What is AGE, the Adventure Game Engine?
- Dragon Age Roleplaying Game
- Fantasy AGE
- Modern AGE
- Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy
- The Expanse Roleplaying Game
- And multiple upcoming games…
From its beginnings as the system used for Dragon Age, the AGE system has evolved, with multiple variations, but they all use the same basic system.
TLDR? Watch the Video
The following sections explain the basics of AGE, but you can also get a great breakdown of how it works by watching this video of Wil Wheaton explaining AGE for Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana viewers.
AGE’s Core Mechanic
No matter the game, AGE’s core mechanic remains the same.
- Roll three six-sided dice (usually abbreviated as 3d6). One of them needs to be visually distinct from the rest. This is a special die in the system, called a Stunt, Drama, or Dragon Die in various AGE games.
- Add bonuses and subtract penalties. One bonus (rarely a penalty) is your character’s ability score. Another bonus is your character’s focus, which is almost always +2. See Your AGE Character for more about these.
- Compare the result to a target number—TN for short.
- If your roll with modifiers is equal to or greater than the TN, you succeed! If not? Either try again or try something new—you haven’t prevailed yet!
- If you succeeded and any two of the three dice you rolled have matching numbers on the face (“doubles”), such as two 3s or two 5s, you might generate stunt points (abbreviated as SP) to spend on stunts. See Stunts and a Special Die for more.
- Whether or not you get any matches, the special die measures how well you do—higher is better—assuming you succeeded at all.
There are a few variations on this game system, used for special situations, but they all involve versions of this process, called making or rolling a test.
Example—Dashing Up a Rope: Let’s say your character is running from angry guards because you’re somewhere they don’t think you’re supposed to be. Fortunately, you left a rope you climbed down, and can use it to escape—but you must do it fast enough to outrun the club-swinging guards behind you! The Game Master asks you to make a TN 15 Strength (Climbing) test. This means:
- Roll 3d6
- Add your Strength ability score. If your character has a Strength of 3 (a high score for a new character) you would add +3.
- Add +2 for the Climbing focus—AGE books write that as (Climbing) beside the ability it is used with. (Focuses are almost always used with the same ability all the time.)
- Compare the 3d6 + ability + focus roll to the target number (written as TN) of 15. If your total is 15 or higher, your character succeeded! For instance, if we use the sample modifiers of Strength 3 (+3) and the Climbing focus (+2), rolling 11 on 3d6 + 3 + 2 = 16, which is a success.
- If the face number on any two of your dice is the same (you rolled “doubles”), you usually gain stunt points equal to the number on your special die. You can spend these on stunts, explained in Stunts and a Special Die. For example, if your 3d6 roll of 11 + 5 from the last step involved the 6-sided dice rolling 4, 4, and a 3 on the special die, you gain 3 stunt points.
- If you didn’t get matching face numbers, your special die (called a Drama Die, Stunt Die, Dragon Die, or something else depending on the game) measures how well you succeeded. If you got 3, as in the example above, that’s a solid, middle of the road success. You make it halfway up the rope before the guards catch up. If you got a 6, you might have scrambled all the way up—but if you got a 1, the GM might say you barely succeeded, and might let one guard from the throng try to hit or grab you.
One of AGE’s distinctive features is the use of stunts: bonus benefits and special moves you can take by spending a special resource called stunt points, or SP. One way of gaining and using stunt points common to all AGE games is the following:
If you succeed and roll “doubles,” where any two of your three dice (this may or may not include your special die) have the same number on their face (double 1s, double 6es, and any matches between), you gain stunt points equal to the number on your special die.
You spend stunt points on stunts, selected from a table according to what you were doing or the situation you were in. So, if you rolled doubles successfully hitting an enemy with a sword and your 3d6 came 4, 5, and a special die of 4, you’d gain 4 SP to spend on a combat stunts table, like the following:
|1+||Skirmish: You can move yourself or the target of your attack 2 yards in any direction for each 1 SP you spend.|
|1||Rapid Reload: You can immediately reload a missile weapon.|
|1||Stay Aware: You take a moment to make sure you’re mindful of everything that’s happening around you. Make a TN 11 Perception test with the focus of your choice. If you succeed, the GM may either make you aware of some battlefield situation that has so far escaped your notice, or give you a +1 bonus to the next test you make. This bonus can never stack with any other test bonus other than from a focus, must be used on the very next test you make (even if you’re the defender in an opposed test), and expires at the end of your next turn if you haven’t used it by then.|
|2||Knock Prone: You knock your enemy prone. Any character making a melee attack against a prone foe gains +1 bonus on the attack roll.|
|2||Defensive Stance: Your attack sets you up for defense. You gain a +2 bonus to Defense until the beginning of your next turn.|
|2||Disarm: You attempt to disarm the target with your melee attack. You and your opponent must make an opposed attack roll. If you win the test, you knock your enemy’s weapon 1d6 + Strength yards away in a direction you choose.|
|2||Mighty Blow: You inflict an extra 1d6 damage on your attack.|
|2||Pierce Armor: You find a chink in your enemy’s armor. The target’s armor rating is halved (rounded down) vs. this attack.|
|2||Taunt: You insult or distract one opponent of your choice within 10 yards of you. You must make an opposed test of your Communication (Deception) vs. the target’s Willpower (Self-Discipline). If you win, the target suffers a –1 penalty on attack rolls and casting rolls on their next turn.|
|2||Threaten: You strike a threatening pose, challenging an opponent of your choice within 10 yards of you. You must make an opposed test of your Strength (Intimidation) vs. the target’s Willpower (Self-Discipline). If you
win, they must attack you in some way (melee, missile, spell, etc.) on their next turn.
|3||Lightning Attack: You can make a second attack against the same enemy or a different one within range and sight. You must have a loaded missile weapon to make a Ranged Attack. If you roll doubles on this second attack roll, you do not get any additional stunt points.|
|3||Set Up: You create an opening an ally can exploit. Pick an ally. On their next turn, the ally receives a +2 bonus on the ability test of their choice. This decision must be made before the dice are rolled.|
|4||Dual Strike: Your attack is so strong it affects two targets. First, pick a secondary target. This target must be adjacent to you if you are using a melee weapon or within 6 yards of your primary target if you are using a missile weapon. Apply the test result of your original attack roll to the secondary target (in other words, you only make one attack roll and apply it to both opponents). If you hit the secondary target, roll your normal damage for them, also.|
|4||Seize the Initiative: Your attack changes the tempo of the battle. You move to the top of the initiative order. This means you may get to take another turn before some of the combatants get to act again. You remain at the top of the order until someone else seizes the initiative.|
|5||Lethal Blow: You inflict an extra 2d6 damage on your attack.|
- Attack again with Lightning Attack (3 SP) and move yourself or your opponent using Skirmish (1 SP).
- Attempt to disarm your opponent (2 SP), and knock them prone (2 SP).
- Any combination that doesn’t use the same stunt more than once with a combined total cost of 4 SP—Disarm for 2 SP and use a more powerful form of Skirmish for 2 SP, for instance.
Your Special Die: Dragon, Drama, Stunt, Etc.
- In Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE it’s called the Stunt Die.
- In The Expanse Roleplaying Game and Blue Rose: The AGE Game of Romantic Fantasy, it’s called the Drama Die.
- In Dragon Age, it’s called the Dragon Die.
Your AGE Character
These are your basic characteristics, which apply to a wide variety of situations, like Strength and Intelligence. Most AGE games use 9 abilities—Dragon Age is an exception as it uses 6.
You can generate your abilities by spending points, or by rolling 3d6 on a special table. Starting AGE characters usually have ability ratings between -2 and 4. A rating above 5 is truly exceptional.
Thus, note that if you roll for your abilities, your ability score is NOT the 3d6 roll—it is only the table result. Also, the random ability generation table is already designed to make characters a bit more heroic than ordinary people, so there’s no need to roll an extra die and take the best 3 dice out of 4.
Background (Optional—Profession. Ancestry, Drive)
Did your character come from a wealthy or poor background? Do they know a trade? At some point, you’ll be asked to select a background for your character that answers these questions and provides game traits reflecting their experiences, such as an ability focus or talent degree.
In some AGE games, this step includes further options:
- Selecting an ancestry (sometimes called “race”) such as an elf or alien, in games with science fiction or supernatural elements.
- Selecting a profession representing your character’s training and experience shortly before entering play.
- Selecting a “drive” that describes why you get into trouble with adventures and other exceptional deeds!
An ability focus (usually just called a focus) represents training and competence in something narrower than one of your abilities. Each ability has one or more focuses associated with it. As described in AGE’s Core Mechanic, an ability focus provides a +2 bonus to your roll in the area it covers. You gain focuses from your background and related factors, from advancing in level, and sometimes from a character class.
You gain certain special traits called talents, which enhance your competence in a certain area. For example, the Scouting talent in Fantasy AGE lets you re-roll tests using Dexterity and the Stealth focus. Each talent has three degrees which provide further benefits within their field. In some AGE games, even magic and psychic powers can be acquired as talents.
Class or Classless?
Some AGE games use a small number of character classes. For example, Fantasy AGE uses the Warrior, Rogue, Mage, and Envoy classes. These represent broad concentrations that provide increased abilities, more focuses and talents, and a few special class abilities, both immediately, and as you advance.
However, The Expanse Roleplaying Game and Modern AGE are both classless. You gain traits based on your character’s background and related elements and use simple rules to select their ability increases, new focuses, and new and improved talents as they gain experience.
Not all AGE games use classes, but all use levels. This doesn’t mean every game will vault your character to heroic status—some can be quite gritty—but level helps structure how your character improves without having to track “points” and other small measures. AGE games support advancement to Level 20.
AGE characters are similar across games—know one kind, and the others are easy to figure out—and they all have various secondary game traits. All AGE games use a Defense score, which is the target number of tests to attack the character. Some use a Health score, which goes down with damage, or a Fortune score, which can be spent to prevent injury. Armor, magical power…depending on the game you’ll see statistics for these, but no matter what they are they’re based on the simple core AGE system.
If you’ve read everything else, you know pretty much anything you need to start playing beyond a skim of whatever Adventure Game Engine rulebook you’re using. Once your character enters the story, they participate in scenes called encounters, which come in three types:
- Action Encounters, which involve combat, chases, and other quick physical action. In action encounters, we keep time in rounds of 15 seconds, to figure out when each participant swings a sword, runs for cover, and so on.
- Exploration Encounters, where the goal is to gather information and overcome occasional challenges of all kinds.
- Social Encounters, where interacting with Non-Player Characters (and sometimes other players’ characters) to gather information and sway their feelings and actions, is central.
An encounter can have multiple types, though there are special rules for the various elements of each, such as combat for action encounters, or rules for influencing someone socially.
An adventure—or scenario, story, and so on—consists of multiple encounters across one or more game sessions. Beyond the basic categories, the Game Master and game determine what stories you play:
- In the Dragon Age Roleplaying Game, characters explore the world of Thedas as described in Electronic Arts’ Dragon AGE video game series.
- In The Expanse Roleplaying Game, characters deal with the challenges of rival worlds and deep space in the setting of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse novel series.
- In Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy, characters dwell in the fantasy realm of Aldea, where relationships and the ideals of tolerance and true love contend against dark forces.
- Fantasy AGE adventures are heroic fantasy exploits in a world of the Game Master’s choosing, be it one of their own design, or a pre-made setting like Freeport, piratical City of Adventure.
- Modern AGE adventures can be gritty, over the top, or anything in between, and take place in a setting the Game Master chooses, such as the Threefold multiverse setting, the Lazarus setting based on the comics by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, or a homemade world.
At that point, the rubber hits the road, and the dice clatter on the table. You’re ready to play a roleplaying game using the Adventure Game Engine.