Dragon Age RPG Set 2 Review
In 2009, Green Ronin released their Dragon Age RPG (DA:RPG) box, reminiscent of the old 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons cardboard box sets released by TSR. Since I had already played and was a big fan of Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins game, I was curious how Green Ronin would translate a computer role-playing game property into a pen-and-paper role-playing game. After picking up the box, skeptical about a licensed product, I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a system-light role-playing game that was easy to learn, innovative (the Stunts system), flexible, and fun to play. The game later went on to be nominated for the Origins Awards: Best Role-playing Game and is still in the top five selling role-playing games for 2011.
In DA:RPG Box Set 1, we were introduced to the world of Thedas, the Blight, and the core system rules (the AGE system) for adventuring in Ferelden for character level 1-5. One year later that planned, Green Ronin has released their second Dragon Age boxed product.
Like its predecessor, Set 2 ships in the same sturdy cardboard box and contains some familiar contents:
- A Game Master’s Guide (building on Set 1 lore and rules for adventuring in Thedas)
- A Player’s Guide (covering new options for characters levels 6-10)
- A poster map showing a much larger part of Thedas: Ferelden, Orlais, Nevarra, the Free Marches, Antiva, Rivain, Per Vollen, Seheron, the Tevinter Imperium, and the Anderfels.
New to this edition are the cardboard reference cards for your players containing access to the game’s Spell Stunts, Combat Actions List (Major / Minor), Combat Stunts, and the newly added Magical Mishaps, Exploration and Roleplaying Stunts tables.
The most anticipated addition to Set 2 is the inclusion of the Grey Wardens. Featured prominently in Bioware’s CRPG, they were notably absent from Set 1 and lamented by players and fans. Where the GM’s guide contains historical information regarding the Blights and the rise of the Grey Wardens to combat them, the Player’s Guide covers rules for creation and play of Grey Warden characters.
The 80 page Game Master’s Guide follows the tradition from the first box set in giving thoughtful and practical advice, with accompanying examples, from running campaigns (using frameworks as a way to keep the focus of why a party is together, goals they share, and helping a GM plan what happens next) to building and designing combat, exploration, and roleplaying encounters.
The book includes 17 new adversaries for your players to encounter. Many are already familiar to players of the Dragon Age: Origins CRPG such as the Genlock Alpha and Ogre to more mundane entries like the Great Bear or the Halla: the fabled white stags of the Dalish. Each entry is accompanied by stat blocks, lore, and rules on how to alter their stats make challenging epic adversaries.
Green Ronin have introduced a new gameplay mechanic called ”Honorifics” (earned reputations that have a concrete effect on gameplay). As an example, the ”Favored of Fate” honorific can be earned by a player for ”one or more staggering events of good-fortune or serendipity”, which allow them to add +1 to a Dragon Die roll to create Doubles, if where there were none, once per game.
Kaitlin rolls the dice for her attack and they come up 4, 5, and 3 (Dragon Dice). Needing a roll of 13 or more, she decides to use the ”Favored of Fate” honorific. This would allow her to change the 3 (Dragon Die) to a 4 (making Doubles), increasing the total roll to 13 and rewarding her with 4 Stunt Points to use in her round.
With new crafting Talents added to the Player’s Guide, rules for the creation of Masterwork and Superior Items (weapons and armor) have been introduced, as well as new magic items (temporary and permanent) that are appropriate for player levels 6 through 10.
The remaining 40 pages contains a fairly large adventure, ”The Autumn Falls”, designed for 5th to 7th level characters. Like the adventure preceding it in Set 1, this adventure eases players into the set’s new level range of play, allowing them a chance to explore a part of Thedas not covered in Set 1, and use new mechanics available for characters. Within the large port city of Cumberland, in Nevarra, ”The Grand Tourney” (one of most famous events in the Free Marches) is taking place. Rainer Aehrenthal, a wealthy and ambitious merchant prince and patron of the tourney, has promised a legendary Dwarven hammer as prize for the ”Autumn Falls” event; attracting the attentions of dwarves from the thaigs of Orzammar and, almost forgotten, Kal-Sharok. Unfortunately, the contest has also drawn undesirable attention of dark forces, which could have severe consequences for all of Thedas, if not dealt with by the adventurers.
The bulk of new content in this set will be found inside the 80 page Player’s Guide. New rules for character generation (assigned ability scores or point buy), added lore on the Grey Wardens, the role of religion and beliefs for all races in Thedas (including the Qun philosophy and the Elven pantheon), and a comprehensive overview of the dwarven city of Orzammar and it’s society. This draws a lot of the detail found in the first CRPG, Dragon Age: Origins.
New ethnic and race backgrounds provide players with new options, such as the Qunari (the large giant-like people known as the Kossith in the CRPG), the sea-faring Antivans, the cultured Orlesians, or one of the many caste roles of the Orzammar dwarves. Level specific bonuses have been extended for each of the base Mage, Rogue, and Warrior classes, as well as adding the Master degree to all previous Talents found in Set 1; including newly added poison and trap-making. Focuses have also been expanded to accomodate the new Grey Warden powers, the Qun philosophy, Blood magic, Poison Lore, Grenades (ranged grenade crafting and use), and Trap-Making (covering crafting and disarming). A rules framework with examples is supplied for incorporating poisions, grenades, and traps for use by both the players and the GM in your game.
Unlocking at level 6, the new class Specialization mechanic allow players to focus their character class further. Mages now have access to the Arcane Warrior (a melee-based spellcaster), Blood Mage (wielder of forbidden Blood magic) or Spirit Healer (healing and buffing spellcaster). Warriors can become Beserkers (rage-fuelled fighters), Champions (inspiring leaders of battle), or Templars (watchmen of the Circle of magi and hunters of apostates). Lastly, Rogues may choose the Assassin (masters in the art of death), Bard (spy/musician/saboteur), or Duelist (dual-wielding melee fighters). Each specialization comes with unique Focus options, similiar to how Class bonuses work, with Novice, Journeyman, and Master degrees granting increasingly powerful bonuses and game effects.
The Magic section of the guide contains useful background information on the Circle of Magi (their organization and hierarchy) and the Templars (new Specialization class for Warriors), as well as adding the new forbidden spell school of Blood magic, and additional higher powered spells, such as Revive; the ability to resurrect your fallen allies. Set 1 introduced spell casting strain, in the form of mana drain, for the basic spells included. Set 2 adds the addtional risk of casting spells in the form of Spell Mishaps; negative consequences activated by a failed casting roll and rolling a 1 on the Dragon Die while casting spells that have a listed requirement to cast; such as ”Blood Sacrifice” requiring the caster to have the Blood Mage specialization.
New Stunts have been added to the Set 1 Combat Stunts (such as Taint and Lethal Blow) while providing new out-of-combat Stunts for exploration and role-playing. The mechanics work the same way as Combat Stunts – You roll a test and on a success, with Doubles, the Dragon Die provides Stunt points you can spend from the lists provided. As with most mechanics in Dragon Age, it’s up to the GM to decide when it is appropriate to use the new Stunts, to avoid bogging down play with unnecessary calls for rolling dice.
Set 2 provides many necessary additions to the Dragon Age Role-playing Game that I wish they had included in Set 1; such as the Grey Wardens and the rules for poisons, grenades, trap making. In some cases, this set feels more like Set 1.5, since many of new features incorporate elements found in Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II games that were notably absent; possibly due to the inherent problems of relying on information from the outside license holder, Bioware/EA. It is uncertain if the exploration and role-playing Stunts will be a useful addition to the system. I understand they are there to complete the Stunts system for handling outside-combat situations but would have to use them in play to see how they work and what they add to play. With the already successful and unique Combat Stunts system, I am willing to give Green Ronin the benefit of the doubt. In spite of the large volume of new content, for both GM’s and players, the additions to the AGE system still manage to feel ”light”, allowing lots of opportunity for ”house rules” and creation of new content using the rules as a template.
It is appropriate that as the player characters grow in experience, the area they can explore also expands; incorporating the lands and cultures surrounding Ferelden.
The inclusion of a larger adventure in the GM’s guide is welcome, not only for introducing new elements of play, but also giving a sense of maturation for the system; it feels more sophisticated than previous offerings in Set 1 (”The Dalish Curse”) and ”Blood in Ferelden”. I am sure that Green Ronin’s decision, similiar to Paizo (makers of the Pathfinder RPG), in having extensive open playtesting for this set helped aid this process.
Overall, Set 2 is a worthwhile addition for players looking to advance and explore new character options and levels of play. For GM’s, it allows incorporation of a larger part of the world to build more sophisticated stories, adventures, and campaigns for your players.
For more information on the Dragon Age world, I highly recommend you check out the Dragon Age Wiki.
Here you will find a lot of additional information on subjects covered in the boxed sets but with greater detail taken from the Dragon Age CRPG.
For those unfamiliar with the Dragon Age Role-playing Game, but want to learn more about the world and the AGE system, Green Ronin recently released a Quickstart PDF.http://pokupo.com/2011/08/29/dragon-age-rpg-set-2-review/Tabletop GamesAGE,DARPG,Dragon Age RPG