Before I get to the the review, I need to tell you my feelings about ham.
Trust me. There is a point to this.
I do not like ham. Never have. I like bacon, pork chops, and pork roast, but I have never liked ham. I cannot blame this on ham though, because this is a matter of my personal tastes. You can serve a world class Virginia smoked ham prepared by Woflgang Puck and I probably still would not like it. Every time that I have tried it ham it turns out to be not my thing. I do not hate ham, but I do avoid eating it.
My personal tastes though should not blind me to the fact that you can still have a good quality product in the form of ham. Obviously other people like ham, and I should not try to convince them otherwise.
What does this have to do with The Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat Productions? The Dresden Files RPG is an obviously well-crafted product that will appeal to many people that I myself am not that crazy for. Never before have I reviewed a product that did not appeal to me, but that I knew would appeal to others on a large scale. I finally understand how my friends who do not like the film The Godfather feel.
This product has many outstanding qualities, and you can easily find others singing its praises on the Internet through various web sites. It and its companion product Our World have already been nominated for the 2011 Origins Awards for Best Roleplaying Game and Best RPG Supplement. It has already won the Golden Geek for the Best Artwork/Presentation and Game of the Year. It recently made the prestigious short-list for the Diana Jones Award. I am positive that The Dresden Files RPG is also going to be a force to contend with at this year’s ENnie Awards.
Not a great place to be as a reviewer. How do I tell you the obvious (this is a really good product), and still be honest (this is a really good product that I do not care for)?
In an attempt to be both both fair to The Dresden Files RPG, as well as to share my honest opinion with all of you I am splitting this review across two web sites. Here on Gnome Stew I am going to tell you why this product deserves the praise that it is receiving, and over on my personal blog SinisterForces I am going to share with you why I do not care for the product for personal reasons. Read one of the two reviews, or read them both, but remember that my reasons for not liking the product are based upon my personal tastes as a fan of RPGs.
One last thing: I was offered a PDF copy of The Dresden Files RPG: Your Story, The Dresden Files RPG: Our World, and the free adventure Neutral Grounds by Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions in response to a blog post that I wrote. Props to Fred for letting his work stand on its own.
This is the most beautiful RPG product that I have seen in a long time.
From the moment you pick up The Dresden Files RPG full color artwork greets you on the cover and continues to leap out at you from its 400 plus pages. This is nothing new for an RPG to have, but unlike some products where the artwork seems to be placed on the page merely because people expect it to be there in the typical “chapter starts with big artwork, smaller pieces provide filler” formula (I’m looking at you Wizards) with The Dresden Files RPG every item on the page is used to accentuate the product. The layout work done on this product is absolutely incredible. You get a real sense of the book being a dynamic story unto itself, and in may ways it is (more on that later).
Every details seems to have been picked on purpose to ensure that this RPG does not just present you with the rules but also sucks you into the game world. The fonts, borders, and everything else seems to fit perfectly into the setting that the product describes. This is not just a book, but a portal into the world of Harry Dresden.
And speaking of Harry Dresden…
I confess that I have only read three of the Harry Dresden books, but even with my limited knowledge of the Dresdenverse it is clear that this RPG is loyal to the source material. The way that skills, spells, and other such qualities are described shows how this was not just a product made to cash in on a hot licensed property, but instead is an homage to Jim Butcher’s tales of the only wizard detective listed in the phonebook.
One reason for this is because the book is designed to read as if the character Billy, a geeky werewolf who plays RPGs and is a close friend of Harry, has designed an RPG based upon the case files from Harry’s past adventures. Throughout the book there are notes being exchanged between Billy, Harry, and Harry’s advisor in the form of a soul-bound-to-a-skull named Bob. Anyone who has read any of the titles from the Dresden series will be treated to many references to events that occurred within the books. In some ways this book is not just an RPG but a reference guide to the Dresdenverse. Even if you have not read any of the books the RPG serves as a good introduction to the world of Harry Dresden which is by all means a fascinating one.
But what about the game?
Yes the book is gorgeous, yes the book has style, but none of that matters if the game sucks. Luckily the game is solid as well, and if you are a fan of the Fate system (Spirit of the Century, Strands of Fate, etc.) you will be happy to know that The Dresden Files RPG is the first product released using the new Fate 3.0 engine (correction: Spirit of the Century also from Evil Hat Productions was the first Fate 3.0 release). Fate is a fantastic rules system that focuses on the storytelling aspect of RPGs. It is a derivative of my personal favorite game system Fudge, and it stays true to its roots while at the same time expanding upon the system and tightening up a few parts as well.
Fair warning — Fate and Fudge are game systems that may not be for everyone. Luckily both are available for free on the web for you to try before you buy, and as much as I am a fan of these systems you should try them out first before buying The Dresden Files RPG.
In many ways Fate and Harry Dresden are a perfect fit, because magic in the works of Jim Butcher is not dependent so much on what something is but what it represents. Aspects in Fate work very much the same way, as they are traits that a character can tap in order to stay true to the character’s concept. This again just builds upon the synergy between the RPG and the published works.
Should you buy it?
With all of the production work that went into The Dresden Files RPG there has to be a price, and in this case that is literally the price! The Dresden Files RPG: Your Story is $49.99 in print and $25 for the PDF, while the companion book Our World which provides more detail for the setting of the Dresdenverse is $39.99 in print and $20 for the PDF. It should be noted though that Evil Hat Productions provides a PDF copy to anyone who buys a print version of their products through retailers, and orders placed through their online store for print products includes the PDF versions. That said, $90 is a lot of money to spend on an RPG given the many cheaper products that are out there. Is The Dresden Files RPG worth the money?
That is hard to say, because everyone’s financial situation is different. Perhaps it is better to think of it this way: Do you want a Mercedes? There are very few reasons to buy a Mercedes-Benz automobile from a practical standpoint. Most vehicles will deliver the basic functionality that a person needs from an automobile at far less a price, but a Mercedes-Benz delivers that same basic functionality with a higher level of comfort and quality. This RPG is not your typical collection of mechanics with a dash of setting thrown in (again, I’m looking at you Wizards). The Dresden Files RPG is more of a luxury purchase that is as much a work of art as it is an RPG. For some of you that $90 is not worth it, but for others $90 will be a bargain for the set.
Final Thought: It is deserving of all of the hype.
In the end The Dresden Files RPG is a solid piece of work that is elegant and well done. Fans of Harry Dresden will not be disappointed, and fans of Fate and Fudge have another high quality game available to them. Even gamers who have never played Fate and Fudge and who have never read any of the Harry Dresden series should check it out just to see what a classy job the folks at Evil Hat Productions did with these books.
One thing that I am certain of is that The Dresden Files RPG is worthy of all the praise and attention that the industry is bestowing upon it. Regardless of your personal tastes these books just radiate of being of a higher quality. At the very least Evil Hat Productions has raised the bar for RPGs across the board, and that is a good thing for all of us gamers as a whole.
Do you own The Dresden Files RPG? What do you think of its quality and content? Share your opinion with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.