Iconic Warrior

A while ago I posted some thoughts over on my personal website on the idea of warrior stances as an alternative to specializations. I asked Daniel if I could revisit the subject here, with a little more attention paid to the balance between these homebrew elements and the tools that already exist in the game.

Stances for Dragon Age are not a new idea. Since Set 1, we’ve had the stunt Defensive Stance, which implies a martial readiness used to ward off follow-up attacks to the character’s actions. Other Dragon Age fans have taken the idea of stances farther by adding a bevy of stances that confer static bonuses on the character. But my goal was to devise a system that gave players another option to choose from during levels 6, 8, and 10 when the only class powers they receive are the advancements in their specialization talent. With only two boxed sets in print, each class only has three specializations to choose from at present, none of which may conform to a player’s chosen character concept.

The stances system presents five warrior stances of roughly equal power, allowing the character to pick and choose between them as the situation demands. From the five available, warrior characters pick the one they want to learn at 6th level instead of choosing an available specialization. Unlike a specialization talent, the chosen stance does not grow in power as the warrior gains in levels. Instead, the warrior perfects new combat maneuvers, gaining the use of a second choice of stance from those provided at 8th level, and adding a third stance to his or her repertoire at 10th level.

An obvious benefit of the stance system of warrior specialization is that players can change stances during a fight, allowing them to use the bonuses and abilities granted by a particular stance to meet the present challenge. A warrior must spend an activation action to enter or change stances, and can leave a stance as a free action.

The warrior can never gain more than three stances, but with the game master’s permission could retrain, or replace an existing stance with a different one. Warriors can only choose to retrain stances when they reach a new level. This last rule will have to be revisited after we see what’s in store for level advancement in box set 3.

Stances

In designing these example stances, I set three goals for myself:

  1. More than static bonuses. I really don’t see the appeal of a set group of +2/-2 modifiers to different abilities per stance, and nothing more. To really make use of the design space in Dragon Age, I wanted to develop stances that had fun, unique interactions with the game’s mechanics and stunt system.
  2. A possible replacement for Specializations. Because the character would forgo a specialization in order to pick the stance system, the individual stances should have a power level greater than the novice level of a traditional specialization, but less than the master level as a trade-off for the increased versatility of the character in combat.
  3. Equally appealing powers. The decision between three great stances and two crappy ones isn’t much of a decision. If a stance seems powerful, it usually comes with a drawback to help balance the advantage.

Stances come in a variety of forms and martial disciplines. Game masters and players should feel free to change the names of the stances to match their campaign world, with the following examples those that might be used in an animistic society where warriors emulate the actions of familiar, sacred animals. Patient Tortoise stance could just as simply be referred to as Defensive or Mountain stance, for example.

Charging Rhinoceros: With its iron-hard hide and tremendous strength, the stalwart rhinoceros is a formidable foe. It uses brute strength to batter and gore its enemies, and few can withstand its thunderous charge.

While in Charging Rhinoceros stance, you gain a  +2 to attack rolls (charge attacks normally only grant a +1 to attack) and can move your full speed while making a charge attack. In addition, the warrior in charging rhinoceros stance can perform the Knock Prone stunt for 1 Stunt Point while charging.

Nimble Crane: The steady crane picks its way carefully through the marsh, using its lightning speed and precision to spear unwary opponents. While its long legs make it appear delicate, the crane uses its surprising agility to sidestep the attacks of its foes.

While in Nimble Crane stance, you gain a +2 to your attack rolls and can perform the Pierce Armor stunt for 1 Stunt Point if you use the Aim action before the attack. (The Aim action normally only grants a +1 bonus to attack.) In addition, a warrior in Nimble Crane stance subject to the Skirmish stunt can make an opposed Dexterity (Acrobatics) test versus the opponent’s attack roll, and if successful can resist a number of yards of forced movement equal to the Dragon Die.

Noble Warhound: Although a fierce and deadly combatant in its own right, the warhound survives the dangers of the battlefield because of the combined might of its pack. A natural leader, the alpha hound compliments the movements of his pack in battle, exhorting them to greater ferocity and bloodshed

While in Noble Warhound stance, you bestow a +1 bonus to the Defense and attack rolls of companions within 8 yards. In addition, when the warrior in Noble Warhound stance spends a Stunt Point on the Stay Aware stunt, he can grant an ally within 12 yards the benefit of the stunt instead of himself. The warrior can expend as many Stunt Points on this stunt per turn as he has allies in range, and its effects stack with the bonus conferred by the warhound stance.

Patient Tortoise: The slow and steady tortoise uses its formidable armor to turn aside the attacks of its opponents. This steadfast refusal to buckle under repeated attacks can enrage its enemies.

While in Patient Tortoise stance, your Defense is increased by 1 (2 if using a shield), but your attacks suffer from a -2 penalty to damage. In addition, the warrior in Patient Tortoise stance can expend a major action in order to use the Threaten stunt without having to expend Stunt Points. The benefits of this stance stack with the Defensive Stance stunt.

Raging Cave Bear: The cave bear is a massive creature of tough hide and sharp claws. It uses its rage and formidable strength to bash at opponents with little regard for its own safety in combat.

While in Raging Cave bear stance, you gain a +2 to damage with melee attacks and a +1 to Willpower (Courage, Morale) tests, but suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls and Defense, and -1 to Perception tests. In addition, the warrior in Raging Cave Bear stance can perform the Dual Strike and the Lethal Blow stunts for 1 SP less than normal.

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