Running Dragon Age

Posted on December 23, 2010 by


My group and I  jumped back into the fantasy genre this week, and did with a new game, no less; Green Ronin’s tabletop version of Bioware’s video game, Dragon Age. Now I can’t write this post without doing a little bit of explaining as to why we didn’t pick up and jump back into our 4e game.  It seems that my group (and I’ll leave myself out of the equation) has a bit of 4e burnout.  The general consensus that I picked up from the guys is that Essentials has left a bad taste in their mouth, there’s a glut of books, and the character builder going web only stinks.  So while this post isn’t really meant to talk about my group’s issues with 4e, I thought it was worth mentioning as this is mostly a 4e D&D blog.

So on to Dragon Age, from Green Ronin.  Dragon Age is meant to be an introductory RPG, and the first release covers only levels 1-5, of what are eventually going to be 20 levels of play.  It comes in a boxed set which includes the player’s guide, a Dm’s guide, a poster map, and dice.  Sound familiar?  Yep, it’s a very similar product to the old school D&D boxed sets of the 80’s, and if you ask me if this was intentional, my answer would be a resounding “yes!”.

So how does the game play?  Very easily actually.  In fact, this is the type of game you can pick up, read the book in the afternoon, and run the game at night without worrying too much about whether or not you are getting it right.  Here’s the deal, the majority of actions in the game, whether they are ability tests (skill checks), or attack rolls, are made rolling a 3d6+modifier vs. a target number.  That’s it.  That’s the core mechanic of the game in a nutshell.

And combat?  Well, it’s the same thing.  You roll a 3d6+modifiers vs. the target’s defense, and if you hit, you roll your weapon’s damage die and subtract your target’s armor for the total number of hitpoints lost.  Very, very simple, and very fast.  Combat in Dragon Age also has what it calls “stunts”.  Stunts work the following way:  when you roll your attack, if you roll doubles you gain stunt points.  The stunt points you get are based on the number you rolled on one of your dice, which should be a different color and the game calls it the “dragon die”.  If you roll doubles on the attack, and the dragon die showed a 4, then you get 4 stunt points to spend that round.  You look at the chart, and buy stunts.  You must use the stunt points that round, or you lose them.  Stunts range from extra damage on the attack, to disarming, or knocking your opponent prone.  It adds a neat twist to the old school “hit it with my sword” combats, and makes the fights more cinematic and lets you as a DM be more descriptive.  And if you are a spell caster?  Well, don’t worry, spells have stunts too!

So while in D&D everyone is hoping for the 20 for the critical hit, Dragon Age has people waiting around for the doubles, and on our game they came up often enough.  So is combat as tactical as 4e?  Well, no, but it can be.  The game does not really assume you are playing on a grid, but I did and see no reason why not too.  There are minor rules for cover and that sort of stuff, so the tactical player can get his fix, but there are no things like attacks of opportunity to make movement seem like a tactical chess game.  My opinion is that Dragon Age vs. 4e at 1st level had  the combat moving faster in Dragon Age.  I may be wrong, but that’s how it felt to me.

One thing I enjoyed about the adventure I ran is that combat wasn’t the main focus, a welcome feature when compared to the published 4e stuff I’ve ran in the past.  I was using an adventured titled “A Bann too Many” from the Dragon Age GM’s Screen, and it featured a healthy mix of exploration, roleplaying and combat encounters.  In fact, this adventure really gave players the chance to shine using things like intimidation, tracking, communication, and other abilities outside of combat.

Now truth be told, my group wasn’t in the most roleplay-intensive of moods that night, as it was a mini-reunion of sorts for us and we hadn’t all gamed together in a while.  The tone around the table wasn’t as serious as I would have liked it to be, but I had a blast.  I didn’t really have too many moments of looking things up in a book (if any, correct me if I’m wrong players) and I believe that’s part of the strength of the single 3d6 mechanic that makes up 99% of the rolls in the game.  That and very little rules getting in the way of combat make this an easy to pick up game, as I said in the beginning of the article.

So what’s next for us?  Well, that’s a good question.  I like 4e, I enjoy running 4e and I started DM’ing with 4e.  I’d like to keep playing 4e, although I must say that Dragon Age was a huge breath of fresh air.  My players seems to be on a 4e funk, and I may have to follow them down that path if I want to keep playing here at home.  Honestly, I don’t mind.  I’ve learned so much these past 2 1/2 years that I feel comfortable enough learning and running any system you put in front of me by now.  And they seemed to like Dragon Age, a lot actually.  So it may be that this becomes our game of choice for a bit.  We’ll see.  Do I recommend it?  Absolutely, more so if you are looking for a very simple game to pick up and learn.  Trust me when I tell you, this fits the bill.

Now why don’t you go read my friend Daniel’s account of our game, over at his blog? He seemed to enjoy himself with it too.

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