Dragon Age

I had a lot of fun on my first playthough of the Dragon Age computer game, even if I never could finish a second playthrough.  So I am looking forward to Dragon Age 2 in a few weeks.  After looking at the developer’s notes for the tabletop adaptation by Green Ronin, I picked that up as a simple to use RPG.  While I like it, it has a few problems. 

One of these, which Green Ronin has no control over, is that Dragon Age 2 is coming out, and its making some changes to the game system.  I watched some of these in a livecast demo and Q&A session, and they look nifty – I liked the way the new talent trees are presented, and the concept of building cross-class synergy into the trees.  For example, a mage talent can let them do x6 damage versus staggered targets, but to make a target staggered you need a warrior.  All this has made it hard for Green Ronin to release the promised second set for their RPG, although they did put a beta out for playtesting.

Some of the problems, however, are of Green Ronin’s own devising.  In the computer game all three classes (Mage, Warrior, Rogue) have an energy system called stamina.  Part of your stamina pool can be invested in passive buffs, and part left for active sue by talented abilities. Stamina slowly regenerates and healers can help boost it as well.  It works okay.  In the RPG, however, only Mages have an energy resource mechanic – mana – for use with their spells.  Warriors and Rogues get nothing: fundamentally they are back in classic RPG days of swinging a sword repetitively, at least until they get a stunt roll (about a 40% chance) which allows them do funky moves.  The plus side of not have an energy resource is that there is less book keeping involved.

I also found in play, that spell debuffs that work fine in a rapid-moving computer game, such as a paralysis spell that lasts 1d6+6 rounds, are a complete disaster in a slow-moving table-top game where no character has any ability to remove such a debuff (short of GM fiat or divine intervention).

The other big problem, is that while Rogues and Warriors do want to spend their experience gain across a broad range of attributes (strength, dexterity and constitution for offensive and defensive abilities), Mages want one attribute and one attribute only – Magic.  The Magic attribute increases their mana pool, their chance of successfully casting a spell, the difficulty of resisting their spells, and the power of their magic wand (which functions as their default attack if they don’t want to cast a spell).  They have no reason to boost their other ‘primary’ attributes.  This can be fixed, mainly by tying abilities like the spellcasting bonus to other stats (such as Cunning), but I can’t do this mid-campaign (both my mages intuitively min-maxed their characters and howled when I suggested a balancing fix).

Now one reason for wanting all three character roles to have their own resource system is that you can make interesting decisions in-game about when to spend the resource.  It also avoids Flat Mana Battery syndrome, where the mage unleashes hell in the first encounter, then complains of a headache and retires back to the tavern for a cuppa and a lie down … until their mana pool is replenished.  So I spent a little time brainstorming some generic uses for such a resource system within the AGE 3d6 + stunts framework.

(1) Fatigue: allow characters to spend energy so as to succeed on tasks.  So if a target number (TN) is 17 and they roll a 13, then by spending four energy points they can succeed and roll damage.  Players would be encouraged to do this whenever they have a double and potential stunt to use, so while potentially open to abuse, it does give them some narrative control: “I really, really, want to hit the bad guy on the horse fleeing into the distance…”

(2) Stunt Size: allow characters to spend energy to increase the value of their stunt die roll.  I would be inclined to limit this to double the value of the actual roll, or to build in some kind of scaling, otherwise most stunt rolls could be turned into 6s, whch eans the lower value stunts might never be used.

(3) Stunt Effectiveness: allow charcters to spend energy points to boost the efectiveness of individual stunts.  Similar to 2, but the charcter choices are a bit more constrained by the RNG of the initial roll.

(4) Rerolls: a more RNG dependent version of (1), where you spend energy to roll a die again, but there is less chance of success.

(5) Talent Triggers: build energy point usage into individual talents, e.g. letting a rogue do more damage, or additional effects (such as a bleed or stun) with their standard backstab ability.

(6) Last Stand: a special ability that could only be triggered with your very last energy point, e.g. a warrior’s beserker rage, or a mage breaking their magic staff in a fiery explosion.

At any rate, my brain is thinking, and I’ll be trying to deconstruct the Dragon Age 2 talent trees and thinking how they can be reworked into the tabletop RPG, along with some kind of reworked energy system for all three classes.

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