Recently we reviewed the Dresden Files RPG to prepare for our review of Evil Hat’s expansion to the system. Given how long the original Dresden Files RPG was in development, followers of Evil Hat were not really surprised with how long the Paranet Papers expansion took to be finished.
The Paranet Papers serves as the 3rd volume for the Dresden Files RPG, expanding on what was in the core release of Your Story and Our World. Like the other books, it is written in-universe by William “Billy” Borden, but due to events in the novels the other commentators have changed to Karrin Murphy and Waldo Butters, who sometimes puts in comments from Bob the Skull, friends of William and recurring characters of the series. The reason for this change is that the Paranet Papers advances where the world is setting-wise in comparison to the Dresden Files novels – it adds in Turn Coat, and Changes (Books 11, and 12), as well short stories up through the post-Changes Even Hand.
Despite the changeover in speakers, Evil Hat continues to do a masterful job of capturing the voice of the characters who write in it. Beyond the three main commentators, each of the 5 setting chapters has a primary person or two who gives much of the information that makes up the region. The differing tones they use help bring the settings to life and give them their own feel, which is especially important for a narrative system like Fate.
The Paranet Papers focuses heavily on providing new settings and adventures to groups to play with. Las Vegas, Russia (Novgorod, 1918), and the Neverglades are different looks at cities each with their own twists and turns, while remaining set in one city. Las Tierras Rojas changes things on the traditional city creation method by going over several nations and providing information you can use to either make your own city in those nations or a game that zooms out and goes between the nations. The Ways Between takes a look at the Nevernever and episodic campaigns, while providing a sample one to look at. Even if you aren’t interested in a particular setting, each has slick writing, interesting characters, areas and some mechanics.
Las Vegas is the first of the settings presented, and being the only typical modern day America city, it had to do a good job of showing what the effects of the Red Court’s demise would be. It tackles this by creating a huge power gap the loss created as the Red Court was the biggest powers in the region, with the city’s leader being their head, The Dragon. With a mysterious being somewhere in the shadows and the loss of the Red Court leadership, the focus here is very much on conflicting factions vying for the power now available as revealed by Herbert, who provides a lot of the information. The mysteries here help add a lot of flavor to the region and set the tone of mysteries underlying the faction conflicts.
One issue that might come up is that most of the creatures here are lower in the regions of power, making the game a better fit for Feet in the Water, or Up to Your Waist power level. Higher powered Submerged, or even Chest Deep, may be able to defeat straight up many of the stated out characters.
Novgorod, Russia is Evil Hat’s presentation of a historic setting in the dresdenverse, taking place in 1918 during the Russian Revolutions. By focusing on Novgorod, the game is able to get away from the tighter grips of history on events and instead explore and create a scenario where those events are prevalent but somewhat outside the main history lines. Novgorod also shows the impact of a fading vampire presence, with the Black Court mostly dying off from a major power, due to Bram Stoker’s Dracula making the rounds.
This chapter has a lot of politics and paranoia running through it – with the letters from Simon Pietrov narrating some of the setup and the political tone – important for a western audience that might not know it as well. Most of the other letters and information come from his apprentice Larisa Yevtushenko providing observations to her teacher. It is heavily faction oriented again and does have higher power in some regions than the Las Vegas’ setting did, as well as being a fantastic resource for historical games, and some information on the White Council in the early 1900s.
The Neverglades moves away from factions and instead focuses on a small town and interpersonal conflicts. It uses several changes in the traditional city building process, known as the Neverglades Twist, to help put the focus on the people and their conflicts. The first of these changes is to start with people instead of locations when going through city creation, reversing that to fit the fact that there is a lot more small town drama here. The second is having multiple people on a single theme or location, often with conflicting agendas related to that theme and letting the conflicts in the region arise naturally. This is also a much more magical town than most places, and it has a unique sense to it with its more self-contained matters.
The well designed characters and the rich themes here – with magically enhanced creatures, a mysterious power, conflicting ideas on various things – help make it stand out. The tone of the notes from Alec Bones are lighter in nature than the others surrounding it, and notes like the Neverglades vocabulary are written with a wry sense of humor. If you want to run a game with lots of oddities, and a focus on the people, the Neverglades is definitely a spot to look for inspiration.
Las Tierras Rojas, or as the book says it translates: The Red Lands, is the region that the Red Court had the most influence on pre-Changes. Making up most of South America and Central America, it’s the region most directly impacted by the death of the Red Court, with a giant power vacuum opening up. The tone here is the most desperate in the book as it is written by Alejandra Castillo, a member of the Fellowship of St. Giles who lost her Red Court-infected vampire powers and now is forced with few friends to try and help a chaotic region.
The chapter does a good job of introducing the region and running down the situation as well as the factions. One of the interesting parts is that the Catholic Church has a bigger role with a couple organizations, and if you read the short story The Warrior for the Dresden Files, it builds on some of the ideas presented there with them being more militant and proactive. It also demonstrates, without being too obvious, how to use a larger region, and with discussion of the Ways and the Nevernever in the next chapter, that helps address some potential travel concerns.
The Way Between is an odd chapter, which is perhaps shown in the fact that it has two primary narrators. The first is Mike, who brings an odd but nice and humorous tone to the book as he describes various regions. Second is Peregrine Lee, a wizard who uses overly verbose and dramatic language as she describes the Nevernever. It also tosses in discussion and suggestions on running an episodic campaign, dragging the chapter in a couple different but related topics. First it tries to provide more information on the Nevernever and the Ways, a difficult thing for that ever changing region but useful for anyone who needs some help. It is light on exact details, and I wish it had given some areas beyond Faerie to help people have a better feel.
Mike provides a look at all sorts of unique and different areas he’s traveled to, discussing the people and locations. These are turned into episodic adventure ideas, with a sample campaign being provided and discussed: Faerie Bargains. Faerie Bargains is a pretty well thought out idea on the whole, with some interesting sample characters to run and easy to toss together with a couple friends. There are a lot of different little episodes shown, and it is nicely done, as are the tips for how to run ‘episodes’ in an episodic travelling campaign.
With all the settings done, we get into the crunchier parts of the book. The first one of them is Spellcasting, which focuses on updating and clarifying the rules for, what else, spellcasting. The Sponsored Magic system gets a bit of a look at and powered up. While this fits the book, the issue balance-wise may be allowing a sponsorship debt up to the refresh limit being too much – half or three-quarters may be a better choice there. Soulfire also gets a pretty nifty revision that allows it to represent more on the non-evocation side quite nicely.
The Nevernever’s rules are a nice bit of crunch here and help add a special bit of flavor to that world which operates on a different set of rules than the normal world. Giving it this mechanical difference makes it feel different, and it has strengths and weaknesses. On the upside for casters, in the Nevernever you can use easy evocations – a simple quicker and dirtier method of casting spells without taking stress, though without as much oomph. There’s also the Nevernever stress track which grants more space to put spell related stress onto. The downside for wizards who want to go tossing power around in the Nevernever is that using spells creates the aspect ‘In the Nevernever’ that the GM can compel to have monsters of unfortunate temperaments come out of hiding, as they sensed your magic use. Additionally, any backlash or fallout doubles, meaning if you miss a roll… things go really bad. One also has to account for the fact that in many cases you are often on someone else’s home turf. Mechanically though, these are a net benefit to wizard’s fighting here, instead of a net neutral as I would have preferred, but the narrative side can bring some interesting consequences.
The chapter also features some clarifications on Thaumaturgy and Evocation. Thaumaturgy in particular really needed some for a lot of players, as it is the most flexible type of magic and can take time up to work out. They discuss the formula some and also run through particular issues that have troubled a lot of people in the area. However there are some issues with some of the examples and work provided for them compared to the base book that require personal evaluation for how well they work for you.
Evocation is shorter, understandably given it is the simpler and easier understood system, but helps show different areas to explore under the western elemental system that is the presumed base for full spellcasters. Reflexive blocking is somewhat of a power creep in game terms, though it matches the stories in the books. But it lets wizards get away without having to set up blocks at times. One also has to be careful with the simple actions and keep it to things like brute force of one kind of another with magic. I’m not a fan of the books earlier example of a lock-picking rote for instance.
Cheer-Saving Thaumaturgy, though, is perhaps the biggest winner in the book mechanically. Thaumaturgy is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to slowing down game play, or forcing the spotlight all onto one person’s activities. Some might say it highlights the issue with converting a book focused on a single person to a group-based role playing game. Cheer-Saving Thaumaturgy (CST) can be used as an augment or replacement to base Thaumaturgy. At its heart, it sacrifices some flexibility, to make the system run much quicker and be even more story oriented. Personally, I think it works better in many ways than the base system, especially with the optional roll for things to possibly go wrong that is included as an option.
To more directly augment spellcasters arsenal though, two things were added. The first reflects what was seen in several instances in the books – wizards who have advanced their spellcasting in certain areas far enough that they basically have a power. They can, assuming they meet some conditions and GM approval, take those powers and use them through their magic. For those familiar with the books, or reading ahead to the Who’s Who, Listens to the Wind (Injun Joe) is shown to have True Shapeshifting as an example from his Native American heritage and training, as seen in Turn Coat.
The second is perhaps more important here as Mental Toughness helps power up wizards. It protects against mental attacks with mind armor and additional mental stress boxes, largely for taking stress from spells. Like all Toughnesses, it comes in the inhuman/supernatural/mythic levels and gives them longer staying time. What helps prevent this from being too gigantic of a boost for wizards is the fact that each level requires a certain amount of refinement stunts taken first, and the fact that the catch is always +0 as it’s based on the character’s personal mental state. Those make it the most expensive of the Toughnesses to invest in.
Goes Bump brings the monsters in for their update check up with Evil Hat. The information updates only through Changes and Even Hand so other things we found out in the later books aren’t factored in here. For some, this might be most notable with the Sidhe Knights, who get a power up based on what was seen in Changes, along with the sponsorship addition. By and large, Goes Bump does a good job of giving some more baddies and updating others.
There was one big disappointment here and throughout the book for me: a lack of information on the Fomor. I understand that it’s not revealed in the books, but to understand villains and beings to work with, one needs something to build it beyond just ‘mysterious beings grabbing power’. This makes them tough to use for GMs unless they want to assign their own motivations at which point it is little different then whatever creature they may have come up with. Given that, and the sporadic mentions of them throughout the book, it’s not surprising that in Las Tierras Rojas Evil Hat decided to roll with a completely different set of old faerie creatures which gave more freedom to work.
Who’s Who, returns as a casting list of the Dresden Files books. Almost anyone who appeared in Turncoat, Changes, or the short stories – even obscure characters barely seen – got an updated or new entry into it. It does get a bit much at times, but it is nice and a quick resource for character sheets or ideas to steal and just repurpose for game masters.
On the whole, the Paranet Papers is basically more Dresden Files. It updates for a couple of novels, writes some really interesting settings, and tosses in a bit of crunch. If you were looking for any major fixes or tweaks to the system, that’s not here and I suggest continuing to wait until Dresden Files Accelerated comes out using Fate Accelerated. On the other hand, if you want to dive into the universe of the Dresden Files, or use a similar urban fantasy and hack it up with Fate V3 rules (or use an online conversion guide for Fate Core), this is a well-written book with great art and tons of ideas.
The reviewer was given a pdf copy of the book to review by Evil Hat.
A solid addition to the books, adding more Dresden Files with some wonderful settings and imaginative characters.