Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dragon Age Set 1 - Have I finally found my fantasy RPG? (Part 3)

Enough with the preamble, you want to know about Dragon Age the tabletop game, right? I was drawn to Dragon Age because it offers the simplicity and stream-lined qualities of an old-school game or D&D clone with the benefits of learning from the lessons of the last 30 years of role-playing design. The system is sweet in its simplicity. Roll 3d6, add ability modifiers, add gear, and compare your result to a target number.

It's something you may seen a million times before, but it's the execution of the system that makes it so easy to understand. First, you have eight basic ability scores. They're similar to the six traits you know from D&D. Once you roll three d6 to determine your abilities, they're instantly converted to a basic ability modifier with an average of +1 and up to +4. I like how simplistic this leaves your character sheet. But if we're talking simplicity, let's look at their skill system. Instead of a list of skills each with their own value, you simply have a list of focuses that further advance the basic ability score when the focus applies to the test. For example, instead of having an acrobatics skills, the ability Dexterity has an acrobatics focus you can add on. Abilities can have as many or as few focuses as you want for them, and there's no minimum ability score required for any focus. I particularly like this last part as it takes a bit of the bookkeeping aspect from other games out of the equation. Beyond abilities and focuses, characters also have talents. Talents are the feat-equivalent for Dragon Age. They are what further differentiates characters from each other.

There are two other character aspects that draw me to the system. First is the spell system. There aren't a whole lot of spells listed in the first box set (it is just for levels 1 through 5 afterall), but we have good options for any type of mage you'd want to play. The way spells are presented is easy to understand. They have a target number to hit on their own, a well-explained effect, and sometimes a resist number for the more powerful spells in which a target can attempt to resist the number. It's a good universal mechanic that leaves a lot of room to breathe for variation.

The other aspect is stunts. It's the real variety of standard combat. Whenever a double is rolled out of 3d6, players get a number of Stunt Points to spend on some extra effect for the attack. They can disarm an opponent, make their attack armor penetrating, or even give yourself essentially a free major action (characters get a minor and a major action each turn). Stunts can be made cheaper or more powerful through specific class abilities, but all classes have equal access to the general stunt list. They create a universal language across all players but still retain a unique flavor depending on the class, and I love them.

Beyond these player benefits, GM'ing looks like it's going to be breeze. Stat blocks for monsters are short and concise. They tell you all you need to know in the space of about half a 3 x 5 index card. The GM guide for boxset 1 has a nice list of adversaries for your players, and I'm really looking forward to how monsters are going to scale up in future releases. There are also several adventures already available for Dragon Age, and for the first time since my very first GM'ing experience, I think I'm going to run my campaign based off a series of published adventures. I hope to do this very soon, and make sure to check back to see what I think of the actual play experience!

1 comment:

  1. Could not agree more. I ran a short Dragon Age game for three virgin roleplayers gamers who had played the computer game. Soon as I mentioned the RPG existed they jumped at the chance to play - and now all three of them are playing other RPG's as well.
    Dragon Age: Living Proof (if we needed it) that computer games are actually the tabletop gamers friend.


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