Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dragon Age Review

Last weekend I had a 40% Borders coupon burning in my hand. The nearest Borders is about 45 minutes away, but I make that trip regularly and did so armed with a coupon and a thirst for a carmel javanilla with shot of espresso (this bad boy is not on the list you have to order it which I highly recommend). As I drove there I was thinking of what I could get. I wanted a gaming book by god, but the problem was most of the RPG selection is 4th edition D&D. No edition war here, I've got the core books and a couple modules and played it enough to know 4th edition is not for me. The other books they usually have are a few WoD selections. Again, not for me. They did have a copy of Mutants and Masterminds last time, but superhero RPGs, eh.

I went hoping to find something of interest. I knew I wasn't coming out empty handed. I walked over to the RPG section and found the usual array of books then say a box edition of Dragon Age. It was $30 so with my coupon in cost a little under $20 which was defiantly in my price range to explore another game system (like I need another).

Armed with my carmel javanilla I grabbed my favorite table at the cafe and open the box. First off, it is based off the video game which I have never player, but I do have a 360 and I'm not afraid to use it. So I may in the future. I'll also add I have not played Dragon Age. I've only created a few characters and when through a mock combat. So this review is based off of how it presents itself and reads.

Anyway, inside the box is a Player's Guide, Gamemaster's Guide, a map of their campaign world and three d6s. First off the guides present well, the artwork is excellent and the layout is easy to follow and read. The map is a little boring for my tastes. It doesn't earn the privilege to be laminated and hung on my wall. And the three d6s. More dice. Enough said. Two black and one green die, the dragon die, and that is very important to the game.

I dove into the Player's Guide first and Dragon Age records stats by rolling three d6 like most games, but then you only record your modifier and toss the actual number you rolled. So if you rolled a 15 you would record it as +3. Your stats get modified as you develop your character. This is done because Dragon Age is run off of challenges. Within each of the eight attributes there are focuses which increase a player's chance of succeeding a challenge by two.

Races permitted are human, dwarf or elf. Classes permitted Mage, Rogue and Warrior. I found it interesting they had no cleric class. Healing is done with the Mage class. The one thing I really liked was how the Mage class was run with Mana Points. So this allows the class to be much more useful at lower levels and from what I can tell pretty damn potent. There is a selection of Backgrounds a player selects from and then you roll to give your character background abilities and a random bonus. These are directly connected with the campaign world within Dragon Age so it will take some work to tweak these if you decide to use this system outside their world.

The Game Master's Guide is a concise mixture of generic gaming advice, how to resolve dice rolls, a small selection of creatures and magic items and it finishes with a short sample adventure.

I doubt I would ever run a Dragon Age campaign. I may try to run a pickup game once in a while with it. When I made a character for the first time it took about 30 minutes which means once I get used to the system I could probably finish one on 15 minutes which is great. I do like the culture backgrounds and the random bonus you can get which I will probably implement in my campaign. Even though there are only three races and three classes you combine them with the different backgrounds and there are a lot of options to keep the characters interesting.

This offering from Green Ronin Publishing is a solid product and from my gaming wallet worth the $20 dollar price tag, but I wouldn't have paid $30 for it. The system has some interesting bits to it and a relatively easy learning curve. A group could buy Dragon Age in the afternoon and have a full blown game going before supper. I think the biggest weakness that I see in the product is the setting. There is nothing new in the world of Dragon Age. It is a reworking of fantasy standards. There is no 'wow' factor to use the setting. However, there are plenty of good bits to pick from to add to a homebrewed campaign.

ADDITION at TimeShadows request:
First one is the Apostate. Here are the bonus abilities you get:
- Add 1 to your Willpower ability.
- Pick one of the following focuses: Cunning (Natural Lore)or Willpower (Self-Discipline).
- Can be Human or Elf.
- Can speak and read Trade Tongue.
- Mage Class

Then there is the random table for benefits. There is one for an elf and one for being human. I really like this addition and am planning on doing something similar with my campaign.

2d6 Elf
2 +1 Cunning
3-4 Speak Elven
5 Focus: Cultural Lore
6 Focus: Self-Discipline
7-8 +1 Magic
9 Focus: Stealth
10-11 +1 Dex
12 Weapon Group: Bows

2d6 Human
2 +1 Constitution
3-4 Focus: Stamina
5 Focus: Self-Discipline
6 Focus: Healing
7-8 +1 Magic
9 Focus: Riding
10-11 Focus: Deception
12 +1 Cunning

These are outlaw mages. The Chantry Templars hunt the Apostates. So the real disadvantage of playing a character with this background is you will need to be discreet with your magic use lest the Templars gobble you up.


  1. I agree with your assessment that Dragon Age is pretty much just vanilla fantasy with a few twists thrown in. It's kind of a bummer that a viable boxed set intro RPG can't succeed unless it's part of a video game brand. PS - I played a bit of the Dragon Age game on 360, and I dropped it fast. Nothing there that we haven't already seen in console gaming.

  2. Tim, do you mind giving us a few examples of the Backgrounds?


  3. Absolutely TS. I was trying to write this up in a comment section, but will add it to the end of the blog.

  4. Thank you, Tim.

    Tried and true, but very nice stuff. :)

  5. Disappointing that the setting sounds lackluster. I that would probably be the only reason I'd pick it up.

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  8. I was just looking at this boxed game down at Gary's today, and wondering what the hell it might have in it. Thanks for the review, sir!