TableTopTakes: Dragon Age RPG
First, let me say that this game review is going to be different than the standard board game review. Dragon Age RPG is very much a pen and paper RPG and does not have a board, cards, etc. However, it is a “table top” game, so it falls under that area of review.
Secondly, I am going to be using more comparisons, most likely, in this post. My plan is to compare and contrast it against Dungeons and Dragons in particular and probably will compare it against the Fantasy Flight Star Wars game that I’ve run as well. The reason for doing this is to better be able to highlight what I do and don’t like about the Dragon Age RPG. It’s also to be able to highlight what I prefer so that you can make a more informed decision and see where my hang-ups with the system are more clearly.
Dragon Age RPG
Let me set-up the reason that I was running this game. With Dungeons and Flagons, and having tweeted about running Curse of Strahd, I clearly am most comfortable running Dungeons and Dragons. However, Kristen and I have some friends, a couple of whom hadn’t played many if any RPG’s before. They are big fans of the Dragons Age video game series, as am I, and the thought was that this would be a good introduction to RPG’s for them. I agreed to run this game, going through an introductory scenario, over a few sessions.
So, let me start right there. I was running a free module put out by Green Ronin Press. The module itself was laid out pretty nicely, and having the monster stat blocks easily available was nice. However, I don’t like running modules all that well. My reason for that, even with Dungeons and Dragons, is because it limits my creativity as you do need to follow the story fairly well or at least verify that on the fly I’m not changing a major plot point for no reason. This mean the game generally runs with less of a flow. The Dragon Age module actually runs pretty smoothly, but a lot of that was because it was a very simple straight forward module. I also felt like I couldn’t go off script because I know a little Dragon Age lore, but it’s just from the game, other players knew way more than I did. The one issue that wasn’t my personal preference about not running modules that I have was that there were a ton of NPC’s, and a lot of NPC’s with stat blocks. The issue with that is that it means those NPC’s are supposed to be in combat. So we had 4 players, 6 monsters and 4 NPC’s in the final combat, and it could have been five NPC’s. Any time I see a module doing that it makes me sad, because it’s taking focus off of the players. However, the module is balanced for that, so it’s risky to remove those NPC’s.
The game itself has a well written book. I’ve heard, but we didn’t get to high levels yet, that the balancing of the various classes is all over the board and that eventually rogues tank just as well as fighters. The information is laid out nicely and it gives you a ton of options. Literally a ton, the book is giant. However, it combines the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Players Handbook, and Monster Manual all into one. While Dragon Age only has 3 different classes, Rogue, Mage, and Wizard, the classes from the video games; it gives you a ton of variability within the class. A rogue can be ranged or sneaky or stabby, a fighter can fight with a bow if you wanted or with a great two handed sword or a sword and shield and mages have a plethora of different magic options to diversify into. I think the biggest way the game let’s you diversify is with the races as you have various different Dalish elves (the elves in the computer game) that you can play depending on what you want your backstory to be and what class you want to play. The downside to this is that you need to know the world of Dragon Age some before selecting a character, otherwise the options don’t mean all that much. This compared to either Dungeons and Dragons or the Star Wars RPG that plays with more common character types that people are more familiar with, so it makes it easier for people to pick up.
The biggest feature and issue that I have with the game comes mechanically. Instead of a Dungeons and Dragons style die system like a lot of games have where you roll a D20 (twenty sided die) and add something, in Dragon Age, you roll three D6’s (six sided dice). This means that the math is slightly different from other games, which isn’t a big deal while running a module. Two of the dice are supposed to be the same looking, and one should look different. The different die is known as your “dragon die”. If you get doubles on any of your dice when doing an attack or casting a spell, you stunt. You then get stunt points equal to what is facing up on your dragon die. Stunting allows you to do cool extra things, like ignore half an enemies defense or deal extra damage. As compared to a critical hit in Dungeons and Dragons or a triumph in the Star Wars RPG, stunts happen a lot more often. How often they happen is and isn’t my issue with them. It isn’t an issue because it’s still exciting for players when they happen and you still feel a little bit like you’ve just had a critical hit. The issue with it is that picking out and spending your stunt points is not a fast process. There are multiple stunts all at varying point levels, so do you want to spend two points on these two things or three points on that one thing and then do something less with your last point? With the monsters they at least tell you what the monsters favorite stunts are in order so it goes fast for them, but as players and as often as stunts happen, it slows down the game and combat.
In our game, we just used stunting in combat. And in the module there was a lot of combat. In Dragon Age, combat itself is quite brutal in terms of resource management which is similar to D&D and other games. The reason I call out just using stunting in battle is that you can technically choose to use stunts for more mundane activities as well. This takes away from the role playing aspect of the game and makes it into a roll playing game instead. As compared to D&D, Dragon Age focuses a to more on the dice, but a more apt game to compare it to is the Fantasy Flight Star Wars game which has you rolling a handful of dice at all times. In my opinion, while the Star Wars game can bog down with the dice as well at times, it does so less. There’s one major reason, in Dragon Age, the extra time spent on the dice is mechanical. In the Star Wars game, it’s much more focused on adding to the story. So even in the Star Wars game where eventually you’re doing less story and more mechanical things because you don’t know what to do with all the advantages and disadvantages, it’s still allowing for story based things and out of combat it allows for that as compared to out of combat stunts which are still more mechanically focused.
So, I’ve hit on the big things with the Dragon Age RPG, how well do I like it overall? I think it’s a fine system that feels like it tries to emulate a video game RPG a fair amount. While it isn’t my cup of tea as much as a more free form system like Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition or most definitely the Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight is, some of that comes from me having run a module. There’s just too much busy work for me to really want to run a game in the world. I would be interested in trying Fantasy Age, also from Green Ronin, which is using the Dragon Age system but is more generic. The reason for that is it gives more world flexibility and the freedom to play wherever you want without worrying about messing up cannon. I also think that I can run a game with more interesting characters in the Dragon Age world with a Dungeons and Dragons rule set than I could with Dragon Age RPG. But as a way to get someone to try out a pen and paper RPG who wouldn’t normally otherwise, but would try Dragon Age because of the video games, it’s not a bad spot to jump in.
Have you played/run either the Dragon Age RPG or the Fantasy Age RPG based off of the same system? How well have you liked it?
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