Erik Weissengruber

To cap this off

My agenda was to explore
    * Group setting creation
    * Driving scenarios with Aspects from setting creation
    * Working with Compels

Point 2 has been talked about.

I can't talk about Point 3 until I step up and play a little harder with the "accept my Compel and get FP / deny the Compel but pay and FP" mechanic.  My Compels will have to be more dramatic and fictionally meaningful to justify putting pressure on players' FP bank.  The Aspects of City Creation and the NPCs set the parameters of the fiction so if I am Compelling to make Occult Toronto seem real, those Compels should originate from consideration of those Aspects.

Point 1 has been covered in reviews and podcasts.  Making cities is FUN!  It gets the group on the same page.  I had a set of 30+ NPC names and attitudes as a result.  Some of the Aspects on the characters and on the city aren't as "Fuego!" as those in the rulebook.  Take time to review and rephrase character and City aspects in the first couple of sessions.

Aspect writing gets better with practice, as do writing Beliefs and Instincts in the Burning Games.

The game continues but sessions writeups will be logged elsewhere.

Erik Weissengruber

The Aspects of City Creation and the NPCs set the parameters of the fiction so if I am Compelling to make Occult Toronto seem real, those Compels should originate from consideration of those Aspects.

I have decided to channel FPs from my infinite GM bank in very particular kinds of compells"
* use them to maintain consistency of fiction (i.e. "Building is on fire" will limit options unless players stump up FP to defy the odds)
* use them to test players' Aspects (If a PC has the Aspect "Greedy" and chooses to take some money to sell out his 2 wizard pals, I will compel that Aspect with a suggestion of the terrible consequences that will befall a person important to all of them.  You want to avoid that consequence, buy off the compel.)

I will channel FPs from finite pools assigned to various NPCs to
* compel PCs to further that particular NPC's agenda (a person arguing with a PC might use that PC's "Easily intimidated" Aspect to make the PC unable to do a direct Social attack that round)
* declare an aspect to further that NPC's agenda

To have my supernatural baddies actually bank up Fate points, I will produce Colour and Interstitial scenes where I compel their Aspects.