My group is about to start a long-term campaign in Dresden Files.

We know that long-term character advancement is important to us, with an eventual high-power endgame story arc.

Most of the templates have pretty clear paths to high power, mainly because they can continue to move in to more and more powerful supernatural powers.

However, one of our players is very interested in playing a Mere Mortal that potentially never advances in to the supernatural.

Is there a high-power endgame path for Mere Mortal characters? Or is the system designed such that to compete in the heavy weights you really need some supernatural abilities? Has anyone done a long term game of DF that tackled this topic?


3 Answers 3


Mortals do lose out in combat against the supernatural, but they gain majorly in other aspects, and are excellent to have for storytelling purposes.

We've had a two-year campaign running, starting from a relatively low level and currently at Chest Deep. We have honestly found that there's advantages and disadvantages to both mortal and supernatural characters, and that while mortal characters lose out in some respects they definitely gain in other respects.


Mortal characters do, fairly majorly, lose out when it comes to facing off against anything with supernatural abilities (eg. inhuman strength/speed/toughness), or when it comes to anything magical (eg. veils and glamours). The lack of The Sight, the inability to do any kind of shield, and the lack of any comeback against magical abilities (eg. spells) is a problem when fighting.

However, this isn't necessarily something that other characters won't face (for example, werewolves have the same issues against spells), and actually can really benefit the game! Having a character who won't blindly charge into combat and actually has to think their way round a problem can be excellent. Some of the issues can also be got around; handcuffs, for example, are very good against the Fae...and we placed a True Love aspect on one of our mortal characters (which entirely fitted their backstory) and led to some very nice advantages against White Court vampires. Mortal stunts are also a nice bonus; having a gun gets you quite a way in combat, especially combined with a good alertness bonus. Not having the supernatural abilities is not necessarily a complete show-stopper.


The place where mortals really get the bonuses is in the stunts. Marcone is a good example; a reporter like Susan is also a good template. One of our characters became pretty central to the story because of their bonuses in investigation; if you had this character skip a scene, suddenly you've got half the information you would otherwise have! Things like resources, contacts and driving can be very useful, and the ability to create your own stunts and aspects is definitely a tool to work with. This does obviously have advantages for combat bonuses, but can be brought to play for plenty of other aspects.


In my personal opinion, you need mortals in your game to give some balance to the story. If you have all supernatural, you run the risk of ending up with a bunch of thugs who fuego first and can't ask questions later. If a mortal knows they can't compete, they have to think of other solutions. That Faerie you're after for murder...can you arrest it? That troll you need to stop...can it be diverted or bribed? Can a situation be turned political, can a diplomatic solution be found, can you sneak or seduce your way to success? And this goes for the high-powered end as much as the low; the GM should be tailoring the game to the character's powers, but at the high end, you're more likely to be interacting with people like Mab, and that definitely calls for some mortal abilities.

And a personal opinion

The place where we actually really struggled with the Mere Mortal template was explaining their knowledge of the supernatural! If they're not automatically involved in the world, how do they know about it? And how do they avoid being sucked in? One of our Mere Mortals did end up taking a Mantle, but the other did stay mortal. Have a think about how your character knows what they do, or how they can gain that knowledge without becoming affiliated (or put in danger) by the supernatural community.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much! This is a very well thought-out answer with exactly the insight I was hoping for. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2016 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add that a pure mortal who uses the right stunts can basically load one skill down with trappings, effectively increasing their skill point count. I have a 'monk' character that uses conviction for physical, social, and mental stress, mental defense, social defense, initiative, and then uses athletics to attack. His scholarship is almost as impressive. He picks the trappings he 'cares' about and moves them to the skills that are 'core', and it narratively makes sense since of course a buddhist uses his conviction to control emotions. And he's pure awesome. \$\endgroup\$
    – RonLugge
    Feb 3, 2016 at 18:26

I know I'm a bit late to the party, but there one one detail I didn't think got mentioned enough (Flexibility). So...

Pure mortals have three advantages they can choose from:

  • Flexibility: By using stunts to stack relevant trappings onto a single skill, they can effectively increase their skills enormously. A simple example might be transplanting the dodge trapping from athletics to fists / weapons. If you don't have any other need for athletics, you can drop it to 0 without an issue. If you spend enough points, you can move a lot of trappings to a single skill, turning it into a god-skill. Assuming you can come up with the right narrative, you can suddenly use one skill to cover for multiple others. An easy sample is a priest, who uses his faith for social stress (Man of Faith), physical stress (Trust In The Lord), and passive awareness (See The Sparrow Fall). You might not be able to come up with a narrative to cover every transplant (for example, I'm typically very leery about transplanting dodge to conviction, despite players who really want that), but if you pick your top skills cleverly you can get around that and get almost as much effect.
  • Skill Cap: By judicious use of stunts, it's possible to violate the skill cap -- potentially by a lot. A sample stunt, +1 to lore when dealing with vampires, upping to +2 when dealing with black court might not sound that potent, but consider that you can adapt it to your city and apply it to a top teir skill. If you have a threat of Denarian infestation, +1 to lore when dealing with fallen and +2 when dealing with Denarians suddenly means you can roll at 7s to figure out what's up with a given Denarian -- and as a GM, I'd reward that by making sure that there is (usable) information that you can reach, while other players can't. Or maybe you have a Religious Conflict threat, and you pick up +1 to rapport when dealing with religion, increasing to +2 when dealing with inter-religion conflict. Denarian Scholar and Interfaith Mediator suddenly sound like awesome stunts, framed right, don't they?
  • Fate Budget: Last and most obviously, you can really rack up the fate budget. Powers are powerful, but they aren't half as flexible as a stack of 10 fate points. Clever, intelligent use can stretch that stack a long, long way.

What's best is that, as the refresh ratchets upward, you can pick and choose from the three and mix and match to your desire. You can just bank the refresh, spend it on more flexibility (oh, well, we've seen a lot of need for rapport lately, so lets stack that in...), or more skill cap variation (well, I've seen a lot of outsider Lore checks no one could make, so I guess I'll take 'Walker Scholar' and get +1 to Lore checks regarding Outsiders, +2 when dealing with the walkers... and hope the White Council doesn't chop my head off!)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good points! One problem we found with adding in stunts was that you can never get the right things at the right time; you either need to be good at guessing what's coming up or have a nice GM! We dealt with a wide range of threats but didn't do BCVs or Outsiders, so both of those stack-ups would have been null. You're definitely right that stunts do majorly boost the skill-set, but it can also be (at least from my POV) an exercise in second-guessing and frustration. All things considered, I'd take the spare Fate points over the specific stunts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Houdini
    Feb 3, 2016 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Houdini that's why you're supposed to have a set of themes and threats for your city. They can give you a good place to start wracking up stunts. \$\endgroup\$
    – RonLugge
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:55

Depends on the game, but usually when someone is talking about "high power", they are referring to physical combat power. On that scale, it's harder for mere mortals to measure up.

The most concrete example of this is to look at wizards. An attack spell from any kind of evocation spell has two components that scale upwards - power of the attack, and accuracy of the attack. Almost every other kind of physical attack is limited in power scale by the weapon of choice. Wizards don't have those limits, period. Other templates can work around them, usually with powers that enhance their natural attacks or their combat durability. Mortals get stunts only, and while stunts aren't bad at all, they are usually pretty specific, and never as broad as powers are.

That isn't to say mortals can't participate in high-power combat. High-power weapons exist, or can be invented. With the proper skills, stunts, and gear, any mortal can be a terror in combat. With the cheapness of stunts, they will be swimming in fate points to constantly push events their way. There are lore examples where this works out - namely, Karrin Murphy, and also Kincaid, who is kinda fuzzy on the mortal bit but uses mortal weapons to terrifying effect. As detailed here though, that's roughly an investment of the entire character to get that edge though. It's also a bit of a glass cannon setup. All player characters, in general, are fragile creatures compared to the potential offensive onslaughts that can be created, and mortal protective gear doesn't really compare to Toughness powers or shield spells. Supernatural characters get that edge and more flexible powers, and full on wizards gets to do almost anything. Mortals only flexibility is in those fate points.

NielsK example in comment (Marcone) actually highlights where mortals more easily excel and show power - at moving things in the mortal parts of the narrative.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is my rough analysis using another quick skim of the rules to confirm some hearsay, as I honestly have not played the game enough to have first-hand experience. I post this mainly because I haven't seen any other answer show up yet. Will defer to first-hand experience if it pops in. \$\endgroup\$
    – Radhil
    Jan 27, 2016 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer! From the comments and answers here I think our fears of a Mere Mortal not having the ability to participate in long-term advancement have been assuaged. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2016 at 21:12

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