I first heard about Green Ronin’s licensing deal to make a tabletop role-playing game based off the Bioware Dragon Age franchise right after finishing Dragon Age: Origins. Since I had already been exposed to the source material in the video game, I was curious how the world Bioware created would translate into a tabletop game. I had never played any other games made by Green Ronin (GR) before so it was only after extensive research on the internet and Green Ronin’s own website, I eventually picked up a box for myself. Green Ronin had already an extensive back catalogue of published games and systems, such as Freeport, True 20, and Mutants & Masterminds so I was expecting Dragon Age to use one of these as a basis for its rules. However, from interviews with Chris Pramas (founder and publisher of GR), it was stated repeatedly that this would a whole new system built from the ground up; referred to as the AGE system. With the box in my hands, I was immediately reminded of my old Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, which contained everything I needed to start running and playing that game. It was also apparent that, while Dragon Age RPG (DARPG) draws heavily on the source material that Bioware has created, keeping a lot of names and terms the same, it has also required them to alter things to fit the internal logic and mechanics of a tabletop system.
The cardboard box contains:
- A 64 page Game Master’s Guide
- A 64 page Player’s Guide (for character levels 1-5)
- A Poster Map of Ferelden
- Three six-sided dice (2 white, 1 red “Dragon Die”)
Like many fantasy adventure RPGs, Dragon Age follows the model of separating the Player and Game Master (GM) books; perhaps an homage to the old Dungeons and Dragons books. Having two books is also practical, allowing one book to float among the players as reference, leaving the GM free to consult his guide at any time; something many players of any edition of D&D can appreciate. Quickly reading through both books, you can feel that Green Ronin wanted to make a game inspired by classic game systems; rules-light and simple. Comparing it to my old 1e D&D Basic Set book, a fully self-contained system in its own right, the similarities are apparent. At the same time DARPG is a modern game that benefits from three decades of game design.
At the core of AGE, the mechanic for resolution is the three six-sided dice roll (thus their inclusion with the box) with most dice tests either an ability test (Basic Test) or rolling against another 3d6 roll (Opposed Test). Rolling doubles (same value on two or more dice) on a successful roll allows you to use the red die or “Dragon Die” for acquiring Stunt Points or indicating degree of success. In Opposed Tests, tie-breakers are usually resolved by whoever has the highest “Dragon Die” value. For more advanced tests, like those that cannot be resolved with a single dice roll or require a longer time to complete, you roll to beat a “success threshold”; determining how long a task takes to perform and to what degree of success did a player perform it.
Dragon Age assumes no prior experience with tabletop role-playing games and introduces basic concepts to new players; what is role-playing, what is an adventure, what it means to be part of a group, and how dice mechanics work.
The starting setting for Box 1 is the country of Ferelden, part of the larger continent of Thedas, shown on the included map in the box. This appears a conscious decision since it is also the same setting for Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins and would be the most flushed out for Green Ronin to work with in terms of lore, history, and locations. Players are provided a historic time-line of the nation’s Nine Ages (100 year blocks of time) from where the current one, marked by the return of near-extinct dragons , the term “Dragon Age” comes from. We are also introduced to the Blights, where darkspawn (twisted, foul beings) converge in the deep depths of the world, corrupt dragons into archdemons, and rise up to lay waste to the living on the surface. In the setting of the game, the Dragon Age is also the beginning of the fifth Blight in Thedas’ history. Later sets are promised to expand to the surrounding countries and open up more of the world to play (see my review for Dragon Age Set 2).
Character creation is broken down for players into steps that will take you through the bulk of the Player’s Guide. The book recommends you start off with a high concept of what your character is about, which in turn, informs your decisions on what background, class, skills, and talents to choose as you go through the creation process.
Abilities are how your character is defined in game mechanic terms and determined by a rolling three six-sided dice and consulting a chart included with the game. Random ability scores is one of the more old school touches in an otherwise modern game. Ability scores range from Very Poor (-2) to Outstanding (4) and determine your character’s strength and weaknesses. The eight abilities are as follows : Communication, Constitution, Cunning, Dexterity, Magic, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. During play, the most common rolls performed are 3d6, adding the relevant ability score, and any other bonuses/penalties to the roll.
Ability Focuses allow you to customize your character further, to differentiate them from other similar characters. These Focuses grant you an immediate +2 bonus to dice rolls for tests against them. A common example would be an Initiative roll, which is usually a 3d6 + Dexterity ability score roll. Choosing the Dexterity (Initiative) focus, all your initiative rolls become 3d6 + your Dexterity ability score + your focus bonus (+2). Focuses are granted at the start of character creation through your chosen background, class, and talents. While Set 1 contains an extensive list of focuses for players to choose from, future sets will include more focuses to choose from.
Choosing a background determines your character’s culture and upbringing. In game terms, it usually will increase your ability scores, allow you specific focuses, determine your race (dwarf, elf, or human – more on races later), determine what classes you can pick, and what language you can speak and read. For Set 1, the backgrounds you can choose from are:
Apostate – It is illegal to practice magic outside the Circle of Magi. Apostates are magic users who either defy this law or learned magic that pre-dated the formation of the Chantry (human religious organization in Thedas) and are constantly in fear of being hunted by Chantry Templars; whose job is to hunt down apostates.
Avvarian Hillsman – Strong and proud hillsmen from the Frostback mountains.
Circle Mage – Magic users who have trained and studied with the Circle of Magi and are licensed to use magic.
City Elf – Elves live as second-class citizens, in Thedas, due to losing their culture and homelands after a succession of wars with the Tevinter Imperium and, later, an Exalted March by the Chantry. Today, most city elves have forgotten the culture of their heritage, their language, and are forced to live in segregated sections of cities called “alienages”.
Dalish Elf – Dalish elves are descendant of those that would not bend to human will. Though they are forced to roam the land in aravels (ornate wagons) with no homeland to call their own, they still maintain their ancient culture and lore, hoping for the day another Elven homeland is established.
Ferelden Freeman – The majority of Ferelden’s human population is made up of freemen; those who are free to seek their fortunes in the world.
Surface Dwarf – Dwarven society has a rigid caste system and surface dwarves, who usually play a vital role in establishing trade with the people of the surface world, are looked down upon as the lowest caste; only slightly better than casteless and criminals. Most dwarven adventurers are of this caste.