Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taking Dragon Age for a test drive

Our regular Friday night group was down two players last week, so our GM asked me to run something as a one-shot. We also had D. and PJ as guest players. There are a couple of systems that we have wanted to try out, one of them being Dragon Age. I had the quickstart module from Free RPG Day so I read through the rules and adventure a couple of times and printed off the character and reference sheets.
The players chose the character sheets at random and I went over the basics of the rules as presented in the quickstart and the single page of world background. With all of us full of homemade apple crisp, the players sat back as I began reading the boxed text from the module...
My intention was to run it cold. That is, reading the boxed text verbatim (just like the old days) and following the adventure as described without much of my own added embellishment. I wanted to see what it might be like for brand-new players coming to the game without any RPG history. I knew nothing about the DA storyline. We had one player in the group who had played the video game, and he helped to explain some of the background knowledge that the characters would know.
We thought the rules worked pretty well. It is a brand-new rule set created for DA that Green Ronin calls the AGE system, using 3d6. I like the dragon die mechanic for gaining stunting points. Combat was slower than I expected. Once players have a good sense of what various possible stunts can be done without scanning the reference sheet, combat should get faster. I would also like to see more available stunt options. There was thought that it would nicely for a short-run campaign of maybe a dozen sessions. AGE isn't dependent on the Dragon Age setting, so it would work fairly generically with any setting. Without knowing what the rest of the rules are like, especially character advancement, I don't have a clear verdict on AGE yet.
The module presented in the quickstart, titled "An Arl's Ransom", is a great adventure scenario with plenty of combat and roleplay opportunities, a good twist and moral choices presented for the players to puzzle over. Depending on the actions of the PCs, there are a couple of directions that the plot could go, and the text presents ideas on what could happen. It also gives advice on what scenes to cut for time (I dropped the fight with the blight owls).
It is meant to be a starting point for a DA campaign, and we thought it worked well. That said, I wonder if the module is a little too complicated for first-time role-players. The DA rules are easy enough to get. It's the complications and the multiple directions that the story could follow in the module that I think might make it difficult for new players. A brand new GM might have enough trouble trying to get the rules down without the added difficulty of multiple NPCs with various and shifting plots and plans.
If you haven't played Dragon Age yet, I would highly recommend downloading the quickstart and give it a try.

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