Hey everybody, I’m here with GM Wolfhound to talk to him about his awesome game “Dresden Files Dallas” which many of you are familiar with. If you’re not, well now is your chance because its a really great concept for a game, and an awesome wiki. Check it out!
First off, feel free to tell us about yourself if you want. Family, kids, pets, dayjob, superhero-alter ego, etc. We’ll kick it off with that and get started with the questioning!
Real name is Matt Ragan, fellow gamer wife, two kids (one of each), no pets currently (though we did have an adopted greyhound until recently – canine cancer). By day I’m a mild-mannered web developer that spends an inordinate amount of time on various continuous integration projects. By night I’m just your average book reading, online game playing, and overweight geeky gamer dad. However, a few years back I worked at Reaper Miniatures and helped out with their CAV and Warlord games a little bit, but I hung up those black tights (and the red cape) for the better paychecks of corporate America about five years ago.
About the only remotely interesting things I do anymore are once a week I teach a free adult night class on how to speak beginner-level Irish Gaelic, and I also do Cowboy Action Shooting. That’s where I dress up as somebody from pre-1900, strap six-shooters to my hip and fire live ammo downrange targets at a ranch in Cleburne, Texas or back home on my family homestead (110 acres, about an hour and a half north of Dallas out in the boondocks). My alias in that hobby is “Wolfhound Jack” (hence my username here on Obsidian Portal).
So, Dresden Files: Dallas is a pretty unique game, and a unique wiki as well! I see you’ve made a lot of use out of the wiki functionality. Did you hand craft all of these yourself or is one of your players the artist?
I am indeed the schlep that does the grunt work with the wiki – with assistance on the CSS side from other members of the Obsidian Portal community. Who, I feel are an amazing group of individuals. They are a tireless source of ideas, feedback, and help. GIMP is my art software of choice (because I’m a cheapskate). However I do have some book layout experience from my Reaper days. This probably helps me come up with ideas for the visual look of the wiki somewhat.
I love that the format of your games are set up just like TV episodes, this is an awesome concept. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
My first exposure to Jim Butcher’s Dresdenverse was through the short lived Dresden Files TV show. I love “hidden world” fiction – a world that seems pretty much like our own but that has a hidden culture/mysteries/secrets just below the surface. The TV show led me to the Dresden Files novels and from there to the RPG.
When I was looking for a “gimmick” for my Wiki… I wanted to pay homage to my first exposure to the Dresdenverse. Since I also regularly watch Chuck, Big Bang Theory, Psyche, Blue Bloods, etc. online via their corporate/streaming websites I just stole ideas for layout from the work done for those shows.
I see that a lot of the episodes also have ‘webisodes’ as well, are those each characters side of the story from that episode? Do you write them, or do your players?
The only character that I write for is Conor – the Irishman. I use him as my own personal character when Rahal is GMing (my co-GM) and as a plot device when I am GM. All other Webisodes are actually written by the other players for their own characters. I probably get as much enjoyment from logging on to find a new one posted as any of the folks that follow our wiki. I love seeing insight into how my players want to have their characters interact/grow/mature within the setting.
I’ve heard great things about the Dresden Files RPG system, is this what you are using? What are some of your favorite bits about it?
Yes indeed. For those that may not have encountered it yet, it’s a modified form of the Fudge/Fate system. It’s produced by Evil Hat Productions and it took home a truckload of awards at GenCon and Origins this year (2011).
What I love best is how free-form and interactive it is. Players are only limited (and the drawback: as powerful) as their own ability to use their imaginations and describe what their characters are doing. There are not charts full of combat maneuvers – you make the moves up as you go along – be it jumping up on bars, breaking bottles, overturning tables, or whatever. I’ve never played in a system that talks about “cinematic combat” and then… actually pulls it off.
Now, there was learning curve… there’s so MUCH freedom that it takes a while to get used to it. The second thing I love best is how you’re rewarded for making flawed and painfully human characters. In other games I’ve played, you take “negatives” to min-max your point buy systems or whatever… here, it’s just a part of who your character is. “Negative Aspects” are things the GM will “compel” to bring your character’s flaws on to center stage…sometimes you “self compel” to gain advantages later. It’s really an amazing dynamic, my hats off to the game designers, every one of them.
What do you use as inspiration for the campaign?
At first, we drew from television. The very first adventure (Smoker? I Didn’t Even Know Her!) came from an episode of Castle that happened at the same time I had just bought a new smoker and was cooking a lot of BBQ in my backyard. The current story arc (Malignant Motorcycle Mayhem) came about because Rahal the Co-GM is a big fan of Sons of Anarchy.
However, due to all the Webisodes and the natural progression of the campaign as story threads from previous games lead off into others… most of my ideas are now from my players themselves. Dresden RPG characters (when done well) really kind of write their own adventures after a while by just existing. Between their flaws, backgrounds, and interactions with the NPCs in the campaign you get all sorts of ideas where to go as the GM. However, I imagine TV shows will always be a “go to” source for adventure frameworks… I mean they’re naturally episodic and designed to conclude in a relatively short time span (which lends itself well to a 4-ish hour gaming block).
I see you have a lot of player participation on the site it seems, how do you manage that, or are you just a lucky GM with super involved players?
In the FATE system you spend “Fate Points” to affect what’s going on. The interplay of FATE points between the GM and Players and how to compel/boost various actions is a dynamic built in to the core mechanics. The accumulation of those FATE points is strongly in the player’s best interests. By participating on Obsidian Portal… they get bonus FATE points from me.
However, I am ALSO very lucky. Several of my players really enjoy writing those Webisodes and love playing around with their characters “in downtime.” I think they’re also discovering that some of the new material for where the campaign is going comes from those Webisodes. So it’s in their interests to do them and help grow the campaign. I’ve got at least two storylines bouncing around in my head that were spawned directly from player written Webisodes/background stories.
Speaking of your players who are they and how long have you known them/gamed together?
The Co-GM and I went to college together at the University of North Texas over a decade ago and we were apartment mates. One player is my wife and best friend of 12+ years. Another couple we’ve known for several years now (around seven or eight I think). Two more are also friends from college (so over a decade there as well). One of those plays with his wife and eldest daughter. However, they’re down in Austin (I’m up in Dallas) so we’ll only get to play with them once in a while (this is what, on the Wiki, we’re calling the “Side Jobs”). Between all of us we’ve played a lot of Vampire/Werewolf LARP, D&D, and Star Wars over the years.
Can we get a sneak peek into what’s going to be coming up in your next episode?
Once Malignant Motorcycle Mayhem concludes I’ll be once again taking the reins as GM. I’d be happy to share the teaser, since I normally post them prior to our games anyway.
It’s Christmas Time in Dallas but there’s little cheer on the streets. When it comes to ruining Christmas for the hardworking “Bob Cratchets” of Dallas; Scrooge has NOTHING on the Vizconde of the Red Court Vampires.
I do plan on having guest appearances by NPCs that more or less “take the place” of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to help progress the scenario along. It should be fun and in theme with the season.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
Let your players have confidence in the fact that you’re willing to work with whatever creative ideas they come up with for their characters. I believe that most of us play these games for escapism; we want to be amazing heroes for a few hours and play in games that are about those stories.
However, the players have to trust that you’re not out to get some kind of perverse joy out of killing their characters. No player wants to invest in a campaign (spending hours of time thinking up ways to go/directions to take their characters/writing blogs) if there’s the risk that their GM is just going to let all that investment of time get splattered due to bad dice rolls… I learned that lesson the hard way (from the GM side).
As the GM you want to TELL great stories and as the players they want to BE in great stories. Work together, you’ll be amazed with what y’all come up with. Of course a good game system helps develop this kind of trust and interplay… Dresden RPG is a good one.
Well guys and gals, that’s it for December! You know the drill, nominate some good campaigns (including your own) over in the forums. Remember we’ll have a campaign of the year ballot in the coming months, so do your homework!