April 9, 2013 by brennon
My Saturday nights aren’t always filled with beer and girls (…ok let’s be honest they never are) as sometimes I sit down with friends and play board games, card games and occasionally role-playing games. One in particular of the later that has garnered plenty of interest is the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin Publishing and I have now run three sessions with a forth in the works.
With that in mind I thought it would be great to sit down with you fellows and review this quick and easy role-playing game that has managed to resurrect pen and paper role-playing for us.
Most of the time when I look at a role-playing game I start to explain the background first but since the mechanics are so incredibly easy to understand I thought I would get those out of the way. Added to that the mechanics of a game can make or break someone’s enjoyment of a world so this should sort you out right away.
The basic mechanic is simple:-
3D6 + Ability Score + Focus Bonus (+2) Vs Target Number.
Now we should probably go through each of these steps in order. The 3D6 are three regular dice that you’d get in any board game with an important note that one of them should be a different colour from the others. Most often (and if you buy the first set) this will be two white die and one red.
Your Ability Score refers to the standard statistics of a role-playing game and in Dragon Age these are abilities like Strength, Dexterity, Communication, Constitution and the like. These range from -2 all the way up to around 5.
Each ‘Class’ in the game is obviously better at some things than others. Fighters can be do some tanking and weather a lot of damage. Rogues are experts in dealing serious amounts of damage and Mages act in both a controlling capacity and are also capable of healing. The Abilities you choose therefore will govern which class you’re likely to succeed at.
Classes also come with a number of different Talents that range from weapons styles all the way up to things like gambling or just the ability to cast magic. Characters will begin as novices in their talent but as the story unfolds you’ll unlock new abilities through them.
Focus Bonuses are a system that players of World of Darkness might be aware of. When you create a character and level up you can get specific bonuses in an area of your choice. For example a focus for Strength would be ‘Climbing’. This means that whenever you attempt a climbing action you will get +2 to the roll.
Finally these are added together against a target number. In the case of a social and exploration roll this would usually be 10 for a standard easy test or as high as 20 or 25 for something that is impossible. As you can see the formula is incredibly simple and takes no time at all to learn.
Simply put the Games Master will look at their chart or think up a number in their head that feels appropriate and the heroes must try and match or beat it.
The next big part of the game is combat and magic. Here the same basic formula applies where you roll the dice as prompted ahead but the target number now must beat the opponents Defence. Defence applies to a character or NPCs ability to dodge, duck, dip and weave around an attack.
Once you work out if you’ve hit your opponent you then roll for damage and the opponent then removes his Armour total from the wound. This is a neat way of handling armour as instead of it negating if an opponent hit you, it serves as a way for you to weather the blows. It always made more sense that armour acted like this than in Dungeons & Dragons where your AC was always just for simply being hit.
Magic is worked slightly differently. With Magic the Mage must attempt to hit a casting number before a spell is used and they also must manage their Mana Points too. Very old school D&D! Once the casting number has been hit the Mage then follows the same rules for attacking although certain spells may call for a test from the target in question.
A good example of this would be the spell Winters Grasp. Here the Mage rolls to cast and then forces the opponent to make a Constitution Check to avoid the effects of the spell. As a nod to how cool this spell is, if they die while under the spells effect they turn to a block of ice!
The big addition to this system that marks it apart from most other games is the Stunting system. You Stunt if you roll a double on any of the three dice rolled and then have a number of points to spend on the appropriate table according to the dragon die (this is the dice of a different colour).
Stunts can be such things as pushing an opponent, knocking them prone, doing more damage, piercing armour or even attacking again with a lightning strike.
In Dragon Age: Set I you were given a table for combat and magic but in Set II you can get access to a Social and Exploration table too which means you can Stunt on pretty much any roll in the game. It’s always fun to see someone think they have a poor result and then suddenly realise they can still stunt!
The stunting mechanic is one that really drew me in and it makes the game a cinematic adventure with plenty of on-the-spot brainwaves as someone thinks up a cool way to attack their foe.
Dragon Age is set in the world of Thedas and more specifically the land known as Ferelden. Anyone who has played the computer game of the same name will know a little more about this but for those of you who missed out here is a quick crash course in Ferelden society.
The world is filled with the standard fantasy races including Men, Dwarves, and Elves but they all have a bit of a twist. The Men are ambitious and split into warring factions that have plenty of distrust for each other. The Dwarves are a race that dwell underground and have a strict and often brutal caste system in effect. Those who head to the world above are viewed with suspicious.
Elves have the biggest change in the world of Dragon Age as most of them are slaves under the yoke of the Men of Ferelden. They are seen as lesser beings and even the Dalish Elves (Wood Elves to you and me) are refugees in their own land, forced to move constantly to avoid the anger of nearby human settlements.
As well as these races you also have a race known as the Qunari. You won’t encounter them in Set I but in Set II these horned, brutal, bloody barbarians will be available to you. They certainly are a diverse race and if you’ve played a Tiefling in D&D you should be familiar with the way they might act.
Of course all these races aren’t just against each other. The bigger threat that lingers in the background is the Blight and the Darkspawn. The Darkspawn are a hellish army of killers, cutthroats and more that pour up from under the ground and want nothing more than to butcher the inhabitants of the world above. They are brutal and unforgiving and depending on when you set your adventure even the most prickly of enemies would band together against them.
This is where more interesting background rears its head concerning Mages and Grey Wardens. Mages are generally regarded with wary eyes as it is temperamental at the best of times. Mages live in constant fear of the Fade and demons from the ‘other side’ inhabiting their bodies! Some Mages are even known as Apostates and Blood Mages, those who don’t conform to the ideals of the Circle Mages and are hunted by the religiously zealous Chantry Templars.
The only stalwart bulwark against the forces of evil though are the Grey Wardens. These mighty warriors, rangers and mages are in tune with the Blight and use this connection to fight it whenever they can. However you won’t become one of those until at least Level 6!
Overall the background of Dragon Age is a brutal and dark one but filled with the potential for adventure at every corner. It’s a whole lot of fun and if you like role-playing in the Old World of Warhammer then this should be a great alternative.
All you need to get started can be downloaded or bought from the Green Ronin website. If you fancy looking at this game before you buy into it you can play the Quick Start Rules via a very simple download. This includes an adventure for you to run, characters to use pre-made and everything else you’ll need for a nice four hour session.
If you run through that and think you’d like to know more then Dragon Age Set I will take heroes from Level 1 up to Level 5 and includes another adventure to run and also has a map of Ferelden too, a nice little addition to the tabletop. This contains all the full rules for Men, Dwarves and Elves and the Fighter, Rogue and Mage class. For the Games Master you will find a host of monsters that are appropriate for beginning adventurers.
As a stop gap between Set I and Set II Green Ronin have also made a set called Blood in Ferelden which has adventures for Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5 allowing you to continue the fun and it’s also a lot easier on the Games Master!
Set II brings in new background and races, loads more skills and magical powers and plenty of other information for adventurers going from 5 to 10. Everything in here is tailored to the higher levels but I suggest at least grabbing the new stunt sheet for a more expansive range of things your heroes can accomplish.
More is planned for the future so watch out for that, especially with Dragon Age: Inquisition coming to consoles and PCs in the future.
Overall Dragon Age RPG is a fun role-playing game with easy to learn mechanics that gift the player with a range of options. Anything you can think of (within reason) can be accomplished and it’s always fun to have a system that allows for the ‘rule of cool’ in combat and out of it.
The rules themselves are written clearly and a real emphasis has been put on “make of this what you will”. A lot is left open to the whims of the players and the Games Master and I enjoy that, it’s nice to have a bit of freedom. The books too are fantastic quality and if you fancy being a bit more tech savvy you can always just download the PDF files from Green Ronin!
If you like the grim dark world of Ferelden filled with big moral choices, blood, guts and more then I suggest giving it a go through the Quick Start Rules. I have had lots of fun with it and so have my friends and I think you will too.