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Bringing DFRPG into the Atomic Robo Era

by Heather Beauregard

A lot has happened in the world of Fate over the three years since the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game (DFRPG) was first released. Bringing Fate Core and the four actions into DFRPG—along with some necessary changes to skills, the addition of boosts, and a few balance tweaks to spellcasting and shields—will breathe new life into an old campaign. For the truly adventurous, a full conversion to the Atomic Robo Fate system will give you brand new ways to use Thaumaturgy and redefine magic by tying it to your modes instead of your mental stress.

Much like a certain private-eye wizard, it’s high time Changes came to DFRPG.

In this essay, we’ll walk through all the steps needed to make the journey into the Atomic Robo era of Fate. To get the most out of it you should have some familiarity with DFRPG; more detailed explanations of all the terminology can be found in DFRPG: Your Story. Page references read as follows: (YS - Your Story); (FC - Fate Core); (AR - Atomic Robo).

Fate Core: Translating the Four Actions

The first step to any Core update of the Dresden Files RPG is to implement the four actions. Nearly all skills in DFRPG can translate directly to their Core counterparts, with a few exceptions we’ll discuss later. Assessments and declarations become create advantage actions. Replace tags with boosts.

Maneuvers are create advantage actions. For any create advantage or overcome actions involving teamwork, one character makes the skill roll, then adds one to the roll result for each character assisting who has at least +1 in the skill being rolled.

In DFRPG, taking a block action lets you set up a value of shifts that must be overcome to take a specific action; blocks also tie into the grapple rules. Blocking is an old action that is no longer supported by Core, though, so remove it. The main uses for blocking are to set up a secondary defense for weaker characters or to create cover, and you can still do either of those things by using the standard create advantage action.

Grappling, another subsystem of DFRPG, has its own problems, mainly that supernaturally strong characters can do a lot of damage with it while preventing any retaliation. It tends to slow the game down and takes multiple turns to set up. Remove grappling and give characters who have Strength powers (YS183-184) +2 instead of +1 to Physique rolls when creating grapple-style advantages like In a Headlock or Pinned.

Supplemental actions are another relic of older versions of Fate. They allow you to take a -1 to your roll in order to do a secondary thing like move one zone during your turn or draw your weapon before firing it. These no longer exist in Fate Core, since movement across a zone is free, and characters are assumed to have themselves ready unless some situation prevents them (like being tied up).

One more thing has to go, and that’s combined actions. In DFRPG, these let you do two actions at once by modifying your main skill roll by the value of a secondary skill. Generally in Core, if you need to do several things at once you’re looking at a challenge (FC147-149), so play it out to the fullest!

Weapon and armor ratings remain unchanged from DFRPG. Use the standard attack action from Core, but with one difference: if you tie on an attack action, you gain the boost only if you don’t deal any stress.

Skills: The Big Squish

This is the meat of the conversion to Core and is meant to give GMs a basic checklist to follow. If you’re starting a new campaign, make sure to tell your players about these changes in advance!

If you’re converting an existing campaign, keep the skill ladder. Switching to the skill pyramid mid-game can make it difficult to retain the essence of a character. If you’re starting a new campaign, use the pyramid. Your characters will have fewer high ranked skills though, so create your encounters accordingly.

The older DFRPG skills Might and Endurance have been combined into Physique. Use this to determine the number of physical stress boxes a character has.

Replace Intimidation from DFRPG with Provoke from Core. It has a much wider scope.

Remove Performance and Survival. These skills can reasonably be covered by Rapport and Empathy or Physique and Stealth, respectively.

Use Will for any True Faith powers (YS187-188) that would normally use Conviction.

Conviction and Discipline are a special case. These skills have been combined into Will in Core, but due to how magic works in DFRPG we need to introduce a new skill for controlling magic: Spellcasting.

For All the Wizards in the Audience

For those new to DFRPG or who haven’t played in a while, Evocation in DFRPG works like this:

Before rolling you choose the strength of your spell, up to your Conviction rating. Then you roll your Discipline to determine if you can control your magic or not. If you succeed, your damage includes the strength of the spell as weapon damage. So a character with high Conviction can cast very powerful spells, but without high Discipline he can’t control them, and he can either take backlash (stress damage equal to the failure) or fallout (letting the failure create a negative scene aspect and reducing his roll).

Evocation is a lot of fun and we want to keep it that way, so to fill the gap left by Conviction, introduce this skill:

Spellcasting

The Spellcasting skill represents the strength of your will, and affects your ability to summon magic both offensively and defensively.

Overcome: Using magic to destroy objects, remove barriers, and change scene aspects.

Create an Advantage: Introducing scene aspects, cast a Shield, cast Wards.

Attack: Hexing and Counterspells use Spellcasting directly, but you need the Evocation power to deal stress damage with elemental magic.

Defend: Spellcasting is not used for traditional defense, but can be used to create Shields.

Addressing Wizard Supremacy

Magic in DFRPG is extremely powerful, so much so that it’s often beneficial to stack up a bunch of advantages for your wizard and just let him one-shot anything that comes at you. It can make encounter design difficult to balance, especially for a new GM. Here are a few optional changes you can make to get those pesky wizard players using their brains instead of just their fireballs:

  • Limit Refinement (YS182) to +1 in any given stat. This leads to well-rounded characters instead of wizards who try to solve every problem by setting it on fire.
  • Remove focus items and have everyone use their refunded points to create magic items and potions. Focus items are purely stat bonuses on a class of character that doesn’t need them and they rarely get mentioned in play. Magic items and potions are tools that define how a character can approach a problem, and players love finding creative uses for them. (See “Crafting”, YS278-281.)
  • Spending mental stress past your Spellcasting rating should be a tough decision instead of the norm. To do this, you need to take a second hit on your mental stress track for the value of the extra shifts. Casting a bigger spell now means casting fewer spells later. (See “Evocation: How to Do it,” YS250-251.)

    Shields: How do they work, again?

    Shields used to be magical blocks; with blocks removed, we need to rethink how they work.

    A Shield is an Evocation-based full defense that costs one mental stress. Make a Spellcasting roll at +2, as usual for a full defense. If an attack manages to inflict enough shifts to overcome your armor, the shield breaks and you cannot block attacks with it anymore. This spell lasts until it is dropped or broken at no additional stress cost, but you cannot take any action except defense while it’s active.

    An acid-spitting snake monster is closing in on Warden Rick, and his friends are still on the way. He puts up a shield to stall for time. He marks one mental stress and rolls his Spellcasting, and gets a result of 4! +2 means he’s got a defense of 6, and Armor:6 against whatever the snake spits at him.

    Characters who like to play defensively might take Spellcasting stunts like these:

    • Reflexive Shielding: Use Spellcasting to defend against physical or elemental attacks. (This does not cost mental stress.)
    • Stand Behind Me!: Once per turn an ally in the same zone can use your shield defense instead of rolling their own.

    The Portal to the Future

    Fate Core bolts onto DFRPG much like a new hood bolts onto the Blue Beetle, but for those of you who can’t help but upgrade to the latest and greatest system that’s out, this is where it gets fun. Atomic Robo is the first post-Core system that preserves everything good from DFRPG while having its own unique style. Finally, we can bring magic items into the next century through mega-stunts and get rid of that old-fashioned mental stress limit so that spellcasters are free to create whatever advantage they want, with the fate points to spare!

    This portion of the essay requires some familiarity with creating characters in Atomic Robo RPG, as many of the systems present are brand new to Fate Core.

    Magic à la Modes

    Define a new weird mode for spellcasters and supernatural characters, called Magical by default. (See “Getting Weird,” AR70-72.) Players are encouraged to rename this to Wizard, or White Court, or whatever they’d like. This is a reskinned version of the Science mode. Like any other weird mode, this one must be justified by your concept.

    The Magical mode costs 3 points and includes Will, Notice, and Lore as a base. The Magical mode should also include any skill that the player wishes to use when they cast magic or use supernatural powers: Combat if they want to fight, Stealth for veils, Empathy to affect emotions, etc. Add the cost of these additional skills to the overall cost of the mode by using the table on AR72.

    A Magical mode might look like this:

    WARDEN: Athletics, Combat, Contacts, Notice, Physique, Will, Lore (total cost: 9)

    This character can use his magic to dodge, fight, cast shields, use magical communication, lift heavy things, resist compulsion, or have a book about vampires. But he doesn’t have Stealth, so he can’t cast veils! Magical ability is tied to modes in this way because wizards in the Dresdenverse have clear strengths and weaknesses, and no one can do everything. This maintains that same idea without having to use mental stress as a limiter.

    You might have noticed Lore in the example. This Lore skill is a bit different from the Lore skill in DFRPG. This variant is a new weird Science skill that includes any kind of knowledge or field of study that pertains to the supernatural. You can specialize in different fields of Lore just like a Science skill (e.g., Lore: Portals, or Lore: Faerie Courts). Lore can be used to create advantage and overcome. (See “Science, It’s Special,” AR69.)

    Note that Lore doesn’t replace Science and it’s perfectly valid for a character to have both. A doctor might have Science: Medicine and Lore: Holy Objects and that’s okay!

    Lore

    Every Lore skill other than Notice and Will has the following actions and applications:

    Overcome: Know things and solve problems related to the area of magic in question.

    Create an Advantage: You can create or discover details or aspects by relying on your knowledge of magic, perhaps by searching through forbidden tomes or remembering what you learned as an apprentice. This lets you determine the hidden weaknesses of monsters (Allergic to Inherited Silver!), figure out how to summon a Faerie Queen (By Name and Blood and Deed…), or outsmart a sphinx in a riddle game (It’s Always the Left Door).

    Combat Is Combat

    Evocation in DFRPG was limited by mental stress because of how powerful it is on a per-turn basis. In Atomic Robo, throwing a fireball is just the same as attacking with a gun or a sword. You cast magic to attack by rolling Combat if it’s in your Magical mode. To specialize and increase the power of your magic you can take an Evocation stunt or a mega-stunt. But remember, in Atomic Robo instead of reducing your own fate points to become more powerful, you give the GM more fate points to use against you!

    Wizards in the Dresdenverse tend to favor one element over another, so an Evocation stunt might look like this:

    • Combat Wizardry: +1 to Combat when attacking with water magic. +1 to Combat when defending with spirit magic.
    • One with Nature: +1 to creating an advantage with Combat or Athletics when you borrow an element that’s present in the scene (water from the nearby river, wind from a ceiling fan, fire from a burning building…).

    Supernatural Stunts

    Powers in DFRPG are priced to come in packages depending on the template you choose to play. There’s no such restriction in Atomic Robo, so you can be more specific. Remember that your ability to use magic or turn into a wolf or be a sexy vampire comes from your modes and concept, so you don’t need to take a stunt unless you want to focus on that aspect of your character. This is a big change from DFRPG where you followed a template of powers, and it’s one of the big draws of Atomic Robo. Think of it like this: If your character’s concept is Nerdy Teenage Werewolf, then yep, you can turn into a wolf. But unless you take a stunt that makes you better at fighting as a wolf, you won’t be any better at it than you were as a nerdy teenager. Stunts are the meat that fleshes out your concept.

    Everyone who’s not completely human in DFRPG dips into four physical powers: Speed, Strength, Toughness, and Recovery. These powers are fairly easy to reproduce via Robo’s basic mega-stunts (AR76) and even come with built-in catches. Here are some examples of the four powers as mega-stunts. You can cut or add additional benefits to any of these (see AR80 for guidelines).

    • Supernatural Speed: (YS178) You’re absolutely faster than any mortal, but you are weak to _. In a physical conflict, you always act first. +1 to Athletics when defending or overcoming obstacles. You can move two zones per turn freely instead of one. (4 benefits)
    • Supernatural Strength: (YS183) You’re absolutely stronger than any mortal, but at a cost. +2 to overcoming with Physique when you’re using your strength to lift or break something. +2 weapon damage when you can bring your strength to bear. (3 benefits)
    • Inhuman Toughness: (YS185) You’re bulletproof, but weak to ____. You have +1 armor against physical attacks. (2 benefits)
    • Inhuman Recovery: (YS185) Once per scene, spend a fate point to reduce one of your consequences by a degree of severity (severe to major, major to mild, mild to nothing). +2 to overcome rolls made to recover from a physical consequence. (2 benefits)

    Mega-stunts, like the Magical mode, need to be justified by the character’s concept. A werewolf might be absolutely stronger than a mortal man, but scares the pants off everyone when he hulks out. Or a Red Court vampire might be bulletproof but weak to sunlight.

    Magical Hardware

    Magic items from DFRPG can translate into identical pieces of hardware in Robo, or an item can even gain more significance by making it into a mega-stunt and giving it function and flaw aspects. Rather than basing a character’s artisanship on their Crafting skill, you simply pay for items out of your stunt budget, which opens up all kinds of new avenues for players with signature items. A mega-stunt can even cover several items at a time, or an empty potion slot can be defined in play, just like it can in DFRPG. Here are some examples to get you started:

    Empty Bottle: Use Lore: Artifacts instead of another skill to use a potion or simple device. Gain +2 to the effect if you make it ahead of time with a montage instead of declaring on the spot. Once used, you may regain the use of this stunt whenever you have some downtime to tinker or make a brief shopping trip. (1 benefit)

    Megastunt: Warden Sword

    • Function: Silver Spellbreaker
    • Flaw: Weight of a Reputation

    +2 to overcome with Will when dispelling hostile magic. +2 to counter attempts to create an advantage against you with magic. (2 benefits)

    The Challenge of Thaumaturgy

    Atomic Robo has fairly standard rules for conflicts and contests, just like DFRPG, but they’ve also added something new to the mix—the challenge (FC147)—and it’s perfect for thaumaturgy. A challenge occurs when a group of players wants to achieve a goal that’s fairly complex but isn’t combat (though some combat may occur). The GM runs the challenge as a series of overcome actions, each one using a different skill, and narrating the events as they unfold. Players can create advantages during the challenge, though if they fail then they’re no closer to their goal and often give their enemies a bonus.

    Thaumaturgy challenges might involve obtaining foci or sympathetic links, finding the right place to cast your spell, or simply having the willpower to hold a difficult spell together. The best part is any player can participate in the challenge, and it doesn’t have to be just the wizard’s show.

    If you have a particularly tricky spell in mind, a challenge can help you put a spotlight on it and make it into a full event that can either go perfectly to plan or horribly wrong. A potion might need to be kept at a certain temperature while you chant an invocation in Sanskrit and add three drops of salamander oil at precisely the right intervals or it might explode. (Or worse, not be powerful enough to melt through the bars of the Winter Queen’s ice prison like it was supposed to.) That’s assuming you’re left to the task and no one shows up to either stop or “help” you….

    Optional Stunts: Soulgaze, The Sight, Hexing, and Lawbreaker

    These optional stunts are available to any character with a concept and Magical mode that justify them, and don’t count against their stunt total. The double-edged sword is already included. If your Magical mode is rated at +2 or better, you must take Hexing. All of these stunts can also be included as part of a larger mega-stunt if further bonuses are desired.

    • Soulgaze: When you initiate a Soulgaze by looking into the eyes of someone with a mortal soul for the first time, begin a contest. Each of you rolls an attack of Empathy to overcome a defense roll of Will. You each reveal your concepts to the other, and as a result of the roll, you will each reveal one additional aspect. If the attacker wins, the defender reveals either a weakness or a relevant aspect. If defender wins, then the defender chooses which additional aspect is revealed. Treat a tie as if the attacker made a successful attack. A success with style grants an additional free invoke on the revealed aspect or weakness. Note: Soulgazing involves two rolls, so each character serves as the attacker and defender once.
    • The Sight: For a fate point, you may open your third eye and initiate a contest known as the Sight. During your next turn, roll Notice against a difficulty set by the GM to reveal an aspect on your target. (The more stressful a situation is, the higher the difficulty should be.) You must then defend against that same difficulty with Will in order to close your third eye or proceed to the next round. A success with style on the Notice roll reveals two aspects. You may continue the contest for as many rounds as you like to reveal more aspects, but the difficulty increases by 1 each turn. Failing to defend with Will results in taking mental stress equal to the failure, but the Sight does not end until you defend successfully or are taken out.
    • Hexing: You may deliberately hex electrical devices by rolling your Magical mode’s strength against a difficulty set by the GM (YS258-259). If you succeed, you disable the device; if you fail you can still choose to disable the device, but at a cost. The GM can compel your Magical mode aspect to cause this effect to automatically succeed when it would be inconvenient.
    • (First, Second, Third, etc.) Lawbreaker: When you break a Law of Magic (YS232-246) you automatically take this stunt. You gain +1 to any deliberate action that may lead to a repeated breaking of the law, at a cost. One of your aspects must change to reflect the damage you’ve done to yourself and others. The third occurrence replaces this stunt with Repeat Offender: the bonus increases to +2, and another of your aspects is corrupted. A corrupted aspect is always the most relevant for the purpose of a Soulgaze.

    Looking to the Future

    Fate is an ever-evolving system and there’s more Dresden Files RPG on the way with the upcoming The Paranet Papers and Dresden Files: Accelerated Edition. I want to thank everyone who helped beta test both the Fate Core and the Atomic Robo conversions, and I hope that my table’s experiences with DFRPG can bring a little fuego! to yours.