Dresden Lives: How We Chased A Dream And Made It Real

Today, like any other day, I’ve got about a dozen different windows open on my desktop. I’ve got emails for work, school, blog posts, prep for job applications, and tons of little things to do. But on the very top of that pile of work is what I anticipate will be the last round of edits for the project that has had me occupied for some time. And I’m excited to tell you about it.

Dresden Lives Cover MockupLet me tell you about Dresden Lives.

Dresden Lives is the live action role-play adaptation of the Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat Productions. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Evil Hat to bring this product to you alongside my fantastic writing partner Josh Harrison and our editor, the orbital platform of awesome himself John Adamus. The game is adapted from the Fate Core mechanics to bring that system’s focus on telling awesome, character-driven stories to the LARP sphere. Plus, we worked very hard at adapting the Dresdenverse so that the game would give players a chance to have their own adventures in that rich urban fantasy universe.

But more than tell you about the game itself right now, I want to tell you a little bit about how this project came to be.

It all started four and a half years ago. I was GMing a tabletop session of The Dresden Files RPG, fresh out of the box from it’s Evil Hat release. I had been lucky enough to meet the Evil Hat team at GenCon the year before and been involved in the beta tests of the game, so I was super excited when I had the books in my hands. It was during that first session with the players that the idea dawned on me: The Dresden Files needs to be a LARP.

I’d been a long time LARPer before that, having started in 2005. Like many other LARPers out there, I cut my teeth on White Wolf’s World of Darkness games when I first started out. In fact, most of the games run out of the group known as NYC LARP back then were White Wolf games. They fed into that urban fantasy/supernatural bent that I loved, and I adored first Changeling: The Dreaming, then (my favorite) Mage: the Ascension, and finally Vampire: The Masquerade. It was after playing V:tM however that I started to feel dissatisfied with the themes of the WoD. In most World of Darkness games, you played a monster of some kind constantly at war with themselves in a world that would grind you down and destroy you, if you didn’t destroy yourself and everyone around you first. that was certainly my experience when playing V:tM, and I became pretty bored with the idea of playing a power-hungry creature of the night. I was aching for a game that, at it’s core, had hope for the power of humanity to trump over their worst instincts and be the damn heroes.

Satyrs are only one of the kinds of denizens of the Dresdenverse.
Satyrs are only one of the kinds of denizens of the Dresdenverse. (Photo by: Shoshana Kessock)

And there was the world I was looking for, inside of the Dresden Files. In Harry Dresden, I found a very human, relatable character who struggled to maintain his humanity while accruing massive power and in the midst of often horrifying circumstances. It was a story that was unabashedly about the price of being a hero, but it was laiden with hope, friendship, laughs and vulnerability that made it relatable. The Dresdenverse could be dark – oh God, some of the things Harry fights are truly terrifying – but it could also be beautiful, and awe inspiring, and difficult, and wonderful. That balance of the supernatural horror and the heroic was the very kind of LARP world I wanted to see exist. I wanted to see players get the chance to fight the forces of darkness and be heroic. That’s what Dresden meant to me.

The project started out as a fan project, just a bunch of LARPers doing a thing at conventions, but I always had it in my head that I wanted to bring the system to Evil Hat once it was done. It took four years of play testing at the Double Exposure conventions, iterating on the rules with every game and coming up with ways to break the system so we could test it’s limits. We wrote hundreds of pages of text, pre-generating characters for sometimes sixty players a convention. We ran games with faerie queens, dragons and Denarians, just to see what that would do. We had to answer questions like, “What happens if a dragon picks up a Denarian coin?” (The answer was, PLEASE GOD DO NOT LET THAT HAPPEN IN OUR GAME!) We had every kind of Dresden denizen in our games from emissaries of gods to cannibalistic changeling. We even had were-goats (which I’ll never hear the end of for the rest of my life).

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Combat in Dresden Lives. Well, not really – then they stopped and pulled out their cards!  (Photo by: Kate Eckert)

Along the way, I was lucky enough to team up with Josh Harrison, whose dedication to snappy pop culture references and a hell of an amazing talent as a writer and LARP designer made him the perfect choice for this project. We became the foundations together of Phoenix Outlaw Productions, reborn from just a group of LARPers running things at conventions to an actual company out to produce games to share with the masses. And we were fortunate enough to forge a friendship and writing relationship with John Adamus, whose work on Fate Core as well as on Evil Hat’s Dresden line was integral to us finding our way. Some members of the team came and went, but in the end with the help of fantastic people like Justin Reyes, Kat Schoynheder and Nicolas Hornyak, we’ve seen the convention games grow and flourish. (And for that we also owe a thanks to Avonelle Wing and Vincent Salzillo from Double Exposure for their constant support).

Wizards, police and minor talents - oh my!
Wizards, police apprentices and minor talents – oh my! (Photo by: Shoshana Kessock)

For four years we made this project go on the power of devotion, passion and love because in the end, we adored the project and the game world. And we were devoted to giving our New York/New Jersey players at the Double Exposure conventions the best experience we could. We have since expanded to running games in Massachusetts (InterCon) and Los Angeles (WyrdCon) and saw our player base grow to over one hundred and fifty in the tri-state area alone. Then, once we’d stress tested and iterated and beat our heads against the system for ages, we sat down with Evil Hat Productions. The rest is, well, history now. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t pinch myself and say ‘this is actually happening.’

Recently, Evil Hat opened up playtest applications and have received an overwhelming groundswell of support for those interested in helping us test things out. They’ll join the over one hundred and fifty players in the NY/NJ area plus those at the other cons that have seen the system already. We’re so excited to see what people say, and to put together this book.

I wanted to share this story with all those out there who are as excited, to talk a little bit about how this project happened. Moreover, I’m sharing this because I want those who are excited about a LARP project, who are really passionate and believe that their project should come about, to consider this: you can do it. It was always such a long shot to me that I could get this done, that we could put this together. But with the help and support of great people and a lot of hard work and smart choices, what used to be called the Unofficial Dresden Files LARP is now Dresden Lives. It can happen. If you chase it. After all, isn’t that kind of what the Dresden Files is about? Chasing what you think is right?

So go on. I believe in you. Make awesome things. And meanwhile, join us in playing awesome characters in one of the best urban fantasy settings around. You totally want an excuse to yell “FUEGO!” at a game. You know you do.

3 Comments

  1. Great post Shoshana! This is, indeed, a really inspiring story. I was considering myself putting my LARP group up for the playtest, but I was curious about two things: 1) How much like Mind’s Eye Theater are the rules like? 2) Do the playtesting rules come with some sort of pre-generated scenario? Or is this the sort of thing that each group is expected to create.

    Thanks!!! 🙂

  2. I can’t wait to see this in action. Glad you folks have put in such time and work into it. The masses eagerly await.

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