We are getting ready to launch our new Dragon Age RPG, so to whet your appetite I’m doing some design diaries for the game here on greenronin.com. You may know me as the president of Green Ronin Publishing; I’m also the designer of Dragon Age. I hadn’t had a chance to roll up my sleeves and do some serious design work since Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition, so I decided to take on this project myself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
BioWare and Green Ronin have had something of a mutual admiration society going on for many years. We love their computer games and they love our tabletop games. We’ve talked off and on about working together but the right project with the right timing for both of us proved elusive. Then they approached us about designing a tabletop RPG to complement their upcoming Dragon Age: Origins computer game. As soon as they told me that Dragon Age: Origins was the “spiritual successor” to Baldur’s Gate, I was sold. I had played the hell out of Baldur’s Gate and if Dragon Age: Origins was going to be anything like its predecessor, I wanted to be part of it.
A little over a year ago I flew up to Edmonton to finalize the deal and get a look at the game. I met with many people from BioWare over the next couple of days and they filled me in on their plans and the shape of the game as it stood. I picked their brains about the game’s system and world and took a lot of notes. I was going to have to make some key decisions very soon and I needed all the grounding they could give me.
The most important question was whether to design a new game system or use an existing one? The easy thing to do would have been to take one of our systems like A Song of Ice and Fire or True20 and adapt it to the world of Dragon Age. At Green Ronin, however, we take our licensed games seriously. We want to provide a tabletop experience that best captures the source material, be it the novels of George R.R. Martin or a computer game. So I had to assess Dragon Age and how it matched with our existing games.
Dragon Age: Origins uses a classic class and level system. That put A Song of Ice and Fire, a skill-based game without classes, out of the running right away. True20 looked better on first blush. Dragon Age: Origins has only three classes (mage, rogue, and warrior), as does True20 (adept, expert, and warrior). However, Dragon Age takes a more old school approach and True20 didn’t feel quite right. The powers system in particular was not a good match for magic in Dragon Age.
So fairly early in the process I decided that the game would best be served by designing a new system. I also decided I wanted to do it myself, as I was up for a game design challenge and had a lot of ideas percolating in my head about how to approach a new class and level game. I would draw inspiration from the computer game, but ultimately the tabletop RPG would be its own animal. What works for a computer game and what works for a tabletop game are not necessarily the same and first and foremost I wanted to be sure we made a great tabletop RPG.
I also decided early on that I wanted Dragon Age to be accessible to new players. As I began to lay the groundwork for the system, I realized that Dragon Age was a fantastic opportunity to bring new gamers into the hobby. I knew Dragon Age: Origins was going to be great and that there would be a lot of fans eager to learn more about the world of Thedas. A tabletop RPG could give that to them, and introduce them to the style of gaming that had birthed computer RPGs in the first place.
On top of all that, Dragon Age was a chance to establish a new fantasy RPG that was easier to get into and play than many current games. There’s a reason I was hot to design a game that could bring new blood into the hobby: the market has been shrinking for many years. Part of that has to do with the increasing complexity of tabletop RPGs. In many ways the roleplaying hobby has built a wall around itself and then we’ve all complained that no one comes to visit anymore while watching our comrades drift away into other pursuits. If Dragon Age could acquire new players while bringing back those alienated by recent trends in roleplaying, this could only benefit the hobby we all love.
With these decisions made, my course was set. In my next design diary, I’ll delve into the mechanics of the game. If you’d like to read more about the design of Dragon Age in the interim, I recently did a lengthy interview with the Escapist. You can check that out at escapistmagazine.com.
See you back here soon with more about Dragon Age!