Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

First Blood!

One of my favourite RPGs of late is Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying. This is Green Ronin Publishing's adaptation of BioWare's highly regarded Dragon Age: Origins computer RPG, the result being a light and fast playing game that focuses on high action and often dangerous situations and dark decisions whose outcomes are more often than not, shades of grey rather than straight black and white. Fortunately Dragon Age’s mechanics play fast and light, so they never get in the way of the players having to make these decisions. In fact, Dragon Age’s mechanics, what it calls the "age" or "adventure game engine" are so good that I wish that Green Ronin would adapt them for use with its hugely entertaining setting, Freeport: City of Adventure.

Coming as a black and white softback book, Dragon Age: Blood in Ferelden contains not just three full length adventures, but three detailed full length adventures. This in addition to the three detailed adventure outlines at the back of the book! The three adventures here are designed in turn for characters of Ranks One and Two, Ranks Three and Four, and Five and Six. They take the adventurers into Ferelden's hinterlands of the Korcari Wilds and Frostback Mountains before coming back to its sophisticated heart, the capital city of Denerim. The last scenario includes guidelines of how it can be used as a framework into which not just the first two adventures in this book, but also those in Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying, Set 1 and Dragon Age: GM's Kit can be inserted to form campaign that will take the heroes from their first through to their sixth Ranks. Just in time for the release of Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying, Set 2.

The first two scenarios send the adventurers off into the countryside on quests. In the opening scenario, “Amber Rage,” they find themselves attending a village fair in the Hinterlands when they and its inhabitants are beset by impossibly enraged Stalkers that have boiled out of the Kocari Wilds across the river. Worse, whatever caused the rage in the Stalkers is contagious and has infected some of the villagers, if not one or more of the player characters. Fortunately, a local wise woman thinks that she knows the cure, but unfortunately, the prime ingredient lies deep in the Kocari Wilds where the inhabitants rarely welcome strangers. Even worse, there is a double deadline. Either the infected succumb to the rage or the authorities move to stop it spreading!

The second, “Where Eagles Lair,” takes the adventurers up into the Frostback Mountains, home to the savage Avvarian hillmen, who much like the peoples of the Kocari Wilds, do not take kindly to strangers. Again they are after something, but this time a person, the missing daughter of a local nobleman, rather than a strange ingredient. Before they can find her, the heroes find themselves in an Avvarian camp just as it comes under siege. This is one of the scenario’s most memorable scenes, a real opportunity for the adventurers to be truly heroic in a scene very reminiscent of the Battle for Helms Deep from the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Although both scenarios present interesting challenges and moral choices, they are each very different. Primarily in tone, “Amber Rage” being a much more grim affair than “Where Eagles Lair,” but what would you expect with a punning title like that? “Amber Rage” is also more straightforward, and in some ways more obvious than “Where Eagles Lair.” Then again, neither of these scenarios is wholly original, but the spin that their respective authors put on them shakes them up and makes them perfectly playable.

A change of pace comes with the third scenario, "A Fragile Web." Set in Denerim, Ferelden's capital, it opens with the adventurers coming across vile cultists about their work and in thwarting them, the heroes are brought to the attention of a well known noble. In thanks she offers to become their patron, which opens up all sorts of possibilities in terms of future adventures. To say more about this adventure would be to ruin it, but in contract with the previous two, "A Fragile Web" is not only city based, but also emphasised upon more traditional investigative play and roleplaying. There are moments here that players who are more combative in their gaming style are unlikely to enjoy, which is why this scenario would work better as a campaign framework.

Rounding out Blood in Ferelden are three scenario seeds. Their situations include surviving a night time attack on an inn, investigating a series of robberies in Denerim, and escorting a priest on a pilgrimage, but all are quite detailed bar the statistics, meaning that can easily be scaled to whatever Rank the hereos have achieved. All are at least a page long, and some are so good that I might steal them for my Legends of the Five Rings game.

Another aspect of Blood in Fereleden is that it adds more information about the setting. This can be as simple as new monsters or the very occasional magical artefact, but for the longer term there are details about the Kocari Wilds and their peoples, about the Frostback Mountains and the Avvarian Hillsmen, a recurring cult, and the city of Denerim. Of particular interest will be the section on the Avvarian Hillsmen and their religious beliefs as this is a given player option in the Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying, Set 1.

Physically, Dragon Age: Blood in Ferelden is up to the standards set by the line. The layout is easy on the eye; the art is decent – though you wonder if it would look better in full colour; and the maps never lack for character. In fact, the maps would not look out of place in any book for classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a game that both myself and the publishers of this book know well. If there is an issue with Blood in Ferelden as a book, it is that it feels rushed in paces, but is probably an issue with the editing rather the writing.

If a GM is to get the very utmost out of this supplement, then he needs to give it a complete read through. Were he not to do so, then he would come late to the campaign framework suggested by the third and last scenario, “A Fragile Web,” and thus waste some of the opportunities it suggests. Any group will get plenty of play out of the three scenarios in Blood in Ferelden and more out of them if the GM uses all of the contents -- including the adventure seeds -- of this book to create a campaign. All three scenarios are good with "Where Eagle's Lair" being the most entertaining. This then is another good book that any Dragon Age GM should want, and if it happens that a GM does not use them in his Dragon Age game, then its ideas are worth plundering.