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Designing the Dragon Age Tabletop RPG

Alexander Macris | 4 Nov 2009 16:00
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I decided pretty early on that I wanted to do Dragon Age as a classic boxed set if I could. I've always loved boxed sets and I thought the format still made a lot of sense. A boxed set looks like a game, for starters. Show a non-gamer a typical RPG book and they get confused when you tell them it's a game. Boxed sets also make it easy to break out player info and GM info, as well as include things like dice and maps. And the fact that they feel old school certainly was a plus on this particularly project.

I also decided that I wanted the game to be friendly to new roleplayers. Most RPG companies traditionally rely on D&D to bring in new blood to the hobby. If you look at the state of the RPG industry right now, it clearly hasn't been working too well and I don't think we've seen a real successful acquisition product since red box D&D. At Green Ronin we've tried to bring in new roleplayers with a couple of games: Blue Rose and Faery's Tale. Both games were successful but admittedly narrow in focus. With Dragon Age I saw a real opportunity to do a game with broad appeal that could get more people into tabletop roleplaying.

All this led to our final plan, which is to release the game as a series of four boxed sets. Each one will cover 5 levels of play, and include player, GM, and source material, as well as an adventure. Set 1 handles levels 1-5, Set 2 levels 6-10, etc. Releasing it in digestible chunks makes it much more approachable and it means you don't have to read a 300 page hardback before you can play the game. It also means we're not asking people to spend $20 or $30 on an intro set so they can later spend $50 or $100 on the "real" game. When you spend your $30 on Set 1, you won't be getting something with designed obsolescence. It's the actual game.

So is Dragon Age going to be an ongoing franchise for Green Ronin that we can expect to see supported? If so, what supplements are planned?

Yes, absolutely. The core of the game will be the four boxed sets. We're supplementing those with several collections of short adventures. We want to make sure that GMs can start and support campaigns without a lot of prep work. The first release after the game is a GM's Kit, which is a hardback screen and an adventure by Jeff Tidball. Then we plan on an adventure anthology and then on to the Set 2.

Awesome. What sort of cooperation and access did you get from BioWare in putting together the tabletop version?

When we first made the deal, I flew up to Edmonton for a few days to meet folks face to face and get a look at the game. That helped get me grounded in what they were doing, and subsequently I was given many documents and assets about the game world and their system. I had to then synthesize that info and figure out how to best use it in a tabletop RPG. Throughout the process the BioWare guys have been very helpful, answering my questions and giving me any extra info I might need. We've also gotten to see and in many cases use their fantastic art assets.

BioWare's CEO Ray Muzyka describes Dragon Age: Origins as a 'spiritual successor' to the Baldur's Gate series, which itself was based on the tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons. Would you say the Dragon Age RPG is a 'spiritual successor to Dungeons & Dragons in any way, or is it a new design?

My favorite iteration of D&D is the basic version, which culminated in the awesome Rules Cyclopedia. When I was starting the Dragon Age project, it was this version of D&D that was my touchstone. If I was able to capture its spirit, I will consider Dragon Age a rousing success. That is really for gamers to judge though.

To be clear, however, Dragon Age is not a retro clone of BECMI D&D. I designed a new game to capture the feel of the Dragon Age world, but I did so very much mindful of the history of tabletop RPGs. There is a tendency these days to look back on the games of the 70s and early 80s and pat ourselves on the back about how far we've come from such primitive beginnings. I felt like there were still important things we could learn from those games, lessons perhaps forgotten over the years to the detriment of the hobby. With Dragon Age I was trying to take inspiration from the old school while still creating a modern design. I guess you might call it a neo-retro approach.

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