All RPGs need Game Masters (we’re pretty sure). They make the game possible and keep the action rolling to tell a grand story with the help of their players. They give adventures direction, create lovable characters, dangerous encounters, and hope their players will have a session they’ll talk about for years to come! They also keep players from hurting each others’ feelings, schedule times for games, help players build their characters’ stories as well as ask for help building the campaign. GMing is a truly unique experience in the world of hobbies, and we here at the Wonders of Thedas would like to have a little chat about running Dragon Age specifically.
GMing is unique for every game. Some games they don’t even call you GM. DM, Narrator, Judge, Director, Referee, Storyteller, even Animator are some of the titles given to the important job of running the game! Each game comes with its own system, challenges, pitfalls, and excitement. Every game is different, so being a GM for every game is just as diverse.
So what makes the Dragon Age RPG’s role of GM so different? There are a few answers to this question.
Compared to other, more rule-heavy RPGs, Dragon Age is rather light on rules. This is an important draw for the game as it can be learned quickly and mastered relatively easily. This helps the game run smoothly and avoid the need to crack open rule books to figure out how something works in very specific cases.
That does not mean that this game is immune to that need all the time. Being rules-light, Dragon Age also will occasionally stump players and GMs alike because the game has no rule for something that comes up in session; or the rules might be silent on how to handle a specific case that has several rules bumping together. We’ll be looking at a few cases and our own interpretations in later episodes but we’ve got a few nuggets of wisdom to help keep you floating!
Dragon Age gives the GM a surprising amount of freedom in how they run their games. One of the golden rules of Dragon Age is this: if you don’t have a hard and fast rule for it, use an Ability Test. Page 199 of the core book has a small sidebar titled “Dragon Age in a Nutshell”and it is quite appropriate. Ability Tests are the core of the game: roll 3d6s, add some modifiers, and compare the result against a Target Number. If you meet or beat the number, you succeed. The Ability Test has enough versatility that you can use it for nearly any situation! You can use Success Thresholds to determine more specifics about the tests, and can use Opposed Tests if someone or something is working against them!
This impressive freedom does come with one real caveat: you have a lot of decision-making to do as a GM of Dragon Age.
While a lot of other games have hundreds of pages of rules to codify every situation, Dragon Age keeps things simpler. This means that when your players ask to do something complicated like picking up a foe and beating another foe with that first foe, you have quite a few decisions to make about how you want to do that. If your players ask how something works (like how often you can use a stunt that costs 0 SP, or whether stunt point reduction powers stack, or if you can perform actions that are normally regulated to Stunts) you will have to be ready to explain how it’s going to work in your game.
This decision-making power means that the game is more “in your hands” than other systems. While some games have rules for nearly every situation, in Dragon Age the GM has the rules for any situation. This is not to say that the Dragon Age RPG does not have enough rules to get you by, and it in fact has plenty to give you inspiration and guidance for how something ought to be handled, but the system can really become YOURS if that makes any sense. This freedom makes your Dragon Age campaign a somewhat unique experience compared to other campaigns that are in the same system!
Another thing that is unique about being a Dragon Age GM is the subject of house rules. Dragon Age, being the elegant system it is, is pretty easy to design for. This means that house rules are quite common, and there is a swiftly growing list of custom content for the game that GMs are willing to share with others to make the game bigger, better, and more exciting!
GMs are making new things for the Dragon Age game all the time! This crowd of junior designers ensures that the Dragon Age RPG has quite a lively fan base. The forums are abuzz with rule interpretations, greetings for new players, and the latest creations that the people of Dragon Age would like to share with the world!
You as a GM may find that Dragon Age does not have something in it that you need for your game at the moment. The game still has more growing to do, more books are coming out later, and you needn’t worry. The folks of the forums have got your back!
We at this podcast love the creative fires that burn in the hearts of many a Dragon Age GM and we seek to stoke them and let them burn wild and free for everyone to see! So if you want a quick taste, feel free to click on the Resources for Your Game tab at the top of the page. You can see just how hard people work for this game and perhaps understand why this game won two golden ENnies!
You will also find that people are quite free about tweaking how the game works. Dragon Age makes this quite easy what with being a light game, so this rarely has painful impacts in games. New Talents, Spells, Specializations, crafting systems, readjustments for Ability functions, new Focuses, Health growth, and Mana growth can vary between tables of games.
This variation and ease of modification does not mean that you should research the forums for 12 hours to craft the perfect gaming experience. The game works great on its own, but is easy to adjust if you don’t like some way the game works! Don’t be afraid to tweak if you find something isn’t working for you and your group a few games in!
Finally, and you probably knew this already, but Dragon Age gives you access to the rich and exciting world of Thedas!
“But hey! There are plenty of RPGs that use pre-established settings! How does this make Dragon Age unique?” We hear you, and the reason why this makes the RPG stand out is two-fold.
First, Thedas is a BIG world. So big, in fact, that the video games are still building more and more of it! That means that there is quite a bit of Thedas that is not yet established. That means that GMs have quite a bit of breathing room when designing their adventures to include unique monsters, foes, organizations, terrain, or magics! Because Thedas has so much blank space, we get to fill it in and make Thedas our own! Should new games come along and make new statements and claims to Thedas that you were building on, who’s gonna know? That part of Thedas, in your campaign, is yours now! We haven’t even mentioned the vast swaths of Thedosian history that may never be visited in the games! Historical campaigns can keep the Dragon Age flavor and feel but give you complete freedom in how your campaign is run! If your players really liked the video games but you think they could have gone differently, play the video game campaigns with the unfettered nature of a tabletop RPG! Thedas can be yours, mine, or anyone’s, so don’t feel afraid to build on the incredible foundation that has been provided by the writers and Bioware!
Second, this world of Thedas has been seen before on television and computer screen across the world. That means that if you have friends who have played the video games, they are practically half-way to understanding the tabletop RPG! They may even end up being blown away by the infinite amounts of player choice that can only be delivered by a tabletop RPG! This makes it very easy to introduce new people to the tabletop game when they have already experienced the video games. They may even come to the table with a handful of ideas that they couldn’t do in the video games! Embrace this cross-medium experience, because it also gives you plenty of artwork, music, and geography to use in your games to help people who have already played the games feel like they haven’t left Thedas for a moment.
Dragon Age GMs have a few extra responsibilities because of the light system, but they have quite a bit of support in not just the community, but the source of inspiration as well! So what are you waiting for? Get that GM’s Kit and run a demo for some friends! Show them just how wondrous Thedas is!