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Copy & paste below:
The PDF bundle covers the three elements of the boxed set: a Player's Guide, a Game Master's Guide, and a map. I like boxed sets; they've fallen out of favor in the RPG industry, so it was nice to see an old school set (the actual boxed set also includes 3d6). Too bad the contents aren't very good. Well, ok, the map's nice.
The Player's Guide is a 64 page booklet. Chapter One covers the game world, concentrating, as in the video game, on the nation of Ferelden. There's actually more world info on the Dragon Age wiki, but this is a decent, brief introduction and overview for players.
Chapter Two covers character creation, Chapter 3 covers focuses and talents (basically, skills and feats), Chapter 4 covers weapons and gear, Chapter Five covers magic, and Chapter Six covers the game system.
The game system design is...interesting. DA: O the video game (hereafter VG) is, of course, itself an RPG, with its own game system. Now, the game engine of a computer game doesn't necessarily translate to a pen & paper game very well. In particular, a computer game can instantaneously make complicated calculations which would make a pen & paper (hereafter P&P) game a nightmare to play, so some changes from the video game version are only to be expected.
The designer, however, decided to simply go with an altogether different game system, and bolt on some elements of the VG. It's obvious from the designer's notes on the Green Ronin website that the designer had been kicking around ideas for an intro-level fantasy RPG for a while, and saw a chance to use them when Green Ronin obtained the license for DA: O. I understand both motivations. I still think it was a mistake. Gamers coming to P&P RPGs for the first time through DA: O, in particular, are likely to be disappointed, since the P&P game system doesn't really resemble the VG system.
OK, enough with the editorializing, and on to the system. It's pretty basic and straight-forward. Roll 3d6. Add the applicable Ability Score (which range from -2 to +4). If you have an appropriate Ability Focus (skill), add +2. Try to hit the target number. I actually like simple systems like this, although the binary "don't have a skill"/"have a skill system", with no indication of skill level bugs me a bit. Particularly since in the video game, skills do have levels. If this were a stand-alone system, I think I would view it as an interesting pass at a fantasy RPG that might be worth trying out. My only quibble with this part of the game is that it is so different from the system in the VG, which seemed to actually be pretty close to a gameable P&P RPG.
Character creation is where the game really falls down. To begin with, instead of the six origins from the VG (Circle Mage, Dwarf Commoner, Dwarf Noble, Dalish Elf, City Elf, Human Noble), the P&P has Apostate, Avvarri Tribesman, Circle Mage, City Elf, Dalish Elf, Ferelden Freeman, and Surface Dwarf. Adding the Apostate Origin, so you can play a non-Circle mage, ala Morrigan, was a good idea, as was adding the Avvarri Tribesman and Ferelden Freeman, to give humans more options, and adding Surface Dwarf certainly makes a lot of sense, since they seem far more likely to go adventuring on the surface. But getting rid of Dwarf Commoners and Nobles, and Human Nobles, seems like a poor idea. A P&P RPG should be a chance to expand on the options available in a scripted VG, not to restrict them. But I can live with this decision.
A P&P RPG seems like a perfect opportunity to add origins, such as characters from Orlais (Leliana), Antiva (Zevran), or the Tevintyr Imperium, or qunari characters (Sten). Certainly, you should be able to recreate, more or less, the main characters from the VG. But no. Apparently, these options are being reserved for future books. I understand the reasoning, but it's still disappointing.
Just like in the VG, background adds bonuses to the character, in terms of Ability Scores and Focuses (skills), and you also get two randomly determined benefits. Kind of cool.
The P&P has more Ability Scores than the VG, adding Communication and Perception to Dexterity, Strength, Constitution, Cunning, Magic, and Willpower. I'm actually OK with that. In a full-fledged P&P RPG, the VG version of Cunning, which covered perception, social interaction, intelligence, and guile, would be an overpowered stat, so splitting off perception and communication is a good design decision. As previously noted, Ability Scores range from -2 to +4. Again, I don't agree with the idea to go with a completely new game system, but I don't really have any issues with the system itself.
BTW, the game definitely goes old school here, as you actually roll randomly for stats. At least you roll on a weighted chart, so the "average" character is above average. I think random roll systems have both advantages and disadvantages, which I won't go into here, so I won't fault the game here. Too much. It is an odd decision, given that the VG has entirely determined stats with no randomness at all, but that presumably goes back to the designer having had a lot of the system worked out before it was turned into the DA: O licensed game. It would have been nice to have at least had a point-buy option, though.
There are three classes, Mage, Rogue, and Warrior, just like in the VG. So far, so good. Each class gives the character certain powers and abilities, similar to what's in the game. Each level gives the character more hit points, and new abilities and bonuses, which vary from class to class and level to level. That's kind of cool, and somewhat similar to how leveling works in the VG. But only the first five levels are provided! Talk about old school! This is the D&D Basic Set!
The original D&D Basic Set was really designed as an introduction to role-playing, with the expectation that players would "graduate" to AD&D, although its simplified version of the D&D rules proved so popular it was eventually expanded into a full-fledged RPG in its own right.
This boxed set, however, is not billed as an introduction to roleplaying. It is billed as the Dragon Age: Origins pen & paper RPG. Apparently, further sets will include rules for character advancement beyond fifth level. In today's game market, this is frankly inexcusable.
Yeah, D&D requires three hardbacks just for the core rules, but WotC is completely upfront about that, and those three books were available simultaneously, and comprised a complete, if somewhat circumscribed, game. You don't actually need any of the other books or the website to play a full D&D campaign. You will need at least one expansion set, possibly several, to play a full DA: O campaign.
I honestly feel cheated.
So, back to the game.
The P&P system replaces the VG's skills and talents with Ability Focuses and Talents. The Ability Focuses are basically standard P&P RPG stat-linked skills, except that they don't have levels. You either have a Focus (and a +2 bonus) or you don't. As I stated before, I don't really like this approach, but it's not a deal-breaker for me.
The Talents are actually similar to the Talent trees from the VG, and overall I like them. They cover various fighting styles (adding Single Weapon, Thrown Weapon, and Unarmed to the VG's Archery, Dual Weapon, Two-Handed, and Weapon and Shield) and magical styles (using the VG's Creation, Entropy, Primal, and Spirit styles), several skill-like abilities, such as Horsemanship and Lore, as well as abilities other games tend to treat as advantages, such as Contacts.
All of the Talents have two listed levels, Novice and Journeyman, implying the existence of at least one more level, Master, presumably to be revealed in the "advanced" set(s). Again, me no like incomplete game. The Talents do, however, somewhat mollify me as to the "skill/no-skill" dichotomy. Apparently, different Talent levels measure different skill levels, even though Ability Focuses superficially more closely resemble traditional RPG skills. The Talents themselves are similar to D&D-style feats, granting various special abilities and maneuvers at different levels, rather than simple numeric bonuses.
Magic is actually quite similar to the VG, with the character spending mana points to cast spells, and with all of the spells being derived from the VG and working quite similarly. But there are only 18 spells! Raagh! Incomplete game! Presumably, the "advanced set(s)" or the mage splat book will have more magic options.
The weapons & gear chapter is short and simple. It has all of the basic gear you'd expect in a generic fantasy RPG. And if this was still the generic fantasy RPG the designer apparently began with, that'd be fine. But it's not. A major part of the flavor of the VG is the distinctive gear you can acquire, such as the seven tiers of materials for weapons and armor, or the race-specific items. I want sexy two-piece Dalish leather armor for my female characters, dammit! The gear is certainly gameable, but nothing about it says "Dragon Age: Origins." The feel of a game can be just as important as the mechanics - for a licensed product, maybe even more so. And the gear ain't got no feel.
The GM's Guide is unexceptionable. It has basic, and fairly solid, generic GMing advice, as well as advice on running a specifically DA: O campaign. That last is quite brief, but also quite valuable. It does a fairly good job of defining what DA: O is, and how it differs from other fantasy settings. It actually probably should have been placed in the Player's Guide, since it's at least as valuable to players as it is to GMs, and it should have been expanded.
The GMG also has some additional advanced rules options, such as traps, terrain, and hazards, and advice and tips on running the system. As with the generic advice, this part is fairly solid, but not exceptional.
Finally, the GMG includes a short chapter of adversaries. Again, as this is an incomplete game, it only includes a basic smattering of monsters and foes. Actually, not even really basic. The VG, of course, focuses on battling Darkspawn, but only the two most basic types, the stock Genlock and Hurlock, are included. And no, not Genlock as in "Genlock, Genlock Archer, Genlock Emissary, and Genlock Alpha", just Genlock. That's just bad game design. Your first fight with Darklings in the VG you're fighting more than that. Even accepting that this is the "basic" game, if you can't even recreate a basic fight from the VG...ugh. I guess maybe you're just supposed to play through the P&P equivalent of the "origin" segment of the VG, before you run into the Darklings. But really? No ogres? Which feature prominently in the VG, the promotional material for the game, and the artwork of the P&P itself? If you don't even include a write-up in the GMG for the monster featured on the cover of the GMG...ugh.
Oh, yeah, and there's a handful of fairly generic items, which, apart from the lesser healing and lyrium potions, don't match any items I remember from the game.
Finally, there's a twenty-page (out of a total of 64 pages of GMG!) adventure, which I haven't read through yet. In an introductory boxed set, there needs to be an introductory adventure, but it also needs to be in its own booklet, not taking up nearly 1/3 of the Gamemaster's Guide. I guess not putting it in its own booklet saves some production costs, but 1/3 of the GMG devoted to an adventure that you will only use once...ugh.
BTW, you may have noticed I haven't mentioned Gray Wardens, the focus of the VG. That's because you can't play them! At least not with the "basic" set; apparently, rules for them will be included in an upcoming expansion. Ugh.
I can accept using an entirely new game system, instead of adapting the VG's system, even though I think it was a poor decision. I can get around the fact that you can't even recreate the party from the VG...barely. I might even, maybe, be willing to live with the fact that this is only a "basic", introductory set, not a full game. But, taking all of that together, particularly the last two...ugh. Just ugh.