The Party was on the run. They were being hunted by Bounty Hunters – something that will happen when you cross the line between lawful and … less lawful. They were on the run from a group that planned to hunt them down and sell them to someone willing to pay. Someone who wanted them dead or alive, but preferably alive – if only so they could be the one to execute the Dead part. Such is a day in the life in Dragon’s Age!
I’ve now completed two sessions with the Party and me as GM (Game Master) and so far I’ve had a great time! It’s exceeded my expectations and I feel like it’s something I can learn to do well and enjoy immensely.
A bit of background. Dragon’s Age RPG (Role Playing Game) was developed by a company called Green Ronin and it’s based in the same world as the Dragon’s Age computer game developed by BioWare and published by EA back in 2009.
The RPG (not the computer game) is very light weight in terms of books of rules and decades of user experience when compared to such things as PathFinder or Dungeons and Dragons. There are no mini figurines or maps. There are no oddly shaped dice. You really can play the game, once you understand the basics of the Player’s Guide, with just a couple of pages representing your character sheet and three six-sided dice, one of which is a different color than the other two. All rolls are done with these three dice – there are no strange shaped dice to explain to anyone.
If you’re curious and have some time, you can watch some folks play the game on TableTop a show about playing games on YouTube.
There are only three classes in the game. Classes represent the main kinds of characters played in Dragon’s Age. These include:
- Warrior – the classic fighter character
- Mage – the one who casts magic
- Rogue, the one you probably don’t want to turn your back on but is handy in to talk you our of trouble
Additionally, there are a small handful of races a Player can be including varieties of Human, a couple of types of Elf, though both come from the lowest social stratum and are not well liked or respected by the humans and have no land of their own, and Dwarves, either from the main Dwarven city or surface dwelling Dwarves, who usually come from Traders and Craftsman that travel the land.
The land is called Ferelden and is a pretty typical neo-middle ages kind of technology and government. There are some attempts to weave a semi-democratic ideal through Ferelden with the serfs having an option to choose who they pay their taxes to and who protects them, but it doesn’t fit great if you think about it for long, but that’s okay because it’s a game!
Magic is controlled in this world, so if one is a magic user, they are either part of the Circle of Magi or they are on the run from it and considered Apostate magic users. There’s an entire group and structure built around taking and training magic users, controlling them and if they go bad, killing them or “stilling them” which is the rough equivalent of a magical lobotomy.
Dragon’s Age tries to pitch one of its differentiators as being about choices. Nothing should be clearly black and white. And where there are choices, there should be consequences.
In our first session our Players met for the first time and worked out a bit of back story to explain why they came to be traveling together. In this Part we have the following motley crew.
- Tarrant is a City Elf and a Rogue. He has traveled from one of the main cities called Denerim with his sister who is called Lanaya.
- Lanaya is a City Elf and a Warrior, though she has specialized in the Bow and is a bit of a sniper. They travel to make their fortunes far from the slums where the Elves live in Denerim.
- Duska is a Surface Dwelling Dwarf. She has lost her family and travels the land looking for clues to where they might be or what might have become of them. She has decided to travel with the two Elves as they intend to cover a great deal of ground and that should increase her odds of finding information about her family.
- Matty (short for Matilda and who, it became clear during the first night of play, looks roughly like Betty White) is a human Apostate Mage who has lost her kitty. She’s over 80 and has a habit of falling asleep after a battle or other random times. She might be a bit dotty. She believes that the thieving City Elves, specifically the Rogue Tarrant, may have taken her kitty or knows where it is. She also is in search of her daughter Nancy Grace, who was taken from her to become a Circle Mage and, it turns out, can be a bit annoying with she talks.
- Gorgar completes the Party. Gorgar is one of the Qunari, a war-like race of seven foot Warriors who have huge horns on their head like a giant mountain sheep. They attempted to invade this land hundreds of years before and were fought back to an uneasy truce. Gorgar travels the land to learn more about its people and customs with the intent to take that information back to Qunari leaders to provide intelligence for a later repeat invasion. He’s a bit confused and doesn’t understand some slang or basic practices of the Ferelden people. He has decided that this group represents a “typical” group of Ferelden and through watching, aiding and furthering their goals, he will learn much about these people.
Now, in game terms this means we have three Warriors, good at killing things, one Rogue, good at sneaking, negotiation and killing things from the shadows and one Mage, good at magical damage and healing.
It was a lot of fun watching these experienced role players quickly and efficiently work out their back stories, their motivations and what brought them together in the first place. Then watching as those motivations and goals were played out in the game, causing some discord and tension.
The first module was considered a Quick Start Module. Short and possible to play in an evening. I intended to use it as a way to get familiar with the game and setting and mechanics. I had thought I would simply “reset” at the end of the night so if anyone died or wanted to change their character, they could do that, but by the end of the evening everyone had so much fun with it and the group, they decided they wanted to keep the experience and move forward from there.
The Module was called An Arl’s Ransom. In this world, think of an Arl as a medieval Earl. He’s got power, military experience and soldiers, and is answerable to someone further up the nobility food chain.
The module starts out with the Steward (right hand, major domo) of the Arl hiring the Players to help transport his kids who have spent time away from the Fort that the Arl lives in during a time of danger. There is still danger, but he wants to hire the Party to help bring his kids back home. He is too busy fighting something called The Blight, which is the Big Bad for the game, an ongoing threat that is the dramatic motivator for much of what goes on in Ferelden and the game. He cannot spare his own men to do it so he hires this group do go meet with and return his kids.
But! What the Arl doesn’t know is that the Steward is actually more interested in turning the group against the Arl and instead of meeting the kids and returning them, wants to claim the kids have been kidnapped and charge the Arl ten times what he hired the Party for to return the children unharmed.
This is the kind of grey areas and choices that Dragon’s Age wants to play in.
As it turns out, the Arl is a bit of a bastard. He mistreats Elves, he doesn’t seem to be overly concerned for the welfare of his own kids – he sends hired mercenaries instead of his own soldiers! All of these facts the Steward uses during the trip to meet the kids to sway some part of the Party towards turning this transportation mission in to a kidnapping.
Long story short, because two of the characters are Elves, the Steward used that to get them on board, largely based on the egregious treatment by the Arl against the Elves that work for him. This was well within the natures of the Elves and their characters. That led to a fairly long conversation, all in character, by the Party as they tried to work out whether they would hold the line and do the job they accepted, including turning in the Steward for the plot against the children or whether they would participate in the kidnapping for a share of the ransom.
In the end, they opted to turn on the Arl and become kidnappers on the first night of their adventures!
Part of the fun of the system and the Module and even the job of GM’ing is that I didn’t know which way they would go and I had to be prepared to play it out however they decided. If it came down to it, there was a possibility the Party would break up and attack each other in the first night if they didn’t manage to get on the same page and agree!
But, they did come to an agreement, albeit reluctantly on the part of Gorgar. He decided in the end his responsibility was more to his mission of collecting information about these Fereldens than it was about following his own strict code of honor, which would not include kidnapping children. But, he did assert that no harm would come to the children or he would have their heads!
By the end of the night they had successfully fought some monsters called Dark Spawn, crossed a ravine by chopping a tree and felling it across and carefully crossing on the tree (only dropping two other trees, one nearly killing Gorgar, the other fell in to the ravine), negotiating the terms under which they were willing to become kidnappers, found the kids who were under attack by some more monsters, chose to kill one of the kids protectors, sealing their fate with respect to their decision to become criminals and then executed the kidnapping plot!
Whew! It was quite a night. Admittedly there was some social lubrication in the form of some pretty good liquor such that by the end of the night everyone was having a great time!
But that was last time. Between that session and this last one I thought about the Dragon Age notion of decisions and grey areas and choices and consequences. I didn’t want the Party to execute someone for doing their job, kidnap two kids (though the kids never actually knew they were being kidnapped) and ransom them and there not be any consequences.
In the context of the game and other games like this, there really isn’t anything that provides the connective tissue between this adventure or Module and the next. They simply show up the next time and the next adventure unfolds. Well, I suppose a good GM provides that connective tissue, but it’s not there at the start.
I didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted them to have some consequences for their actions. So, I wrote my own interstitial Encounters between last week’s adventures and the start of the new one with the intention of making sure they understood what path they had headed down.
Little did I really realize at the time that while I might have my hand on the tiller of this boat, the Players had a great deal of input in the direction as well!
Now we’re going to launch in to the two Encounters that occurred before going in to the next adventure. Where necessary I’ll try and inject context or information where something might be overly confusing. For the most part, just go along with the flow when it comes to the mechanics.
Following the adventures around Fort Stenhold, the party arranged to meet with the Steward Alenka and Ser Blaker. As expected Arl Neruda was willing pay the ransom though Alenka made a point of letting the party know that he was not happy about it. By necessity, at that point the party, Alenka and Ser Blaker agreed to part ways and each member of the successful kidnapping plot received their share of the ransom of 50 gold sovereigns.
Roughly a week later, while staying off the main roads, the Party was purchasing supplies in a small village and heard a disturbing story.
Apparently the Arl became suspicious about the inconsistencies in Alenka’s story. Soon after Steward Alenka was put to the Question (tortured) and forced to acknowledge her part in the plot and all she knew about the Party. Word was now traveling about that a reward was being offered for information about the Party’s whereabouts.
1: Reason To Run
After hearing the news and realizing that the townspeople were starting to look at them funny, especially in light of the qwhat happened at Fort Stenhold, the party prepares to clear town.
As the Party prepares to leave town, from the other end of town they hear the approach of a horse and the sound of men. Any interested party can sneak back to see what’s going on.
As the Party watches, a man in traveling clothes dismounts and addresses the men that join him in the center of the village.
The man is older but clearly still strong. He has a weathered look about him as if he has spent too much time staring in to the sun. His face is wrinkled and his eyes have sharpness of a hawk and the bags beneath his eyes of a bloodhound.
He addresses the men who are clearly experienced mercenaries of some sort. If anyone counts, there is one more Bounty Hunter than there are Party members and each carries a horn at their belt.
At this point the Party should be clear that it is in their best interests to get out of town and evade the group of soldiers.
It takes an ADVANCED TN 13 Skill Test with a success threshold of 10 and six tests to get away from the searching soldiers.
Each player can pick an appropriate test and rationale. Examples might include using the lay of the land to evade pursuit or seeing the pursuit before they spot the Player or their ability to move quietly through a forest or behind someone looking the other way. Examples of Skills that might apply:
• Communication (Disguise)
• Dexterity (Acrobatics)
• Dexterity (Stealth)
• Constitution (Running)
• Cunning (Cartography)
• Cunning (Military Lore)
• Cunning (Navigation)
• Perception (Hearing)
• Perception (Seeing)
• Perception (Smelling)
• Perception (Tracking)
• Strength (Climbing)
• Willpower (Courage)
• Willpower (Self-Discipline)
A successful Advanced Test means the Party manages to elude the searchers, escaping in to the surrounding hills and woods.
A failed Advanced Test means they are seen and/or found.
The searchers will blow horns to call the rest of the group to help apprehend the group if found. The leader will get there most quickly as he is on a horse. The others will soon join if the Party is discovered.
If the Party escapes, this encounter ends with their escape.
If the Party is discovered, they will have to engage with and defeat 1 more Hunter than the party size PLUS the Head Bounty Hunter.
However, using the mounted speed of the horse, the Head Bounty Hunter will stay up on the horse shooting a bow at the party (minor reload).
Once more than half the Hunters are killed, the remainder must take a TN10 Willpower (Morale) test or flee the battle.
The Head Bounty Hunter will retreat to seek out reinforcements if attacked directly with no retreat. He will also retreat if he is the last remaining Hunter.
Note: The intent is not to kill the party, just to scare them and let them know they are hunted.
2. Roadside Assistance
At this point the party should start heading towards the next adventure – The Dalish Curse.
The GM may attempt simple fiat and say that pressured by the experience in the village in the last encounter, they are trying to get as far from Fort Stenhold as they can while staying off the Imperial Roads. This should push them towards the northeast in the desired direction.
After a few days travel they know, based on conversation with fellow travelers they meet on the road that they should soon reach Vintiver. The next encounter starts roughly a days walk from Vintiver. The Party is traveling on a road roughly northeast and should expect to reach Vintiver some time between noon and nightfall.
As they have been traveling for a long time now, the promise of a town with an Inn far enough removed from Fort Stenhold should put a spring in the step of the party as they begin their day.
After a few hours of walking in a mixture of forests and wild fields, they begin to see signs of farms from the road.
As they approach a turn in the road they come upon a wagon with an older man working on a broken wheel. The draft horse have been secured nearby but clearly a repair is in progress. As they approach, the older man who is dressed in loose fitting clothing appropriate for a farmer hails them.
“Good morning, Travelers! Hail! I am Calder, son of Oswin! Would you be willing to help an old man out? I’m having trouble getting this wheel mounted on the wagon again and your arrival is fortuitous indeed! If you can help me, I’ll give you and yours a ride in to town. I’m heading to Vintiver for supplies.”
The GM may want to use this as an opportunity to give background information about what’s going on recently in Vintiver by way of an info dump so they know some of the background info related to the Dalish Curse – the events that have happened in the two weeks prior in Vintiver. The old man is chatty and will answer questions about Vintiver and will share what information he can by way of building up trust and maybe the Party won’t twig to the fact that this is an ambush.
If anyone in the Party expresses any suspicion an opposed Perception (Empathy) test against the Head Bounty Hunter’s Willpower (Self-Discipline) (Pre-Roll 16) enables the character to realize that something in his bearing or demeanor is off based on the situation.
If anyone inquires further, the older man simply reiterates that he needs to get the wagon repaired so he can get to Vintiver as he is already late to trade for the day.
Because this is a trap, there are a number of Hunters equal to the Party size hiding in the surrounding trees with bows drawn. Their action will trigger on a sign from the Old Man or an aggressive move on the part of the Party.
The presence of the ambushers will be apparent if any additional suspicious players perform a hard (15) test of Perception (Hearing or Seeing) against the Hunters who have carefully hidden themselves for the ambush.
If the Party doesn’t make this test, the Hunters in the tree will get one surprise round attack with their bows.
If the Party is not yet suspicious, the older man will try and engage them in some questions about where they are traveling from, what brings them to this area, their names, etc. He knows who they really are, or thinks he does, so all this is by way of delay.
Assuming they have not seen or heard the Hunters in the trees, older man will step behind the wagon to get an apple and then address the Party.
“You’re an interesting group of travelers and that’s no lie. I don’t recall the last time I seen two knife ears walking shoulder to should with a dwarf, a crone and one of them demon Qunari.
You know, it’s funny though. I heared a story recently about a group of folks just like yourselves.”
If any of the Party attempts to engage with the old man aggressively, he will whistle and the bowmen will shoot but only warning shots at the feet of the party.
The old man now pulls out a sheet of paper from his shirt.
“I’ve got this here notice. More of a reward poster, you might say. It says that you folks are worth more than enough such that me an’ my friends can spend in a year of drinking and whoring in Denerim.
“Trouble is, it says you’re worth more alive than dead. I like the more, but the alive part strikes me as problematic.
“Way I see it, we have a three options here. First, you can all drop anything that smells of weapons including the crone and her witch stick, my friends will bind you up well and proper and I can take you all to see an Arl. If you are who I think you are, you’ll all make me and mine very, very rich.
“On the other hand, we can just as easily go for the dead option instead of the alive. You know I have some men in the trees, but you don’t know where they are or how many there are. You can find that out by raising a weapon and becoming a pin cushion and counting the arrows that we put through you.
“Finally, I’ll make you the business man’s deal. If you give me more than what the Arl is willing to pay for you dead, you save me the trouble of making the trip and we can simply part ways. You poorer, me richer.
“Folks, the decision is yours.”
In truth, there are a number of Hunters equal to the Party size plus Head Hunter.
It should be made clear to the Party that surrender is not a good option. The Arl wants their heads.
It should be clear that this encounter is a direct consequence of their actions in Stenhold. This consequence may not be the last.
This encounter will complete when all Hunters are dead or have run.
The last two Hunters will flee if they fail a TN12 Willpower (Morale) test.
The Head Hunter never flees. On his body are thirty pieces of silver and the Wanted Poster. Give this to the Party.
Once this encounter is complete, the party should continue towards Vintiver. The wagon can be fixed with a TN 11 Cunning (Engineering) test. The horse can be used to draw the wagon with a successful TN10 Communication (Animal Handling) test. Note: A Draft Horse has a Speed of 8 (p46 Players Guide).
From here the adventure continues on to The Dalish Curse and begins with the first Encounter in that Module.
Here, though, is a place where I was reminded that more than just I am steering this boat.
Upon the completion of this Encounter, the group expressed complete surprise at the ambush, which I was hoping for by stacking two Bounty Hunter encounters next to each other and by using the Old Man as a way to present background for the upcoming adventure, so I was pleased at how that came out.
What I didn’t plan for was the Party being very upset to find that they are now being pursued by the Arl and there is a significant bounty on their heads.
In fact, they were so upset that they toyed briefly with taking my entire night sideways to return directly to where the Arl lived (inside a fortress protected by soldiers which has withstood attacks for generations) to attempt to assassinate the Arl!
The only way I could get them back on track was to promise them a later opportunity to try and hunt him down and kill him at a later date.
Suddenly the Party was telling me which direction they were going to go, albeit at a later date, despite any plans I might have had for them. This was a great example to me of how a good group of role players help take an active role in adding energy and life and drama in to world they are playing in. It was unexpected (at least by me) but a welcome reminder that this is cooperative role playing at it’s best!
The other interaction from that night that was very memorable and stood as a strong reminder that I have to be on my toes and prepared to ad-lib as necessary took place later. The Party had reached Vintiver and they were interviewing several members of the town. One was a Blacksmith who clearly hated anyone who was an Elf. In the module he’s just written very one-dimensionally as an instigator and bully to move the the story along. There was no reason given for why he hated Elves.
Gorgar, ever the inquisitive and trying to better understand these folks he finds himself among, offered a gold sovereign to the Blacksmith, more than he’d see in a month of work, if he would tell him WHY he had such an issue with Elves. Apparently the Player became convinced that there HAD to be some good reason to justify his unreasoned anger.
I struggled for a beat because there was nothing in the module to explain why he was the way he was, only that he was that way and he was supposed to move the story along by virtue of his rage against any Elves and specifically the Elves who had traveled through his town recently.
Thinking quickly on my feet and answering in the character of the Blacksmith, I replied angrily that when I was small, my father who ran the Blacksmith before me, fell in love with one of the Elves (the knife ears) when they came to town for one of the Harvest Festivals and he ended up running away with her and left me and my mother behind, struggling to try and keep the smithy in operation. And the Player was satisfied with the answer, sure that he’d gained insight in to the character and what drove him. The reality, of course, was that I made it all up on the spot to try and make it all make sense and everyone was happy!
This is an experienced group of role players, some of them playing and GM’ing themselves for more than 25 years. If I can wing it in a way to satisfy that crowd and show them a good time and tell a good story, I know I’m doing alright and having a wonderful time doing it!
I look forward to seeing how things play out with this Party. I may have plans for them but I can’t ever forget that they clearly have plans of their own. Ferelden will hear much, much more from this group!
Note: If you’re interested in finding a group to play this, other role playing games or just any games at all, consider looking for a local gaming event. There’s a great opportunity coming up next week at Table Top Day. There are several in the Portland area on March 30th!