A Mage, an Elf and a Dwarf Walk Into… A Dragon Age RPG Review

I had never heard of the Dragon Age RPG (Green Ronin) before our Friday night Edge of the Empire Skype group decided we needed a back-up game for those times when someone couldn’t make it or our GM was short on prep time. DARPG was one of several games we considered. I recalled hearing about the video game it was based on, but hadn’t paid much attention because I’m not much of a videogamer. However, we had a willing GM and the other players were interested, so I figured, “It’s a fantasy game, with dragons. And how difficult could it be to learn the basics?”

Warrior-finalPretty easy, as it turned out, once I read through the Set 1 Player’s Guide. As a veteran RPGer, I skipped the “What’s an RPG?” and play session example and went right to “Welcome to Ferelden,” which covers a lot of history, as well as the culture of Ferelden in a short but well-written chapter. A big change from most fantasy settings is that mages and elves get a lot less respect from everyone else, and dwarves don’t get much more. Mages are very restricted by the leaders and soldiers of the Chantry, the dominant religion, and elves are second-class citizens who even live in designated sections of the city and are usually servants. And that’s as good as it gets.  While the chapter wasn’t very long, a lot of information was packed into it, more than enough for me to have a feel for the setting before our first session.

There are only 3 classes–the classic fantasy RPG triad of Mage, Rogue and Warrior– and the standard PC generation method is random. You roll 3D6 for 8 abilities, in order; consult the chart to convert rolls to scores (-2 to 4); switch any 2 scores; roll on the relevant Background Bonus table. However, our GM (aka Agent 94) opted to use the Advancement (point) Buy method from Set 2. Either method is simple enough that I could have done a Level 1 non-Mage PC solo in a short time, but I am glad I accepted the GM’s offer of help. His suggestions not only made for a better PC mechanically, but also, I think, helped me learn a bit more about both mechanics and setting.

My PC, Talora, a scout/spy PC with amazing longbow skills, was inspired by the Ranger’s Apprentice novel series. Rogue was the natural class, with Primary Abilities including Perception and Dexterity, Bows among its Weapon Groups and the ability to ignore the Armor Penalty of leather armors. Background choice is where the GM’s help was really invaluable.

A totally randomly selected image of a Dragon Age Elf.  Really.  Truly

A totally randomly selected image of a Dragon Age Elf. Really. Truly

He suggested City Elf since the bonus list had several things that would be very handy for Talora’s concept, like Focus: Bows, as well as +1 Perception, which also adds to base arrow damage in this game. (Wow! Did I mention I wanted to play a fantastic archer?) Now I hadn’t been interested in a race that was so disrespected, on the low end of second class, in my opinion, but the mechanics were just right…So I changed my mind and had the beginnings of a backstory: Talora was a wilderness guide/hunter/scout for hire because it kept her out of the city most of the time and she got pay and maybe even a bit of respect for it.  You can meet Talora at http://gsa.thegamernation.org/2013/05/24/talora-elven-huntress/

The last thing was picking equipment. Dragon Age has a basic list with the classic generic armor/weapon types and gear. A big advantage of this game is that unlike many systems, you get decent starting gear for free–not just basic travel supplies, but 1 or more weapons (the number and kind vary by class), and other gear depending on your class &/or abilities (e.g. wand for Mages).  I felt the freebies were enough for my PC to start, so the only thing I had to pay for was the dog I wanted.

Mechanics are simple, and you only need D6s. Most “tests,” combat or non-combat, consist of rolling 2 D6s of one color and a third–the Dragon Die–of another color. Roll + Ability Score with +2 for an applicable Focus is the result. The Dragon die may also have other effects; for example, you can buy Stunts to enhance the result of a given hit. I got the hang of this very easily. The only thing that was at all complicated was figuring out when I needed to call out the Dragon die result as well as the total.

Combat went very quickly, even the one where the 3 of us and Talora’s hunting dog (controlled by the GM on my PC’s initiative) were pitted against a number of bandits and their leader. And it wasn’t all roll, get a result, next character. There was melee and ranged combat at the same time, the mage was doing spells and providing a fire for distraction (a story all by itself!), and some attacks were good enough to earn stunt purchases. Still it only took an hour or so.  And yes, Talora was a great archer.

From what our GM told me, the free module he used was not too time-consuming to prepare.  He did attribute that partly to not needing maps since this was a Skype game.  Our group’s decision that we had enough information without visiting the village–we were right!–certainly made his job easier since he didn’t need to worry over that part.

I highly recommend Dragon Age: The RPG, and not just because it’s easy to learn and plays quickly. The setting is interesting and not just to someone who loves the video game. After we finished the intro module, all of us agreed we’d keep Dragon Age as our backup. In fact, I have decided that I am going to buy my own copies so that I won’t have to borrow next time, and so that I can introduce it to the family and other local gamers.

I’d like to thank my Friday night Skype group for introducing me to Dragon Age, and for helping me learn it. Easy mechanics become even easier with a GM and fellow players giving out quiet and patient reminders and answers as needed. The title is a nod to our DARPG PCs. We thought it sounded like the beginning of a (probably bawdy, in my opinion) joke making the rounds in Ferelden.

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