Dresden Files RPG
by Evil Hat Productions
Edited by Fred Hicks
Review by Drew Bittner
Evil Hat Productions
Date: 01 July 2010 /
If you've read much SFRevu, you know we love us some Jim Butcher. Now, you can get into the action as well, with the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. Take to the sinister streets of Chicago (or your own home town) as a wizard, a Knight of Faerie, a werewolf or even just a "clued in" cop. Battle supernatural monsters, solve weird crimes and finagle your way into places Man is Not Meant to Go.
Constructed in two volumes by the mad geniuses at Evil Hat Productions, with the full cooperation of Dresden Files creator Jim Butcher himself, the game offers players a chance to immerse themselves in Butcher's world.
The first volume--Vol. 1: Your Story--covers the mechanics of character creation and game play. The rules are relatively easy to learn (take it from a guy who's navigated the depths of AD&D's myriad editions) and character creation is a blast. This is key; if it isn't fun inventing your alter ego for a game, then a lot of enthusiasm can be lost right there. Luckily, the designers make it entertaining to develop a concept and flesh it out.
Vol. 2: Our World is where the real flavor of the books shines through. The book is mostly a guide to Harry Dresden's gigantic cast of friends, allies and enemies--with lots of notes on how to play with, against, and among them--with copious entries on supernatural monsters, politics, factions and turning your harmless, unsuspecting city into a hotbed of paranormal weirdness and danger. (This too is a lot of fun.)
Written by Billy Borden (a werewolf, roleplaying gamer and one of Harry's most staunch allies), the game itself reads like a manual for a game-in-development, liberally overwritten with notes by Harry and others. Many of these are delightful, amusing, or revealing of the character's mindset (or all three); in toto, they do a splendid job of evoking the personality of Butcher's singular world. There is a lot of "secret" information as well, combining bits and pieces strewn through the stories, such that a reader will quickly get up to date on the first ten stories. Beware of spoilers if you haven't read the books yet!
As much fun as this will be for newcomers and gaming enthusiasts alike, this is a banquet for Dresden fans. There's an overload of information in these pages, making it ridiculously easy to generate adventures from the street-level to the epic, but fans will go crazy for the way that ten novels' worth of content is organized. It is beautifully done.
In that vein, Fred Hicks and his team deserve tremendous credit for making this book visually engaging and a blast to read. The snarky asides between Harry and Billy (with notes from Bob and diverse others) are set up as handwritten edits, and some info is crossed out as "unsuitable for the public" (such as Charity Carpenter's dark past and Bob's true nature). There are also, very cleverly, alternatives offered to What Is Known, so that game masters do not need to be bound by the stories. Just the paths Harry *might* have taken makes for intriguing reading.
The artwork and book design are wonderful, mixing a variety of art styles and adding neat little flourishes to the page design (such as yellowing, smudges, stains and highlighter mark-ups); this appears to have been a work of love by the design team, and it shows.
Adapting a literary world to games can be a fraught endeavor. Sometimes rules will trump the flavor of the world, sometimes the world's intricacies will make real gameplay impossible. Happily, Hicks and the designers have found a perfect balance, creating a game that captures the essence of Butcher's work while allowing gamers to make that world their own.
Very impressive all around.
For more information, check out Evil Hat's website! The game is available now.