A New (dragon) Age
Gamers sure do seem to be prone to burning out on things; a common trait amongst our culture is being passionate and intense about what we do, so burnout just seems like a natural process for most of us. There seems to be quite a trend in the 4e community lately of burning out, or at least taking short hiatus’s to play other things, which is understandable. I can attest to burnout myself lately but not with 4e, but rather the topic of comparing D&D 4e directly to other games. Don’t get me wrong, variety truly is the spice of life in my book, and I understand attempting to de-stagnate the monotony that can creep into games over a period of time.
The dnd community has been all abuzz with Dragon Age talk lately, there was an original spike of talk about it amongst gamers when Green Ronin initially published it but the excitement seems to have died down only until recently. NewbieDM has a large following both on twitter and his blog and recently his players have moved over to the Age system and he’s even kicked out a new blog The Dragon Age Oracle, site looks mighty handsome (and familiar) if I do say so myself
I love the AGE system and I’m also a huge fan of the PC game that the Dragon Age RPG is derived from, I grew up on black isle games and I majorly credit them to my inception into the Dungeons and Dragons hobby. Let me also take some time to point out that Dragon Age is a spiritual predecessor to those old Black Isle infinity engine games of yore (Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, etc.) which used the 2nd edition D&D rule set and took place in the high canon setting of Forgotten Realms. So in a sense (at least in my mind) Dragon Age is a cousin or distant relative of D&D, however this does not stop me from looking at both games as entirely different entities.
Apples and Oranges
It seems a lot of X vs Y comparisons have been being thrown about lately regarding DA and D&D, I’m aware most of them are just honest comparisons but I get the feeling that some folks are looking through rose colored glasses for DA to solve all of their (D&D) role playing woes.
While D&D and Dragon Age have their obvious similarities, they’re really two entirely different types of game. The biggest one I believe is that Dragon Age has intrinsic treachery and darkness built into it’s foundation (there are headers in chapter 1 on being a GM titled “No Unicorns and Rainbows” and “Life Isn’t Fair”) whereas D&D can be dark, but doesn’t have to. Magic is risky, volatile, feared and uncommon in DA, while this is a varied element in D&D. Personally I like the more lethal approach that Dragon Age takes, but it’s surely not for everyone.
The DA GM guide does a good job of explaining in plain speech what is expected of you and your duties as a GM as well as gives some pretty helpful advice on running a game that any GM should take to heart, regardless of system.
While the degree of mansuetude some RPG’s portray can definitely be a game ender for some folks, so can overall complexity. The combat system in Dragon Age plays out more quickly than 4e due to being less tactical, it also has more simple mechanics for things like skill challenges and skills themselves are even fewer than 4e’s streamlined 17 (down from 50+ in 3.x). I’m not saying that complexity (or lack of) equals fun but simply stating the vast difference between these two games, what DA lacks in complexity it makes up for in flavor with mechanics like stunts. Speaking of mechanics…
Nuts & Bolts
A skill test is the ubiquitous check mechanic used in DA, it uses target numbers (called a TN) for varying degrees of difficulty, and there are “advanced tests” which are basically the equivalent of a Skill Challenge. One thing that sets these advance tests apart is that they also make use of the difference between the target number which determines your “success threshold” which gives a feel of control over the outcome a little more than just succeeding X rolls. Compared to D&D this method seems to put more control in the players hands and takes out some of the random flubs that come with a succession of d20 rolls, but may also allot to less suprise and may dull the experience for some gamers depending on tastes.
Dragon Age is also a game that really needs no grid to be played, though it can be and the game makes no qualms about playing it either way. Another free form factor
about Dragon Age is that creatures and challenges have no set level or XP values, there are no concrete guidelines of how to set up encounters for players either. The only basis for xp distribution and encounter difficulty given is that for “easy” encounters reward 100xp, moderate ones give 200 and “hard” give 300. Now I understand that guidelines are just that, guidelines, and in 4e you don’t have to stick to the “xp budget” if you don’t want to but I find it to be a nice starting point to gauge how hard of a time PC’s might have to overcome a threat.
Wherein comes some confusion for me; in a DA encounter, what if the party only faces a paltry monster or two but manages to fudge a ton of rolls and it winds up being rather hard for them…should they be rewarded 100 xp or 300? I understand this is all open for interpretation and there are many solutions to the problem, however I find some rigidity in DA within it’s actual lack thereof. I’m sure this is just my hardened 4e exterior that throws me off, and it doesn’t stop me from loving the system one bit. In fact it only reinforces my belief that the 4e system and DA are very different and will probably appeal to different types of gamers for all sorts of different reasons, whose mileage may vary.
Hooray for trite, bland blanketed statements, I know…but it had to be said.
Personalities & Preferences
Its not that I think a D&D player can’t be an avid DA player or vice versa, but I also don’t think that one game has all the answers to the others problems. They both have strengths and weaknesses and definitely could cater to vastly different audiences.
I love both the systems and plan on playing more DA in the near future, but i won’t be abandoning 4e or trying to patch a ‘fix’ into one from the other anytime soon. Borrowing fun elements is one thing id like to see attempted however, like putting stunts into 4e or adding some tactics into DA. Or on the fluff side perhaps adding some grit to that core setting or perhaps a touch of humility to that elven savage in DA? A little amalgamation, a little mix and match – without jumbling up the mechanics too much. What do you guys think?
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Jerry resides in the placid cornfields of Indiana with his Wife and 2 goblinoid minions. His geek credentials sport a Masters in Video Gameology and Computer Geekery. His obsession with D&D started by spending an inconceivable number of hours playing Baldurs Gate and the rest is history. Outside of the gaming world he's an IT Professional & Social Media guy, budding writer, gaming advocate and wannabe designer. You can visit him over at www.dreadgazebo.net or follow him on twitter (@DreadGazeebo)