King Cailan Wants YOU!

I mentioned previously my enjoyment of the Dragon Age video game. I also mentioned in that post that Green Ronin was coming out with a pen-and-paper version of the game. Well, about a week ago, maybe a little more, Green Ronin offered up the boxed set of the game for preorder, with the bonus of a .pdf version free. I jumped at the deal, and have been reading the game.

I like it.

Some specific comments, in no particular order:

  • I like the idea of a boxed set, even though that hasn’t made it to me, yet. I think it’s mostly nostalgia, the feeling of opening a Christmas present that I associate with the boxed sets.
  • There is a real old-school feel to the game, mixed with more modern concepts in game design. It feels, in a lot of ways, similar to the old D&D Basic Set, but with the system aesthetics of things like d20 and FATE.
  • There aren’t a lot of options for starting characters, but really this is the simplest thing to develop as the game line matures. You get three character classes (Mage, Rogue, and Warrior) and seven backgrounds (Apostate, Avvarian, Circle Mage, City Elf, Dalish Elf, Ferelden Freeman, and Surface Dwarf). While I don’t think we’re going to see more classes added, new backgrounds (even just adding the ones from the video game) are an easy way for the game to add variety and options.
  • The rules look simple, flexible, and fast. It uses 3d6, with a simple bonus from stats and focuses (skills), compared to a target number. The broad middle of a three-dice bell curve creates a different feel to the game from the flat probabilities of the d20 system, and the Dragon Die component of the system (one of the d6s is a different colour, and is used to determine degree of success, among other things) adds an interesting variety to the rolls.
  • For a small book, the Player’s Guide provides a surprising wealth of information on the game world. If you supplement that with the information you can pick up playing the video game, you get a very rich starting background.

So, I’ve been reading the game, and trying to think when I could fit time into my schedule to run the intro adventure in the Game Master’s Guide. What with it being the run-up to the holiday season, and all the work I’m doing on getting Scio Occultus Res ready to go, my schedule’s a little cramped. Last Thursday, I figured I was about a day-and-a-half away from breaking down and sending out an e-mail invite.

Fortunately, I was saved by my friend, Clint, beating me to it. He proposed a game for that Friday night, and then asked me to run it by his wife, whom I work with, to see if she wanted to play. We also roped in their daughter and her boyfriend – hey, we’re all gamers in this group.

So, I threw together a character (two, actually; each one took about twenty minutes, and that’s with paging back and forth in the .pdf Player’s Guide), picked one to play, gathered up some dice, and headed out.

Oh, I also printed out a hard copy of the Player’s Guide. I was playing a mage, and wanted to make sure I had all the rules for the spells and Mana and stuff close at hand.

Clint ran us through the first part of The Dalish Curse, the intro adventure in the game. I hadn’t got around to reading it yet, fortunately, and I’m not going to give out any spoilers. It was a fun evening, though, and we made faster progress through the adventure than I had anticipated.

Some observations on actual play:

  • Combat moves fast and can be really deadly. I was playing a mage, which class isn’t great in a stand-up fight, and I almost died a couple of times in different combats. We got through three separate combats, plus a fair bit of exploration and roleplaying, in a single play session that ran about five hours. That’s significantly more than we generally get done in D&D.
  • Healing, while not quite as ubiquitous as in 4E, is robust enough that the twenty-minute-adventuring-day bogeyman never showed up. Still, you can feel the pressure of multiple fights. Same thing with Mana points.
  • The stunt system in combat rocks. Basically, when you roll doubles on any two of the three dice in a successful attack roll, you get a number of stunt point equal to the number on the Dragon Die that you can spend on that attack. The list is fairly short, but flavourful, and includes things like moving the target (or yourself) a couple of yards, doing extra damage, knocking the target prone, penetrating armour, getting an extra attack, and things like that. Now, by my calculations (and I could be wrong here – need an actual math-guy to check my numbers) you’ll roll doubles on 3d6 roughly 31% of the time. Even if only half those rolls hit the target, you’re looking at about one successful attack in six generating stunt points, which is a pretty good ration. It actually seemed to happen a little more often than that in play, but that may just be my perception of it. It made the combats (and spellcasting – spells get stunts, too) very interesting and flavourful.
  • The stunt system is currently only for combat, but I would be terribly surprised if it remained that way. It seems such rich game development ground to produce stunt lists for other actions that I can’t imagine the designers ignoring it.
  • The system in general handled a number of very different combat and non-combat tasks very well, and very easily. The structure of the intro adventure is nicely designed to allow new players to try a little bit of everything – this is what intro adventures should be, in my opinion – and it worked smoothly and almost transparently, which is what I want in a game mechanic.

So, we had a lot of fun, and we’re probably going to get back together to finish the adventure soon. And Clint is talking about setting up a loose gaming group to play Dragon Age semi-regularly, with a changing cast of characters and GMs trading off duties in a manner similar to the Spirit of the Century Pick-Up League.

I’m in.

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2 Responses to King Cailan Wants YOU!

  1. So I figure we set up a CAMP [in the Dragon Age video game sense of the word] where all the characters hang out together, possibly along with other hangers on that the characters pick up in the course of play. The camp could be based around Vintiver [the village that is the locus of the Intro Scenario ‘The Dalish Curse’. Then anyone who wants to GM a game can work from that framework. Players are invited for a session and any or all can sign on.

    The thing I really like so far about Dragon Age is that the rules are much easier to grasp for fledgling GMs [or even experiences ones]. I think this is one of the issues that is restricting adoption if d20 and 4E d&d. In my case I did not have as much time to prep for the game as I might have liked but I spent next to zero time looking up rules and such.

  2. Apparently [according to the Green Ronin forum math folks anyway], the chance of rolling doubles or triples on 3d6 is 44.4%. 41.66% to roll doubles, 2.74% to roll triples. But of course, not all these specials are going to be successes. Since the Target Number changes in play, the degree of successes will vary.

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