While I am not the video game fanatic that my wife is (few people are), I do enjoy playing them from time to time. One of my favorite video game franchises at the moment is the Dragon Age series. So I have been curious about the pen and paper incarnation of the franchise for awhile, but only bit the bullet with the recently released Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook, which combines and expands the rules from the previous three sets that Green Ronin has produced.
The basic mechanic of the system will be familiar to anyone who plays RPGs. Roll some dice (in this case 3d6 instead of a d20), add the appropriate ability modifier, and then compare it to a target number. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
The most innovative concept introduced in the Dragon Age RPG is the stunt system. You are rolling 3d6 for most rolls in this system, and whenever you roll doubles, you generate stunt points. How many stunt points depends on your dragon die (one die of a different color). You can then use those stunt points immediately to do something cool, like get an extra attack, push an opponent back, or even perform multiple stunts together if you have enough points.
I was intrigued by the stunt system and was curious how it would function in actual play. I also wondered what gamers who were unfamiliar with the Dragon Age video games would think of the system and the world.
So I gathered together some of my fellow Lords of Tyr and decided to run Duty Unto Death, the introductory adventure featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop. Only one of my players was at all familiar with the Dragon Age video games, so I figured they would be a good group to evaluate the game on its merits without affection for the franchise seeping in.
The group quickly divvyed up the pregens, a Ferelden Freeman warrior, a Dalish Elf rogue, and a Human Circle Mage. Because they were new to Dragon Age, I spent some time discussing the world and how they fit into it. Luckily, the introductory adventure made this easy, as the characters were all new recruits to the Grey Wardens, and it begins with Duncan explaining key concepts like darkspawn and the Blight to the characters.
The first combat was very interesting. Stunts came up a lot more frequently then I expected and really added a bit of variety to the “I hit it with my axe” rut that fighter heavy games can fall into. It also forced the group to think tactically, especially as it was discovered how squishy the non-armored circle mage could be when darkspawn closed in on him.
(The circle mage also learned the importance of the rock armor spell from this combat, and he became a bit obsessed about keeping it up as much as possible since it is not a spell that can really be cast once combat has begun because of its long casting time.)
Because the game started a bit late, we only were able to fit in one more combat encounter in the session. By this time the group was pretty acclimated to the rules, and were really looking forward to stunts when they came up.
After the session, feedback was pretty positive. Stephanie, still the newest gamer in this particular group despite having years of experience at this point, gave the most positive review. She liked the stunt system, but seemed even more intrigued by the setting, which she thought had a lot of depth. So I guess that is more of a thumbs up to Bioware, which created the Dragon Age setting for their video games.
All and all, it proved to be a very fun session. It probably won’t become our regular game, as the group is pretty invested in the two long-term campaigns we currently are running, but I can definitely see us returning to it as time permits.