This age, this Dragon Age, much like similarly “medieval” times on Earth is a dangerous place to exist.
We had to endure terrible conditions of course, but the people of Thedas have to endure the problems we suffered along with a number of their own unique ones: Mages anyone? Darkspawn?
That said, BioWare’s vision for a fantasy setting that more logically plays out like our own Earth history worked out quite successfully.
I seem to recall another statement in Dragon Age text saying that people freely marry one another, as the possibility of death is always just around the hypothetical corner for the people of Thedas.
The official modules are always warning you that certain encounters are highly likely to kill some one in the party, stating that should this happen, it needn’t matter as this reflects the dark nature of the world. So I will start this article off by asking a question:
How many of your characters have died so far?
I will now tell you about my party.
We have suffered a fair few deaths. I want to look at those with a view to examining the nature of play in this RPG. Of course, some of them have even pre-rolled other characters, just in case…
THE NPC CURSE
Firstly, lots of NPCs have of course perished. No I don’t mean the people the party are fighting…I mean the NPCs accompanying the group. This happens even when monsters and foes are given randomised targets from dice rolls. I must say, this has saved the party a few times, especially in those important early levels where health pools are not very good. One example that comes to mind (though there are many others) is when the group took on ‘Amber Rage’ from the’Blood In Ferelden’ adventure compendium. I knew that end boss serpent would be dreadfully dangerous to them, it putting out so much damage as it does. But of course, the party had the NPC woman with them too, the one from the town that you can take with you, as she is desperate to escape her father. Yes, the serpent killed her.
Of course, this worked to create great drama too, with guilt over bringing her along.
Eventually the group would begin to call this “the npc curse”.
Paedar – Dalish Ranger
Let me introduce you to Pete, the second accursed one in this game…yes I am now talking about a player, not a character…oh dear.
Pete’s first was Paedar, a grim elf who had taken a glimpse into the pain of his ancestors during the Exalted March upon the Dales.
During the siege of Redhold when darkspawn assaulted the defenders 4 to 1, the group held well enough against the Genlocks in the first charge.
The second charge however was completely composed of Hurlocks. The way they were pouring in, over the walls, surrounding the party (as per the module spawning rules) cut certain members off from physical support to others. We use white board drawn up landscape (which you can find of this encounter in a previous Oracle post) and miniatures, so this is represented very seriously.
Poor Paedar took so many hits that he went into the usual “dying mode”, usual for the system I mean, yet also usual for Pete…
The support characters had their own problems to deal with, with the plate wearing templar (tank) falling too, and having to pull her back onto her feet, lest all be lost for the party as a whole!
Paedar bled out atop that wall and that was the start of things.
As GM I had a fairly satisfied feeling at this (sounds terrible I know), with a feeling of surprise that it had happened, but also a relief that the world has proven it is dangerous enough to kill player characters off. I suppose you could say I knew this would bump up group tension for future adventures. After all, it is more fun if the threat of getting killed is serious. Heck, the party also lost their NPC attack dog Oof here as well (NPC curse *cough*).
Falen – Dwarf Crossbow Spy
Pete rolled a new character, well sort of…in fact he had a lot of trouble choosing one, so I helped him out this time and gave him one to take forward, but under GM advice at key situations…oh yes I’m naughty like that.
The idea was that he would openly be an employee of Lady Baranti, who the group also worked for, but as one of her own found spies, the group could never truly trust him. Yes, that one was my fault really, but it really matched the uncertain tone of the modules, a feeling of are they with us or against us?
I always knew that some sort of showdown would be possible, but assured the player that any experience he gains will automatically transfer to his next character. His main goal from the GM was: You serve Bann Nicola’s interests in all things, even above the party. A simple instruction with powerful connotations.
A showdown came up…and went down (lots of ups and downs) at a ballroom type party. Carac (apostate) and Tanadil (avvar barbarian) tried to stop Bann Nicola going ahead with a killing in the place, but Amelia (templar) and of course Pete’s Falen stood against them. Amelia by this point was very much ingratiated with House Baranti, even though I had never asked her player to be…
Here was saw pure player versus player action. 2 versus 2. Tanadil and Amelia traded blows (basically sparring for those two jar heads) while Carac and Falen went at it in a range war. That was never going to end well. Set 2 mages totally trump set 2 ranged rogues, any day of the week. So that was the end of Falen.
When your group has the potential for PVP, you really have to make sure that all parties know it is in best spirits, and intended as a storytelling device, not to be taken personally. This simply calls for maturity. Players either have it or don’t. If yours don’t, it’s probably not wise to push in that direction. Luckily for me, my group contains various ages, but all are quite mature enough.
Bullheim – Qunari Warrior
This one has to have set a record for most short lived Dragon Age character. Of course it just had to be Pete again didn’t it? Poor poor Pete. But you know, I do hate fudging dice rolls, and dice, well they do hate Pete, even his own.
The group were meant to meet Bullheim within the adventure they were on. I had them going up against a reconstructed version of World of Warcraft’s Scarlet Monastery Graveyard set on the Eastern borders of Orlais. Bullheim was the poor qunari being tortured on the interrogator’s rack. Once freed he explained that he wanted to pay back those who held him here. It turned out that after this all they met were undead, and I mean hordes by the bucket load!
This encounter threw vast numbers of low hp zombies at the group. As combat pushed on, the party raged ahead of others holding back and lost all formation. Bullheim was one of those in the thick of the fighting, totally surrounded and being hit on all sides. At this point, the team’s spirit healer was being pushed back and forced to retreat from large numbers heading his way, thus cutting some of the melee fighters off from magical support range.
Bullheim fell, with no help in sight. The undead then finished him…
Eventually the group managed to rally together and fight back with co-ordinated team work, but it was too late for poor Pete…by this point the player was sighing almost comically, and the other players were laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Pete replied in his usual deadpan way, “I’m glad my death helped you realise how to win”.
That wraps it for the first part. Part 2 is coming soon where I tell you about further deaths…and oh, just guess how many of them are played by Pete?