Last night I finally had the chance to play a roleplaying game since coming back from Gen Con and the game on tap was Dragon Age from Green Ronin. Running the game was my friend Enrique and joining us was his usual gaming group, plus me.
Let me cut to the point right away: I had a ton of fun. A metric ton. Part of it was because the guys in the group were a fun bunch to hang out with and they welcomed me in immediately as one of their own, but also because the Dragon Age RPG simply rocks. I would dare say that, yes, it rocks you like a hurricane. We played for just shy of 5 hours and not once did I hear anyone complain about the game, not once, and as the night progressed, the praises for it simply heaped up. The system was easy to grasp, quick to resolve and engaging for all at the table, especially during combat when the Doubles Watch went into full effect, everyone just chomping for a chance to yell out Doubles! and spend those Stunt Points for cool effects. Through the banter, the catching-up, the food and drinks, and the barrage of comments/taunts/insults in Spanglish, the game held our attention and interest, and delivered some solid old-school RPG fun.
This is where I get wordy, as I wanna talk about the adventure we played and why this game left me with a smile on my face.
We played the intro adventure A Bann Too Many from the Dragon Age Gamemaster’s Kit (though, don’t worry, there’ll be no spoilers). Of the whole group, I was the only one to have created a character ahead of time (which only goes to show how excited I was about playing!). One of the other players made his character when he arrived and, having read the background of my character, he decided to tie his own backstory to mine: he ended up making a Ferelden Warrior who was the husband of my murdered sister; right there he gave me a reason why I would have left the Frostback Mountains for the Ferelden lowlands and we had a nice team-up of siblings-in-law seeking justice by the sword. Everyone else used a pre-generated character from those available at the Dragon Age Green Ronin website. The party ended up being three Human warriors (my Avvarian Hillsman and two Ferelden Freemen), a Surface Dwarf warrior, a City Elf rogue and a Dalish Elf apostate mage. I don’t think anyone else named their characters aside from myself (Gwydion) and the player of my character’s brother-in-law (Oswyn).
We started with everyone already knowing each other and en route to a village whose newly-elected Bann (think Lord Protector) had put out a call for adventurers to take care of some bandits. Our first encounter came while we camped for the night when some drunken brigands approached us. After exchanging boasts and threats, I decided to use my Intimidation focus (skill) to cower the brigands. I did, solidly, and the brigand leader decided to volunteer his buddy for a duel to first blood against me. I won initiative and rolled my dice to hit with my massive two-handed claymore. I rolled doubles and a 3 on my Dragon Die, so I decided to use the 3 Stunt Points to execute the Disarm stunt. His sword flew about seven feet away and I had him on the floor, pissing in his pants. Needless to say, they moved on.
We kept going with the storyline, meeting the Bann who’d put out the call and accepting the job. Not five minutes later, the party had split up as Oswyn and I decided to go do some investigation and the rest followed a summons from the deposed Bann. That half of the party soon got into the night’s first actual combat, allowing us all a chance to see how the system played out during a fight. We chose to use a grid-map and minis, which lead to ongoing corrections from the GM as he reminded people that this wasn’t D&D (“There are no Attacks of Opportunity.”), corrections which were met with enthusiasm by the players (“Yes! I love this game.”). There were quite a few doubles rolled during combat, so we got to see a few of the Stunts in action, and by far these were the system’s feature everyone most liked.
Having reunited the party later on and figured out there was something rotten going on (I’m skipping over the actual roleplaying scenes we had in order to avoid spoilers, but yes, we had actual roleplaying going on), we ended up at the bandits’ camp and embroiled in a battle that pitted the six of us against 22 bandits, including their leader. Having witnessed our collective prowess in battle, we decided these were fair odds and went in gung-ho. Understand that we had three warriors with two-handed weapons dealing an average of 16 points of damage per swing, more if we scored Stunt Points and could use the Mighty Blow stunt to add an extra d6 of damage, and a rogue that was sneaking around the place like nobody’s business, using this to pick at enemies all around. We got hit, yes, but we simply mowed down the opposition and killed the bandit leader. That’s where we left things off as it was already past Midnight.
Throughout the night there was a lot of off-topic chatter going on; these guys hadn’t seen each other for a while, so there was a lot of socializing going on. I wouldn’t say they all sat down to get immersed in the story, not by a long shot, but they weren’t also dismissive in any way, and when their attention was called to the table, it was on. There was also a lot of joking around going on, especially with friendly taunts in Spanglish flying like arrows all around (Enrique toyed briefly with recording the session for an Actual Play podcast, but in retrospect it would’ve been perhaps not the best idea – unless you understand Spanish and then you would’ve died laughing with all the insults being thrown about).
Overall, I absolutely fell in love with the game. Not having played the Dragon Age videogame the world was new to me, but there was enough in the boxed set to get my imagination going. It’s a tough and feral world; honor is important and so is your martial skill. Though we did not encounter any of the supernatural menaces plaguing the land, we knew they were out there and that every time we went into the forest, we could very well find something which we’d rather not. It was very reminiscent of 1st Edition Forgotten Realms, and that’s about as high a praise as I can throw at the campaign world given my love for the Realms.
As far as the system goes, that everything is resolved with a 3d6+modifier vs target number is just brilliant in its simplicity and applicability. There were no “what dice do I roll for this?’ moments – we all knew what we had to roll, it was only a matter of figuring out the modifiers based on what we were trying to accomplish. This sped things up dramatically, especially in combat, when any kind of rule-searching can slow down what is already a lengthy process. The Stunts system is the most fun and innovative part of the machine, not that this is any surprise considering every review of the game always gushes on it. The presence of the Dragon Die as a measure of degree of success adds a simple new dimension to the roll without the need for complications, and the achieving and spending of Stunt Points, frankly, makes combat fun again for me, rather than an exercise in tactics and mathematics.
The one thing that was very clear after we had had a chance to roll some dice is that we wanted to see the same idea of Stunts being used elsewhere in the game. Not a few skill rolls were made where people noted “Doubles, X on the Dragon Die!” looking for it to mean something. I understand this is just the first set of four and that it is intended to be introductory; there is no need to overcomplicate things and bog down potentially new gamers. What this does, however, is leave a fertile field for that sacred tradition of house rulings, and I’ve already seen two fan-made attempts at making Stunts for non-combat scenes (the one published already is by Rob Donoghue), not to mention the ideas swimming in my head for Stunts associated with specific weapons/weapon groups (what can I say, I really want to make the most out of the claymore Gwydion wields!).
Playing Dragon Age reminded me a lot of the feeling I got when I used to play Basic D&D: quick and easy, fast and furious, fun and fantastic. Dragon Age is stripped down in a lot of choices, so what you have available you have to use your imagination and ingenuity to fill in the blanks, and as much as I like games with lots of fiddly bits (hey, I actually liked D&D/d20 3.5 just fine), this is something I enjoy very much as well. It has a simple system that can handle pretty much any situation that presents itself, and a downright fun system of Stunts to bring in the cinematic awesome to the table. Couple that with a captivating world setting and the promise of dark times ahead, with all the adventure that implies, and you’ve got the reason why, if it were possible to play again tonight, I’d be jumping in my car right now to brave 2 hours of traffic, just so we can continue our adventure.
Added Note: I’ve just been perusing the playtest documents for Dragon Age Set 2. OMG!!! The next boxed set adds new Combat Stunts, introduces two types of non-Combat Stunts, has excellent advise for Gamemasters, has a lot more Backgrounds, introduces Specializations for the classes (if I say Kits and you know what I mean, then that), introduces the Grey Wardens from the videogame, and so much more. Yeah, I’m in love.