Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Return to Dragon Age RPG?

(image from Green Ronin website)

For some reason lately my mind had been turning to the Dragon Age RPG published by Green Ronin.

My first encounter with the game occurred in 2010, when the players in my previous RPG group bought me Set 1 of the RPG and forced me to GM for them. They have all played the computer version of the game, and wanted to experience it in tabletop RPG form. I played the computer game, enjoyed it, and then proceeded to run Red Hand of Doom using the rules.

But a few sessions in, I decided I didn't like the rules, and persuaded them to switch to Savage Worlds instead. We played through the remainder of the campaign with Savage Worlds rules, and I thought that was the end of my involvement with the DA rules.

Then in 2016, when I decided to start GMing again, I learned that the Dragon Age rules had now been compiled from three separate boxed sets into a ingle rulebook. Now by then D&D 5E had been published, but I chose DA over 5E, and recruited a group of players for the campaign. I once again ran Red Hand of Doom, and we managed to complete the campaign and start the next arc of the campaign. However, we began to have problems with scheduling, and so I decided to put the campaign on hiatus and switch to a sci-fi campaign using Savage Worlds rules and a different scheduling system. Again, I thought this was the end of my involvement with DA.

In 2017 I started playing D&D 5E at local Adventurers League events as a player, but at my sister-in-law's insistence I had to learn the 5E rules (using the books I borrowed from FG - I still do not own my own copies of the basic rulebooks) so I could DM for my family. I enjoyed the 5E rules enough, and of course they were more "universal", and since 2018 they have been the mainstay for my fantasy campaigns. This was also when I decided to start chronicling my sessions on this blog.

But now, even as I am looking to start another 5E campaign in May, my thoughts turn once again to Dragon Age.

Previously, I had thought that the rules were clunky, compared to what I was familiar with, like Savage Worlds and Dragon Warriors. When I started playing 5E, I felt that 5E was a more elegant system, even if mechanically DA and 5E were very similar: they were basically the same game except DA used 3d6 while 5E used 1d20. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that DA was actually published before 5E was.

One of the things DA was infamous for was the hit-point bloat. This, coupled with the way armour worked, meant that fights can last a very long time, with characters using lighter weapons being unable to do very much against heavily armoured foes.

The advancement system was also complicated, with things like Focuses, Talents, and Specialisations to consider.

The casting of spells also took longer than it did in 5E, requiring a roll to cast a spell, with different modifiers depending on whether your character had a Focus in the same school as the spell, and a different target number for each spell, and then for some spells a saving throw on the part of the target of the spell.

What I did love however was the presence of spell trees, which was something I think is thematic and but have so far failed to implement in 5E.

Now, with a few years of 5E under my belt, and having learned more about the history of D&D and having had some exposure to OSR, I feel I am more ready to handle the complexity of the DA rules. There are issues still, but I think I am now more confident of tweaking the stats and playing fast and loose with the way monsters and NPCs are stat-ted to make the game feel less of a slog.

What does this all mean then?

I have been thinking of picking up our Dragon Age campaign, perhaps continuing one of the PC's quest of reclaiming his family thaig from the Darkspawn, maybe using the Dwarrowdeep megadungeon. Of course, whether that will happen will depend on how much the module fits my concept, and in any case it will probably not happen this year as our next campaign, scheduled from May to perhaps November, will also be a fantasy campaign.

If you are a fan of the Dragon Age RPG, do let me know about the games you have played and plan to play, and what house rules you have implemented to make your games better.

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