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In our first Dresden Files game, one of our players created a warden character, who relied heavily on his evocation rote spells. In fact, due to the high power level we started at (30 skill points, 10 refresh), throughout the session he never used anything but his rote evocation spirit force blast, of which he had six in total without any chance of failure and with a spellpower of 6 shifts.

Did we make a mistake by wrongfully calculating what rote spells he could take?

The problem is that he didn't take thaumaturgy, the sight, the soulgaze or anything related to utility, so he won't be any help resolving situations but combat, but since the whole group is really combat focussed in their characters and play style, I'm searching for an alternative use in combat.

Is there another way (except putting giant enemies in our way) to motivate a player to be more creative with his spells or at least to go for a more "High risk/High reward" approach?

I know it is the player's choice whether or not he likes to play super safe, but a free 6 shift spellpower seems a little overpowered to me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. As a note, it is usually a good idea to wait a couple of days before accepting an answer. It tends to attract more and better answers. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Mar 17 '15 at 23:30
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First of all, you didn't follow the rules when creating characters. You say:

...he didn't take thaumaturgy, the sight, the soulgaze...

But on p.86 of Your Story it says:

A wizard must have a high concept that declares his nature (e.g., Wizard For Hire or Favorite Son of the White Council). In addition, the character must take the following supernatural powers:

  • Evocation [–3] (page 180)
  • Thaumaturgy [–3] (page 181)
  • The Sight [–1] (page 174)
  • Soulgaze [–0] (page 174); discounted due to the Sight.
  • Wizard’s Constitution [–0]

emphasis mine

So your warden PC, who by definition must be a fully-fledged Wizard of the White Council, had 4 extra refresh to mess around with - 40% of his total starting refresh!

This is wrong from a story standpoint, not just a rules one. Why would the White Council have as one of its elite enforcers a practitioner it wouldn't let set foot in the door?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes a very valid point, I'm wondering how he was allowed to be a Warden without 3/4 of the requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – Moireth Mar 18 '15 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well he wanted to play a warden apprentice and he actually didn't have any interest in thaumaturgy (for whatever reason), as you stated this was definetly a mistake, since it threw off the balance, since with his additional refresh he also took Inhuman Speed with a Weapons skill of +5 which made him steamroll through everything we threw at him. \$\endgroup\$ – FadedToObscurity Mar 18 '15 at 11:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nerevar - And how did he get Inhuman Speed? Is he not human?This character seems abusive and imbalanced because he is. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Mar 18 '15 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad - He played an elven changeling, the first thing our original GM came up with that would possibly allow for inhuman speed. \$\endgroup\$ – FadedToObscurity Mar 18 '15 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nerevar - there are a few questions on here about dealing with unbalancing things from prior campaigns. You might want to look at that, as that seems to be your problem, more than your players' actions. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Mar 18 '15 at 16:59
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This reminds me of the saying; "When you have a hammer in hand, every problem begins to look like a nail". I can see two distinct possibilities for the cause.

  1. You said it yourself: The risk-reward ratio. Maybe the rewards of taking the risky route are not worth it. DF rules only specify the risks, the reward is up to you as the GM. Make sure that it is worth it. Or introduce extra risks for the rote spellcasting (that's what compels are for) so that alternatives begin to look better.

  2. You may be biased in the type of challenges you throw at your players. A spirit force blast may be the perfect solution to dispatch magical aggressors (after all it never failed the caster as you put it), but it would be useless for solving an enigmatic mystery, or lifting a horrible curse. Vary your challenges, and your players will follow suit.

    Do hit them where they are not prepared. It will make them think twice before minmaxing like that. All rote and no ritual makes Harry a dull boy. They will either evolve their characters to better handle varied cases or make better characters after their current one dies a slow agonizing death from that powerful ancient curse

    The problem is that he didn't take thaumaturgy, the sight, the soulgaze or anything related to utility, so he won't be any help resolving situations but combat

    And it helps if you yourself shed the combat/utility distinction. Conflict is conflict. Mechanically it makes little difference whether weapons or words are involved.

However, make sure that whatever you do flows naturally from the story. You're not supposed to punish your players, you're supposed to help them grow.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is that he didn't take thaumaturgy, the sight, the soulgaze or anything related to utility, so he won't be any help resolving situations but combat, but since the whole group is really combat focussed in their characters and play style, I'm searching for an alternative use in combat. I really like your answer and I will try to use the suggestions you've given, but I'm kind of unclear what I could compel to introduce risks to the rote spellcasting, since it's primary advantage is "just being on the save side". \$\endgroup\$ – FadedToObscurity Mar 17 '15 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do hit them where they are not prepared. It will make them think twice before minmaxing like that. All rote and no ritual makes Harry a dull boy. They will either evolve their characters to better handle varied cases or make better characters after their current one dies a slow agonizing death from that powerful ancient curse. \$\endgroup\$ – edgerunner Mar 17 '15 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ And it helps if you yourself shed the combat/utility distinction. Conflict is conflict. Mechanically it makes little difference whether weapons or words are involved. \$\endgroup\$ – edgerunner Mar 17 '15 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that your players may actively avoid engaging in conflicts they are qualified to participate in (e.g. by not taking on those kinds of jobs in the first place, hiring NPC contractors to deal with them, or invoking their combat superiority to make the non-combat conflict moot. Artificially targeting gameplay the group is uninterested in is probably a bad idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 17 '15 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer, I agree. It should flow naturally from the story, not as a punishment for minmaxing. \$\endgroup\$ – edgerunner Mar 17 '15 at 18:16
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Rotes are just better. They are safer and more effective. Harry Dresden relies on them a lot. The only reason a wizard should move away from rotes is if he has to. That is, there are things he needs to accomplish, and he can’t with his rotes (or non-magically).

Dresden Files makes a big deal out of the fact that a wizard’s smartest and safest route to solving any problem are, in order of smartest, safest, and most reliable,

  1. Not using magic at all. If you don’t need magic, don’t use it. Harry is trained in, carries, and uses guns and other mundane weapons frequently, because they work.

  2. Using your rotes. This is why you studied them, after all: if they can help, you want to use them.

  3. Finally, if nothing else is left, turn to non-rotes, and be careful about it!

So really, it seems to me that this player is keeping quite closely to the narrative: because he could solve everything with force blast, he should.

The solution is to force him to have to solve things that force blast isn’t going to solve. And that doesn’t have to mean that the powers he doesn’t have need to come up! He doesn’t have them? OK, that was short-sighted of the character, but that’s fine: he’ll have to do things the mundane way, and that will mean being clever. Fate rewards clever highly. And maybe doing things the mundane way is hard enough (or does not allow completely satisfactory results), encouraging him to bone up on the other aspects of wizardry.

That said, I will reiterate @edgerunner’s last line: this is not punishment for choosing to make a character this way. The character is valid; there are good reasons why a fledgling wizard might think these choices are the best ones. Harry Dresden had fantastic tutors as a young wizard (well, the first one was pretty awful, but as far as getting Harry to learn, he was pretty good at that), and it shows. Maybe this wizard hasn’t. That’s absolutely fine and he shouldn’t be “punished” for it – but it should be a part of the story, and so too might his wisening up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Ah, I’m AFB (both rulebook and any DF novels!); 's what I get for answering without double-checking the terms. I meant “non-rote” when I said “thaumaturgy.” \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 17 '15 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the character is not valid. But the points you make here are good anyhow. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Mar 18 '15 at 0:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The character may not be valid, but it sounds like his force blast is valid - he didn't spend any of that "bonus" refresh on abilities that ramp up his casting, and getting 5 Conviction/5 Discipline/+1 to both on offence from Focus Items is what any (10 refresh, 30 skill point) Wizard is capable of doing, even if that theoretical Wizard did spend another 4 refresh on Wizard Musts. \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Mar 18 '15 at 17:55
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The largest problem with Rotes is explained in the rules, i.e. from (YS257):

A rote spell is defined as one specific application of evocation in a single element, such as a fire attack, a particular air maneuver, or a spirit block. It always manifests in exactly the same way each time, has the same power level, places the exact same aspect, etc. Any change in the parameters of the spell disqualifies it from being a rote.

So, how does that help the problem? I'll start out with the first problem of how is he getting a 6 shift rote? Your level is chest-deep from your description, which means that with discipline 5 and conviction 5, he'd still need something to get that extra point.

You see Harry getting hit by that a lot in the books- whatever that extra is (foci and/or aspects)- is a weakness, especially if he's not a well rounded character.

You might say that's a bit heavy handed to use much- and you'd be right. So another way, from that same bit of rules- "It always manifests in exactly the same way each time, has the same power level..." 6 shifts is pretty heavy-duty in terms of damage done. He's pouring a lot of power at every target he hits with that rote. Mortals aren't necessarily able to take that. From disfiguring hits to collateral damage, there's a lot of ways that the consequences of their actions can get them into trouble with mortal authorities and the White Council. They might not be breaking any laws, but bringing that kind of heat down from mortal authorities isn't a good way to make friends.

Last is the fact that if they have optimized their character (and with a 6-shift rote, I'm sure they have), then unless others in the group can pick up the slack and they're just a weapon, there are blind spots. How are the group's defenses against ritual magic? How about against those that are just not affected by the type of magic he's throwing around? Just as Harry runs up against foes where Fuego isn't effective, you can do the same.

One last bit of advice- Fate is by its nature collaborative storytelling, so choose options that advance the story and make the characters' lives interesting, rather than are punitive towards the way that characters are built.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ He had a ring and a focus item with both gave him +1 power each, this added to the 4 discipline and conviction he had. \$\endgroup\$ – FadedToObscurity Mar 17 '15 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nerevar - so whether by hook or by crook, i.e. taking it from him before the combat, or taking it from him in combat, that rote is not cast-able without both of those items. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Mar 17 '15 at 21:01

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