I have a tendency to spend a lot of time “behind the screen”. I get the new games, I spend far too much of my free time reading them, and I come up with stories to play and run at the game table. In the reviews I’ve done for this site, I have been opposite parties of intrepid adventurers, time travelers, and virtual world hackers. This week, I’m going to give a brief review of my experience from the other side, the experience that is probably most relate-able to the most people, because I got to be a player, I joined the party.
A good friend of mine, and regular commenter on this site as Game Hermit, picked up Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG, based on the very popular Bioware PC game. Dragon Age considers itself to be a return to dark fantasy gaming. Bloody, a little morally ambiguous, and did I mention bloody? As a computer game, I spent quite a few hours digging through the lore and depth of this game world, so I was pretty excited to give it a try on pen and paper.
We met at my house, he broke out the boxed set and the group began to look over pre-generated characters to make a decision on who would play what in our one-shot trial session. First, his son chose to be an Elven Apostate (a magic user whose arcane practice is illegal and must be kept secret). Another player chose to be a Surface Dwarf Warrior, a damage dealer a nasty way. And last, I picked up a character that looked to have a great back story, a Human Rogue from the City of Lies, with a pet dog and quarterstaff as his primary weapon.
We played through an introductory adventure that came with the set, a plot involving bigotry, angry mobs, and vengeance. Early on we realized that the Dwarf was a dominant combat force to be reckoned with, the mage commanded an intense retinue of power, and the Rogue… well… he was interesting. It seems that, at least at first level, the Rogue is very limited in character options. It was actually very fun to play the character, inept as the class was, just trying to keep up with incredible might and power of my companions, though in the long term I could see that getting old and I would hope that the Rogue would ultimately gain considerable abilities as levels raise and items are gained. The character felt like a “normal guy” instead of some great hero.
As for the system, it seems that not only did they intend a return to dark fantasy, but the whole thing has a feel like games from an earlier age somehow, with limited abilities and modifiers coming into play. The rules are fairly straight forward and run very smoothly. This is not to say the game has no modern advancements, on the contrary, it brings in the very effective and unique Dragon Die. With exception to the setting itself, the Dragon Die is what makes this system work. All actions require a 3d6 roll, one of which is declared to be the Dragon Die. In the event of doubles being rolled, the Dragon Die‘s points can be used to perform special Stunts. These can be extra damage, extra attacks, disarm attempts, or a variety of other options. Using this system effectively gives players narrative control of their own “critical hit”, and can change the course of a battle dramatically.
While I most certainly had a good time playing, nothing about the rules set felt particularly reminiscent of the video game of the same name. I was most disappointed to find that there was no injury system, one of my favorite features of combat in the Bioware game.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a purchase recommendation without thoroughly digging into the product, but I believe the target for this game is probably older gamers, something about the system just reminded me of early D&D style and complexity. Our group decided to play again after the new year, and I’m excited to give my pre-generated Rogue a level up to see if he becomes more exciting to play, or still lives as a fish out of water in this high action fantasy world. As mentioned above, the Dragon Die mechanic is the big sell for this game. After the session we immediately discussed importing it to the Savage Worlds system and one of my fellow players (Eric, who also regularly posts in the comments here on the site) even made up a sample rule list that we’re going to test at some point. It’s a neat system, and my greatest hope for it is that it might be able to pull in those who might not necessarily play tabletop RPGs, but love video games and are curious about the pen and paper hobby. Inversely, the session also prompted me to give the computer game a try again, which has been a nice distraction.
[tags]Dragon Age, video games, rpg, role playing, games, review[/tags]