Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dresden Files: Recapping some thoughts on Jim Butcher's Modern Mage series

Summer Knights is book four in the Dresden Files series.


This time we get Harry dealing with the Fey in a larger more involved manner in which we've seen in the past. Like previous books, the reading is quick and easy. Harry himself remains a bit of a rough spot but is always trying his best to do what's right for people and this often puts him on edge against his fellow wizards.

In addition, as the series continues to go, the mythology of the series, and the events of previous books, continues to pile on. In this instance, Harry's work against the vampires in previous books has lead to war between the wizards and the vampires.

All of this is on the down low however and is somehow not caught by 'modern man' despite a plethora of growing technology and ability to spy on people at any point and any time.

One of the interesting twists here though, is that Harry's 'contract' if you will, to his 'Godmother', is bought out by another Fey who offers to let Harry out of his obligations but it's in exchange for three favors. Doing something like this in a role playing game allows you to switch up the pace a bit.

For example, in the Punisher comics, for a long time Frank was pretty much a solo act. But then he got Micro and had a line in to getting high tech weapons and other bits. It brought something different to the character for a while.

Changing things up isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Death Masks is book five in the Dresden Files. 

Jim Butcher hasn't been afraid to throw actual religious bits into the Dresden files in the past and that remains true in this volume as well. Where previous books have had a focus on the undead, werewolves, wizards, and the faeries, this volume kicks things up a notch by bringing in demons.

Turns out those 30 silver that Judas got back in the day were possessed! Each coin with its own specific demon and each demon able to bond with a user providing knowledge and power in exchange for enslavement and well, your soul.

The demons are also on a higher power level than many things then Harry has fought in the past and he's forced to rely on allies to get through the day again. In this case, it's the three users of the swords that are empowered by the Nails of Christ as they search for the Shroud of Turin.

One of the bits that is 'stealable' from this would be how Harry needs a 'second' in a duel with a vampire. This 'second' would normally be a friend of Harry whose gone to bat for him many times, but at that particular time isn't available.

But someone who respects that person, deeply, and trusts that person, deeply, comes out and says, "Well, if it's good enough for him..." And that's an important factor. Sometimes if a resource isn't available, there should be a secondary, but still viable way to do something. If your allies and friends respect the player characters enough to fight and die for them, it's possible that some of their allies would be like, "You know, if they need help, I will provide it." 

It was a nice touch.

Blood Rites moves us into book six of the Dresden files. It, like others in the series, continues to build on the Vampire versus Wizards roles. It also continues to showcase how odd it is when a 'professional' wizard is brought in to handle a 'curse' and yet Magic isn't really thought of to be real. Sigh. One of the things that I have a hard time dealing with but I understand that's my own personal take on it.

It's why I have a hard time with super hero comics that take place in a contemporary setting. There's too many ways to observe and track people for secret identities to be anything other than a nod to the genre itself.  Six hundred million people in the United States alone and how many of them probably have cameras? Monitoring devices of all sorts going up in major cities all the time, and Harry Dresden lives in one of the most monitored cities of all.

But again, that's part of the genre that Jim Butcher is creating here.


The 'twist' on this series, is that Harry's past, which has been teased at, and has been brought into play in bits and pieces, comes a little bit more to the front here. 

This volume also brings out a different aspect of the vampires with the 'White' branch. These are more like the emotional vampires in that they feed off of passion as opposed to blood. They're not as powerful as the Red Court or the Black Court but at the same time they can walk around in the daytime. Thankfully though, they do not sparkle.

Be creating three courts early on in the series, the author has allowed himself some leeway in how things can be taken in the series. It allows each court to have its own feel and presence in the series. By setting up those differences early on, it allows the path of each court to flow more organically then if it were just lumped out in one huge dole.

Dresden Files Dead Beat is volume seven in the series.

While the wagon has circled around a little bit here, as in this volume, we're again dealing with Wizards, it puts the focus on a different aspect of the wizards, that of necromancy!

The bits about me having a hard time taking the whole 'unseen world' aspect hit a little harder here. The stakes are bigger than they've been in the past with uber powered necromancers attempting to summon a host of spirits and undead in effort to eat them and become a demi-god in power.

Now that in and of itself is an adventure seed for a Mage game, a super hero game, or even a fantasy game.

Necromancers attempt a ritual with enough juice that if successful, they will become gods. Stop them!

The fun thing about Jim's writing, is that he continues to beat Harry at almost every opportunity. The poor guy can't catch any breaks. Even when he wins, it's basically a default win by not dying.

The volume is now in the thick of things and continues to build up on previous works.

At this point that includes the following:

Demons: Harry picked up one of the silver pieces and now has a demon presence in his head.

Warders: The warders are the 'fist' of the mages if you will. Harry's relation with them is not good to begin with, but at the same time, he's now been drafted into their ranks.

Fey: Harry on rare occasions, seeks out information from his faerie Godmother. In previous instances, he's been offered the role of one of the Knights of the fey and has turned it down. Those temptations are still being provided.

Vampires: The war with the vampires is continuing and the wizards are losing. Hints are that its due to inside traitors and that I'm sure is further built up on in future books.

We also get a little bit of a look at how Harry is perceived outside of himself. As these books are all told in first person, it's not that unusual for the focus of the story to be on the person doing the telling, and Harry's experiences with the Council aren't all that often and don't take place all that much but as he's called in help0 here, we get a little peak at that.

For one, Harry is considered powerful. Now mind you, that despite having his ass handed to him on several different occasions throughout this book alone. In some instances, merely surviving and moving onto the next thing are good enough.

For another, Harry is seen as a 'rogue' of sorts and isn't' the traditional type of mage that the the council is comfortable with. This makes him something of an icon or hero to the younger generation of wizards coming up in the ranks.

It's a nice change of pace outside of seeing Harry be broke, almost dead, or just considered more trouble than he's worth. It sets up the stage for future material I'm sure. 

The thing is though, Jim Butcher just didn't put this novel out first. There is a LOT of build up, heck, six previous volumes worth, to get Harry to this stage. When playing out such efforts in a role playing game, the temptation to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks can be high, but in a long term campaign, one that doesn't come out of a prewritten adventure or sourcebook, allowing the world to flow with the actions of the players will provide more opportunities to expand that game in ways that interact directly with the players and their actions.

As you can tell, I managed to knock out these books between my two posts on the Thousand Thrones campaign I'm in. Told in first person, the Dresden Files are quick reads that could be the basis of their own game. Heck, even now the role playing game is going through some play testing and is in prep for a new edition to head down the line.

For those who aren't using the Fate system, have you modeled a similar setting to the Dresden files using another game system? Or is everyone still using the original World of Darkness to handle all of the different bits out there?

For me, I'm done with the Dresden files until I hit a sale or something along those lines.

I enjoyed the reading. It was light and quick and each tale builds on the whole of the previous series.

But...

I have dozens of other books to read. Going to book sales in Chicago for years for example, as well as store closings, like Borders, has provided me with enough material to last for at least solid months of reading if ALL I did was reading.

Hopefully I'll be able to get back to the series one day because I'd like to see where Jim takes the demon bit, where he takes the Fey bits, where he takes the war with the vampires. But until then...