Dragon Age: The Pen and Paper

I had been hearing news about Green Ronin publishing a new pen and paper roleplaying game based on the recent video game release of Dragon Age: Origins. After doing a little more research into the game itself and listening to the latest Green Ronin podcast where they talk to the designer, Chris Pramas, about the game I decided to pick it up when it came out. After looking around their website the other day, I came across a deal I could not resist. In exchange for pre-ordering the first box set of the game, I was able to download the PDFs of the 66 page Player’s Guide and Gamemaster’s Guide.

As excited as I am about the game, and as interesting as it looks (more on that in a bit), one thing that I don’t necessarily agree with is how they are releasing the game. The first box set is designed to support levels 1 through 5. Now, if that were just to be an introductory set with the full versions of both books coming out after a short period of time, that would be one thing. However, they plan on releasing three other box sets, each of them supporting play for 5 more levels, introducing new rules for higher level play in each box. Hopefully, the extra material released in each box set (such as the map and dice set coming in the first box) will make it worthwhile, but I would like to see the later box sets carry a smaller price tag (the first one ran me $29.95 from the Green Ronin website). Even knocking $5 off the later box sets would probably be enough incentive to pick up the later sets (though I can probably see myself doing so anyway, at least the second one for sure).However, I can also understand some of the reasons they are doing their releases the way they are.

Now we get to the material presented in the books. The system itself seems very streamlined, which is nice to see, allowing for less of a barrier for people to get involved into the game (one of the reasons I can understand why they are releasing the game as they are). The game allows for three races: humans, elves, and dwarves, and three classes: warriors, rogues, and mages. Race and class are shaped through selection of a background chosen at character creation. There will be more on this mechanic in a minute.

Each character has 8 attributes: Communication, Constitution, Cunning, Dexterity, Magic, Perception, Strength, and Willpower, each of them with a score between -2 to 4. These scores are determined by rolling 3d6. This number is then compared to a chart given in the creation section which gives you your score. You roll each of the attributes down the line. At the end, you are then able to switch two of your attributes in order to bring them more in line with your character idea.

Then you choose your background. Each background gives your character a set number of perks, be they attribute bonuses or ability focuses. Then you roll 2d6 on a chart to get two random traits from the background based on your race. Certain races can only take certain backgrounds, and certain backgrounds lock out certain classes. It’s an interesting mechanic, and I wonder if they will release more, either in the later releases or with online supplements, because the number is fairly small. For example, they only have one background available for Dwarves, and only a few for people looking to play a Mage, but those are rather small complaints at the moment.

Now we move into the classes. Each class has three primary attributes and five secondary attributes. Each time you level up, you get what are called “ability focuses” which are tied to each of your attributes. Examples include Communication (Deception),  Dexterity (Stealth), and Strength (Axes). Whenever you make a test in that particular field, you add a +2 bonus to your test result, reflecting your own personal skill and specialization in that particular field.

That brings me to the actual mechanic behind the tests. The mechanic states that you roll 3d6 and add your appropriate attribute to it, comparing the result to the target number (TN) of the test. One of your dice is what is known as the “Dragon Die.” On a successful test, the number on the Dragon Die represents how successful the task was, with a 1 meaning your barely squeaked by, and a 6 representing an overwhelming success.

The Dragon Die also serves another purpose in combat. Any time any of the dice on a weapons test (or a specialized form of Magic test that mages get) come up doubles, you get a number of “stunt points” equal to the number showing on the Dragon Die. These stunt points must be spend immediately to modify the attack, and include things like ignoring some of your opponents armor, knocking an opponent prone, or hitting a second target with the attack. This is where the combat system truly shines and I can’t wait to see it on the table. I can already think of a myriad of other ways to use this system in other genres. A Wu Xia game could benefit greatly from a system like this, or even a game utilizing firearms for a “gun-fu” style of gameplay.The last thing I want to talk about in combat is how they worked healing in. There is the standard healing through magic, through sleeping, and through another character using the Heal action (a Cunning [Healing]) check, and the last ability to heal, the Breather, which is one of my favorite abilities they added to this game, and is definitely one that I may be adapting for my other games. It states that you catch a 5 minute “Breather” at the end of a combat and heal a small amount of Health, which you can only gain the benefits of one breather between each combat.

The Magic chapter is fairly small right now, but it appears to be something that will be expanded upon moreso in the future releases. There are four types of magic: primal, spirit, creation, and entropy, each of them dealing with slightly different facets of magic. Mages are the only class that has access to spells, and learn new ones at every even level, as well as through class talents (discussed below). Each spell has a TN that the caster has to beat with his Magic roll in order to cast it as well as a Mana Point cost associated with it, which a mage regenerates as he rests. The spells vary between attack spells, defensive spells, and utility spells, and I look forward to reading more about them in future releases.

The last thing to really discuss on the character development side is the talents, which the classes get at every even level.  There are 22 listed talents, ranging from Animal Training to Primal Magic to Contacts to various Weapon styles, each providing some small benefit. When you qualify for a talent, you can either pick a new one, or increase your ability in an existing one. There’s only two levels in each talent in the first set, and I look forward to seeing how the further ranks progress and how any new ones they put in interact with the rest of them.

The game has a very retro feel to it, which Chris Pramas has admitted to trying to do during development. Looking at the game, it appears that it should run fairly smoothly, and it appears to put a lot more of the emphasis on the story and character development and letting the system and what the character can do in combat to completely destroy the enemy, which I dig.

I’m sure I’ll have more opinions on a lot of these mechanics after I get it on the table, which I might be able to do over the Christmas break. I’ll be back with a play report after I do. Until then, Gamer Nation.

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