Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dragon Age RPG

The Dragon Age RPG is one I've been excited about for a while, not because it's based on a video game I'm nuts for, but because of its avowed goal of being a game to bring people into the hobby. Games make that claim all the time, but there were three things going on with DARPG that raised my interest: It's a boxed set (hopefully a real one, not a faux one like the 4e starter set), it's got a hook into a good franchise that is neither too weird nor too overwhelming but can still bring in eyeballs, and it's by Green Ronin, a company that I would describe as pretty darn sharp.

As if to demonstrate that sharpness, Green Ronin put DARPG up for preorder recently, and offered up a free PDF along with the preorder. It boggles my mind that this is not standard practice, but it's not, so GR gets props for a smart move. They get an initial wave of buzz and interest based off people reading and talking about the PDF, and they hopefully can build on that when the actual game releases.

It's also a move that benefits me a lot because, hey, I get to read it. I'm always happy to cheer on my own enlightened self interest.

Here's the short form: The Dragon Age RPG looks to have the shortest distance from opening the box to playing at the table of any game I've seen in over a decade, possibly since red box D&D.[1] It is not a revolutionary game by any stretch of the imagination, and for most gamers with a few games under it's belt, it's going to seem absolutely tired. Old ideas like random chargen and hit points are all over the place. With the exception of the Dragon Die and the stunt system, experienced gamers aren't goignt fo find much new here.

But that makes it exactly what it should be. As a game for existing gamers, Dragon Age is ok, but not as impressive as other Green Ronin offerings. As a game for a new gamer, it's exactly right.

First, by sticking to very strongly established mechanics (many of which will be at least conversationally familiar to people who've played video games) with a minimum of complexity, they've made a game that is easy to learn to play. The simplicity, brevity (main rulebook is 64 pages) and the clarity[2] combine to make a game that can be learned from the text, without depending on arcane oral tradition. I think back to my youth and this seems a very big deal.

Second, the setting is equally familiar. Not just because some players will know it from the video game, but because the video game's setting is designed to be quickly recognizable. Elves live in the woods and have bows. Dwarves live underground and have axes. Humans run the show. Magic is mysterious and risk-filled. Sure, each of these points has more depth as you drill into them, but the basic are immediately recognizable to anyone with a little pop culture knowledge.

Last, the game minimizes the barriers to play by avoiding the temptation of weird dice. By making it playable with nothing but the dice you can salvage from a Risk box, you get a couple of advantages. There's no awkwardness as you finish reading the rules but find yourself needing to wait until you've taken a trip to that creepy store [3] to get supplies. There's more of a sense of the familiar. And perhaps best of all, you can scale up with your group size - adding a few more d6s is a lot easier than, say, having to share one set of polyhedrals.

Put it all in a box set and you've got a product that I'm really excited about. I could see giving this game as a gift to a non-player, and that's almost unprecedented.

Now, it's not all sunshine and puppies. As noted the game is pretty simple (though I admit it's at a level of simplicity I dig, since I think my wife would not be bothered by it) and a few corners got cut to support the size and the release schedule. You can't play a Grey Warden, which is kind of a kick in the head, since that's so central to the computer game. The logic's clear: this set covers levels 1-5, next one will be 6-10 (then 11-15 and 16-20 or so I understand) and subsequent sets will be adding rules for things like specialty careers including things like Grey Warden. I suspect we'll also get magic items and runes in later sets too.

There are a few layout decisions that raise my eyebrow - magic precedes combat, which is weird in terms of the order rules are explained for example - but they're all quickly set aside by the presence of indexes, glossary and comprehensive reference pages. It should not be so exciting to me to see a game do what should be the basics, but it is.

The sample adventure is in the GM's book rather than in its own booklet. This makes sense in terms of cost, and it's not a bad thing, but I admit I flash back to my well worn copy of Keep on the Borderlands, and I regret that as long as they were trying to recapture the magic of redbox, they didn't revive that tradition.

And that's really what's going on here. Unlike the old school, this is not an attempt to recreate old D&D, rather, it's an attempt to answer the same questions, only with decades of experience with how it went the first time. This makes the choices of what rules are included (and which ones aren't included) really fascinating to me. The Green Ronin guys know their stuff, and you can assume every choice in the design is a deliberate one.

Choices like a very traditional hit point and damage system are not made because they couldn't think of another way, but rather because that choice maximized the accessibility of the game. On reading, it really feels like they pulled it off, and I'm genuinely excited to give it a play sometime and find out. One way or another I wish them luck: success with a game designed to bring new players into the hobby benefits us all.

1 - The only other real contender in the intervening time is Feng Shui. There are simpler games, sure, but they lack the structure to answer the question of "OK, what do I do now?".

2 - Randomization has one huge benefit for new players - it removes optimization choices. There's more to it than that, but by putting the harder decision of chargen in the hands of the dice, game-stopping questions are removed from play.

3- Yes, that's an unfair characterization, but not everyone is lucky enough to be near one of the many friendly, clean, well lit gamestores with helpful staff. And even for those who are, the store is an unknown, and unknowns are scary and off-putting, especially for teenagers.


  1. It's hard to believe this came from the same company that produced the Song of Ice and Fire RPG.

    We just got done playing a campaign of that, and we hated the book. It was poorly laid out and made actually looking up rules extremely difficult, even if the system itself was quite interesting.

  2. @stephen Simplicity really pays off, but I concede it's double edged. It's not entirely accurate to describe the game as the finest gaming technology 1986 had to offer, but there's a seed of truth to that - enough to potentially turn off more established gamers who may reasonably ask "What does this game give me that I don't already have?"

    I mean, I know what the answer is for me - on the spectrum of complexity, this particular wavelength is one that I like and I don't see enough other games occupying - but that's entirely idiosyncratic.

    -Rob D.

  3. I think one of my amateur hobbies is marketing (one of the reasons why I'm so enthusiastic about the Age of Persuasion radio show) and the idea of marketing gaming to a broader group is one that I'm constantly running over the squeaky hamster wheel in my head.

    One thing I've been pondering is how to create a rudimentary role-playing system to put in the back of novels like Twilight that provides structure for fan-fiction chat rooms. It might be actually more efficient to just include the rules at the chat room, but it's an incomplete idea.

    Really anything to bring more people into the hobby and remove the barriers to entry to stepping into a creepy game store are a good thing. Recognizable and familiar IP's as role-playing games is essential to that. If Eden had made Buffy like Dragon Age in a boxed set and had the resources to put it in the games isle of a Wal Mart then we very well might have seen a hobby resurgence based on Buffy.

  4. here's my problem -- I don't believe randomness is the answer to accessibility. I think accessibility is better served by making directed, focused choices. My experience with "newbies" in RPGs is that the worse thing you can do for most people is to ask them something open ended, or make a bunch of choices from a bunch of random things.

    I think that DA would be better taking a cue from it's source material. What if character creation was a script, a dialogue or set of questions -- I'm thinking Ultima here -- answer questions in story, boom, character made for you.

    Since I'm so boldly declaring what I think, I'll say that I pretty much lost interest in DARPG when I found out about the random chargen and "no hand-holding" Old school survivalist mentality. I mean, does anyone like the video game for the dungeon crawl aspects? Combat is terrible, as these things go. Dialogue and story are king.

    I'm sure I'll check it out at some point just to see, but otherwise I'm feeling let down from what I'm hearing.

  5. @helmsman Weirdly, that puts me in mind of presenting "Writing games" in such a context. A premise and setup, involving the characters from the books, but with enough leeway for a little Mary Sue action (or for, y'know, actual writing). It'd effectively be 'rules' for Fanfic, but I could see it totally working, especially as it can create a common language. If you give the games distinctive names/titles, then people can talk about and compare _their_ version of "Edward's Dilemma" or the like.

    Hell, if you had an actual publishing company looking to drive this, you could even make contests out of it. Fans would eat it up with a spoon (though god have mercy on the fellow judging submissions).

    -Rob D.

  6. "god have mercy on the fellow judging submissions"

    TRUE DAT! Such a person I suspect would need a great deal of pharmaceutical TLC to be re-introduced into functional society at the end of each work-day.


  7. @gamefiend I think I very much gave the wrong impression of the randomness if it sounds old school survivalist. That would be utter crap if so.

    So, the randomness comes up twice. The first is generating stats, and while that's the classic 3d6 model, it's got a tighter, friendly curve than 3e/true20. It's hard to do too badly, and the gap between badly and well is fairly small. Obviously, this can be mitigated further, but even left as is, it is nowhere near the screw of the old school.

    The other element of randomness takes on the much more positive "which good thing do you get?" shape with the stuff you get for you background. I'm actually 100% good with this, since this is one of the best uses of randomness n chargen in my mind.

    Combined, those make for a certain tone, but it's a tone far removed from trying to do AD&D with a crap spread.

    The tradeoff, and there is one, is that you explicitly _don't_ get the identical all-or-nothing stat builds that 4e point-buy tends to produce, and you _especially_ don't get new players wondering about making "The right choice" in their stat distribution (Oh sweet god, if there's anything that driven women form the hobby, it's the helpful guys looking to address that "right choice" issue). Being able to skip past that and directly to "and now what do you want to do with it?" is a huge plus for a game whose priority is getting to play quickly.

    (And, to be frank, the Green Ronin guys are smart enough to know when to leave out an egg - this is just an OBVIOUS houserule hook, that I'd be shocked if it wasn't intentional)

    Now, I'll be the fist to point to the problems randomness can cause in chargen, especially when it's blatantly unfair, but it does have certain concrete virtues that DA embraces.

    Not to say it's the game for you. You've got enough system foo in your head that I won't be shocked if it feels like a massive downgrade by comparison. And it might even be so, depending upon what your priorities are.

    It's the difference between a crap game, and a well designed game with different priorities than the reader. Too hell with the first, but viva the latter!

    -Rob D.

  8. I'm really dubious about your assertion that it is accessible to a non gamer audience. In fact, my first reaction was "so much for the idea of attracting the non gamer to the game".

    Those old school bare bones type mechanics that rely so heavily on GM fiat for anything to happen...IMO that only seems simple and accessible to us grognardy types. To fresh faced newbs...aliens, bizarre, and not all that fun looking.

    I mean, no non TTRPGer is going to come to this game without having passed through DA:Origins first, right. So wouldn't the game be instantly more accessible if it was as close to the CRPG experience as possible.

    The CRPG had 6 character origins with minimal customization options. That's what the TTRPG should have done...random character generation...having to come up with your own character concept from scratch...how is that accessible to new gamers coming from the PC/console world?

    Section one of the players book should have been how to port your CRPG character over the TTRPG so you could play the ongoing adventures of the character you were already familiar with.

    Going with 3d6 rather than bizarre polys was a good move...but 3d6 and sum? That only sounds easy to us grognards who've been rolling up D&D characters since we were 10. Most folks have trouble figuring out 2d6 added together. I know, cuz I've watched them try to play Craps on casino night...they're frikkin' counting the pips one by one.

    A pc/console game does all the math for you invisibly. Doing a TTRPG that makes you do the math (and adding THREE numbers not just two to boot) is IMO the very definition of NOT accessible.

    So I guess I gotta disagree with your accessible conclusion. Accessible to gamers sure. Accessible to folks who've never played an RPG and are expecting an experience similar to the one they just had on the console...I don't see it. At all.

    In fact, the gross dissimilarity of the TTRPG to the CRPG I think will pretty much turn off any CRPG-only players who do try it out.

    I don't think it will just turn off established gamers. I think the enormous amount of work required to make an old school game function (work we take for granted) will turn off the new gamer even faster.

  9. There is a weird disconnect with the backgrounds between the game and the CRPG - admittedly it takes the form of a few more options, but it does produce some friction in mimicking a CRPG build.

    But that only touches on the question of whether or not this should have been more of "port" of the CRPG and the answer to that is, honestly, I dunno. You might be right that that would have been a more successful approach, but I feel like that would have just ended up being the equivalent of an overly-fiddly fan guide. It would have sold, but then gone nowhere.

    But that's absolutely a gut instinct read on it. I've got zero evidence I could point to one way or another.

    As for the rest, the math especially, I think the question is who the target audience is. I agree that many of these things would be barriers to a universal audience, but I think they're far less of a problem for the audience I think of as "13 year old me" - slightly dorky kids who read too much. The math of 3d6 won't daunt these kids much.

    This is, on some level, a litmus test of a lot of the claims of smaller game design. The assumption underlying DA is that people are more comfortable going towards old school ideas of GM dominance, randomness and other old ideas with only a sprinkling of newthink. That flies in the face of "good" game design to the point that it might be read as a direct challenge to it.

    That I think this will be successful may be reflective of my own deep cynicism towards some of the directions game design has gone. But it might also be my own hope for the future blinding me to reality. I honestly dunno. But I genuinely think that a lot of elements that I would categorize as problems in another game are features in DA and really will make it more accessible.

    -Rob D.

    PS - Odds are good I'll be proven wrong. Even if I'm correct in my analysis, there's a total crapshoot component to whether or not it will take off. But I'll say this: even if it fails, the arc of its flight is goign to offer us some powerful insights on what actually works and doesn't work in the market, so even if you're not going to play it, it's something to keep an eye on.

    Especially when someone decides to try to make the game that really is universal, rather than just going back to expand the base.

  10. @Valamir - You make an interesting point about GM fiat that I think is worth exploring, though I don't have any conclusion as to it's effectiveness on attracting new gamers either way.

    I can actually remember my very first game way back in I think '95 (rifts) I can recall wondering how I was supposed to play, and when I mean "how" I mean how did I make this peace of paper I'd conjured with dice and a book and a bunch of assistance from friends who'd played before interact with the game?

    I can recall the absolute primordial joy of having this new game compared to computer games as "it's like an RPG except you can do anything" which really had appeal because I'd played Fantasy Star and seen people play Final Fantasy, so I understand what it was to have a character, but all those characters could do in the game was wander around a tightly restricted map enter buildings, open chests, conjure text bubbles and swing at stuff on-command. The idea of some versatility in my actions was new and it's why I've remained an RP'er into my adulthood.

    The question is, is that impression still valid in this day and age? I believe it is, computer games have come a long way, but they're still scripted and we're still acutely aware of those scripts and programming restrictions.

    So then the question is, is facilitating that versatility better served by having inclusive mechanics that accurately model the whole new array of PC interactions that can take place, or a series of rough guidelines heavily influenced by GM fiat?

    I honestly can't say for sure, but I lean a little towards the GM fiat being a bit more acceptable in those early stages. People play with their friends, they trust those friends, otherwise they wouldn't be playing with them. They trust their friends to know the rules better than they do and I think there's a bit more of an immersive flow to asking the GM if you can do something and him giving an answer without referencing a book or giving a mechanical justification.

  11. I confess I lean toward Ralph on this one. I think the game's fine enough. I just don't think it hews closely enough to the CRPG. Another disconnect is in the questing system. That's obviously a key driver in the CRPG and totally absent from the TTRPG.

    A more rigorous questing system, not unlike 4e actually, would have suited the game nicely.

    Ironically, the GM's guide suggests the GM keep a journal, but there's no similar recommendation in the Player's Guide. Seems to me like the setting info could have been distilled like the CRPG codex that could be handed out to players for their journals.

  12. @justin The thing is, I think that you're totally right: those are things that _would_ have improved the game. And it's not just those - there are tons of things that could be added to make the game more awesome.

    But if you add them all, you get a 256 page full color hardbound book that is well liked, well received, and maybe outsells the Song of Ice & Fire RPG by a bit.

    To my mind, it took guts to not include that stuff, and to keep it as a small, easily digestable, imperfect game rather than an unapproachable* but flawless one. All these other things can (and I'm certain _will_) get added with the expansions, so that the subsequent boxes are not just more material, they're genuine expansions of the game.

    Will this approach work? I hope so, but who knows. But I'm glad they were willing to make the gamble, because the alternative is really more of the same.

    -Rob D.

    * - to non-gamers

  13. @helsman The thing about GM fiat is that I think it corresponds well with enthusiasm. That can go off the rails, sure, but giving the Gm the opportunity to be awesome and do awesome things is the trade off for him being the guy to actually buy the game, learn the rules, and get bodies to the table. It's not that the GM is the owner or go of the game, he's the advocate for the game, and the game needs advocates, especially among non-gamers.

    A game with GM fiat is trusting the GM, and that's a big deal (even if it's misplaced). I'm not always sure I want to go to bat for a game that doesn't trust me, and I definitely don't want to do it for my first game.

    -Rob D.

  14. @Helmsman
    I kind of think that GM Fiat is not only not that bad, but perhaps essential. It seems like Fiat always falls into the love it or hate it camps, especially in regards to friendliness to non-gamers. Some think fiat is too hard, too weird to newbies. Others suggest that a rigid rules structure (to eliminate fiat) is likewise intimidating and a barrier to fast play.

    Thinking back to my first RPG experiences with Shadowrun, I took to the idea of GMing even without a mentor on the process. The book was our teacher, and we got it. Likewise, I've gotten total non-gamers to play and enjoy Baron Munchausen with minimal prompting. I think the concept of telling stories is at least a little intuitive and designers need to have some trust in their audience to grasp what is going on.

  15. @rdonoghue I definitely see where you're coming from. My perspective comes largely from my wife.

    In addition to being wonderful, beautiful, and smart, my wife I've decided is the person I'd most like to build games for. Not as a system of tribute, but because she is the type of person I think most people talk about when 'new blood' becomes the topic of conversation. She can definitely dig fantasy, and she has creativity and imagination for days. She has a finely tuned nose that sniffs out good storytelling while driving back the bad.

    And you know what? She plays WoW like no tomorrow but can't get but so into the tabletop mindset.

    I've quizzed her over the course of several years of marriage, a stalking inquisition whose main thrust is discovering why she doesn't like tabletop games.

    In a large part, it's the things that myself and lifelong gamers geek out on -system and crunch.

    Myself, yourself, and probably everyone we know who games thrives on clever synergies, combinations and expressions.

    But these people who in my mind are clones and dopplegangers of my wife, they want to tell stories. They don't spend all their time playing games and won't want to if the barrier to entry is too deep.

    I guess I wanted DA tabletop to follow the strength of the computer game --how do we show people how to tell collaborative stories? Is there a game that provides directed roleplaying scenes?

    New players in my experience can grasp that sooner than they grab that why a +1 to attack is better than a +1 to damage, or any number of such nuances.

    They want to be someone, they want to have adventure, they want to suffer (because suffering is good storytelling).

    A simple system to me is not enough. A system that helps answer that crucial play question "What am I doing?" with singleminded relentlessness is to me what will bring players into tabletop gaming.

    I mean, I love the red box. I'm also sure that I'd have fun with DA. But I'm confident I can have fun with any ruleset. But my wife is at once more and less picky.

    And I know, this could have been a blog post :)

    great stuff as always!

  16. @gamefiend The rub, I think, is that I don't think people always get what makes good stories, at least not initially. There are plenty of exceptions, but I think most folks equate story with doing something cool, and things lie suffering and pain are instinctively seen as _bad_. People learn otherwise when they see it in action, but that can be a tough lesson.

    Now, it's possible I'm jaded, but I draw on a larger sample set than my own play for this. This is probably the single biggest hurdle to getting any kind of dramatic play going on a MUSH of any shape and size. Ideas like "Losing can be fun" or "Victory needs a price" are not instinctive until a switch flips and you get them.

    From that perspective, DARPG is baby steps. There are a few things (goals and connections) mixed in there, but mostly it's just teaching the basics. My hope (and I don't think Green Ronin will let me down) is that a lot of those ideas are going to seep into the game as you level up, so to speak. It's an educational model more than a traditional RPG one, and it's risky, but I'm hopeful.

    Possibly delusional, but hopeful.

    -Rob D.

  17. So what help does it give a prospective gm in making good stories? Cause if that's what people want to do with it but the game doesnt provide anything but stats and a list of monsters like the D&D boxed sets then I cant see this really working as a gateway.

    You'll attract the same people who played and got a hint of storytelling when they were younger but if they cant work out the GMing bit then they eventually drift away.

  18. I haven't spoken much about the GM's book, but it deserves a quick nod. It offers pretty good, if brief, advice. It's not structured out like some indie games, but it's also were a lot of the more modern thinking shows its head.

    -Rob D.

  19. Rob, I haven't seen DA yet, but I don't really buy the 256 pager argument. You can clearly have a quest system that's a few pages long (heck, that's more than it gets in either 4E or Exalted, yeah?).

    I started roleplaying by buying the Invid Invasion sourcebook for Robotech and making up character creation and resolution rules because they weren't included. I'm not sure when I got around to buying an actual corebook, so I get what you're saying about incompleteness. Beginning roleplaying will always be bricolage, in that sense.

    But honestly, the thing that frustrated me most about roleplaying growing up is that I didn't know how to make fun stories. They were always mediocre, even if the characters and badass vehicles were awesome. I'd argue that what more intro roleplaying texts need are simple methods for generating situation and having previous situations evolve into new ones. The games that I can think of that are currently the best at this are Dogs in the Vineyard, Mouse Guard, and Danger Patrol. When I picked up 4E I was *blown away* that there weren't gobloads of basic 1-3 level encounters included so you could throw down immediately. What were they thinking? How were new folks supposed to start playing?

    Without guidelines for handling the basic activities of roleplaying -- generating interesting situations and the information you need to run them -- I imagine that most folks are going to have experiences like I did with Robotech and Rifts, where the characters are exciting, but play is merely okay.

    Focusing on stuff like randomly rolled stats is secondary. That's not the core of play, by any means. If Dragon Age tells you how to run the game, with explicit methods, not just general GMing advice (which can sound nice but is super difficult to convert into actual experiences at the table), then I think it might have some legs. Otherwise, it's all riddles in the dark.

  20. Some of that is my own perception bias - there's good GMing advice and other solid stuff in the game, but those are not the things that draw my attention (and thus comment). Does it have situation creation that's as strong as say, Dogs? Nah. But it's not bad either. But "not bad" is less interesting to talk about than the things required to make a small, tight product.

    So that's on my head. And this really drives home that I need to go through the GM's book with a bit more of an attentive eye.

    -Rob D.

  21. I have to agree with what Jonathan Walton said. D&D 4.0's DM tools are so completely helpful and fluid, it makes me wonder why no other games had thought of the format first.

  22. @jonathan Having now thought a bit more, I think you hit on exactly why I think this will work (or at least why it could). You're totally right about danger of cool characters with a flat story, but the key is the order of precedence. I think you can start with cool characters and weak stories more easily than you can by starting focusing on cool stories. I don't *know* this to be true, but I suspect it.

    So with that in mind, the focus, even for the GM, is very in the moment - it's on how to adjudicate fairly and handle weird situations. It's skill-building, and it makes a lot of sense to start with that before moving onto the next thing.

    To stretch the redbox analogy a bit, my hope is that when the blue box comes out, we get the material that makes for stronger situation and story rather than rules for wilderness adventures. That might not be the plan, but I know that's how I'd do it (or rather, I'd have at least a part of it - I'm not sure off the top of my head what I view the skill-building chain to be).

    _If_ that's the model, then I am all the more content with the limitations of the core set because it really underscores the educational product component of it, and it hooks into the right thing (character) first.

    -Rob D.

  23. 100% agree ... pen and paper RGPs are an endangered species in some regards. I don't think they'll ever die off completely but wouldn't it be great to see major growth again? In the world of instant media and MMOs ... who knows if that will ever happen again though. I always feel that my perspective is permanently skewed so hard towards gaming/gamers that I'm incapable of understanding the "main stream" mindset ..lol. Anyway good post and good discussion.

  24. Rob, I can definitely see the benefits of that progression, where you start with badass characters who dick around with saving the world and then eventually add some yummy bloody story meat. Some fantasy adventure video games like Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus play like that too, yeah? You start out not really knowing why you're killing monsters, but then after a few levels, things get serious and more thematically interesting.

    If that's what GR are doing, then cool, I could get on board with that. I just worry, as with the games of my childhood, that those story structuring tools aren't what's coming down the pipe. I mean, as a kid, did I know I even wanted those? I think I thought I wanted more character classes and badass mechs because that's where the fun was.

    But if they eventually include fun and helpful story structuring tools in a core product (set 2) and not a supplementary / optional GM book, maybe they can convince people that "this is how stage 2 of the game is played."

  25. @jonathan That is exactly why I'm so curious to watch this unfold, because it's _such_ a balancing act. You're totally right that the tools of story are ones that most players, especially newbies, don't even realize they're lacking. Making the leap to them is usually just that, a leap.

    But if it could actually be part of a progressive model? Oh man, that would be super sweet. So sweet that I am willing to be a big enthusiast for the simple _possibility_ of it.

    -Rob D.

  26. Fascinating discussion. I've been playing for a few sessions now, helping Jeff Tidball playtest the GM Screen adventure, and what caught me was the dichotomy between the description of the game as targeted at non-gamers and the complexity of the rules mechanics.

    There are 8 stats. Each of them may have one or more focuses. There are apparently more than 35 of such focuses.

    Characters have talents and powers. There are many languages in the world, and you have specific read and write skills for each. Weapons are typed, and you need skill with a given weapon group to be able to use it.

    With random stat rolls and limited ability to swap stats, you're at the mercy of the dice for a good Defense stat. It's based directly on your Dex stat (dex+10=defense), and enemies must roll equal to or greater than your Defense to hit you. Unless you roll well, or are playing a rogue, get used to getting hit. A lot.

    It's a system with some really neat ideas, but some fairly glaring flaws. I'm enjoying playing it, but that's much more of a testament to the players and the GM than it is to the system.

  27. @brainiac The number of talents as excessive complexity is an interesting thought. I'm not sure I think it really is too complex, but I might be wrong.

    Complex is hard to judge, I admit. The best I can do is build a yardstick out of what I was able to handle (and interested in handling) when I was 13-15 and compare it to other rules, like those of boardgames. The number, difficulty and complexity of the choices seems within the threshold I imagine, but that's no guarantee my threshold isn't complete fiction.

    -Rob D.

  28. @Rob: I don't know that it's too complex for someone who gets gaming and systems, but I've heard from several sources that it's explicitly targeted at those who have not played pen & paper RPGs.

    Setting aside the fact that I think that targeting a tie-into a computer RPG at "non-gamers" is kind of odd, if that is what you are trying to do then I would think you'd want to either minimize complexity or mimic the ruleset expressed in the game to make learning the RPG easy for those who had played the CRPG.

    Adding new stuff like the dragon die and stunts is cool. Modeling success/failure using a 3d6 roll and target numbers is fine. But having weapon familiarities, to pick just one example, strikes me as an addition of needless complexity. It adds limits to characters that don't (IMO) increase the role-playing depth of the game so much as they increase the number of tiny bits of information I have to write down.

    There is in the CRPG a perfectly reasonable way to limit who can use which weapons and armor, in the form of stat limits. The fact that this doesn't work in the RPG should be some cause for alarm. I suspect the reason it's not in there is because the stat model is a much smaller number base (-1 to 5 starting) and because with random stat generation you'd have a notable chance of having a warrior that was too weak to use some weapons.

  29. @brainiac The rub is that I'm inferring the audience to be the same audience that would have bought redbox D&D back in the day, rather than all people. That presumes a certain amount of geekiness, so the tolerance for reading and math are both a little higher than average. For that segment, who have probably played complex games and maybe been exposed to some RPG concepts as they are translated to video games (hit points, for example), this all seems workable.

    Of course, that's not as ambitious as going for wider adoption, and I fully admit it would choke and die in the face of that. A lot of people can't geep track of the rules for chess and the math for craps. Those people would definitely be overwhelmed by Dragon Age (or nearly any other RPG).

    That said, I also get the counterpoint that certain things (languages especially) feel a bit out of place, or at least unnecessary. Some of them (like Musical Instruments) feel like GR has something up their sleeve for them (like opening up the Bard) but lacking visibility into that, I admit I can't tell what serves what purpose.

    Weapon familiarities are a good example of something that could go either way. God knows it's better than proficiency systems of old, but is it better than nothing? The mechanical differentiation between the styles at this point is not too wide, so that seems to argue against it, but they could be much wider, which seems like it's a seed for something.

    I'm trusting it for the time being, but I'm cynical enough to admit that if I'm wrong, I intend to take useful lessons from what doesn't work.

    -Rob D.

  30. But the people who bought red-box D&D back in the day can buy Dragon Age: Origins now.


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