Recently, Green Ronin published the second boxed set for the Dragon Age RPG.  Since much of this material had been available for use previously in the form of a playtest document, the first thing I did was look through the new set for changes.In the playtest, the new Dwarf backgrounds were given the novice level of a talent called Magic Resistance, with the option to purchase further levels of the talent as they advanced.  This talent was only available to characters who had it from their background – thus giving an example of a talent tied to being a Dwarf – or what I started calling a Racial Talent.  In the final version of the book, Green Ronin eliminated the racial talent, replacing it with a static modifier.  While the final decision may have been a “better” ability, I think the design team overlooked the value of the design space offered by racial talents.

Racial Talents grant a designer a means to offer a small but mechanically interesting ability to a particular background.  So being a Dwarf means that you get a little bit of Magic Resistance, being a Viragoi means that you are born with four arms, or perhaps you are a Myrwinn and you have gliding flaps. (What’s a Viragoi and a Myrwinn? Keep reading)  Each of these examples offers something to that PC just for choosing that background, but at the Novice level, the advantage is not overly powerful.  A PC who wishes to spend their talent choices as they level can gain further levels of their racial talent in lieu of other choices and make themselves more of a paragon of their race.

When considering this idea, one concern brought up was the limited number of choices a player gets to expend on talents in AGE, thus potentially diluting their abilities by including further talents. The answer is that any given race should only have one talent associated with it only have one talent for that race — you’d get the novice level just for choosing an appropriate background, and you’d then have the choice, “Do I want to concentrate on being more of a Dwarf (or whatever race)?” Some other games have previously explored this territory of enhancing your connection to your racial type. I see this filling the same design space as, say, racial paragon paths in D&D or racial feats. You are making a choice to focus on a racial talent instead of a training talent — and that appeals to some players. I see it as a “meaningful” choice that both mechanically and in terms of characterization, shapes you and makes your character more unique.

A racial talent would be tied to a specific background; you could only take Magic Resistance if you are using a Dwarf background, or take Four-Armed if you are a Viragoi.  This would be a special requirement with any racial talent.  It would also make sense that a given racial background would only have one racial talent associated with it.
Ultimately, racial talents are there to represent something unique about that race – something requiring a mechanical solution to convey.  Balance is an issue to keep in mind, but the goal should be to create a flavorful mechanical talent that presents a meaningful character building option for players.Immediately upon seeing the Magic Resistance talent for the Dwarf background, I thought about my own creations as I’d been considering converting my homebrewed settings into the AGE System.  In those settings I have two races with unique abilities that were perfect to be represented with racial talents, the four-armed Viragoi and the Myrwinn, a race of flying squirrel beings.  These traits represent clear ability advantages that these characters have over other races.  So how can you represent them mechanically without unduly unbalancing them?  Racial talents offered the perfect solution, the first suitable for four-armed characters and the second for gliding characters.  Each talent grants the Novice level to PCs who choose an appropriate background when creating a character.

Check back next time for the backgrounds for the Viragoi and Myrwinn, and their racial talents.