Interview with Evil Hat’s Fred Hicks

As some of you may know, Evil Hat is working on making a Dresden Files RPG. Everyone involved is busting their humps to get it ready for ORIGINS. Evil Hat publisher Fred Hicks took some time last week to answer some questions about the system and why you should be interested in picking it up. Lets read, shall we?

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Can you briefly tell us about the setting that The Dresden Files RPG and the books at large takes place in?

FRED HICKS: Two different answers, there. I’ll take the books first: they occur in a modern-day Chicago, where Harry Dresden is the only practicing wizard / private eye who advertises in the Yellow Pages. It has a blend of noir and adventure-fiction sensibility to it, and a big helping of urban fantasy gone gritty.

The Dresden Files RPG *could* take place there… but it doesn’t have to, necessarily. We have an entire chapter that talks about getting everyone together around the table, picking a city that interests them, and then turning it into its Dresden Files magic-lives-behind-the-scenes setting for the game.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Where did Jim get the inspiration for this modern-day-fantasy-noir world?

FRED HICKS: Jim’s the first to admit he stole ideas from all over. The Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton was an early influence. The name Harry Dresden came from a combination of World War II research and the HBO movie “Cast A Deadly Spell”. Bob the Skull, who’s pretty much exactly what he sounds like, was a joke Jim had with his writing teacher. But it’s hard to really pin down one place and say “from there”, because Jim is a voracious reader. Where’d he get the idea? From all of genre fiction.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What role does Jim Butcher have in its ongoing creation?

FRED HICKS: “Its” meaning the RPG? His direct involvement is light, honestly, though he and his agent have looked at the game to give it final approval. Jim’s just too busy to really actively get into the mix. Luckily, we have a very effective proxy for him in the form of the novels and short stories. Our lead setting developer, Chad Underkoffler, documented all of the material exhaustively in preparation for writing those portions of the game, and it really paid off.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Ok, enough about Jim for a second, who else is on TDF RPG team?

FRED HICKS: There’s Chad, who I already mentioned, and me — I’m the publisher, the layout guy, and one of the developer/authors. Rob Donoghue laid some groundwork quite some time ago (and is working on the index for the game presently), and Genevieve Cogman helped us find our feet with the setting, writing an early draft of the introductory chapters for each of the two RPG books. The big guns, though, are Lenny Balsera as lead system developer, Ryan Macklin as lead project developer, Amanda Valentine as our managing editor, and Clark Valentine as our man providing covering fire for the system and setting sides of the effort. Adam Dray also helped out with editing for a while. Then there are all the Alpha playtesters — too many to mention here — who helped us build confidence that we had the system on the right track after a few failed attempts.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: The Dresden Files RPG is powered by an updated Fate 3.0 system. Can you tell us what kinds of updates were made? Does it still play like the Fate system we all know and love?

FRED HICKS: It plays like the Fate you’d know from SOTC, but with the dials firmly twisted in different directions — all done in service of producing a play experience that feels like the novels. Combat is FAR more dangerous than ever before. People are fragile and sometimes it’s better to lose a fight or walk away from one than to try to gut it out through to the end. The relationship between power and free will (you trade off the latter for more of the former) is baked right into the elements of the Fate Point economy. And we’ve taken all of the lessons of the last four years with Spirit of the Century and applied them to produce game system advice that is clearer and more on-target than before. This gives us a few mild terminology shifts as well, but getting into that kind of specific is better handled by a book than an interview.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Where should we point our friends when they ask; “What’s the Dresden Files RPG?”

FRED HICKS: Start with the game’s website –http://www.dresdenfilesrpg.com — and one of the earlier novels. Honestly, any one of the first four, up through Summer Knight, would do. I hear Summer Knight is one of the better ones for reeling them in. On the website we’re “leaking” out bunches of information about the setting and character types and magic and all that. Some browsing around there will tell them a lot.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Does TDF RPG have classes or races or factions?

FRED HICKS: Not *exactly*. We offer up a bunch of playable templates — recipes for creating characters and the powers that are appropriate for them — but they’re not as restrictive as any of the things you’re talking about usually are. A cross section would be: wizards, werewolves, minor talents, emissaries of power, champions of God, changelings, and certain kinds of maybe-not-so-evil vampires. But there’s more than just those.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What character options are open to players interested in exploring their more monstrous sides?

FRED HICKS: Two kinds of playable werewolf and changelings are probably going to be front and center for that, but the field’s pretty wide, there — the trick is to come up with something monstrous that’s not SO monstrous that it represents a creature driven by its nature rather than with the option of free will. Only the latter have the chance of being player characters.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What character options exist for those who like to shoot first and role-play later/never?

FRED HICKS: I believe those options are called “dead”.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What character options exist for the white knight in all of us that seeks to banish evil from the world?

FRED HICKS: You could always pick up one of the currently ownerless Swords of the Cross to become a Knight. So white knights are almost literally possible. There are some options that land short of that. But really we expect a lot of good-guy thinking, when it comes down to it — the people who stand against the darkness could be regular-Jane cops, they could be empowered by their faith in their religion, or they could be rough and tumble wizards just trying to make a little bit of difference in their corner of the world.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What types of Magic are there in this world?

FRED HICKS: The two main varieties of magic — beyond innate powers specific to certain kinds of creatures — are evocation and thaumaturgy. Evocation is the flash-bang-boom stuff, quickly cast and usable in a combat setting. It tends to be all about straight lines, pushing power from point A to point B, conceptually simple stuff. Thaumaturgy is the slower, ritualized stuff that requires preparation and research, but can produce potent, long-ranging, and more widely varied effects. A spin-off of those is what we call Sponsored Magic, which combines those two methods, but draws some of its power from a deal made with some kind of supernatural entity rather than from your own potential.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: How is the production schedule coming along?

FRED HICKS: Good! The first pass on layout is done, but there’s another couple months of effort to go before we can really think about starting up preorders. Closer than ever, though, and with an end in sight. I think — hope — we’re on track for our intended Origins 2010 release.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Will there be a physical product release, or is TDF RPG all about the digital distribution?

FRED HICKS: It’ll be two _big_ books — the first volume, “Your Story”, is about 400 pages long, and the second, “Our World” is over 250. You can find out more about the particulars over on the game’s website.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What’s your favorite aspect of the system?

FRED HICKS: How closely it lands to the feel of the books just in terms of how the system operates in play. We don’t tell people “you must do X to make it feel like the Dresden Files”… it just _feels like the Dresden Files_ when you play it. Hot stuff.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What are you most proud of in TDF RPG?

FRED HICKS: How close it is to being done. It’s been a ludicrously long road.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: What kind of price point are we looking at here?

FRED HICKS: Well, full color hardcovers with page counts like what I mentioned above — you can look at similar products in the market and draw some educated and reasonably accurate conclusions. But we haven’t settled on the final price points yet.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: Can we expect any future content in the form of supplements or accessories for TDF RPG?

FRED HICKS: We’re not explicitly planning for that, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. For now we’re looking at delivering a complete game in those two volumes and then letting the novels themselves act as supplements. We’re definitely planning on hosting some public “let’s stat this story!” exercises via the blog over on The Dresden Files RPG website.

OBSDIAN PORTAL: When can we start playing?!

FRED HICKS: Soon! The book releases in June, and we’re hoping to start a preorder by then, if not 1-2 months before then, which will include folks getting to download the PDF immediately when they place their preorders through us or through Indie Press Revolution.

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