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    A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

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    The Merlin

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    A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  The Merlin on Thu Mar 15, 2012 2:25 pm

    One of the first decisions that needs to be made in running a DFRPG campaign is the power level of the campaign. There are four different levels, each of which dictates the Refresh level, number of skill points available, and the highest level of skill you can take. There’s a good explanation of the different levels in the book, talking about what sorts of characters are available at that level, and what sort of abilities they’ll have.

    Here's where I borrowed this information.


    Feet in the Water
    6 refresh, 20 skill points, skill cap at Great.

    At this level, you’re looking pretty much at playing mortals with (maybe) a supernatural trick or two. This means templates like Focused Practitioner, Red Court Infected, and True Believer. You can get a little more oomph by taking the basics of things like Champion of God or Changeling, but you’re not going to have much in the way of refresh to customize your character or buy extra stunts. At most, you’re going to have two skills at Great, which would leave you with only four other skills above Mediocre.

    This is the game of the clued-in mortal, the small fish in the pond, and folks who are just starting out in their career of becoming big, bad monsters. Sample characters from the books are people like the Special Investigations Unit, the Carpenter family (excluding Molly and Michael, but including Charity), the Ordo Lebes, the Changeling kids from Summer Knight, and most of the members of ParaNet. The foes they’d be able to face on an equal footing (-6 refresh or thereabouts) are either mortal or very low-powered supernatural; things like the Chlorofiend, the chimp or baboon sized shen demons, some common fey like pixies and elves, spectres, and minor spirits.

    This sort of power level really lends itself to horror stories, as opposed to action stories. In most cases, your characters are going to be significantly overmatched by the opposition, and they’re going to need to outrun and outthink them. Horror stories also tend to happen on a very personal scale – it’s you and a couple of friends up against the monster that’s going to eat you. You’re not necessarily trying to save the world. You’re just trying to save yourself.

    The idea of personal scale and the limited array of foes also suggests that a game at this level would fit nicely into a limited-geography setting – maybe a college campus, or a small town, or a single precinct in a city. Of course, as the early seasons of Supernatural show so very well, it also works fairly well as a road-trip game.

    Of course, you don’t have to go the horror route. If you truncate the power scale of the bad guys, eliminating most of the serious occult threats, you could run a strong action game, where the little bit of an edge that the characters have over mundane characters is enough to turn them into the last, best hope for keeping the evil under wraps. It changes the feel more to that of a Submerged level game, as noted below, because the range of power is narrowed so significantly.

    Up to Your Waist
    7 refresh, 25 skill points, skill cap at Great.

    This is where the supernatural templates begin to be more viable as characters. Yeah, that one refresh point does make that much of a difference – it opens up things like the Sorcerer template, as well as giving you the buffer you need to customize and tweak the lower-level templates into something with a little more style. The skill points don’t give you an extra Great (or even Good) skill, but it does round out your range of skills with at least four more skills at Average or above.

    Characters like Murphy, Hendricks, or Father Forthill are good examples of the kinds of characters that start being playable at this level, and more powerful foes (ghouls and sorcerers, for example, maybe even an actual vampire) start being viable to send up against the characters.

    I can see going one of two ways at this power level: either ramp up from the Feet in the Water level, creeping from horror into more heroic horror, or else setting it as a starting point for action stories, with the characters being young, inexperienced, and just starting out. Think later-season Supernatural (where Sam and Dean have mastered fighting all the easy monsters) versus early-season Buffy (where Willow is just starting to dabble in magic, and Buffy’s only died once).

    Setting can go either way, depending on whether you want your characters to be the big fish or the small fish. Keep it at the same small scale as in the previous level, and you’ve got some serious dedicated guardians in control of their little patch of ground. Ramp it up to full city size, and you’ve got some up-and-comers ready to be pawns for the other power blocs squabbling over territory.

    You can even do both: consider the Alphas, who pretty much own their little section of the city, but are still very much a local phenomenon, and at risk from the bigger power players in the rest of Chicago. In fact, that would make a pretty cool campaign, but you’d have to adjust the Alphas’ listed powers from their stat blocks to get them playable at 7 refresh.

    Chest Deep
    8 refresh, 30 skill points, skill cap at Superb.

    Here’s where we start approaching the default power level of the novels. You can play a Wizard at this point, though not a terribly experienced one, and even a White Court Vampire. In fact, at this point, all the character types are available. If you play a less-costly character type, you’ve had the opportunity to upgrade and customize it a fair bit. You can start out with two skills at Superb, and have eight other skills at Average and above. You are starting at a level that the rest of the occult world has to start noticing.

    This is where you’d start if you wanted to play the Alphas as statted, or a band of Apprentice Wizards like Molly Carpenter, or a group of experienced Minor Practitioners like Mortimer Lindquist. The FBI Hexenwolves start becoming viable opposition, along with things like the gorilla-sized shen demon, Bucky the Murder Doll, hunter goblins and the lesser gruffs, Black Court Renfields, werewolves, and the like.

    The stories are moving strongly toward the idea of action, now, though not necessarily as pulpy as things get next level. Characters have the options and power to go toe-to-toe with a broad range of antagonists in whatever sense they choose, and can be extremely competent in a narrow range of abilities. They can be trapped in that middle-management hell of having to look after those weaker than themselves (many), and still obey those more powerful than themselves (still many). And they’re tough enough now that those above them are much more inclined to notice them and give them orders or demand favours.

    Scale-wise for the setting, the world is really starting to open up. At this point, things are ripe for globe-trotting troubleshooters working for Monoc Security, or Strike Force Summer Lightning, keeping the Nevernever safe for their ladyships. If they keep to a smaller geographic area, they start to be real movers and shakers in their city, or the undisputed top of the food chain within their own small town/neighbourhood/precinct/college campus/shopping mall.

    Submerged
    10 refresh, 35 skill points, skill cap at Superb.

    The five extra skill points don’t add a whole lot, but the two extra refresh are huge. It doesn’t open up any new character types, but it gives you the flexibility to customize and combine different types. Here’s the quote from the book – I can’t say it any cooler than this:

    [I]t becomes possible at this stage to be a Champion of God with a Sword of the Cross, or a Werewolf who can do earth evocations, or a Red Court Infected who becomes the Emissary of the Buddha as a way of taming his impulse control.

    This is the default power level of the main characters at the start of Storm Front. With this, you could build Harry Dresden, or a very talented Karrin Murphy, or Michael Carpenter.

    This is also the point at which all the antagonists really become viable as opposition, though there are still some that will crush characters of this level if you meet them head-on. But characters at this level have a broad range of different options to help them pick their battles and choose their weapons.

    Action here can creep easily into the pulp ideal, and doing horror is really tough. Stories, which started to really expand scope at the last level, now deal with even larger issues than the personal stories of the earlier levels. Not to say that things don’t have a personal aspect – you need to make things personal enough for the characters to get involved, after all, and abstract concepts like saving the world just aren’t as immediate. I’m just saying that there will be world-saving going on.

    If characters aren’t the biggest fish in their pond at this power level, then they are still pretty significant players, as opposed to pawns. If someone tries to push them around, even someone much more powerful, there will be repercussions. Political stories start being far more interesting at higher power levels, as the characters will be able to bring some leverage of their own to bear on the course of events set by the mighty.

    Setting scale-wise, you pretty much have to open things up here to allow for enough opposition to generate interesting stories. If you’ve got four Wizards in a little farming town, for example, putting enough supernatural excitement in the town to keep the characters busy is really going to strain credulity. Expanding it to the five towns in the area and the wild spaces in between, though, and you’ve got yourself a ballgame. Or at least a roleplaying game.

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    Slagathore

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Slagathore on Wed Jan 02, 2013 6:59 pm

    This really helpful, Josh. I can see advantages to playing at each of the levels.

    I think that I would steer clear of the feet in the water level, as there are probably better systems and settings for such games. I can see that everyone will want to be Joe McAwesome (I have dibs on that character name), so starting at such a low level is a little less appealing to me.

    Btw, the autocorrect is a bit overbearing. I don't think it is just my pad -- something in the forum?

    I suspect that submerged may be where everyone will naturally gravitate, but I would rather not start at the Harry Dresden level. I think it is more fun to get into a setting at a little lower level. So for me, either up to your waist or chest deep sounds good. These levels seem to use most of he game mechanics, so if we started up to our waists and developed to chest deep, I think that could be cool. Or even play an extended session at waist deep, then do a one year later event that pulls us all back together rebuilt at the chest deep level.

    But after all is said and done, I want to be sure we are at the level you most want to ST for.


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    Michael Pearson

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Michael Pearson on Fri Jan 04, 2013 8:14 pm

    Being at the top can be cool, but having a whole group of super cool dudes has the potential to be obnoxious. I would vote for either of th middle options, high enough to be a bad ass, but low enough to make it super challenging.

    Splintershield

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Splintershield on Tue Jan 08, 2013 1:59 am

    I vote for the "Up to Your Waist" level. I think that allows the flexibility for people to create the kinds of characters they might be interested in, but at the same time allowing for growth into the other power levels as time goes on. Also this gives the chance to learn more about the setting organically (i.e. your character has been trained/turned/mutated/etc. and is more powerful than the average joe, but doesn't know all who all the major power groups are, who are the important people are, etc., and still has a lot to learn in order to survive).

    Another option might be to start at "Feet in the Water", play for a few sessions, then upgrade to "Up to Your Waist". That way, there can be an "origin story" that explains how the player characters know each other, how they became what they are, etc.
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    The Merlin

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  The Merlin on Wed Jan 09, 2013 2:28 pm

    I was leaning towards the middle levels as well. And I agree that this is not supposed to be like Cthulu and horror based we want to stear more toward supernatural/magic-y (I just made a word)

    As a player and GM I love starting out low and working up, however, I have learned that this does not always work if you start too low.

    I think it would be fun to start at the up-to-your-waist level and perhaps advance from there as the PCs learn more about the supernatural forces. That way the PCs have room to be capable but there is still room to grow/things to be afraid of.

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    Slagathore

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Slagathore on Wed Jan 09, 2013 3:12 pm

    That sounds good to me, Josh. I think it is great to advance at a good pace, from a level of competence. I hate games where we start out as crippled, moronic children and after three sessions go on to something else, since it isn't fun being so lame. And I don't care to start at the superman level, either. Just not enough challenge without using villains that make superman seem not so super, if you know what I mean.
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    Michael Pearson

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Michael Pearson on Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:31 pm

    I agree with up o the waist, that is 3-0 vote if we are being democratic Very Happy
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    Slagathore

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  Slagathore on Wed Jan 09, 2013 9:03 pm

    So in,ess someone else has a different view that they are willing to express (we haven't heard from Jeremy yet), we are up to our waist, hoping to expand into chest deep waters during play and we will be HQ'ed in SF.

    I imagine we are more of a loose group of supernaturally aware characters -- not members of some supernatural crime fighting group. Is that agreed as well or are others hoping for more of a structured environment?
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    The Merlin

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    Re: A description of Power Levels in DFRPG

    Post  The Merlin on Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:45 pm

    I think that sums it up well. I am planning on having the players form a loose groop of supernaturaly aware individuals. How close the PC's are to one another and their motivations are part of the character portion.

    I like what we have here. Power Level is Up-to-your-waist

    We are done here...nothing else to see...move along...

    Good work

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