Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dear Harry, It's Not You, it's Me...

No. Actually. It's You.

I LOVE modern supernatural and horror games.  Just love them.  Even ones I don't get to play often I still enjoy reading.  Heck I have not played Mage in close to 10 years and I still want that giant Mage 20th anniversary book.

So why can't I get myself to love, or even like, The Dresden Files?

I am talking about the Fate-powered RPG, but I'll talk a bit about the books too.

I got these books for Christmas after they first came out in 2010.  Dresden Files (the books) were all the rage and that Summer my group had been playing a Chicago-based Ghosts of Albion/Angel/WitchCraft game.  It had some Dresden-esque elements, but mostly it was White Wolf's World of Darkness' Mage, Vampire and Werewolf as the backdrop.
I had started reading the books that September. I was commuting to work everyday for about an hour in and hour back not to mention doing a lot of flying, so I had plenty of time for audiobooks.   I devoured them.  It was especially fun when I was driving around Chicago hearing about Harry driving around Chicago.  Though I have to admit it is always amusing hearing/reading a non-Chicago native talk about the city in ways no native ever would. It's the Kennedy, not the JFK, and no one can get from the Loop to O'Hare in a few minutes. Ever. Jim Butcher has gotten better with this.

Around about the middle of the series I felt it was getting stale, but then it picked up with the new "Outsider" threat.  I will admit I have not read the last one yet and I have not been itching to do so.

The game on the other hand surprised me with it's production values and how nice it looked.  I loved the "hunter's notebook" feel to it.  Though to be 100% fair other games had done that long before.

But I never really ever got Fate.

Sure I had played around with Fudge in the past and I enjoyed the free-form it gave me.  I have even played around with Fate and many good starts.  But in the end the system falls flat for me.  Maybe. Maybe there is something good there I could use, but it's been 5 years, or 6+ if you count my experimentations with Fudge.

The Dresden Files RPG is the most complicated "simple" game I have ever read or played.  Seriously, 407 pages for a "simple" ruleset?  I know the Fate Core books are much smaller so a lot of this is setting and world-specific rules, but I can't help but feel it is overwrought.

It's not the mechanics. Mechanics are easy and in Fate ridiculously so.
It's not the aspects.  Though how the aspects could be used is certainly an issue for me.  Let's take Wolverine for example. He could easily have an aspect "Best at What I Do".  Will he get a re-roll or a +1 for "everything"?  No. I know this, but in the hands of a less deft game master this becomes little more than a ruleless game of pretend.

I know to people in the in-crowds of Fate I will be completely dismissed as an "old-school gamer" but the truth is I play a lot of games. Hell, Castle Falkenstein is one of my favorite games and it is hard to go more free-form than that.  I could also just as easily dismiss them for their smugness, but that does not make either of us correct.

Sitting net to my desk at home is a folder. It is full of character sheets for various systems.  I try them out, pick at them and sometimes those efforts show up here.  So far I have never been happy with my creations for Fate.  I picked up the new 3rd Edition of Chill and had characters in minutes. Fate is more of a collective role-playing experience.  That is great, if you want that or have a stable group.  I have a stable group, but I want "organic" characters.  Characters that feel and act like individuals, not part of a collective.

Fate tries to model a story. Either a book, movie or what have you.  Where the larger outcome is usually known.  I am not done reading this book but I am sure the protagonist survives.   Role-playing games are not books Their story telling techniques are different.

I think Fate works with the right groups, but it does require a degree of "playing well with others" that I don't often see in games.   I like the idea, I dislike the execution.  Which is interesting, because some of the die hard Fate players I have met at Cons are such ass-hats. Sorry if that is over generalization, but it has been remarkably and painfully consistent for me over the last 5 years. Yet in the same period of time I have played dozens of other games with various groups that have been great.

There are also pragmatic concerns for me.  Not to invoke the "douche" rule, but really what can I do with Fate that I can't do with Unisystem?  What can I do with the Dresden Files that I haven't already done with Ghosts of Albion?   Hell. I remember Fred Hicks back in the day on the old Eden boards talking about the Dresden Files and how WitchCraft 95% of what he wanted to do with it.  I'll contend that the other 5% can be found in Cinematic Unisystem.

I want to give Dresden Files one more chance, but in truth I know it is over.  We are done.
Don't know if I am going to sell off my Dresden Files game yet. I have one other "last fling" to do with it, but my Fate books are now gone.

Not looking for a reason to keep it, I am pretty sure it will end up on the auction block in the spring.
Better luck in your next home Harry.


Desa said...

I've been debating the same thing since I first got the game ... Hell, I preordered my copies and I think I've only tried to play once and hit everything you did.

Oddly enough, btw, I too played/ran a Dreden style game using Angel and the Buddy Magic Box books.

Cross Planes said...

What an elegant and succinct way to capture my problems with FATE, including the ass-hats. I have come to enjoy FAE, but in truth, I forced myself to work with it, to see if I could.

In my limited experience, and I don't assume every FATE player is like this, FATE has drawn the worst form of control freaks and railroaders and min-maxers (?!) with the sole desire to either run over your character or compete with the GM for control of the game. Just not my cup of tea.

littlemute said...

I got 5$ for my copies at half price books!

Jeff said...

One of the big problems that Fate suffers, and really all RPGs, is that a lot of RPG players see the game in "I must win, so YOU must loose" terms. "I must have more fate points than anyone else". As you say, there seems to be a lack of players that have the ability to play with others, rather than against.

The Wolverine aspect you gave is unfinished, as you left off ", and what I do isn't pretty". People like to "economize" on aspects, as the commenter mentioned with min/maxers. Which leads back to the issue of with vs. against. But, this is an issue with any RPG.

Several games over the years have encouraged cooperative gaming, giving boosts to your fellow party members, gaining more rewards for working as a team, etc. And, this always seems to be overshadowed by the "Max Damage Per Round" crowd. We have a problem with the Zero Sum "There can be only One" game play attitude, and you cannot break it with rules.

I have been lucky. Most gaming groups I have played with didn't have the problems above. Oh, I have played with some folks that wanted to dominate things, and somehow, they were appeased in one form or another. But, the point is that, usually, either the GM, or the group as a whole, dealt with the problem.

But, that brings up another thing that seems to be a big complaint. The Fate Point Economy. In Fate, the main way you get Fate Points, is to have Compels against your Aspects. You can even suggest them to the GM (called "Self Compelling", and it's in the rules). Basically, it's creating drama and trouble for the characters. This is the opposite of how most people play RPGs. Yes, they want to attack the monsters and fight the BBEG, but they don't want to complicate things. Get in, do the job, and get out. In Fate, it's all about the complications. And, you can negotiate with the GM! It's In The Rules!

But, in the rules or not, a lot of how Fate Points are used are viewed by some as cheating. How can following the rules be cheating? I don't know, but that's a complaint I have run across. Perhaps it's the "GM as God" viewpoint. Yet, Fate is (once again) a cooperative game, where everyone can effect the "fate" of the game world.

If there is a real flaw in Fate, though, it's Magic. There is no real, hard, magic system for Fate. TDF has a system, that it tied into the setting, but it doesn't really appeal to me. The Fate Tool Kit gives several possible systems, as well, but I'm not sold on any of them, either.

Over all, I like Fate a lot. It's at the top of my short list of games that I recommend to new players, especially young ones. It's people that have already learned how to play RPGs that seem to have the hardest time with Fate, because it breaks out of the boxed that most other games set in their rules.

I don't really have that problem, but I have also spent a long time doing solo gaming, and a lot of the same "out of the box" thought processes have to be used. The irony is, Fate is almost unplayable solo, because of the Fate Point Economy being a very back and forth, negotiation heavy, wheal and deal sort of thing (or, it's suppose to be), that it's hard to do by yourself.