Review: Dragon Age RPG Set 2 (pdf)

Recently, Green Ronin has released set 2 of their Dragon Age RPG, available for preorder or, if you’re impatient like me, in .pdf format (which, if you pre-order the dead tree version, you can get the .pdf for a nominal additional cost).

So, what do you get?

  • Two 80-page books, one of the players and one for the game master, adding information for levels 6-10.
  • Two reference cards.
  • A map of Thedas

So, let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

Map of Thedas

If you’ve played the Dragon Age video games, you might be wondering a few things.  Where is Orlais?  How far is Kirkwall from Lothering?  What is there out beyond Nevarra?  All these things are answered somewhat in the form of a very nicely drawn map.  If you are familiar with the map from Set 1, this is of similar quality.

There are new regions that I’d definitely like to see explored, either in future games or in sourcebooks for the RPG; what’s with all the black in the Tirashan?  The Blasted Hills?  Those sound fun!  Will we ever see these regions explored?  Only EA and Green Ronin know for sure!

The Reference Cards

According to the description of the physical boxed set, you get “two different heavy duty reference cards (with multiple copies to share around the table).”  In the .pdf you get a 4-page file with the reference card information, so it’s safe to assume that each of the physical reference cards is two-sided.  Obviously, with the .pdf you can print out as many copies as you need, so you don’t get multiple copies.

The cards themselves are…reference-y.  Page one is Combat and Stunt Reference, giving a good, if quick, rundown on the steps of combat as well as a list of combat stunts.  Page two contains Exploration and Roleplaying Stunts (a newly-introduced thing I’ll discuss in a bit).  Page three contains a list of Major and Minor Actions and, lastly, page four is a spellcasting reference similar to the combat and stunt reference, including standard spell stunts and magical mishaps.

These two items are utilitarian in nature, but should definitely cut down on the “I need to look this up” factor during the game.

Now, on to the actual meat of the review…

Player’s Guide and Game Master’s Guide

My main problem with Set 1 is that it felt incomplete.  Where were the rules for playing a Grey Warden?  How about a Dwarf?  Heck, how about a description of Orzammar?  Where are the Qunari? A lot of the spells I liked from the video game weren’t in there.  There weren’t a whole lot of monsters in there…just the basics, which to be fair was the stated purpose of Set 1 but left it feeling incomplete.  Set 2 goes a long ways towards fixing those issues.

The Player’s Guide

Chapter One gives us the Lore of Thedas, including lots of good information on the Grey Wardens, a lot of information on Orzammar and the dwarves, details on religion and belief in Thedas which includes info on the Chantry, the Dwarven Ancestors, the elven Crators and Forgotten Ones and the religion of the Qunari.  This information expands the game in a ton of different ways, in some places going into even more detail than we got in the video games.

Chapter Two gives a host of interesting new character options, such as a point buy system for Abilities.  There are also many new Backgrounds here, so you can finally build an Antivan, Chasind, Dwarf, Orlesian, Qunari or several other character backgrounds.  This is an awesome addition, which fills in several holes in character generation left empty from Set 1 (like, you know, Dwarven characters).

Classes are extended through Level 10, and the idea of Ability Advancements are introduced.  A sidebar discusses playing mages from nations other than Ferelden (hint: it’s mostly a cosmetic change).  Also here is discussed the Grey Warden, which gets a handful of interesting, but not overpowering, abilities and can be added on top of your normal class.  All excellent additions.

Chapter Three is all about focuses, talents and specializations.  You get a handy-dandy, updated list of Ability Focuses, including a couple only available to Grey Wardens.  In addition to listing the Focuses from Set 1, there are a handful of new Focuses introduced in Set 2, but not a massive list of them.  There is an option for introducing Trade Focuses so that, say, you can play a dwarf dedicated to armorcrafting rather than just a dwarven blacksmith.

More interesting are the list of Talents, including the Master degree for all Talents.  A few new Talents, such as Poison-Making and Quick Reflexes, is introduced.

Even more interesting, and sorely needed, are the rules and information for Specializations.  Finally, you can play an Arcane Warrior, a Blood Mage or any of the other 9 Specializations offered here.  Like I said, these were badly needed to make the game feel more complete, and weren’t even touched on in Set 1.

Chapter Four goes into Equipment, with a large portion dedicated to making and using poisons and grenades.  The rest of the chapter is on building traps.  All good info to have, for certain character concepts!

Chapter Five focuses on Magic.  It starts out by going into detail on the Circle of Magi, including their hierarchy and fraternities.

Some of the new spells are advanced enough that they can be a little dangerous, necessitating the introduction of magical mishaps (basically, roll a 1 on a Dragon Die with some of the new spells, things might go wrong).  The mishaps range from the spell costing extra Mana to becoming an abomination.  Good luck with that!

The chapter goes on to talk about mage training, the tranquil and a couple of pages on the Order of the Templars.  Good info that would really have been nice to have in Set 1.

So, you say you want some new spells?  OK!  How about a bunch of new spells, including blood magic spells?  They’re in here, including several of the more iconic spells missing from Set 1.  Sidebars discuss the concept of allies and enemies, as well as stacked spells and effects.

Chapter Six is about playing the game, and begins with some info on roleplaying, stuff many of us veteran gamers are already familiar with but that new players coming in from, say, Set 1 might not be familiar with.  Good info for newbs, but experts can likely just glance over this info.

There’s a new Major Action (All-Out Attack) and a few new Minor Actions detailed, as well as a sidebar on Stacking Effects.  New Stunts?  There are a few new combat stunts, but more interestingly are the inclusion of new rules for Exploration Stunts and Roleplaying Stunts.  These add the same interesting twists that combat stunts add to combat, but require the GM to think on his feet and improvise a bit more.  Oh, and NPCs get to use them as well, naturally.

The book wraps up with an index.  the art and design style are similar to Set 1, if you are familiar with that boxed set (and, really, if you’re getting set 2, it would behoove you to be familiar with Set 1), so you get the same great art.

That’s it for the Player’s Guide so, on to…

The Game Master’s Guide

I was a bit less impressed with the GM’s guide than I was with the Player’s Guide, but that mainly boils down to my dislike of having about half of an already small book being taken up with an adventure.

The book starts out with GM details on the blight & Grey Wardens.  There is some VERY interesting information in here, expending greatly on running a game during a Blight, the secrets of the Grey Wardens’ Joining ritual.  Good stuff!

Chapter Two deals with running a campaign, including six different campaign frameworks you might use, such as Mercenaries or Grey Wardens, and a handful of guidelines for designing your own framework.  There are also some guidelines for encounter design, which is needed information.

Chapter Three includes new adversaries, some of the less “mainstream” ones, such as the bereskarn.  More powerful Genlock are also included and Ogres are finally detailed.  Stats look good and solid, and while there’s not a whole lot of critters to choose from, this does add nicely to the monsters in Set 1.

Chapter Four has several rewards, including non-physical stuff like honorifics.   Honorifics not only give you a fancy title, but also some mechanical bonuses as well, and are a nice addition to your character beyond magical items.

Need some masterwork and superior items, like a silverite sword or elm bow?  This section is for you then!  Not only do the items have pretty nice mechanical effect, a sidebar goes into the social benefits of owning such an item.  Like so many things in this set, this was needed to get the feel of the video game and I really wish they’d had the room in Set 1 to go into these things.

There are also new magical items, both temporary and permanent, as well as superior consumables and “impractical treasures” for those times when you want tings like a silverite lantern.

And, on page 40 the adventure starts.  Other than the index and a reference sheet, that’s all there is for this 80-page book.  Yeah, that’s right, the adventure is literally half of the book.  While the adventure seems good and solid enough, personally I would have much rather have seen more monsters or treasures and a smaller adventure.

Overall, this is a very VERY nice addition to the Dragon Age game.  Combined with Set 1, I would finally feel good about running a Dragon Age game as a long term thing.  Many of the holes and issues I had with Set 1 have been addressed.  If you’re a fan of the game, and have Set 1, this will definitely be a great buy for you.

[tags]RPGs,Dragon Age,review,Roleplaying Games[/tags]

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