Tuesday, January 11, 2011

GMing Aspects: Dresden Files RPG

DM Samuel wrote a great post looking at what he called his "speedbump" when trying to GM games of Dresden Files RPG (DFRPG) for his players. He attributes his problem to years of DMing D&D. I get exactly where he's coming from and feel much the same way. I thought I'd continue the discussion here.

The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game cover
Assessment vs Declaration
First I wanted to make a minor clarification regarding mechanics for any of those unfamiliar with the FATE system. DM Samuel uses the term Declaration as the act performed by the player to add story elements to the game. I want to expand the idea by adding the game term Assessment as an game element for further exploration.

Assessment is an application of a successful skill roll to discover an existing Aspect, whether the Aspect is on an NPC, scene or object. This differs from a Declaration in the fact the GM needs to identify specific Aspects before-hand. Declared Aspects need not be previously established by the GM, publicly or privately.

Skills vs Aspects
Building off this, it is important to note that skills are equally important to performing these two functions. a character good at Driving may be able to Assess any modifications performed on a vehicle or Declare a potential problem on the car that is chasing them. The fact that the character was "Born with a wrench in his hand" will certainly help make those rolls successful.

DM Samuel does a great job discussing the beauty of Aspects and their elegant nature, so no need to repeat what he said. I think they're the bee's knees of the FATE system, but they do require a shift in thinking when approaching play, especially if your experience has been heavily GM-centric (regardless of which side of the screen you were on).

Player Empowerment vs GM Preparation
The true art to using Aspects falls on both the player and the GM. DM Samuel was focusing on his role as GM, but some of the weight is squarely on player's shoulders.

The player needs to be aware of what their skills can do. Many skills grant players opportunities to make Assessments and Declarations. Players should be very familiar with all the Trappings of their skills. Knowing what the skills allow is just the beginning, they also need to watch for opportunities in play to use those skills to make Assessments and Declarations.

For the GM, the previous paragraph also applies; you have to know what the skills can do so you can support your players as they Assess and Declare. Even better is to create scenes that present players with opportunities to use those skills. DFRPG makes it easy to plan for in this respect given the skills "pyramid": a definite hierarchy of skills rated most skilled to least skilled. Plan for Assessments from the character's highest ranked skill, give them a chance to use those skills and build familiarity with this element of the game. I guarantee if they get a taste of it they will want more.

DM Samuel touched upon the idea that the GM has to prepare fewer details because the players can fill in the details that are important to them using Declarations. I think the preparation has to be focused in a different way. A certain amount of flexibility is required to GM DFRPG. Too rigid a setting or story will not allow players (and their characters) the freedom to explore and contribute.

As far as specific advice on how a GM can do this I have two "don'ts":

  • Don't plan for every contingency. Feel free to establish scenes that have no clear resolution. If the players have to break into the villain's lair, loosely sketch possible opposition and let the players use their Skills to Declare some Aspects on the scene. 
  • Don't be afraid to say "yes" to your player's declarations.

I'm sure I'm missing some points here; my experience running DFRPG almost matches DM Samuel's exactly. I look forward to learning more of the nuances in the game as time goes on and will plan to share what I learn here.

Follow your bliss,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Wow - great expansion of my post! Thanks for writing this, it is the natural next step to my thoughts.

    I love the advice "Don't plan for every contingency" as that is what I had to learn as well. This is what I mean by the GM having less prep - in D&D, for example, I often felt like I had to plan for contingencies in painstaking detail - DFRPG makes me let go of that. That letting go has bled over in my D&D games as well and improved them - less stressful prep on the DM = more relaxed and fun sessions.


  2. Thanks to you for writing the initial post to spark me to build on what you wrote. Eerie how parallel our experiences were in this matter.