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Dresden Files RPG: First Combat


Thanks to a certain confluence of events, last night's session of Samhaine's Dresden Files game had only my wizard and Kainenchen's character Trudy the Vampire Slayer Serial Killer were the only ones playing. Because there were only two of us, we decided to play through a "what-if" of the previous session, rather than playing the session the GM had prepared. So Samuel and Trudy fought the goblins and their pack of hounds at Pickett's Mill State Park. I can't think of a time when I've found it easier to visualize the setting of the fight, such that I (politely, I hope) pointed out places where there were errors in the GM's layout.

In the first round, two of the six hounds were approaching, and I put up my Armor spell (a rote: 2 Armor for 2 rounds). Okay, there goes my Mental 1 stress box, fine. Fey hounds arrive, Trudy guts one of them. It's what she does - if there's a way she can apply a Weaponry roll, the bad guys are going to lose.

In the second round, I fry the other fey hound with my single-target Fire attack rote. Yay, dead fey hound; boo, just used my Mental 2 stress box. We haven't yet taken damage, but my mental stress is stacking up in a hurry. The other four hounds begin to arrive, but we can't ever funnel them into a narrower area to make it worthwhile for me to use my area attack rote.

Optimization Note: By this point in the fight, there's no reason for me to cast rotes, and I am cheating myself of  some amount of effect every time I do so. This is because every evocation, no matter how small, costs at least 1 mental stress, and once my Mental 1 stress box is filled, a new Mental 1 stress rolls up to the next stress box. As I am filling higher stress boxes and taking various consequences, this becomes still more true. This is something I didn't really appreciate until a bit later in the fight.

Anyway, we have a little bit of time of fighting the fey hounds while the goblins are still outside the building. Trudy gets started on working over those hounds while I extend my Armor spell (filling my Mental 3 stress box, I believe, but kicking the duration up by four more rounds). I think Trudy is starting to take small physical hits at this point. At some point, I wipe out two more hounds with a non-rote Spirit evocation that hits them both for 4 damage; because of my consistently awful roll for Discipline, I take some Feedback damage from that.

It's at about this point that one of the goblins breaks out some of the windows on the front of the building and starts shooting me. Much like with the actual layout of that building, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. This is when I learn that Athletics is one of the most important skills in the game, and Samuel has it at +0, whereas the goblin is really quite skilled with his bow. So I take a mild physical consequence and my Physical 4 stress box. This is unfortunate for me, in that this removes a consequence I could be spending on spellcasting.

I spend a round making a Lore declaration, since I really need to stop casting spells for as long as possible. It's sort of ridiculous, but I'm trying to come up with something that might actually relate to Lore. Thus I explain to Trudy a rune that is baneful to the fey, and encourage her to use it as a pattern of attack. Of course, as the GM pointed out, a Lore roll of 6 means that I theoretically could declare any stupid thing I wanted. I don't feel like I know enough about the cosmology and rules of the fey to improvise a better idea than this. In another round, I roll Alertness to find some iron or steel that Trudy can use to start ignoring some of the goblins' special abilities (talk about things I wish I'd done earlier!).

So, we're pretty screwed at this point, as Trudy is taking now quite significant consequences from the goblins' attacks. I cast another big evocation, trying to flatten the last hound and one of the goblins. This... does not go well, as I blow yet another Discipline roll (originally a -3 roll to go with my base Discipline of +4; I use my Aspect of "Tainted with Power" to reroll, and come up with a -1 on the dice). So I bleed off power as fallout, which sucks because I really, really need to hurt these guys, and I soak up power as feedback, which sucks because my shit is already wrecked. Also, this doesn't kill either of my targets, and my consequence is that Samuel enters a moderate fugue state. He's definitely falling apart here.

We've got almost nothing left, and we haven't yet touched the second goblin. So I take a further (mild) Mental consequence of hallucinations to use my Fire attack rote on the goblin. It does some unimportant amount of damage that doesn't kill him. I concede at this point, as Samuel curls up into a little ball of overwhelming psychic trauma. Trudy is fighting alone, and she is nearly dead herself, but she is a sociopath and won't be denied her prey. She hurls herself through the broken window to get at him, and he backpedals. This is the final tense moment of the fight; she takes some kind of penalty, but leaps on him and impales him with the fireplace poker, and this ends the fight.

(If the GM had remembered to use all the free tags the goblin had against Trudy because of her injuries, he would have forced her into taking either an Extreme consequence or conceding, I am pretty sure. We need armor like there is no tomorrow, and we'll both be improving our Athletics skills.)

After the cut, more meta-commentary, including comparisons to my experiences with Spirit of the Century combat.

Spirit of the Century combat, as Max Gable (hi, Fists +5!) was pretty nonthreatening. I think maybe one person took one mild consequence once. This is arguably in keeping with the Wahoo! feel of SotC, but it stops things from feeling challenging. In Dresden Files, characters instead have separate physical, mental, and social stress tracks. Very high Endurance, Conviction, or Presence grants an additional Mild consequence slot (Samuel has an additional Mild Mental consequence slot, Trudy an additional Mild Physical.)

Mental stress boxes and Consequence slots are functionally my mana pool. Non-magical fighter-types probably don't take much Mental stress at all, which is good since they inevitably tank their Conviction skill. (I'll point out for Trudy's benefit that that is willpower, not the result of indictments.) So some of the time that I'm taking damage (big hits that force me to take consequences, f'rex) I'm losing spellcasting potential as well. Also, this won't ever change as the game proceeds. Unless I want to use my Extreme consequence (a once-per-character kind of deal, I think), I get to cast eight spells, less any mild, moderate, or severe consequences I need to use for physical resilience. Also, mild, moderate, and severe consequences stick with me for one or more scenes, so one tough fight means I'm severely curtailed later. In brief, I feel like I don't have quite enough juice - fighter-types may take damage during the fight, but they don't inflict damage on themselves to deal damage, and my damage output that cost me several maxed-out stats and 7 Refresh (from, you know, being a wizard) was not better than Trudy's damage that cost her just one maxed-out stat and 1 Refresh.

What wizards have going for them, on the other hand, is that they can apply their maxed-out stats to a wide range of problems - setting up Blocks, making attacks, and just about any crazy thing they can imagine outside of combat. In general, they don't need to be skilled at things other than magic... and avoidance, which is why I need Athletics so badly.

Refinements and stunts won't, as far as I know, ever improve my staying power as a spellcaster, though they can improve my Discipline so that I don't have to take fallout/feedback as often. I'm a little unclear on whether making enchanted items will improve this, but it sounds like enchanted items don't cost Mental stress to activate, even though they are once-per-session items at base. If so, I may have been going about this all wrong.

The combat was fun and had very good tension, but some better die rolls would have been entirely welcome. Also, having only three fate points because there were no scenes beforehand for the GM to compel my Aspects made it a little tougher than it might have been. If this becomes a long-term game, I'll be rearranging a number of things about the character, eventually cycling Rapport +3 downward and Athletics +0 upward.

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