Design Diary 3: Character Creation

Chris Pramas

Let's talk about character creation in the Dragon Age RPG. The topic takes up much of the Set 1 Player's Guide, which is as it should be. My main goals were to make the process straight forward and to provide a good number of options for character customization. We will be offering a set of six pre-generated characters for download off our website for folks without a lot of time, but the Player's Guide encourages you to make your own PC. You're going to be spending a lot of time with the character after all, so you should make sure you end up with a PC you like and will want to play.

Character creation is an 8-step process. I'll list them out first and then cover each step in more detail.

  1. Create a character concept.
  2. Determine abilities.
  3. Choose a background.
  4. Choose a class.
  5. Pick equipment.
  6. Calculate Defense and Speed.
  7. Pick a name.
  8. Choose goals and character ties.

Create a Character Concept
This is a rough idea of the sort of character you'd like to play. This may change as you go through the process but it's good to start with a direction.

Determine Abilities
These are your character's core physical and mental attributes. There are 8 abilities in Dragon Age, and as discussed in Design Diary 2 ability tests are the core mechanic of the game. The abilities are Communication, Constitution, Cunning, Dexterity, Magic, Perception, Strength, and Willpower.

You generate your stats by rolling 3d6 and consulting a table. You end up with starting abilities that range from –2 to 4, with 1 being an average result. You roll the abilities in order, but when you're done you can swap any two. So if you really want to play a mage but you rolled a lousy magic score, you can swap in one of your better results. That's the extent of the hand-holding though. You are not making genetically engineered adventurers with perfectly placed stats here, but characters who have to deal with the hand fate has dealt them.

Choose a Background
Backgrounds represent your culture and upbringing and there are seven to choose from in Set 1: Apostate, Avvarian Hillsman, Circle Mage, City Elf, Dalish Elf, Fereldan Freeman, and Surface Dwarf. Choosing a background modifies your character in several ways:

  • It increases one or more of your abilities.
  • It provides one of more ability focuses (discussed in Design Diary 2).
  • It determines your race (dwarf, elf, or human).
  • It dictates your class choices.
  • It determines the languages you can speak and read.

Each background provides some set benefits. You then get two rolls on a table that can provide either +1 on certain abilities or additional focuses.

Choose a Class
This is your character's calling in life. You can choose to be a mage, rogue, or warrior and your class determines certain key features of your character:

  • Primary Abilities: A class has three primary abilities. These are the abilities most important to the class and the ones used most often.
  • Secondary Abilities: A class has five secondary abilities. These abilities are not as important as primary abilities but all can be useful in the right circumstances.
  • Starting Health: Health is a measure of your character's fitness and wellbeing.
  • Weapon Groups: Your class determines the weapons your character knows how to use. Weapons are divided into groups and this entry tells you which ones your character is trained in.
  • Class Powers: A class provides your character with a variety of special powers, such as spellcasting and backstab. These are listed out by level in the class description.

Pick Equipment
All characters started with some equipment based on their class and other character details. They also get a small amount of silver to buy additional items.

Calculate Defense and Speed
These are derived stats. Defense is equal to 10 + Dexterity and it's the number enemies need to meet or beat to hit you in combat. You also add your Dexterity to a base speed determined by your race. The total is how many yards you can go with a move action.

Pick a Name
Every hero needs a good name! The Player's Guide provides sample names for each culture but you can of course make up your own as well.

Choose Goals and Character Ties
We encourage you to do a group character creation session so all the players can talk to each other throughout the process. If you don't, you should at least do this step when everyone is together. The Player's Guide recommends that you pick at least three goals for your character. They not only help you give your character some personality, but also give the GM great raw material to work with when designing adventures.

Character ties are the bonds amongst the PCs when the campaign begins. We recommend that a character has at least one tie to every other character in the group, even if it's a tenuous one. There are reasons these PCs got together and ties are meant to bring them out and help cohere both the players and their characters.

So that's the character creation process in brief. As you can see, it's quite easy and the Player's Guide takes you through every step in detail. There's also an extended example that follows the whole process, so you can see a character take shape. Once you've created your character, you are ready to play Dragon Age!