I'm on my third campaign using Dresden Files, and I'm noticing a pattern. There's an incredibly wide range of powers and abilities that a character can have, and an even larger number of ways to fluff those powers. (FATE, the core system of Dresden Files, is very encouraging of refluffing powers.) However, there are a small group of powers, collectively called "building block" powers, that my players repeatedly go for in character creation.

The building blocks are Strength, Speed, Recovery, and Toughness. Each can be rated Inhuman, Supernatural, or Mythic. Each augments and improves the basic skills/stats (What DF calls Skills are mixed in with most other game's stats) of the game. I can have Might 5 without any powers, and still out-might something with Inhuman Strength. However, they do provide a solid boost, and stack with the normal skills.

Two players in particular do everything they can to get the biggest building blocks allowed, but almost every player I've had takes a good hard look at them, and most try to grab a few Inhuman abilities if they have the room. Except for one character who was expressly built to be completely human, every character seems to use up the "spare change" of refresh on these powers. What I want to know is why.

They aren't powergaming, trying to min/max themselves. Besides the fact that I know these players and I know they don't game like that, the simple fact is these are not the most powerful abilities available and they know this. (Spellcasting, as it so often is, is the superior choice in terms of damage potential and flexibility, though not so much as to overshadow everything else.) They also aren't using these powers to create a particular themed character- Several of them go through multiple iterations of thematic design solely to find a character that I will allow to take these powers. These powers aren't the most interesting (Psychometry, flight, water breathing, cryomancy, and ghost speaker off the top of my head sound more interesting than "I hit things more") they aren't the most mechanically complex (Spellcasting again) and they aren't the most mechanically simple either (that would be Pure Mortal, no powers at all.) They also aren't particularly favored by characters in the fiction- with one or two exceptions, none of the main cast of the books has these, but some characters have them so it's not like they're looking for something deliberately different either.

I tend to outright veto anything Mythic, and try to suggest alternative options when they suggest Supernatural. I pretty much never suggest these when throwing out ideas during character generation (mainly because these are never evocative of a particularly cool idea) but even new players, flipping through the powers list, seem drawn to them. Pretty much everyone but me thinks these are the cats pajamas. In the current game, I finally relented (after many repeated requests from one player, and two sessions devoted mainly to getting access to this) and let a player take Mythic Strength.

My question- What is it in these powers that my players are attracted to, and how do I do I design adventures for a character with Mythic Strength and all but one character sporting a Supernatural level ability? These questions might need to be separated, in which case I'll be happy to split them, but I strongly get the sense that the answer to one will contain the answer to the other. If they took the ability to cross over into the NeverNever (the spirit world) then that would tell me they wanted NeverNever shenanigans, if they took Spider Walk then that would tell me they wanted scenes with opportunities for unconventional acrobatics, but for the life of my I can't think of anything to do with Mythic Strength other than "I hit things more."

  • \$\begingroup\$ Since those sound like they are combat related, I'm going to guess that they know they are likely to encounter fights and want to survive them. This mindset may be them drawing off of what it took to survive in previous games, either yours or others they have been in. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 3:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ That mindset is a bit self-fulfilling however- I tend to present problems that could be solved either by social combat, stealth or other "non-combat" approach, or by physical altercation. Most powers (Ghost Speaker, Spellcasting, Psychometry) are at least as useful in these as they are in a fight (And the vast majority of powers are not actually directly useful in a pitched battle.) Since they take powers primarily useful in combat, they primarily think in combat, and my games get more punchy. Thinking about it? The obvious solution to me is almost never physical combat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sidenote, could the players possibly be interested in a metahuman/superhero RPG and are just expressing thing through their build choices for Dresden Files? I do agree with the answers posted, especially sevensideddie's about those choices being powerful for combat and still flexible. Maybe a break from dresden files and picking up another setting/ruleset could help them shake this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 18:34

4 Answers 4


Before you got much further, I want you to consider the possibility that you already know the answer. This is possible because you already told us the answer:

If they took the ability to cross over into the NeverNever (the spirit world) then that would tell me they wanted NeverNever shenanigans, if they took Spider Walk then that would tell me they wanted scenes with opportunities for unconventional acrobatics...

When players create characters, they are telling you what they want to do in the game. Your players might just be saying, "We want to solve our problems by tearing them apart with our bare hands!" That's OK! You can still tell interesting stories with this being what your players want!

I assume you will take the advice of others and ask your players, "Hey, is this really what you want? Or do you think that if you don't do this I will TPK you? Because that's not really what FATE, DFRPG, or my game is about."

Assuming you've done that and yes, they thought they were being pretty clear that they wanted to build physically powerful protagonists for themselves, there are a lot of tools available to you as a GM within the game for getting good stories told.

First of all, make sure that when building characters, the players make interesting, compelling Aspects. That's where your story-fuel comes from, not really their powers anyhow. Are you sure you're using the guidelines that make sure some of those Aspects cut both ways? Are you tying them to each other, the NPCs, and the setting?

Next - some of those building block powers have a Catch - A circumstance that limits the utility of those powers - but Strength does not. Lucky for you, it has it's own, implicit Catch: Amazing feats of strength attract Unwanted Attention. I capitalized "Unwanted Attention" on purpose. Mortal authorities are going to notice beings that hurl cars around and knock down walls with their bare hands. And the attention of mortal authorities is Bad News in the Dresdenverse. This Unwanted Attention can motivate them to use other solutions, and can actually lead to some interesting problems.

Also - characters that can dish out massive physical harm are expected to do so in the service and defense of those who can't. That's what makes them heroes. All of that Unwanted Attention therefore means that those who need their help will tend to seek them out. And no matter what their goals may be, if they're good guys, like Harry, they'll just have to find some way to help the helpless before (or maybe during) pursuing their own agendas. If they won't they're monsters, not heroes.

Finally, you said this:

...every character seems to use up the "spare change" of refresh on these powers.

Spare change? What? Refresh is a superpower. This is your third game, right?So your players understand that Fate Points are narrative power. Low refresh means, "Hey, Mr. GM, I'm going to get kicked around for a while at the start of the game. I'm going to make some bad rolls and just have to suck it up. I'm going to take some Compels and maybe even seek out some Compels, so I can get a pool of Fate Points built up. Use this time to get some drama accomplished - and then I can go kick ass!"

I'm not saying the players aren't operating under false assumptions. I'm not saying you might not have some stuff to work out out-of-game. I'm just saying that Trolls and White Court vampires and other super-strong good guys can totally work within the framework of the game and might just be what makes your players happy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your players might just be saying, "We want to solve our problems by tearing them apart with our bare hands!" My only comment is that players might not realise it is possible to play any different, they might be applying the logic used in almost all computer games - the stronger the better. Because, frankly, how many computer RPGs really encourage you to not be as strong as possible? \$\endgroup\$
    – Maurycy
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MaurycyZarzycki - I'm not sure I understand how the topic of "what players expect from CRPGs" ties into this question. The players are on their third DFRPG campaign - they probably have sufficient reference points to the system they're using, right? They're not new to tabletop or the system in question. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ But it is also mentioned in the question, that in the previous two campaigns, the players followed similar tropes with their characters which can indicate that they don't realize (or don't want to) expect other things from a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maurycy
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gomad "Mortal authorities are going to notice beings that hurl cars around and knock down walls with their bare hands". Probably not unless they witness it firsthand. They might see cars have been hurled, walls knocked down, but don't forget they have a capacity for rationalization that can drive any supernatural mad. In Fool Moon, the police thought it was a good idea to put a werewolf (they had of course never seen transform) behind bars... \$\endgroup\$
    – Nigralbus
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 9:40

It sounds like they mistrust the Fate system to deliver competent combatants and are looking for "insurance" on their fighty stats.

This doesn't mean they dislike the system, just that they don't trust it to behave in ways favourable for them playing competently. They may be using these super-abilities as a crutch, or insurance, to ensure that their characters are at least numerically competent even if they don't feel system-mastery competent. And if they've been doing this for a while now, they may have started out using them as a crutch while they felt system-incompetent, but now they may be unable to break out of the vicious cycle and play "naked" without these abilities.

If that is what's happening, there is not only the vicious circle they are personally stuck in, but also the vicious circle that you are part of, where they create combat monsters and you deliver sessions suitable to combat monsters.

The only way to break a vicious cycle is to either have a lot of discipline, or to entirely remove the temptation by going cold turkey. Since you have several people in multiple overlapping feedback loops, it only takes one of you to break discipline to kick off all the feedback loops again, therefore your only effective option is to go cold turkey: ban the problematic abilities completely. You can ban by GM authority or you can seek consensus to ban as a group, whichever you judge would work best for your social contract, but do try to ban them somehow.

If they're discarding good character concepts because they can't include these "safety blanket" options, then they're ruining the game for themselves and you can help them by giving them a hand out of the muck. Ban the abilities, and find out what kind of awesome characters they've been actually wanting to play.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it would be much better though to discuss the issue and have everyone agree not to use those powers, rather than banning them, because that could cause resentment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelBorgwardt That's a good point. Banning can be done by GM authority or group agreement, and both would work. I'll edit that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 16:14

As to why, only your players can answer that! Tell them what you told us and in an assertive way have a conversation with them. Listen to what they are saying.

However, I believe it might be a problem of expectation. The Dresdenverse and Fate in general are about story building. Whereas I believe that D&D in its recent incarnations is about "my numbers being bigger than your numbers" -- innuendo fully intended. What it sounds to me, is that your players are applying D&D logic to Fate which does not work.

Bottom line is they need to understand that weaknesses not strengths make for great story arcs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, it's very easy to play Fate like one has played D&D before. I've seen players (and GMs!) do that, and it results in disappointing play, but not obviously broken-enough play to stop the behaviour via system feedback. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 16:16

I have never played Dresden Files or even fate, so this isn't a system specific answer, but it did not fit cleanly in a comment.

Knowledge of the capacity to use violence can affect situations even when the real chance of violence is close to zero.

Assessing situations with at least the possibility of violence in mind is a primal feature of humans and indeed most (all?) mammals. And so the possibility of violence and suspicions of who would "win" a violent confrontation often color even situations that have close to zero chance of turning violent.

Have you noticed that many traits considered physically attractive in men are also traits associated with being successful in violent situations? Have you ever been just a little intimidated on meeting very large body builders? Have you noticed that many empowerment seminars talk a lot about dealing with violence largely so you won't be intimidated by the possibility of violence?

And those are things that color all social situations. If you move into areas where the chance of violence is still low, but a bit higher, like a bar, the treatment of the large and dangerous looking individuals can be noticeably different from the others, especially if some sort of conflict or argument starts.

And having that kind of ability also lets you make intimidating "threat displays."

This also plays out in internationals politics (although somewhat more so historically than in the modern era). Even between countries that had no intention of ever going to war, the assessment of the other nations military and the possibility of that war often colored negotiations on other topics. And many military training matters were done very publicly to display their military might even with no intention of ever using it.

Desmond Morris talks about threat displays and the affects of the possibility of violence in many of his books. It also comes up frequently on Marc MacYoung's website on self defense.

In other words, the capacity for violence and the ability to display that capacity in a reduced form can be valuable in certain situations even if you have no intention at all of ever using violence. That fact, either consciously or unconsciously since this is a primal matter, might draw players to it.

Those are powers lots of us wish we had.

People role play for different reasons, but at least some people go into it for wish fulfillment. People wish they had those powers, so they let their characters have them. And there is a much more fundamental understanding of strength than of water breathing. Everyone knows how their life would be different with more strength, and many work out trying to get more strength in the real world. Taking that to the point of being able to toss a car is just taking something we know to the next level.

It is harder to envision what life would be like with psychometry (and some of the fictional depictions have made it seem like as much of a curse as a blessing...).


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