Dresden Files RPG, Part 6 (Laws of Magic, Breaking Of)

Last time, lots of world-building blunders. Now, more of it. Early post since I’m just finishing the chapter cut short previously.

So, let’s continue from where we left the last time: Laws of Magic, breaking of.And we’s on to a great start already:


“The White Council’s Wardens are the main law enforcement body of the supernatural world—at least as far as mortals go. For the Wardens, theLaws of Magic are sacrosanct. The Laws of Magic are clear, concise, and offer little in the way of “wiggle room”—at least in the views of some Wardens—but are very much written to communicate the spirit of the law, which is the mode in which they are enforced.”Yeah, that’s why Harry’s got away with so much by citing technicalities. Technicalities are also absolute and not up for interpretations. It’s especially funny considering the book spends quite a lot of space talking about gray areas of Laws which may or may not be covered by enforcement. And soon enough we’ll see sections explaining that interpretation of Laws and how they apply to a given situation is up to specific Wardens and the Council, so, yeah.

First, though, there is a description of what breaking the Laws entails:

“Whenever you choose to break one of the Laws of Magic, you’re crossing a very real line. By taking such an action, you’ve altered yourself-image and your beliefs—the very basis of you—to be the sort of person who breaks that Law. Often, once you do that, there’s no turning back.

[…]

In this way, the Laws aren’t a legal entity at all; they’re a set of magical principles that, when broken, lead to a fundamental change inthe nature of the person who broke them. The White Council also enforces them as laws, but that’s in addition to this fundamental change. You could say that the Laws exist as two separate concepts with 99% overlap—the Wardens of the White Council enforce one concept (law), while reality metaphysically enforces the other (nature).”

In the comments to my previous DF RPG post a possibility of Laws being purely legal entity was raised. It’s certainly plausible and erases, like, all of my problems with them: it doesn’t matter if we should really count time travel and necromancy as dark magic or not. The Council does, and they’re the ones with the swords.

This idea is directly contradicted by the books, though, since at one point we clearly see warlocks being driven mad by breaking the Laws, but it feels more like Butcher not really knowing what he’s going for than a deliberate world-building choice. Certainly, we don’t really see Harry struggling much with consequences of breaking the Laws himself.

Whatever the case with the books may be, the game establishes clearly that Laws are primary a metaphysical phenomenon rather than legal one. And so we should criticize it as such.

I would actually say that tying breaking the Laws to beliefs is a good idea. The book pushes hard for magic to be about who you are and what you believe in: aspects reflecting your personality can be invoked to help you or compelled against you to make you botch a spell or not being able to cast it at all. And the Laws do feel like stuff that would change you even without the magical component (which simply helps to accelerate the process), simply because you’ll become a person willing to commit murder, violate someone’s mind, surround yourself with death or get a headache trying to keep track of all your doomed time clones. It’s probably not a comprehensive list (torture feels like it should be there somewhere), but it’s a good place to start.

Such an approach would require more freedom in choosing aspects than the book indicates: not all necromancers would go I Am Become God route, some would instead opt for Death Is the Final Enemy. And I’m not sure beliefs alone can justify a power bonus from it, since all magic is powered by them.

The book seems to take these issues into consideration, so it leans towards Laws being about natural order more than the order of practitioners’ psyche. I think it’s a more boring options, though viable.

The book actually addresses the “only humans matter” and states that while it’s the general policy of the Council to only enforce Laws when it comes to mortals, it’s up to the group to determine how Laws work metaphysically. And some Wardens may be more strict in their interpretation as well:

“When Harry captured Toot-toot, a faerie, during the Storm Front case, he had to defend his actions to Warden Morgan. This suggests thatthe even-more-than-usually-hardassed Morgan was inclined to look at Toot as a person, insofar as violating the Fourth Law goes.”

I take offense of this “even Morgan.” As was discussed previously, he was pretty reasonable in that scene. Other than that, this paragraph is a good indication that the Laws aren’t necessary as clear-cut as may seem. I would also note that binding demons is against the Law as well, according to Morgan, and demons are as monstrous as things get, so shouldn’t the same apply to other Laws as well?

The book discusses for a bit which criteria should apply to separate monsters it’s OK to kill and mindfuck from people, but in the end it basically shrugs and advises to go with whatever works for you.

It’s a good advice, but rather unsatisfying from world-building perspective. I mean, I know I can always change stuff to suit my needs, but I would like to see devs’ take on the issue.

Later there’s a related discussion about how to judge whether someone has broken a Law or not, especially in regards to gray areas. The book again says to go with whatever works for the group, though there is a strong advice to look at the intent: at one point Harry burned down a building which might or might not hosted people at the time. He didn’t know about them, so did he break the Law or not? The book ultimately leaves the answer for players to figure out, though it seems to lean towards intent being magic as far as the Laws are concerned.

Oh, and the book also notes that some Wardens keep track of wizards who kill “safe” targets like monsters because…

“The attitude here is based on the same thinking that recognizes that serial killers often start their careers by torturing animals (which isn’t, say, as illegal as doing the same to a person) before eventually moving up to humans.”

So, yeah, killing Bianca is like killing a squirrel. Honestly, the whole thing feels like it’s here mostly to allow players to kill “monsters” with clear conscience. Which is fine, killing monsters is fun, but, you know, maybe you shouldn’t integrate “no killing” law in the fabric of reality if you find yourself spending your time creating loopholes in said rule.

At least go by sapience here: it’s much more intuitive to say that it’s fine to kill a mindless rampaging monster but not OK to kill that amoral vampire mobster or that other amoral human mobster than trying to create a distinction between the latter two.

Now, what else? There is a more detailed description of Lawbreaker power. It does have limit on how many aspects it can change: once all of them changed by breaking any Laws, the corruption is over (so you may have two changed aspects from mindfuck, three from murder and two from necromancy, and that’s where the change caused by dark magic would stop).

Doom of Damocles section contains interesting tidbit: you need a sponsor to avoid death sentence for breaking the Laws, and if you break them again, your sponsor is going to be executed along with you. That’s a really weird design, I must say. I mean, sponsors are typically established members of the Council. You know, people who make these laws. Are they suicidal or what? There needs to be some dark history to justify something like that. Apprentices routinely corrupting their mentors and such. Otherwise it’s just nonsense.

Now, to specific Laws.

The First Law is “never take a life.”

“Whenever magic is used to kill, some of the positive force of life that mankindis able to bring into the universe is truly destroyed—removed from the universal equation. Kill with magic, and the darker things inside and outside of creation grow just a bit stronger.”

To illustrate what I mean by the book leaning closer to the natural order explanation rather than beliefs.

“This is one of the easiest laws to break by accident”

Not in FATE! As long as you are the one taking out your enemies, you can always say they’re just knocked out by all that fire and totally not dead. The only way for you to “accidentally” kill someone is for your enemies to concede the conflict and declare themselves dead from your attacks. (Well, I guess the GM can also veto the fire scenario described above and say they’re dead or at least going to die without immediate help, but normally it’s relatively easy to avoid creating scenarios where death is the only natural outcome. Unless you specialize in fire, like Harry does.)

That’s part of the reason why I think the First Law should be more strictly enforced and apply to all sapient beings. For the most part, it’s going to be your choice whether to kill someone or not, and whether you do it with magic. As such, it’s only natural for you to rip the consequences, whatever they may be.

You did it.

On that note, let’s  talk about murder without magic.

“It’s also important to remember the “with magic” part of the Law. This may seem like splitting hairs—and some people believe that it is—but the First Law doesn’t apply if you, say, pull out a gun and shoot someone in the back of the head.”

Yeah, I would go with splitting hairs here. The problem with making the Law about the method rather than the result is that it loses its teeth. It ceases to be this big moral question the book attempts to present it as (“Is it worth killing them if that would stain my soul and potentially turn me into a monster like them?”) and becomes an obstacle for players to work around (“OK, I can’t kill them with magic, but I totally can knock them out and then shoot them in the face.”). Especially in FATE, as I said. Now, universal imperatives as obstacles rather than moral guidelines can work (see: Pact, for Karmic system that’s in no way just, but still guides characters’ actions because they don’t want to be fucked by the universe), but then you would probably want to divorce it from corruption of characters’ personalities. Once you divorce the act from morality of the act, it’s no longer about inner transformation of a character, no longer Man vs Self conflict, it’s Man vs… Nature, I guess? It’s the difference between classic and romantic tragedies we’ve talked about: character brought down by fatal flaw of said character vs character going against impossible odds and losing. So, consequences of going against unjust forces of nature should be external to the character rather than internal.

Otherwise, the description of the Law is fine in the context. Grey areas are few (pushing someone from a cliff with magic wind still violates the Law) and mostly concern who is and isn’t a monster and whether the Laws apply to Knights of Faerie Courts and such.

The Second Law is “never transform another.”

It’s pretty straightforward in practice, but the theory behind it is iffy. The book brings up problems with trying to cram human mind into an animal or otherwise different brain, especially that of different size, and more potential difficulties with practitioners not knowing the details of biology necessary to create a proper body and problems with controlling a body different from your own. Valid problems, though it’s kinda weird to see them in a world where dead can walk by clinging to the memories of time when they still had flesh. Seems like it belongs to a story with more defined and “scientific-ish” magic system than this one.

The book notes that the Law is unlikely to appear much in the game from PC side. It’s just not something people do often. There is also a brief discussion on how to use violation of this Law by a bad guy.

“GMs should be careful about actually targeting such a spell at the PCs. The threat can certainly hang overtheir heads, but this is a lot like mind control. It rips away character ownership in a way that can feel pretty un-fun to a player. It’s much better to go after someone the PCs care about to make a  palpable Second Law threat.”

Ah, the old good “your every connection is my leverage” policy of GMs. It’s not a bad advice, just not the one you want to use often as it leads to all characters being orphaned loners (just look at the FSN cast).

The loopholes for this Law include fake flesh (as long as you build on top of unmodified body, all is good) and shapeshifters. The book wavers over why they don’t suffer the degradation of the mind and other issues with transformation, and basically says “they have talent.” That’s helpful.

The Third Law is “never invade the thoughts of another.”

That’s a proper temptation. You can go around, ask questions, gather information, get beaten up, stalk suspects, look for clues and generally investigate problems… Or you can compose a list of people involved and just read their minds to get to the bottom of whatever mystery you’re dealing with.

The book acknowledges that it can be detrimental for many games and suggests shifting the focus on consequences of violating the Law should any PC do it: the victim would bear mental scarring and react appropriately, information revealed in such a way may do more harm than good, Wardens would get interested in the matter, etc. Basically, once the mystery is destroyed it should no longer be the cornerstone of the game, and it makes sense to instead explore the characters involved in the context of such violation.

The Law comes with a few grey areas. Soulgazing is not a violation of the privacy of the mind, apparently:

“On the surface of it, a soulgaze might look a lot like a violation of the Third Law. You’ve locked eyes with someone, and suddenly you’re seeing all of their darkest, deepest thoughts—right? 

Well, no. A soulgaze doesn’t work that way. Remember first that the eyes are the windows to the soul, not to the mind. There’s a very distinct difference—someone’s soul is more about who they are and who they could be and less about what they’re thinking. Even beyond this, you can’t really control what you find out when you soulgaze someone, and what you do get is distorted by metaphor and strange imagery. Furthermore, all of it comes at a price—they get to see you, however dark or uncomfortably revealing that may be. When it comes down to it, reading someone’s mind and looking at his soul are vastly different experiences, each with its own perils and risks—but only one of them brings the weight of the Laws down on your head.”

So, to summarize, soulgaze is different from mindfuck because:

a) It’s about soul, not the mind. You know, soul, that mysterious thingy that is not what we think it is, and that’s the end of its definition. I mean, OK, so apparently it’s different from the mind, even though it seems souls can survive after death of their hosts and maintain personalities and thoughts just fine. Whatever. So, why violating someone’s soul is better than violating someone’s mind? Intuitively, it seems like a bigger deal. I’m not saying it’s impossible to construct a concept of soul in such a way that looking inside wouldn’t be wrong, but a definition would really be helpful here.

b) You don’t control what you find, and what you do find is distorted. I’m entirely unsure why it’s even an argument. The Law is about “crossing one of the most fundamental borders in all of creation: the line that divides one person from another.” Which seems to fit the bill just fine with soul. What lies behind the border is besides the point.

c) They see your soul, too. And that causes them to faint and potentially leaves mental scarring due to the mental conflict rules applied. It doesn’t make it better, much like murder-suicide is not really better than simply murder.

And that’s what happens when you introduce setting elements without paying attention to how they connect.

Reading dead brains (which gives you a few distorted glimpses from their last experience) is another grey area that’s not really a violation of the Law. The idea is that you’re just reading data from a static object rather than invading a living system. No objection here, though we’ll touch it again in a section on necromancy.

However, I do take offense with the description:

“It’s pretty nasty stuff to live through—while you don’t (usually) die from shock or anything by doing it, it’s an experience that no one enters into lightly (even if they have a shot at living through the last few moments of a White Court vampire’s recent victim).”

By which the book means, you can experience being fucked to death.

Just… why is it here? Do we really need a reminder that death is kinda traumatic, no matter the circumstances? Ugh, moving on…

Reading inhuman minds is fine, as far as Laws are concerned, but useless since it’ll just get you gibberish or open you for mental attacks from monsters. Eh, it’s fine, but I would just allow mental conflict with both sides being able to attack and defend. You won’t get anything like “Harry was killed by Morgan, in his bedroom, with a sword,” no clear and concise information, but do well enough, and you’ll get some clues that may help you if you’re smart enough. Do badly, however, and you’ll just get more troubles.

Well, that concludes this Law. While I do have problems with soulgaze handwave, there is a clear narrative logic here, if not world-building one: reading minds is bad because it destroys the mystery. Soulgazing is fine because it just gives you a metaphor and one aspect. Reading dead brains is fine because it just gives you a few distorted images serving as clues, not answers. Reading inhuman minds is fine because it’s useless. With some streamlining, it’s workable (specifically, just do away with soulgaze, it rarely if ever amounts to much).

The Fourth Law is “never enthrall another.”

I now have to wonder if you can enthrall yourself.

Once, there was a maiden who wanted to be perfect.
 Her love was forbidden,
So she cut away her love. 
Her hatred threatened to consume her,
So she cut away her hatred.
 As she cut away more and more of herself, she changed and became afraid.
So she cut away her fear of cutting.
 Since then she never stopped cutting until she became nothing.
 I am everything she is not.

I mean, there are bound to be wizards who want to change their own personalities. Can they do it? Feels like it should be possible, but what are the consequences of such magic?

Then again, I guess there’s no need for providing mechanics for it. Players can change their aspects on minor milestones, and you can simply say you used magic to mindfuck yourself into being someone else, one piece at a time. Could be an interesting plot hook here.

Otherwise, it’s a relatively straightforward Law, though it’s a bit unclear if Jedi mind tricks stuff would violate it. The way the Law is explained, with emphasis on denying people free will, it  feels like any mental alteration resulting in different behavior should be forbidden, but the examples all deal with long-term stuff… It would be good to elaborate, though not critical.

The Law also includes a sorta funny inversion of “non-humans don’t count.” Non-human casters can violate the Law all day long with zero consequences. I think it’s mostly included for the sake of White Court vampire PCs, to allow them to do their thing freely. The book attempts to explain it by saying they aren’t going to become more monstrous than they already are, but I would note a distinct lack of “all your aspects eventually become corrupted” thingy.

The Fifth Law is “never reach beyond the borders of life.”

So, this is our anti-necromancy Law. Here’s how the book attempts to justify it:

“This is all about preserving the natural order of things. To everything there is a season, right? When magic is used to confound death, the cosmos sits up and takes notice. The things out in the world that want the natural order disrupted are sure to come knocking and bring all the baggage that comes along for that ride; after all, when nature is confounded, the reality mortals call home gets just a bit weaker, and what’s not to love about that?

[…]

While the first four Laws essentially address the rights of the victim, the Fifth Law and the
ones beyond it are basic “that’s just wrong” principles.

Undeniably, death itself contains an incredible amount of power thanks to the significance of the ending of a life (the bigger the life, the more power it offers—dead wizards make powerful ghosts). But ultimately it’s power that belongs to the dead. While it’s true that, in general, “you can’t take it with you,” the power of your own death is something you can take with you into the afterlife. And when some upstart necromancer like Kravos (or worse, an experienced one like Kemmler) comes along to snag some or all of that power for himself, what does that mean for you, the dead guy? No one really knows for sure, but clearly when the big nasties of the supernatural world get all excited and positive about mortal spellcasters trying such a thing, it’s probably a phenomenally bad idea. Call
it a hunch.”

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of “it’s just wrong” justification. It feels arbitrary to me that you can summon demons, transform yourself into a wolf, go to spirit realm and invite its denizens into the mortal world and generally do all kinds of crazy things, but death? Death is untouchable.

I’m with this guy, basically:

The power of OH DESIRAH trumps the Laws of Magic!

It doesn’t help that your basic necromancy – zombie creation – doesn’t even really breach the borders of death. It works by summoning a spirit into a dead body and giving it ectoplasmic flesh to cover any missing parts. It seems the body is basically used because it already has a pattern of behavior, so you can use lesser spirits who don’t know how to interact with material world for the task. If anything, it violates the Fourth Law, giving how necromancers bind spirits to their will.

The book notes again that reading dead brains is A-OK:

“But for most purposes of the application of the Fifth Law, this is not a violation. Death itself is not being undone; at the end of the day, the victim in question remains an inanimate, inert corpse.”

OK, a question: does galvanizing a corpse breaks the Fifth Law? I mean, summoning spirits is fine. Giving them a physical form to occupy is fine – I remember at one point Harry summoning a loa and stuffing her into a doll. So, it’s about the corpse specifically. I guess it falls under “only stuff done with magic counts. You can play God all you want with science.” Which is really, really silly when you think about it.

Interacting with ghost is apparently not necromancy at all since they’re just echoes of dead people, not dead people themselves. Again, zombies aren’t dead people either, the corpses are something dead people have left behind.

All in all, it’s very clear this Law was created based on visceral feelings and balance considerations rather than any clear underlying logic: zombies are creepy, so they’re bad. Resurrection would change the world massively, so it’s forbidden and not something good guys would do. Talking with ghosts doesn’t look so bad, so it’s fine. And reading dead brains is pleasantly “edgy,” so it’s allowed if frowned upon.

The Sixth Law is “never swim against the currents of time.”

My problems with this Law are essentially the same as with the previous one: it just feels arbitrary that time is somehow forbidden to touch while so many other things aren’t.

This Law comes with an added bonus of being incredibly vague as to what it entails and what the consequences are likely to be because time magic is not really explored in Dresden Files. So the book basically aimlessly wonder about time travels, how they work, whether they can even be detected, who enforces this Law and, the kicker, whether time travel is actually possible:

“Heck, it might not even be possible to do time travel via the magical arts. Maybe even the attempts to do so lead to really bad things.”

Yeah. Necromancy at least allows you to do some nasty things, so even if I have problems with the justification presented for it to be a metaphysically bad thing, I can see the logic behind forbidding it legally. With time travel it’s basically “we know next to nothing about it, but something bad would probably happen. We think.”

The book talks about how time travel can utterly derail the game and advises to avoid it unless you want to make it the centerpiece of your story. Good advice.

For those who want to play Kiritsugu, speeding up and slowing down time is not against the Law as it’s more about perception of time than outright control over it.

Traveling forward in time – “swimming with the currents of time” – may or may not be against the Law. Seems more like splitting hairs to me, but a good plot hook, so whatever.

What I’m curious about is the relation of this Law to divination. Do you violate the Law by looking into the future or the past? The book is silent on this front, which is a shame. It does bring up the Gatekeeper (a wizard watching over over the gates of reality and screaming at cthulhoids to get off our lawn) and his knowledge of the future:

Spoiler: Do these sorts of actions by the Gatekeeper break the Sixth Law, or merely skirt it?

Harry: Well, they’re probably just fine, since he’s not “swimming against” the flow of time so much as observing it and warning about what he sees ahead. Regardless, it’s clear he has the authority to do it, even if the rest of us might not.

OK, I don’t care much about that guy, let’s talk about me instead. Can I look into the future or the past and warn others about what I see there? Really would like an answer to this.

Well, there is a section on divination in the next chapter, maybe the issue would be elaborated there.

The Seventh Law is “never seek knowledge and power from beyond the Outer Gates.”

It’s basically “don’t summon Cthulhu, kids” law.

I would prefer more elaboration on “knowledge” part of the Law. It’s forbidden to even learn about the Outsiders, which may make some sense from a legal standpoint (the Council basically just really doesn’t like people anywhere near the issue), but does it hold up on metaphysical level? I mean, it’s fine if mere knowledge of eldritch abominations drive people crazy, I would just like it being confirmed rather than kinda implied.

The book also notes that summoning demons is A-OK as far as this Law is concerned since they’re local to our universe. The Council still doesn’t like it since some Outsiders masquerade as normal demons and spirits, plus demons are just generally dangerous, so you may find yourself in trouble for it anyway.

That’s kinda iffy, given that demons in Dresden Files are always evil, so you’d think it would just be against the Laws unless you have the authority of a senior member or something. Otherwise, the Law is simple and fine.

The chapter ends with two sidebars: one on redemption from breaking the Laws and another on the Blackstaff:

The redemption sidebar simply states that redemption may or may not be possible, depending on preferred tone of the game, but if it is, it should be hard to do and require an arc on its own concerning changing character’s aspects back and removing a stunt. The book suggest tying the latter to major milestones, and the former to significant ones.

Redemption being possible is the default option, so at least here the book demonstrates a defined stance unlike with earlier advice on Law applications.

The Blackstaff is the wizard empowered to break any and all Laws of Magic in order to defeat Council’s enemies, which massively undermines the already shaky theme of “some things are just wrong.” Not when they’re done by a special good guy, I guess.

“But how the Blackstaff resists—or is protected from—becoming a Lawbreaker himself is a mystery.”

Yeah, I’ll go with him being rotten to the core and just being really good at hiding it, because it amuses me more.

Well, that’s it. Damn, was it a long chapter. I guess that’s what happens when I’m suddenly given a lot of world-building material to talk about.

Overall, I would say it’s a good adaptation. The book attempts to provide concise information about the source material, make sense of it as much as it can and provide rules to implement it in your game. Unfortunately, the source material is flawed, and these flaws are carefully preserved here.

So, I would say Dresden Files fans should be able to enjoy it. If you don’t have problems with the world-building in the source material, this chapter provides good tools to recreate various DF magic concepts in your game.

For the rest of you, let’s talk about salvaging stuff for use in other settings. Supernatural senses are fine and simple, thresholds can be used with some modifications, depending on how you want them to work in your setting (maybe any boundary between two distinct places has a threshold, maybe it’s a strictly magical effect that needs to be set up, maybe it’s about God protecting the faithful, so it mostly works in churches, etc.), soulgaze is pretty meh and can be safely discarded, same for wizards’ long lifespans and accelerated healing, the Sight is potentially interesting, but really need a consistent feel to it instead of random metaphors (that’s more a flavor thing that can be easily added, though) and hexing can be either discarded or expanded into general magical signature bleeding into surroundings.

The Laws of Magic can be roughly divided into two groups: stuff that’s bad because the book says so and stuff that’s bad because it can negatively affects the game. Specifically, I would classify mind reading, resurrection and time travel as the latter (mind control would be here, too, but it’s only bad when players can inflict long-lasting mind control casually, which is not the case here).

The first group can either be discarded entirely or changed in accordance with your setting. Maybe it’s always wrong to kill people. Maybe in your setting animating corpses involves stuffing their souls back into rotting carcasses, dooming them to eternal torture. In such cases you may want to use the rules for the Law. At least the part about warping aspects. The mechanical bonus should be given only if in your setting there is some reason for mages to grow stronger by using dark magic. For example, in the Mask of the Sorcerer, killing another sorcerer stuffs him or her into your head, giving you access to said sorcerer’s knowledge. That’s certainly worth a bonus and an aspect change, even though it’s limited to only killing sorcerers rather than any person.

As for the second group, you may either use the rules for breaking the Laws and provide your own justification for them (for example, it would make sense for reading minds to change you: you expand your horizons, you experience being the other person, so your aspects change, and your mind magic becomes stronger simply due to more practice – you are no longer lost and confused in foreign minds after traveling them for long enough), or you can simply state that such things are impossible for mortal practitioners. Time travel and resurrection specifically may be nearly impossible, requiring complex rituals you’re unlikely to perform more than once in a lifetime.

Basically, while the book does manage to locate problematic elements, I think its solution to them is sub-optimal at best. Still, it’s something to think about, and the book may inspire you to come up with something for your own game.

That’s it for now. Only half a chapter this time, but the next chapter is on spellcasting, so I suspect I’ll have more Things To Say, which would make this post way too long.

Tune in next time to learn what punching and invisibility have in common.

48 Comments

  1. Nerem says:
    “These Laws will TURN YOU IRREVOCABLY BAD if you break them” except when Dresden or another good guy does it. I see. And yeah, it pretty clear the bookmakers are making the best out of a raw deal.
    1. illhousen says:
      Yep. The book tries its best in this chapter, but there’s only so much it can do.
  2. GeniusLemur says:
    “You
    could say that the Laws exist as two separate concepts with 99%
    overlap”
    The remaining 1%, of course, are grouped under the label “the times when Harry-Sue breaks them”
    1. illhousen says:
      Actually, when Harry breaks them, he is neither persecuted nor suffers from corruption because metaphysical concepts care about technicalities as well, so it’s more that he exists in his own category.

      Well, aside from the backstory murder, but the consequences of that went away after the first book. The game actually notes that in the section on redemption:

      “Purely from a rules standpoint, two things need to happen in order to walk a path of redemption: Lawbreaker stunts need to be removed, and the character aspects twisted by violating the Laws must be restored. This can happen in any order, usually as part of a milestone (page 88), but it definitely must be rooted in real honest effort by the character and story development along redemptive lines. For example, Harry started the Storm Front case under the Doom of Damocles, and it dogged him (in the form of Morgan) for the entire case. He’d been under the Doom since his teens. It took the resolution of Storm Front and some tough-but-right choices throughout the case to finally get free of the Doom. At that point it may also have been appropriate for Harry to set aside his Lawbreaker (First) stunt—he’d certainly paid his dues on that score.”

      Which actually contradicts the rules, since they suggest tying stunt removal to a major milestone, while the end of the first scenario would only be a significant one.

  3. GeniusLemur says:
    I do feel for the RPG authors faced with the daunting task of trying to get Butcher’s quarter-assed, god-awful, Harry-Sue Dresen-centered worldbuilding into some kind of usable order.
  4. Annony says:
    Some notes from later books which might clarify some points (SPOILERS for later books)

    *The comments about ‘wiggle room’ are contrasted with fairy laws, which Dresden has to deal with later. The contrast is supposed to be this: White Council law is simple and unambiguous (“don’t kill nobody with magic”) but does have some explicit technicalities (“unless it’s self defense and you can find a DoD sponsor to back you up.”) Fairy law is notoriously ambiguous, since fairies are all about saying one thing and meaning another. So fairy laws can be much more lenient than White Council law if you’re a smooth talker, but if you do run afoul of them, there are no escape hatches. If you can’t find a way to argue that whatever you did actually followed the fey laws, you’re doomed.

    * The reason why a sponsor is required for the Doom of Damocles is that the Council is heavily biased in favor of executing all Lawbreakers, since the vast, vast majority of them are corrupted by their initial Lawbreaking and go on to do worse and worse things. It is *technically* possible that a wizard might break a Law for a good reason (eg., self defense, as Dresden did) or be genuinely sorry and never do it again, but really unlikely. Furthermore, since Lawbreaker wizards can cause huge amounts of damage, the Council would rather err on the side of caution and executing Lawbreakers rather than pardoning them and hope they made the right call. (This also has to do with personnel–there are about 200 Wardens, the combat arm of the White Council, and they have to cover the entire planet. They don’t have the resources to rehabilitate or supervise Lawbreakers. Their options are limited to ‘immediate execution’ and ‘let them go on their way’; since letting them go can lead to serial killings and zombie attacks if the Lawbreaker isn’t in fact repentant, they usually go with the first option). The sponsor requirement thus helps to remove edge cases where people aren’t sure if the Lawbreaker might reoffend or might be good from then on; unless the Lawbreaker is so obviously repentant/justified/etc. that someone will literally bet their life on him or her not reoffending, they get the chop.

    This is discussed more from a Watsonian perspective in book 8, Proven Guilty. From a Doylist view, this is part of the noir setting. Everyone knows that the current situation is suboptimal, to put it mildly, and that if there were enough Wardens, it’d be better to have a more lenient system that worked in conjunction with some sort of program to stop people from reoffending. But that’s not possible because of practical constraints (not enough wardens), so frequent executions is the best the White Council can do.

    * Soulgazing isn’t a violation of Third Law while mindreading is because of the soul/mind division, as you noted.

    I think the idea here is that the mind is where you keep secrets which are okay to keep–your bank account number, your unrequited love for such and such, your fear of failure or imposter syndrome, etc. Whereas your soul is who you really are, and in the Dresden verse it’s considered wrong to keep that a secret and pretend to be someone you aren’t. If you’re a killer, a thief, or a monster? Other people *should* know that about you (says the Dresdenverse). That’s the kind of thing that shows up in a Soulgaze; when a wizard soulgazes you, they thus don’t learn anything they don’t have a right to know. Whereas mind-reading can get a wizard access to stuff they have no right to know.

    * The thing about ‘you can experience the last moments of someone being fucked to death’ is likely included because of a scene in a later book in which someone does that and enjoys it. I think it might also be riffing on the popular “I want to die in bed… by which I mean having really great sex.” joke .

    * Jedi Mind Tricks are violations of the fourth law. Dresden specifically says so (as in, he uses the phrase ‘Jedi Mind Trick’) in Book 8. Apparently it’s a very common first violation; budding talents realize they have magic and do a quick ‘teacher, I already handed in the homework’ or ‘officer, I’m not the speeder you’re looking for.’

    By the way, you asked earlier how Dresden keeps his pop culture references so current: Butcher posted on his forums that Dresden goes to drive-in movie theaters and sits in the back, far away from the screen and projection equipment, to watch films without blowing anything up.

    * Looking into the future and delivering warnings is okay, as per book 8, as long as you don’t create a paradox. Then you aren’t swimming against time, you’re just observing it.

    The example Bob gives in book 8 is this: suppose a psychic has a vision of Harry being carjacked, shot, and left for dead in the street. He calls Harry and says, “You’re going to be carjacked today.” Harry thus parks in a garage instead of the street. Will that cause a paradox? Well, if Harry is not carjacked in the garage, it will–if he’s not carjacked, the psychic didn’t know to call him. But if Harry is carjacked by some other dude in the garage anyways, the psychic still makes the ‘You’re going to be carjacked today’ call, and there’s no paradox. Now, if the garage carjacker takes the car but doesn’t shoot Harry (unlike the street carjacker), that’s obviously better than the prior timeline, but because the psychic’s call was the same in both timelines, there was no paradox and no Law violation.

    As a result, observations are okay as long as they’re vague enough. (Note, for instance, if the psychic called Harry and said “you’re going to be shot by a carjacker today”, the paradox happens unless Harry is actually shot, so he can’t be that specific.) You also need to be able to predict the new timeline so you’ll know if there’ll be a paradox or not (e.g., the psychic would have to know Harry would still be carjacked in the garage); the Gatekeeper has special powers in this regard.

    * The Blackstaff stuff is all major spoilers, but briefly–there is a real reason why he’s immune, and Butcher has revealed information on the forum which indicates that he will ultimately have to deal with the consequences of what he’s done. The Laws can sometimes be delayed, but not forever.

    1. illhousen says:
      I actually don’t object to the existence of sponsors. It makes sense to have a respectable Council member to look after a warlock and make sure there are no more violations of the Laws.

      The problem I have is with killing these sponsors. There are, indeed, very few Wardens and other powerful wizards. And there would have been one less if Harry were to kill with magic again. So, what gives? It’s one thing to be paranoid about it, it’s another to cut yourself as a consequence.

      It would make more sense to just have a no tolerance policy and kill all warlocks rather than potentially killing your own members you kinda need to maintain order.

      “It is *technically* possible that a wizard might break a Law for a good reason (eg., self defense, as Dresden did)”

      That actually feels like it should happen fairly often. A wizard being attacked by gangs or what have you, panicking, striking back and using too much force. Abused kids using magic to try and “fix” their parents. The classic plot about an occultist trying to resurrect a loved one. A complex case that can be easily solved by reading minds.

      There are plenty of Laws’ violations that are understandable and come from a good place, whatever the consequences may be.

      “Everyone knows that the current situation is suboptimal, to put it
      mildly, and that if there were enough Wardens, it’d be better to have a
      more lenient system that worked in conjunction with some sort of program
      to stop people from reoffending. But that’s not possible because of
      practical constraints (not enough wardens), so frequent executions is
      the best the White Council can do.”

      That actually ties to the lack of justification for secrecy. There isn’t really one beyond “people don’t want to know,” and it really feels like educating people on the subject of magic would solve a lot of problems.

      I mean, sure, it’s hard to do right now, given the status quo, but how the status quo came to be in the first place? Why did supernatural creatures went into hiding?

      There are some comments about mortals having numbers and modern weaponry on their side, but it’s really only a factor in modern times. If you look back at the history of humanity, it’s pretty weird that wizards and various monsters didn’t stake a claim on humanity and kept to it. Vampires were once regarded as gods, why did it stop, precisely? In a way that was completely forgotten, indicating there wasn’t a huge war or anything like that.

      “Whereas your soul is who you really are, and in the Dresden verse it’s
      considered wrong to keep that a secret and pretend to be someone you
      aren’t.”

      Hm. I can’t say I agree with it. You really don’t have a right to know who a random stranger that looked you in the eye “really are.” Well, at least it’s some logic to this Law.

      “The thing about ‘you can experience the last moments of someone being
      fucked to death’ is likely included because of a scene in a later book
      in which someone does that and enjoys it. I think it might also be
      riffing on the popular “I want to die in bed… by which I mean having
      really great sex.” joke .”

      Probably. Doesn’t really make it less WTF.

      “Jedi Mind Tricks are violations of the fourth law.”

      Ah, makes sense. Yeah, the general description of the Law indicates as much, it’s just specific examples didn’t really mention it.

      “By the way, you asked earlier how Dresden keeps his pop culture
      references so current: Butcher posted on his forums that Dresden goes to
      drive-in movie theaters and sits in the back, far away from the screen
      and projection equipment, to watch films without blowing anything up.”

      Yeah, I know. That still diminishes hexing as a concept since it doesn’t really influence the character much. It would be interesting for Harry to be completely removed from the context of modern society due to his inability to interact with technology, but that’s not what we have.

      “Looking into the future and delivering warnings is okay, as per book 8,
      as long as you don’t create a paradox. Then you aren’t swimming against
      time, you’re just observing it.”

      OK. I think there is a section on divination in the next chapter, so we’ll see how the game handles it.

      1. Anonny says:
        “”The problem I have is with killing these sponsors. There are, indeed, very few Wardens and other powerful wizards. And there would have been one less if Harry were to kill with magic again. So, what gives? It’s one thing to be paranoid about it, it’s another to cut yourself as a consequence.”

        Three reasons:

        1. Ensure that nobody is spared unless they’re so obviously innocent/repentant that they can convince someone to bet their life that they won’t reoffend.

        2. Ensures that the sponsor is now very highly motivated to prevent reoffending. Since there aren’t enough Wardens to function as parole officers, it is entirely up to the sponsor to monitor and counsel the offender. If the sponsor would suffer only a minor penalty should the offender fall back into their old ways, they may eventually slack off on their duties. Or, worse, the sponsor might personally be okay with whatever the Lawbreaker did and might just agree to be their Sponsor to get them off the hook (like Dexter’s father telling Dexter it’s okay to kill as long as he only kills serial killers). But if the sponsor’s life is on the line, they are now extremely motivated to make absolutely sure the offender doesn’t reoffend, no matter how much time and effort that takes.

        3. If a wizard has bad judgement and argues for someone to be given a second chance who shouldn’t be, well, now they can only make that mistake once. They won’t be around to get the next Lawbreaker-with-a-sob-story a second chance that they probably don’t deserve.

        “That actually feels like it should happen fairly often. A wizard being attacked by gangs or what have you, panicking, striking back and using too much force. Abused kids using magic to try and “fix” their parents. The classic plot about an occultist trying to resurrect a loved one. A complex case that can be easily solved by reading minds.”

        Sorry, I think I bungled the grammar in my comment. What I meant was: it is technically possible that a wizard breaks a law for a good reason *and does not subsequently break more laws*. But that rarely happens because of the corrupting nature of dark magic.

        I would agree that a lot of young talents first break a law for some justified reason. But because of the corrupting nature of dark magic, most of those people probably continue. The wizard who accidentally killed a psychotic carjacker becomes just a little more open to using lethal force on ‘bad guys’ or dangerous people. Maybe in a couple months he’s walking through dangerous parts of town, kinda hoping for a chance to use his magic on another bad guy. And he does, and he grows more comfortable with that, so maybe a couple months after that he decides he’s gonna be Batman, tracking down bad guys and using his magic to destroy them. And a couple months later he decides Batman is weak; he wants to be Rorschark. And after that, the Punisher. He’ll take down all the bad guys! He is righteous, he is vengeance, he is a magic-power hammer of justice!

        Which sucks for the wizard in question, since they wouldn’t have gone evil if someone hadn’t mugged them that one time, but that’s part of the noir premise. Good people being destroyed through crappy circumstances is as noir as it gets.

        I think another important point is that Wardens rarely catch someone after their first violation. There’s only 200 of them; if a mugger or abusive father is killed by a magic heart attack, nobody’s going to notice under most circumstances. The guy in Book 1 was noticed, but that was because he was causing noticeably supernatural deaths with heart bombs. The Wardens usually catch people after they’ve gone completely off the rails and are using their magic to kill people left and right, or brainwash their town to make them king, and so on. Maybe if they caught people earlier, there’d be more chance of rehabilitation and the Wardens could justify more leniency, but there again aren’t enough Wardens on staff, so it’s not possible.

        “There are some comments about mortals having numbers and modern weaponry on their side, but it’s really only a factor in modern times. If you look back at the history of humanity, it’s pretty weird that wizards and various monsters didn’t stake a claim on humanity and kept to it. Vampires were once regarded as gods, why did it stop, precisely? In a way that was completely forgotten, indicating there wasn’t a huge war or anything like that.”

        For (Black Court) vampires specifically, the canonical answer is ‘Bram Stoker told everybody how to kill them, so from then on, whenever a vampire showed up and began draining people’s blood, everyone knew to go to the nearest castle with garlic, stakes, and so forth. And so the Black Court collapsed, except for the few who were canny enough to go underground and adapt to a world which knew how to kill them.”

        But on a broader note: monsters don’t go after humans because the White Council is protecting them, and also because there are loads of humans who can get pretty scrappy if they knew monsters existed and could be shot to death. And the wizards don’t reveal themselves to humans because they don’t want Inquisition 2.0. Apparently, the first one really sucked for wizards in the Dresdenverse.

        1. illhousen says:
          ” If a wizard has bad judgement and argues for someone to be given a
          second chance who shouldn’t be, well, now they can only make that
          mistake once. They won’t be around to get the next
          Lawbreaker-with-a-sob-story a second chance that they probably don’t
          deserve.”

          That can be easily solved by denying the right to offer sponsorship to people who’ve bet on a wrong guy before.

          As for your other points regarding the issue, there is a lot of room between mild penalty and death sentence and, given the small number of wizards, it makes more sense for them to go with something less extreme.

          “But on a broader note: monsters don’t go after humans because the White
          Council is protecting them, and also because there are loads of humans
          who can get pretty scrappy if they knew monsters existed and could be
          shot to death.”

          But that’s my point: the Council would be able to protect humanity better if we knew about supernatural. Then you can organize regular check-ups for magical talent among kids and give them proper education in the Laws of Magic rather than allowing warlocks to emerge because they didn’t know any better.

          As for shooting monsters, that’s a modern problem. In medieval times, there wasn’t an awful lot people could do against fairies, vampires and such. And if they did manage to kill one, there are always more. As was discussed in the posts for Storm Front, it would make sense for monsters to offer protection for people from other monsters in exchange for obedience and sacrifices. Sure, you may be able to kill your vampire lord, but then you would have nobody to protect you from a neighboring vampire lord and his followers invading your land, which would bring worse consequences than obeying. They would have all the strength of mortals plus supernatural powers of their masters.

          (Same goes for wizards, they would just be more benevolent on average.)

          And, once established, such a system would be very hard to break. At the very least we’re talking completely different history here with some huge war/rebellion that should leave a mark on humanity that couldn’t be simply forgotten. At worst, the system would never be broken because monsters and wizards would do everything in their power to secure the status quo benefiting them.

          “And the wizards don’t reveal themselves to humans because they don’t
          want Inquisition 2.0. Apparently, the first one really sucked for
          wizards in the Dresdenverse.”

          Ah yes, witch trials. That’s a separate can of worms. Long story short, the existence of witch trials proves that magic – at least fleshy powerful magic we see in DF – doesn’t exist. The social dynamic behind the trials is just too wrong for it to make sense. They were aimed at the powerless, at people it would be easy to kill with little effort because the reason behind them was an attempt to find someone, anyone to blame for natural disasters and tragedies. (Well, that and politics when the Church wanted some nice lands, if we’re talking Inquisition specifically).

          That wouldn’t have worked with wizards who could actually fight back and curse their murderers to seventh generation on rare occasions they were overpowered.

          Plus, by the time of Inquisition, wizards should have been integrated into the society to the point that systematically killing them would have made about as much sense as systematically killing architects.

          In real world, magic serves as a perfect enemy because it doesn’t exist. As such, you can ascribe any properties to it: it requires a deal with Satan, it’s always malicious, it’s used to cause miscarriages and crops to die, etc. In the world of DF, magic should be more known, at least to people in charge who are likely to either use wizards’ services or to be wizards.

          1
          1. Nerem says:
            How the hell did the Inquisition happen to real wizards in the Dresdenverse? It simply doesn’t make sense. I mean, Dresden is a 2 buck wizard and he can carry a force field, a magic gun, and the ability to explode people’s heads with a punch at pretty much all times. Nevermind that there’s also literal Magic Knights who run around with lightsabers and seem fine with being used on normal humans.
            1
            1. illhousen says:
              To be fair, Harry is supposed to be one of the top dogs. Still makes little sense, as even lesser talents would make magic users unattractive targets. Useful to the people, too.

              The only possibility I can see is some kind of supernatural power backing the Inquisition. Maybe God actually did hate wizards back then, maybe it was some ploy by fairies because they’re sociopathic dicks like that.

              That would still be less an extermination and more a war than what we have historically.

              Reply
              1. Nerem says:
                Harry’s power and knowledge levels seem to be ‘as the plot demands’, and early on he was mostly just pulling out the magic pistol, magic brass knuckles, and magic force field and they were magic items with the most important one not really requiring a super-wizard to use properly.
              2. SpoonyViking says:
                But the people who did the actual burning were the kings and lords, not the Church, so the Church (or the power behind it) would have needed some way to “shackle” the victims’ powers as well.
        2. illhousen says:
          Also, on the subject of noir, I actually think it would be more noir to have White Council be rotten to the core, with a few good people mixed in as “last honest wizard cops.”

          That would allow Harry to be both Golden Age and noir detective at the same time instead of being stuck in-between, as Act noted way back: he would have good relationship with mundane police because he (well, Bob) has answers they need, while being unjustly harassed by corrupt wizard cops protecting the status quo benefiting them and uncaring of how many lives they ruin in the process.

          That would be an interesting setting, in style of VtM.

    2. Nerem says:
      You can really tell these are iron-clad laws of nature.

      To add on to my snarkiness, if they’re suppose to be iron-clad laws of nature that just also backed up by legal law, then there should be NO technicalities. Non-humans shouldn’t be immune either.

      1. Nerem says:
        You know thinking about it, why don’t they recruit more Wardens? Even a thousand people in each country would be a tiny fraction and I’m pretty sure actual secret organizations have more people.

        And why are the Wardens who are sticklers to the Law As Written seen as a bad thing, considering they’re suppose to be iron-clad laws of nature that corrupt you if you don’t follow them.

        1. illhousen says:
          Well, the idea here is that there are very few wizards overall, so they don’t get many opportunities to recruit to begin with. Which really should have made them consider indoctrinating lesser talents into their organization (I think there was a moment where a character was rejected from the Council as not sufficiently powerful for a wizard). Sure, they can’t pull as much weight, but they still would be useful for investigation and education of others. There wouldn’t be as many warlocks running around if their neighbors could detect the signs of budding magic talent and tell them, “Hey, kid, yer a wizard. I know a place where you can learn more.”

          The books actually acknowledge as much and create a network among magical individuals, but why it wasn’t already here is beyond me. Even in Unknown Armies, which is all about magic suddenly emerging in modern era among crazy people not prone to organizing has an Occult Underground where you can hang out and learn stuff.

          1. Nerem says:
            Well, I was talking about Wardens specifically, because Wardens are generally expected to walk up and slice a dude’s head off with a sword so as not to break the Thou Shalt Not Kill With Magic commandment. You don’t even need sword dudes. Guns or poison or knives to the back would work just as well since the standard reaction to meeting a ‘warlock’ is to kill them on the spot.

            So you wouldn’t need to look for specially trained dudes. Just bring some trusted people in as Executioners since that’s what Wardens seem to be. I mean, they’re not jail-keepers despite their name. They’re wandering killers.

            I mean, why exactly do they need wizards to play the part of executioners? The wizard’s one advantage, magic, is unusable since it can’t be used to kill people. And the only magic item you’d want them to carry doesn’t seem like it’d require a wizard to really use, plus using anything other then swords would make more sense.

            1. illhousen says:
              Hmmm…

              OK, I’m convinced.
              1
              Reply
            2. SpoonyViking says:
              Magic could still be useful for protection against “dark” magic, though, especially in a setting where magic items that turn you bulletproof exist.
              Reply
              1. Nerem says:
                A sword isn’t going to specially help you against a force-field.

                Also anyone else notice that ‘dark magic’ is identical to regular magic, you just used it wrong?

              2. SpoonyViking says:
                Oh, I assumed those swords were somehow enchanted. Aren’t they?
              3. illhousen says:
                In the game at least, they are. They have higher Weapon rating than most swords (3 instead of 2, and in FATE every point matters since skills rarely exceed 4, and the roll would give you 4 at max as well. Aspects add +2 each as long as you can and are willing to invoke them), the rating can be increased to 6 and they can be used to cut through magical effects to dispel as long as there is something to hack physically (mostly circles, enchanted items and the like). The latter two effects can be used only 3 times per day (total for both abilities), though it’s more game mechanic than in-game fact, I think, as the same applies to enchanted coat as well.
              4. SpoonyViking says:
                Does the swords’ innate Weapon rating stack with any weapon skill the character already has?
              5. illhousen says:
                Weapon rating is added to the shifts generated by your skill after the attack roll is made to determine which stress box to check.

                So, let’s say you attack with Melee (3) using a Warden sword (3). Your opponent dodges with Athletics (also 3, for simplicity). You roll 3, the opponent rolls 2, no aspects are invoked on either part.

                That means the attack connects and generates 1 shift. Normally it means the opponent is going to check 1st stress box (unless it’s checked already), but since you have the sword, it increases the shifts to 4, so 4th stress box must be checked should there be one (otherwise, it’s a mild consequence and 2nd stress box checked. Or a moderate consequence with no stress).

                Of course, the opponent may also have armor, which would reduce the number of shifts.

              6. SpoonyViking says:
                Ah, ok, so Weapon Rating is the weapon’s “damage roll”, not an attack bonus. Got it.
              7. illhousen says:
                Damage bonus, to be precise. Once the attack connected, there are no more rolls.
              8. Nerem says:
                Pretty sure that’d fall under using magic to kill. The books don’t say anything about it as far as I know, they’re just referred to as “naked dicks” I mean, “naked blades”.

                Like IIRC it’s talked about that they sometimes use magic to back up their swords but apparently a plain sword is good enough.

              9. SpoonyViking says:
                Pretty sure that’d fall under using magic to kill.

                Good point.
                You know, illhousen already talked about this, but this really is a weird distinction from the point of view of ethics. Why would setting someone on fire with a spell be more (or less, for that matter) immoral than setting them on fire with a flamethrower?

                It’s even weirder because Butcher (or, more probably, the game’s developers) were keen enough to realize that, I don’t know, using a Strength of Herakles spell and then beating someone to death is still using magic to kill, but not enough to realize that just beating someone to death without the same spell shouldn’t be a-ok. Or maybe they did, but were forced to conform to the inept world-building of the source material?
                Have you read further novels in the series? Out of curiosity, does Butcher ever explain why magic is so sacrosanct? Does it come from God or something? Do at least any of his characters actually provide their theories and beliefs on the subject?

              10. illhousen says:
                God (well, angels, God is thankfully absent) gives special God magic called soulfire, which basically uses up your soul to power spells.

                Demons grant special demon magic called hellfire. It doesn’t use up your soul to power spells.

              11. Farla says:
                So once again, Hell has our backs and the real evil is God.
              12. Nerem says:
                As far as I remember magic never gets really explained except as “it’s what’s in baby smiles”. And yeah Christianity is the One True Religion and angels empower Knights of the Cross with Christ Swords.
              13. illhousen says:
                That’s actually a good point. Later there is an implication that enchanted items do count towards Laws’ violation (though, granted, the implication is in comments explaining why love potion totally doesn’t break them, so it doesn’t help consistency), and the swords are enchanted…

                I guess there may be a wiggle room due to someone else enchanting the swords than their users. I’ll look out for an elaboration on it when I read the next chapter in detail.

          2. Anonny says:
            The White Council is subject to the Unseelie Accords, the legal rules which set up the rules for how they interact with other supernatural entities such as the fey courts, vampire courts, and Fomor. Members of the White Council have specific rights and responsibilities under the Accords. Letting more people into the WC is a problem if those people are not able to fulfill their responsibilities, and the White Council itself can be penalized for it.

            If a random hedge witch insults a fey diplomat that they bump into on the street, maybe they get dragged to Unseelie and tortured for 50 years, but nobody else is affected. If that witch is part of the White Council, now the White Council has Hurt the Unseelie fey, and owes them in recompense. And the fey can exploit that to do bad things to humanity as a whole. See for example Even Hand, the side story from Marcone’s point of view, where he temporarily allows a not-powerful, not-trained person to be part of his group, and goes through serious trouble as a result of things that person did prior to showing up on his doorstep.

            By limiting Council positions to trained, powerful, knowledgeable wizards, the White Council minimizes the chances that somebody will drag them into a diplomatic disaster that will make things worse for humanity.
            ***
            There’s also that the White Council wants secrecy, again to prevent Inquisition 2.0.

            1. illhousen says:
              The solution to this is creating a separate organization or a network that would work closely with the Council.

              The books actually do as much, it’s just weird that it’s something only just starting instead of being around for as long as the secrecy itself.

              Reply
              1. SpoonyViking says:
                To be fair, nonhuman entities who are explicitly described as cruel and capricious might not care about such divisions.
                Then again, if the White Council is so afraid of them it doesn’t want to risk recruiting and training more people with magical talent, it implies they’re so powerful the best the Council can do is placate them. In that case, why don’t they just wipe it out and turn Earth into their personal playground?
            2. Nerem says:
              Yeah, except they let Dresden in. I mean, he doesn’t even know basic magical facts.

              And as Illhousen says, just have them be on the Junior Wizard Council that isn’t a member of the pact for Hedge Wizards and other people to teach.

              Reply
    3. SpoonyViking says:
      […]Lawbreakers, since the vast, vast majority of them are corrupted by their initial Lawbreaking and go on to do worse and worse things. […] Furthermore, since Lawbreaker wizards can cause huge amounts of damage, the Council would rather err on the side of caution and executing Lawbreakers rather than pardoning them and hope they made the right call. […] They don’t have the resources to rehabilitate or supervise Lawbreakers. Their options are limited to ‘immediate execution’ and ‘let them go on their way’; since letting them go can lead to serial killings and zombie attacks if the Lawbreaker isn’t in fact repentant[..]

      Hold on. From what you’re saying, it seems like the Council has a good argument for actually being a force for Good (draconian though it might be), instead of the short-sighted and tyrannical organization Dresden makes it out to be. That makes Dresden look like even more of a self-centered asshole than he already does for whining on and on about oh, how unfairly persecuted he is, and for not telling the Council about the heartsploding sorcerer and the werewolf on the loose.
      …How the hell do people actually defend him as a flawed, but ultimately moral character?! Seriously, they paint him as a sort of Philip Marlowe, when he’s actually worse than Sam Spade and Rick Blaine!

      1. illhousen says:
        He actually becomes much more positive in his attitude towards the Council after the first book (that is, once he’s no longer personally persecuted) and acknowledges they have good points, even though their actions are far from just.

        And with the first book being mostly discarded by fans…

        1. SpoonyViking says:
          They don’t want anything spoiling their power trip wish-fulfillment fantasy. Gotcha. :-)
    4. Farla says:
      Everyone knows that the current situation is suboptimal, to put it mildly, and that if there were enough Wardens, it’d be better to have a more lenient system that worked in conjunction with some sort of program to stop people from reoffending. But that’s not possible because of practical constraints (not enough wardens), so frequent executions is the best the White Council can do.

      Wow, that’s disappointing.

      Usually, when you have a setup where one person has to vouch for and be punished with another, it either means the stakes are super unbelievably high (so you need the person vouching to be really motivated to pay attention and make sure nothing goes wrong) or the group designed it with the explicit intent of keeping their numbers down. Given how powerful wizards are and how their threats are pretty much just other wizards, it makes sense they wouldn’t want one person to be able to pardon newbies easily (that gives a power base of grateful newbies and the person sponsoring them can also use them to take the fall for any act they want to commit). And having rules that occasionally get rid of another powerful wizard would just make the survivors proportionally stronger, so I can see the group as a whole agreeing to that, especially when the people getting killed are most likely the ones who are least in agreement with the group.

      1. illhousen says:
        White Council:
        http://oi67.tinypic.com/2a8nwye.jpg
        Just look at them. They’re clearly villains.
  5. Farla says:
    Not in FATE! As long as you are the one taking out your enemies, you can always say they’re just knocked out by all that fire and totally not dead. The only way for you to “accidentally” kill someone is for your enemies to concede the conflict and declare themselves dead from your attacks.

    Huh. Because while I can see that being a general good practice, it seems like there should be some sort of subsystem for Dresden Files to make it happen by accident. Having it never happen or having the GM fiat it does both seem like poor choices. Players should be in the position of knowing that attacking with magic will make things easier but has the risk of violating a law, and the option of pulling their magical punches to avoid an accidental killing at the risk of possibly losing the fight entirely.

    Failing that, could just shift it to that it’s wrong to cause harm with magic (because if the issue is magic = life it makes about as much sense to say that harming life with magic is a violation) and any time you go up against muggles you have to use indirect means of dealing with them or get dinged.

    (Soulgazing should absolutely be another ding. Your PC had better keep their eyes to themselves. That it’s involuntary fits just fine with the idea of great power = great responsibility and gives a method for why it’s easy for wizards to end up corrupted.)

    This suggests that the even-more-than-usually-hardassed Morgan was inclined to look at Toot as a person, insofar as violating the Fourth Law goes

    I’m amazed that the bullshit actually got to the point where treating nonhuman sapient life as people is evidence of being an asshole. “Oh my god he’s Lawful Evil, he’s willing to apply the law’s protections to basically everybody rather than just me!”

    With time travel it’s basically “we know next to nothing about it, but something bad would probably happen. We think.”

    You could say that the bad things have happened but no one’s sure if there’s ever been successes. Would make more sense if minor time effects like speeding/slowing were also violations, though.

    If you think of the laws as things man actually wasn’t meant to do – like there’s just something about particular spells that our brains don’t handle well, or maybe specifically wizard brains can’t handle, and using them starts to rewrite your mind so you’re better attuned but crazy then you can handwave the fact they’re such a broad range and it makes sense that no one’s sure you can even come back from something like this. (It also explains why Harry appears to be immune, he’s a magic geek which means knowing nothing about the spells he casts or thinking about how anything works, so he never focuses on what he’s doing long enough for the rewiring to happen.) It’s a cheap answer but at least it works, and the idea what look like moral laws are actually wholly practical would fit with having the council be morally ambiguous or outright corrupt as well as the fact torture is considered fine and it’s okay to kill people all day as long as no magic is used when killing humans.

    1. illhousen says:
      “Because while I can see that being a general good practice, it seems
      like there should be some sort of subsystem for Dresden Files to make it
      happen by accident.”

      The GM can just compel you to kill, as we do, though you can refuse if you have Fate points. FATE leans on narrative side of role-playing, which emphasizes storytelling over immersion. The idea here is that you don’t so much imagine yourself in a place of your character as tell a story about them. As such, the game gives you control over events that your character can’t control. Basically, if you want to explore what it means to accidentally kill someone, it’s your decision as a player to have your character accidentally kill. If you don’t, you can tread the line for as long as you like, getting “close” to killing people (and being yelled at by more sensible people), but never actually doing it.

      But, yes, that does mean the danger of accidental killing is mostly flavor, not an actual concern.

      “I’m amazed that the bullshit actually got to the point where treating
      nonhuman sapient life as people is evidence of being an asshole.”

      Nah, it’s the opposite, actually: the book is surprised that an “asshole” is willing to grant protection to a sapient but non-human life. Because obviously someone who doesn’t like Harry would also be OK with random fairies being bound.

      1. Farla says:
        The problem is the no killing with magic is obviously a balancing thing, and as set up you can always defeat people with magic then slit their throats, which isn’t any better narrativistly than simulationistly.

        Nah, it’s the opposite, actually: the book is surprised that an “asshole” is willing to grant protection to a sapient but non-human life. Because obviously someone who doesn’t like Harry would also be OK with random fairies being bound.

        That would make more rational sense, but I don’t think so. It isn’t even a hardass like Morgan was inclined to look at Toot as a person, insofar as violating the Fourth Law goes. it’s the even-more-than-usually-hardassed Morgan was inclined to look at Toot as a person, insofar as violating the Fourth Law goes. The “even” is just part of the emphasis on how hardassed he is, so the most likely reading is that he’s viewing Toot as a person because he’s being hardassed about a technicality to get Harry in trouble. Which is pretty much the same whine Harry has in the book itself.

        1. illhousen says:
          Actually, no killing doesn’t factor much into balancing, as far as I can tell, especially since it’s hard to take someone out quickly, so normally you can judge fairly reliably when it’s time to switch to guns even if we assume taking out always means death.

          As for the narrative, yeah, it’s unsatisfying, though I believe the problem is more in making it about magic, not killing. Forbidding all killing, period, could be interesting in regards to monsters: you can’t kill them without coming closer to joining them yourself, but containing them is obviously tricky.

          If I wanted more of a universal imperative that’s only loosely related to morality, I would go with Pact version: kill someone, and Karma will fuck you, but you can avoid it by placing the blame on the victim and constructing a situation where they, as far as rather dumb spirits are concerned, kill themselves. It’s done with Bond-style death traps, which naturally give more opportunities for your enemies to escape.

          As for Morgan, yeah, I can see that interpretation. And the book did make a point about how Wardens have a leeway in determining Law violations.

          On the other hand, there’s that in the same section:

          “Beyond that standard, there’s a fuzzy border dividing people from monsters. Faeries don’t have souls, but they might still be seen as people, at least judging by Morgan’s reaction to Harry and Toot.”

  6. Katrika says:
    At what point does someone dead count as dead for the purposes of the Law? If someone is braindead and being kept alive mechanically through life support and you, say, draw their soul back and wake them up, is that necromancy? If someone’s heart just stopped and you use magic to keep tissue damage from happening until someone can medically intervene, or use magic to medically intervene yourself, is that necromancy?
    1. illhousen says:
      Drawing soul back is always necromancy since it’s about “reaching beyond the boundaries of life.” Stopping someone fatally wounded from dying was an explicit example of necromancy.

      There is a bit of grey area where a person could die without medical help, but would survive with it. It seems that as long as magic doesn’t do anything more than what modern medicine can do, it’s not necromancy.

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