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In D&D/Pathfinder/RIFTS/Shadowrun-type games I've played in the past, corrupt nobles/merchants, thieves' guilds, megacorps, ancient evils, and various religions with a flakey axe to grind were all easy to plug in without disturbance to the world's credibility.

The Dresden Files RPG is supposed to take place in the real world, where things like backstabbing nobles fighting each other through proxy just don't exist, any more than an evil lich living in a tower outside town fits the setting of the game. Even things like "thieves' guilds" don't seem to really fit at all without basically copying Marcone.


How can I add underworld intrigue to my DFRPG game without copying the novels, offending anyone, or breaking the world?

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Welcome to the site! I'm going to clean up your question to fit our site's format, in the mean time sit tight and checkout our faq –  Pureferret Jan 8 '12 at 23:48

6 Answers 6

Consider the idea of "faction players," sometimes called Evil Overlords.

The basic idea is summed up below*:

...choose five friends and invite them to each run one power group. They’d have some background on the group's goals and major personalities, and on the world in general. They wouldn't need to be gamers, although it would probably help. (And just to be clear, none of them could be players in this campaign.)

Every month or so, you ask these five friends what their power groups were up to. What did the secret society do about the mole that the PCs planted within their ranks? The power-hungry nation won a series of border skirmishes with their neighbor--did they move in to claim territory? The PCs found about about the mysterious threat in the last adventure. Does that make them a target?

I first tried the idea of faction players in 2007 or 2008. Martin Ralya of Treasure Tables 'o old, now Gnome Stew, has a great PDF on the idea as well as the "care and feeding of faction players," see Evil Overlords: Faction Players in Your Game.

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Here are a few suggestions, feel free to mix and match:

  1. A perfect way to include organized crime while avoiding political/racial/religious conspiracies would involve the Vampire Courts.

    The White Court is all about behind the scenes machinations. They live for organized crime and being the puppeteers of the show.

    The Red Court really wants to establish a base in the North American continent. They were willing to go to war with the White Council over it. Opportunities for black ops, financing, gun running, sabotage, establishing intelligence cells abound.

    The Black Court is all about domination; and corruption isn't just their middle name. The masters of the Black Court have survived by being smart and staying behind the curtain.

    The Jade Court, who knows? That's how subtle they are.

  2. The Denarians... many individuals are unknown, and how better to gain power than by enticing people into surrendering to some of the seven deadly sins?
  3. Human secret societies, think tanks, new-style gangs, and old-style mobs (of nearly any nationality). Heck, go ahead and imagine how the richest 1% got there. Make up names of businesses, political parties, characters, and specifics, but steal the meat mercilessly from the news or history.
  4. Other races: Ghouls, Dragons, Fae, etc. You know they all have an agenda.
  5. (My favorite) Ask your players! Make a segment of city creation devoted to organized crime, even if the game has been going a while.
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Look at organised crime, gangs and corrupt politicians cases in the US -- or anywhere in the world where you happen to have your game running. There's a million and one ideas just right there.

TV shows such as The Wire, Boston Legal, The Soprano, The Chicago Code, and Dallas (Yes, I still remember it) can give you a trove of ideas. IMDB and Wikipedia should be able to give you synopsis of each episode. Films like Good Fellows, Casino, The godfather can give you some pretty good idea of mafia types. Wallstreet should give you some idea of finance yarn.

Better yet, open a paper. Look for the news, either regional or local. Who is doing what? What is happening? What are the new projects? Where are the investigative reporters going? ... Now, put a dark broody hat on: It's all bad. Everything is corrupt. Why? Well, that just gave you your NPCs' motivations, has it not?

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Let me echo the political angle, especially when married to underworld/criminal activity. A good practice that I also pointed out in a different question is to take the newspaper/new stories, inject supernatural elements into it, and use that to turn it on its ear. Then build up an infrastructure surrounding the events in this story to get your interconnected underworld themes. This is especially useful when playing a story set in your own current locale/time.

Personally, I even go a bit farther, integrating the characters' actions with the news stories and the mundane explanations for supernatural events that Murphy alludes to several times in the books.

When doing this, people can be repurposed as supernatural beings, or the supernatural can be out of sight, pulling the strings in the background.

Another thing to remember is that the standard GM artifacts of other games are lessened in FATE and The Dresden Files, i.e. you don't have to build everything yourself, and the players don't have to be in the dark about themes and other parts of the game; the characters will be, but the players won't.

During City creation, plot together with the players to pull these themes and concepts together- even using the techniques above. Bring a few current events news stories from the area that you are planning on using, and a couple of bios of the people in the area. This can help you create your themes and gel the thoughts and web of intrigue, and has the added advantage of having player buy in, and being based on something that everyone is conceivably interested in, since everyone has a part in the creation of the story.

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The Dresden Files RPG is supposed to take place in the real world, where things like backstabbing nobles fighting each other through proxy just don't exist

I guess you are not following the political news? Basically, you are looking for "people ready to do anything to further their agenda / gain power, but not obviously", or "people having enormous power, but mainly through money". You want to look at the political and financial fields.

Politics: Plenty of possibilities, from the ambitious presidential candidate manipulating the PCs to undermine his opponents, to the long-established political leader who is actually using an unknown source of power to keep his position, through the powerful political family, whose members try to outrun each other, you have plenty of material. Although, depending how realist it is, you might offend some players if they are quite political.

Economics: You can either look at the financial markets (huge quantities of money navigating, need for any edge people can get, not much moral problems about using shady stuff), or big corporations (big complicated families full of divorces and remarriage + lots of money and power? Perfect combination for trouble)

You can also pick a bit in the showbiz field, where deceiving and backstabbing are far from unheard, but it tends to make a campaign go "weird", or feel less serious.

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This is the key; settings change but people don't. Any plotline with a thieves' guild and a rich merchant in trouble works just as well with a corporate raider and a struggling local business. Then you can add Dresden's just-enough supernatural; the key is to keep it integrated. The necromancer doesn't live in a tower outside of town; he lives in a suburban mansion. That just makes him more dangerous and harder to spot. (How do the White Court vampires get - and hide - their money? They must own stock in dozens of local companies everywhere they go.) –  Tynam Jan 9 '12 at 11:41
    
+1 for both Mikalichov and Tynam. I think this answers the question perfectly, as well as giving ideas on how to reframe things to integrate them into the setting. –  Wesley Obenshain Jan 10 '12 at 17:44

Well Using Fae (The fairy courts) is a really easy way to do that Fae are all about nobility and back stabbing

you could even use the broken courts of Spring and Autumn so that you can make up your own court system (Only problem being that you will have nothing really to base it on game world wise)

The whole world doesn't necessarily work the same way as chiago There might be light and Dark Fae courts You could also use the Tv series The lost girl to draw inspiration if you go with this idea

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Unless I'm missing something, the question states "Dresden Files RPG is supposed to take place in the real world" so that would mean no Fae, right? –  Pureferret Jan 9 '12 at 2:25
    
@Pureferret The world of the Dresden Files is a contemporary urban fantasy — it is, on the surface, a world like our own. However, there are magical and fantastic elements in it, including the fae. –  Jadasc Jan 9 '12 at 3:00
    
Yea the Fae are part of the world, I hadn't really considered the idea of giving them an established presence living outside the nevernever though, & think it could help things somewhat to give them one though :) –  Tetra Jan 9 '12 at 3:21
    
The books seem to pretty clearly establish that the smaller the fae, the more likely it is to leave the NeverNever - the high court big guns only enter the real world for a specific purpose, but sprites and minor wildfae hang around here for fun all the time. Consider Toot-toot and his friends, or the cobbler faeries, or the brownies who clean Harry's house. –  Tynam Jan 9 '12 at 11:36

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