“We haven’t seen a Dungeon yet, all we’re doing is talking to people, bringing down corrupt political figures, and killing monsters out in the wilderness. This is really different.”
My 4e campaign consisted of my homebrew storyline, which was the backdrop for the published adventures I hacked a bit to fit my storyline. By the published adventures, I mean the ones that were the first set of modules put out for 4e by Wizards of the Coast. Now, let me say, I enjoyed running those modules. Sure, some people had massive problems with Keep on the Shadowfell for example, but I found it as a nice way to get into 4e-for both DM’s and PC’s. I had no big issues with it. Sure, they were combat focused with some roleplaying sprinkled in, but we had a good time with them. The Dungeon Delve book also served a part in my campaign, as a source of ready made encounters I could re-skin and shoehorn into my game as well.
All was fine and dandy, until we hit Paragon, as character options got too unwieldy for my players, combats took forever, and the game ended… If you read my blog regularly you know the story… So now here we are with Dragon Age…
Dragon Age has a completely different published adventure philosophy than 4e has, or at least had upon its release (the later adventures written by Logan Bonner are pretty good). Right now there are only 5 published adventures (officially) available for the Dragon Age game. One comes included in the boxed set as an introductory adventure, another comes in the GM Screen, and three come in an adventure supplement called “Blood in Ferelden”. Since the boxed set only covers levels 1-5, all these are low level adventures meant to give you a clue as to how adventures for Dragon Age should be presented and run. I’ve already run the one in the GM Screen, “A Bann too Many”, and the first one in the “Blood” supplement, “The Amber Rage”.
Warning, there are spoilers ahead: “A Bann too Many” has the party arriving at a town, only to be hired by the newly elected Bann to go search for a group of bandits causing trouble. Things end up being a little more complex, as it seems the Bann may be working with the bandits. It’s up to the PC’s to do some investigative work and figure out what the heck is going on. In fact, there is a lot of thinking and investigative work to be done in this adventure. For a group of new-to-rpg’s PC’s, there is a lot of roleplaying in this adventure. A lot. In “Amber Rage”, the PC’s are sent into the wildlands to find a cure for a disease that’s turning people into savage, rabid ragers. Along the way, they are forced to make difficult choices, like determining who lives or dies, saving children or not, and even essentially starving to death a sentient race of beings due to the nature of the cure they have to find. It is powerful stuff, and it can get dark.
So why do I say that it’s all in the presentation? Well, 4e had its fair share of attacks hurled at it when it was first released. Critics dismissed it as an MMO, a board game, a miniature tactical game, and who-knows-what-else. The fact is that the game is what you make it. There’s no reason 4e can’t be played and written in the same way it that what I’m describing above was. It’s really up to you as a DM to do with the tools as you please, and a good DM will strip the adventure or module of the bad parts, keep the good parts, and fill in the rest of the details with his or her stuff. The problem comes in the way 4e was presented for consumption. I can now see, 2.5 years later, that the way the stuff was originally presented was not ideal if the hopes were to get people not to see 4e as more than a combat-oriented rpg. The modules were really just a series of set pieces, one after the other, with a little storyline stringing them together. And the Dungeon Delve book was, well, 3 encounters that exist in their own universe and that’s that. Sure, there was the obligatory “to expand this delve…” write-ups, but for the most part it was combat-combat-combat. Remember what I said about good DM’s stripping away at this stuff and hacking it to fit the needs? Yes, it can be done. I eventually learned to do it, out of necessity, because my players demanded it based on the feedback I got and the body language I read throughout the nearly 1.75 years or whatever it was that my 4e game ran.
The quote at the top was from one of my players after we finished our last DA session. We’ve been so used to starting out a system as newbies inside a dungeon with just a left passageway and a right passageway, that anything beyond that seems a little odd. But it shouldn’t be. Again, it’s all in the presentation. The first impressions of 4e, with the Dungeon Delves book, Keep on the Shadowfell, and the 3 Encounter format of the early Dungeon mag adventures left an image of the system being combat heavy, and everything else second. Even if it was a skewed and inaccurate impression, the presentation made it look like so. Now with Dragon Age, after playing just two published adventures meant for newbies, the image is that the system is roleplay, investigation, and touch choices first, and combat second. Again, even if it’s a skewed and inaccurate one, that’s the image the game has projected at my table.
It’s all in the presentation.