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Should I read the Dresden Files books before I get the RPG?

I want to have a look at the FATE system, and I'd be most interested in starting with Dresden Files (I think). I know there are books in the setting, so would it be a good idea to read at least one of the books first, and do they give a good impression of the setting and the rules?

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up vote 24 down vote accepted

They give a very good impression of the setting, and they also give a pretty good background for understanding how the rules work.

The game was designed to very closely emulate the fiction of the books (Evil Hat and the author worked closely together for about a decade, and much of Evil Hat's work on developing and refining Fate over the years and multiple products has been intended to get "good enough" to do the Dresdenverse justice), and knowing the fiction will help understand much of the game design, especially the magic subsystem and the overall "feel" that the game's rules engender.

Another point in favour of reading the fiction is that the rules as presented are not exhaustive – the rules give you lots of leeway to come up with your own character templates, creatures, rituals, and the like. Having read the books will give you more of a grip on the world so that you can more easily make stuff that enhances the game.

I would say that reading one or more of the novels is strongly recommended, but not strictly necessary. You can still enjoy DFRPG a lot without knowing the books, and the rules do come with a lot of embedded flavour (especially if you also have Our World), so you can absorb sufficient fiction from the rule books alone.

That said, if you are getting the RPG in order to pick apart and understand Fate, it's not necessary to read the fiction. DFRPG is an excellent instantiation of Fate, and as I understand it, is the closest incarnation to the next generic version of Fate in Fate Core. However, even then you'll understand the raison d'être of much of the rules better if you know at least something of the fiction it is inspired by and attempting to support.

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A perfect summary; +1. If you only care about the Fate rules, then DF YS is the best book to read until FATE core comes out. If you care about running games in Dresden's world, the books are not completely necessary - but they'll be a huge help. – Tynam Feb 5 '13 at 19:31

I will answer from three different viewpoints - Learning the Fate system (as that seems to be your primary goal), playing a game of DFRPG, and running a game of DFRPG.

From the perspective of Fate as a general rule system, no, it's definitely not necessary to read the novels before taking a look at the game. Certainly, your understanding of the specific applications of the Fate system will be enhanced by knowing the fiction that it is attempting to emulate, but in no way will your understanding be hindered by not having this knowledge.

From the perspective of playing the game, again, reading the books first will enhance your understanding of the background and the tone of the game. That said, because of the nature of the game and Fate in general, each campaign of The Dresden Files will be somewhat different, so reading first isn't a necessity, and indeed, may increase your enjoyment and immersion in the game that you and your group create.

From the perspective of running the game, it's not an imperative to have read the novels first, but it is definitely recommended. The group will definitely create their own version of the universe, but having the tone and background under your belt will help to guide this conversation.

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I've played Dresden Files with no prior knowledge of the setting (or FATE for that matter) and it went just fine. The books provide a fine amount of background to give an understanding of the setting. As a caveat the person running the game was quite familiar with the series but I can point out a couple of things:

1) It's your game, the book for game mechanics/character creation even specifically notes this. It's literally Your Story. You can't really do it wrong and if no-one at your table is familiar with the Dresdenverse it's not like anyone will know differently anyhow.

2)Part of the game mechanics involves setting up locations for your own setting. It's part of the process of the game. So while you can use the existing stuff it's kind of expected that you'll do your own thing in your own place.

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I actually played the game first, and read the books second. I didn’t even read Our World, just Your Story and talking with my GM (who had read the books) gave me a pretty good sense of the series. The rule books, particularly the marginalia, are excellent for getting a feel for the world.

That said, my enjoyment of the game and the style used in the books got me into the books, which I now love (and I’d rate my experience with the novels – of which I have read every installment – as much greater than my experience with the game – of which I’ve only played a handful of sessions before real life intervened and quashed the game).

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I have to side with "If you haven't read it, there better be someone there who has" – CatLord Feb 6 '13 at 4:19

I'm part of a game that's been going on since the PDFs came out, over two years now, and one of our players still hasn't read any of the Dresden Files books. However, since that player is using a wizard character, it took over a year of play for an understanding of the magic system to set in; previously, the player was trying to approach magic in a way that didn't fit the Dresden Files universe, and often failed rolls or couldn't contribute in a meaningful way, and was very frustrated by that.

You don't have to read the books, but you may find it useful. If you're the GM, and your players have read the books and you haven't, you're at a disadvantage for knowing some of the things you could help your players run into, or for knowing setting politics and so on. Additionally, the rule books don't cover the entire breadth of the series. There have been additional novels since the rule books came out, plus supplementary material like the ongoing Ghoul Goblin comic series.

If the entire group is okay with sticking to just the rule books, you're golden. They give you a great feel for the world at large. But if you want to play with characters from Chicago, or using Chicago as a setting; if your players have read the books, but the GM hasn't; and if you want to play certain types of characters who are explained in far greater depth in the books than the game rule books could possibly provide -- or even if you just want to run a campaign set in the "later days" of the Dresden Files books -- then you'll want to seek them out.

Good news though, they're quite popular! A lot of libraries have the full series available free of charge.

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Great point and example about familiarity with the magic system. – SevenSidedDie Feb 11 '13 at 17:36

Our World (one of the DFRPG books) gives a lot of details about the Dresdenverse, so you do not necessarily have to read the books. And if you want a quick heads-up about the setting, I may recommend the Dresden Files TV series. I found it to be quite OK, even if the visual effects are a bit on the cheap side.

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The TV Series, btw, is very different from the books in a lot of ways. – Cthos Feb 5 '13 at 19:04

I'd say they are definitely a good read, but not necessary to your enjoyment of the RPG. If you do read them I wouldn't let them color your game too strongly, though. They are events as seen through Harry's eyes, and while he's not an unreliable narrator per se, his world view certainly colors things.

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There are a lot of good answers already, but personally I'd say that it depends largely on how well you feel the rulebook (your story) grips you because it's supposed to be written by one if the characters (with aid from two others) in the books (Billy the werewolf, harry dresden the wizard PI, & Bob the spirit of intellect) while being entertaining as those characters intended it it be a way of warning the mortals in the dark about what's out there in a way that doesn't come off as padded room time by cloaking it in the guise of a RPG. With that said... It should give you a pretty good foundation, the TV show is on netflix, & there is a comic book series based on the first few books. The setting is rather similar to the TV show Grimm with the addition of magic; Specifically, there is all kinds of stuff out there that people see all the time & shrug off as needing sleep & insane crazy people in costumes. If you don't read the books, you might want to kind of shy away from the Fae till you are comfortable with deciding on a logic for their existence/mindset as it's not revealed until book 13(?). Neither of the fae courts is especially "good" or "evil" despite seeming to be simultaneously both at times in the earlier books. "Fae" can be damned near anything in your D&D (or other RPG) monster manuals save for dragons (which can wield "plot level magic" & pretty much described like encountering a Great Wyrm Dragon at level 1 in D&D).

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In a word: Yes.

I'm a huge Dresden Files fan (the novels) and have moved to playing the game based on my love for the Book Series. Having extensive back knowledge of the book series makes picking up and playing the game much more satisfying for me personally. It also makes getting comfortable with the themes and methods of spell casting and the function of the world much easier as the books do a spectacular job of explaining things as they go.

Fun Fact: The Bob character was created as a story telling tool as a "Talking Head" that helps the reader understand what is going on; the joke being Bob is an actual Talking Head. ;-)

I would say that sticking to content with "Jim Butcher" listed as a writer or author is best. He contributed to the DFRPG and did the writing of the novels and the comic books; that said—his contributions to SciFi series were pretty heavily modified by the scourge known as "Hollywood TV Producers". The word through the grape vine is that there will be a completely Rebooted TV series for a premium Cable TV Studio (HBO, Showtime, AMC, ect.) and I have much higher expectations for the quality of that content.

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More specifically, when Jim was working with his writing teacher, he came up with the idea of a character to help the reader understand what was going on; the teacher thought it was a good idea, but said, "whatever you do, don't create some kind of talking head." Thus, after designing Bob to avoid all of the problems associated with talking heads (in the literary sense), Jim made Bob a literal talking head. – Brian S Jul 3 '14 at 6:36

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