Skills in Dresden Files work pretty similarly to Spirit of the Century. The major difference is that they don’t have a pre-set pyramid, but rather allow you to purchase them gradually as long as you maintain a pyramid of sorts (i.e., you can’t raise a skill if doing so would mean you have more skills at one level than any of the levels beneath it). The only weird thing about this is that you can make some skill arrangements at character generation that you couldn’t buying skills up 1 point at a time (e.g., at character generation you can use 30 points to set it so you have two skills at each level 1-5. This arrangement wouldn’t be possible stepping the skills up gradually).

While only the highest powered character generation allows you to start with a character with skills on par with a Spirit of the Century character, it’s inevitable that a long running game will eventually get to that point. However, in theory the organic nature of the skill array gives players that forget to take vital skills a bit more of a chance to have moderately important stuff at decent levels. So there’s a mild fix to my issues with SotC’s skills, but they remain mostly the same.

The Standard Roll

The method for rolling and the use for shifts remains pretty identical between SotC and Dresden, as befits a core system. I still tend to think the Quality component is unnecessarily ambiguous in play. In my demo sessions I tried to make the Time and Subtlety functions take up the slack for unopposed, non-conflict rolls: I tried not to call for rolls at all unless there was time pressure (and rolling well could get something done faster) or there was a chance someone might want to undo the effect later, and it worked pretty well. Ultimately, I’d like to see Quality turned into a less arbitrary divider and key more directly into other systems.

There might be a better section to mention it, but I did notice one thing that seems like a big system flaw regarding rolling in Dresden Files that’s carried over from SotC: research. In both games, knowing a fact can start with an initial roll to have it be known off the top of one’s head. If this roll is failed, the character researches question in a library, and the difference in shifts between the roll and the target alters the time spent based on the time chart. So far, so good. However, if you have to research, you have to have access to a library with a rating equal to the difficulty of the question: if your target for the knowledge roll was 5 and you fail, you have to research in a library rated 5 or better.

This isn’t so much of a problem for Academics rolls in SotC, because there are a wealth of public and university libraries that could easily be rated very highly and that the characters can use. It’s a big problem for Lore in Dresden Files: the novels haven’t mentioned any kind of non-personal supernatural libraries, in keeping with the insular nature of wizards. According to the rules, a character can have a general supernatural library with a rating equal to (Resources – 2), and taking a stunt can give that a +2. Given that Lore is an important caster skill, it’s very likely that, if the roll to know things fails, the difficulty is higher than any available personal library (because Lore is likely to be higher than Resources). It seems like such plot-dump rolls will either be instant successes or hugely time consuming tangents to find a library in which the topic can be researched, and the GM won’t know until the player rolls. Either way mostly bypasses the library system.

Aspect Manipulation

Maneuvers, Declarations, and Assessments remain functionally the same as in SotC. The major change that I’m aware of is in codifying as explicit that any creation or revelation of an Aspect comes with a free tag. Particularly, if you cause a consequence to someone in a conflict, you can tag that consequence once for free. This is, on the whole, a good thing to make explicit when it’s in the player’s favor. However, I do have some concerns that it creates a bit of a death spiral effect for PCs: if a character is hit once for a consequence, the next attack is likely to carry a +2. If the player took enough damage to take multiple consequences (which I’ll explain with the updated damage system next week), the enemy might suddenly have two free tags. Effectively, free tags on consequences means that concessions are very important unless the attacker just had a fluke high roll or the party is likely to take out the opponent before the tag can be used. Sticking in the fight once you start taking consequences will likely mean you’re messed up very badly on the next round.

Another, smaller change is that Maneuvers are codified as to when they make a Sticky Aspect (i.e., one that will stick around for longer than a round). Effectively, the shifts on the Maneuver roll past the target’s defense become the difficulty of removing the Aspect. For example, if a character is knocked Off Balance with 3 shifts, that target will remain Off Balance until making a difficulty 3 roll (probably of Athletics) or something else happens to logically remove the Aspect. This is a neat change that further codifies Maneuvers; unfortunately, my worry about having enough Fate points to really take advantage of taggable Aspects beyond the free tag stands. If players were more likely to get a benefit out of knowing what Aspects could be tagged on an opponent, a really good Maneuver that’s hard to shake off would be its own reward.

Declarations still use the SotC system of difficulty 0-6 depending on the GM’s determination of quality. With the change to Maneuvers, I suspect that it should be possible to deal with Declarations in a similar manner instead of relying on complete fiat. I’m not sure what that system might look like, though. Declarations are also especially weird in Dresden Files whenever the GM is using a standard critter instead of something invented new. For example, “it’s a creature of Faerie, hit it with iron!” is not really a Declaration, but an Assessment based on knowledge of the setting. And, since hitting it with iron is already the Catch that makes the target easier to hurt (bypasses its defensive powers), it’s strange to give doing so an additional +2. (When this happened in the session I ran, I wound up using it as a free invoke for effect to find a useful iron weapon nearby rather than give a +2.) Ultimately, while effectively making scientists and academics into the “buff class” in combat is a really neat idea, I’m not convinced it works as well in a more fully established setting like Dresden Files as it does in open-ended pulp like SotC, and in either case I’d like to see a system less reliant on GM discretion.

Part 10