Monday, February 4, 2013

An Arl's Ransom - A Dragon Age Actual Play

So last night I ran the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin for the first time. We had a new player at the table, my friend Russ, and I didn’t want to drop him into the middle of something with a ton of built up history (like our Necessary Evil game), because I thought that might make the first session a tad more uncomfortable. Everyone involved was new to the game, though I’ve owned the first two boxed sets for a while, read the rules and went through character generation before.

I decided to print off the Green Ronin Quickstart Adventure, An Arl’s Ransom - so, fair warning, there will be spoilers - and use that for the night’s session. Russ was a little disappointed that his first experience with RPGs was only going to use 3d6 and not “all the funny looking dice”.

Everyone went to work rolling up their characters, with Russ making an Avvar Barbarian Warrior named Nanoc, Tommy (not me, ANOTHER Tommy) creating a Surface Dwarf Rogue named Hard Bark and Kenny created an Elven Apostate named Pharaxis. I knew we were off to an interesting night when I asked them to create connections between each other…and they were linked by Nanoc having dated/slept with/defiled Pharaxis’ sister, who was now dating/sleeping with Hard Bark. It got worse when I saw that one of Nanoc’s Goals was to “kill the dwarf”, and one of Pharaxis’ goals was to kill both of the other two characters.

That said, character generation really went pretty smoothly for making three characters at once with players who had no prior experience with the AGE System. Maybe half an hour or so. Once that was done, we launched into the game. Right here having Boxed Set 2 was a huge benefit, as it includes three sets of reference cards for the rules and stunts, which I handed out to the players (and they actually used..I hand them stuff in Savage Worlds all the time that they ignore).

The adventure opens with the Arl of Stenhold hiring the PCs to accompany his Steward, a Circle Mage named Alenka, to retrieve his children who are returning from a trip to Denerim. He’s entrusting this task to mercenaries because his lands are under attack by Darkspawn. Alenka “drops” a gold sovereign, which Hard Bark quickly snatches up, and Pharaxis gets annoyed as he realizes the Arl has Elven servants who are not being treated well at all. The Arl offers them 50 silver each for the job and sends them on their way, though the Arl’s wife proves to be more sympathic, offering them an additional gold sovereign, which the dwarf politely refuses (having already stolen one).

We get our first taste of combat when the party comes to a chasm which has had the bridge sabotaged, and darkspawn attack (three genlocks and a genlock alpha). The genlocks unload on the party with throwing axes, and Nanoc is forced to rush in, as he lacks any kind of ranged attack. He pays for it when the genlock alpha hits him with a Crippling Attack, right after the dwarf is knocked prone by a genlock. Alenka unleashes her magic on one, freezing it (not solid, but hurting it each round) and draining its life to heal herself, while the elf tries to melee with another, afraid of using his magic in front of a Circle Mage. The dwarf draws his axe, still prone, and tries to fight his attacker, but gets disarmed. The combat was going pretty badly all the way around until the dwarf finally killed his attacker with a dagger, prompting morale checks for the other two normal genlocks, causing the one fighting the elf to break for the trees. The dwarf tried, but failed, to shoot it with his crossbow. Meanwhile, Nanoc was seemingly getting stronger as the genlock alpha was getting weaker, and he finally killed it with a brutal decapitation. The head rolled to the elf’s feet, and he kicked it into the chasm. If it hadn’t been the morale check, this could probably have gotten REALLY ugly for the PCs.

Now they had to figure out how to get across the chasm, leading to Nanoc chopping down a tree that the elf prepared as a bridge. Nanoc nearly dropped it into the chasm, however, so the elf and dwarf had to devise a new plan to get the bridge set…and then they both nearly fell into the chasm trying to cross, only being caught by swift action on the part of Nanoc and pulled to safety.

The group stopped for a breather, with the elf taking a nap while the dwarf went hunting. Alenka slipped away from camp and caught up with the dwarf. See, she had dropped that sovereign on purpose, and seeing what a greedy fellow she was dealing with, offered him the chance to make more money: Kidnapping the Arl’s kids for ransom, rather than returning them right away. The dwarf refused. And also failed to find anything to hunt. Alenka tried a more sympathetic approach with the elf, telling him that he could use the ransom money to maybe liberate some of the Arl’s servants. When THAT failed, she opted not to approach the barbarian, sending the group onwards instead.

As night was falling, the group wandered on, nearly oblivious to the dangers around them, until the elf spotted a horrific owl that was swooping down on them, ripping its talons into him! The dwarf tried – and failed – to hit it with his crossbow, but Nanoc shredded it with a brutal Lethal Blow, a combat stunt that adds 2d6 to his already impressive damage of 3d6+3. This led to a discussion about whether or not it was safe to eat the owl, with Alenka impatiently explaining that anything that is warped by the Blight is not safe to eat.

The night took a more serious turn when the group made it to the rendezvous point, only to find that it had been the sight of a massacre, with guards and darkspawn laying dead all over the place, including the body of a blight wolf in the campfire…which DID prompt the dwarf to ask if it was edible, and Alenka again explaining that it was not. The dwarf took to examining an overturned wagon and finding a strongbox…but he utterly failed at picking the lock. Meanwhile, the elf and the barbarian failed at finding any sign of the children, so the dwarf emerged, dropping the lockbox on the ground, and taking a look himself. This led the hilarious moment of the elf managing to pop the lock on the strongbox and taking the money inside. The dwarf did, however, find tracks leading away from the camp, and ample reason to believe that at least one kid was with the group that departed.

The PCs followed the tracks and found a guard, Ser Blaker, holding a defensible position while genlocks and a hurlock advanced up the hill. The PCs rushed to the edge of a gorge separating them, with Nanoc charging across the gorge while Blaker fired away at the genlocks and the hurlock with his crossbow. Inside the outcropping, Ser Bridget was trying to guard the children. As Nanoc made it across the gorge, he missed the blight wolves charging down from the hill and leaping into the outcropping, shredding the children. The dwarf, elf and Alenka unleashed magic and crossbow bolts to try to halt the hurlock and the genlocks, while Nanoc vaulted over the rocky outcropping and began savagely attacking the wolves. The boy, Joseph, tried and failed to kill a wolf to protect his sister, leading to mocking by Nanoc. A genlock knocked Ser Blaker to the ground to allow one of his allies into the sanctuary, but was then blasted apart by the combined magical might of Alenka and the Elf. Nanoc ultimately brought the combat to a close by hitting a powerful attack that went through the last blight wolf and killed the genlock that got inside!

In the aftermath of the fight, Alenka told Ser Blaker that the road was too dangerous and that he should return the children to Denerim…an exchange that set the PCs off as they realized that Alenka was in cahoots with Blaker. The dwarf and the elf made steps to intervene, accusing Alenka of being a kidnapper, but Alenka tried to convince Ser Bridget that the PCs were the danger, with the Elf being an Apostate and all. Nanoc had no idea about the kidnapping plot, he just knew he smelled a rat. As Alenka pushed the idea that the trip was dangerous, even Bridget agreed, noting the deaths their party had suffered. Nanoc countered that the PCs’ group hadn’t lost a single person. Knowing the big payday ahead of him, Ser Blaker tried to buy the group off with 200 silver, but when that wasn’t going to work, he grabbed the girl, Hana, and put a knife to her throat. This enraged Bridget, but it was the dwarf that struck first with a Backstab, causing Blaker to loosen his grip. Bridget blasted him with an attack and Nanoc finished him off. Alenka sneered and began attacking the PCs, using Winter’s Grasp to try to freeze the elf and draining Bridget’s health every time she was wounded. The combined might of the group was too much, though, and Nanoc ended Alenka as well.

Bridget said she would accompany the group back to Stenhold with the kids, but she wanted to bury all the bodies first. Meanwhile, the barbarian and elf were trying to work out divisions on the money, repeatedly cutting the dwarf out for being a failure. The dwarf tried to pick the elf’s pocket…but got caught. The elf let it go, mocking him for failing yet again. So he tried to pick Nanoc’s pocket…and got caught AGAIN. Nanoc, who had previously threatened to kill him if he tried that, mocked him and let him live.

When the team returned to the Arl, Nanoc made a boast about killing the Arl and taking over the Keep…and the dwarf decided to use the distraction to pick the Arl’s pocket…and got caught. This led to his imprisonment. Nanoc offered the Arl 300 silver to have the dwarf executed and the Arl figured “What the Hell?” and said he’d do it. Then he asked the barbarian if he was seriously going to fight him and his 200 armed men, and Nanoc backed down, saying he was joking. The elf confronted the Arl about releasing his slaves, the Arl said no, and the elf ultimately wound up locked up under vague accusations of being an Apostate.

THOUGHTS: The group popped pretty big any time Stunts came up, in or out of combat. I modified a few things on the fly, as I’d heard that the adventure could be pretty killer, especially the Blight Owl encounter, and I may have nerfed that one a bit too much…but the first combat did a ton of damage to the group. It has been a very long time since I’ve ran a game that turned that adversarial, but there was no bitter feelings at the table, just lots of jokes and very off color humor. The elf’s player is my player that is moving off soon. I think he was the least impressed with the game, but still seemed to enjoy himself somewhat. He did comment on the great chemistry the table seemed to have, and how fun it would have been to have had Russ with us through Necessary Evil. Tommy was less than thrilled with his character, ultimately, but he did come out with a rough combination of rolls. That happens in random roll creation. Russ seemed to enjoy Nanoc quite a bit, going for a Conan-like character and probably getting a decent “Level 1 Conan”. As a GM, I missed a few things (like that you only get Stunt Points if you SUCCEED on the roll, duh), but the handouts made it really easy for us to jump in and run. Russ did tell me after the game that one of the few things he struggled with was combat positioning, so doing it over again, I would have use a map and minis. That said, the whole thing ran about 5 hours, including character generation and lots of back and forth joking around (as much or more in character as out), which is really impressive considering it was our first time with the game and one player’s first time role-playing altogether. I think we wound up a little more humorous than what Green Ronin (and Bioware) assumes you will be with the setting, and it was certainly less serious than most games I run, but it was a great time (and it makes me wanna play with the AGE system some more).

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