One thing I like about Dragon Age is the specialisations. Set 2 produced three for each class and Set 3 does the same thing. After taking the time to study the 9 new specializations from Set 3, I’ve come to several conclusions about each one. You will also see minor comments from the Editor who GMs our campaign.

Chevalier: By title and description this one is technically out of the question for any one not from Orlais. A master of mounted combat you’ll find that this skill set at Journeymen and Master will be mostly useless in a good majority of situations as mounted combat seems to have taken a back seat for a good majority of the modules, though your GM could easily modify them. (Editor – I feel it to be an oversight, after all, are you putting your party on horses all the time to make it fair? Even if you are, one of you will constantly have the spotlight “edge” so to speak. This would of course be perfect if the entire party were the same class…)

Force Mage: The force mage has a lot of power for only two spells, and while they may both work as extensions of the mind blast spell, when used in confined areas these spells can deal up to 2D6 points of damage. while in open areas this particular specialisation is not extremely damaging but it does grant the user some more breathing room when surrounded by foes. (Editor – The crux is their ability to pull foes towards a central point together, then follow that with area of effect spells. Control of swarms could buy a team some breathing room to stop them getting surrounded and picked apart by multiple small attacks.)

Guardian: As the name suggests, this specialisation is all about protecting your allies, however it has a very limited range which is to be expected as you are literally throwing yourself in the way of attacks.
The other powers give you immunity to stunts that would make you lose ground and allow you to get a single counter-attack once per turn. All these powers make the guardian a viable choice for any that wish to play as the defender.
(Editor – Seems like a good “meta” companion to the templar.)

Keeper: Again this is another one that I believe is out of the question for you unless you’re a Dalish elf mage.
The powers and spells for this specialisation are not overly powerful, but when used in conjunction they can cause continuous damage to any foe nearby. In a drawn out battle, these spells can make a difference so long as you’re willing (and able) to spend the mana to keep them going, plus as an extra bonus: if your journeyman spell kills anyone, you gain a D6 of  health back.
(Editor – Often you will find that developers will favour the less powerful or subtle in this system, just because of the disparity of balances between different types of groups. The smallest things can send this game’s mechanics into a breakage. I think what we also have to remember is DA as a world theme isn’t as highly powered as say D&D. Characters are on a more balanced and equal footing, closer to realism in fact. One example of this is the minor gains to be found from becoming a grey warden. It’s nothing flashy after all is it? But it is a certain something extra, which implies a minor edge to make the difference.)

Marksman: One sentence: ABOUT BLOODY TIME!
Rogues had to deal with a lot of messing around with back stabs, pierce armour etc, and all of this had to be done in melee due to the previous set’s specialisations favouring the assassin and duellist.
Now the marksman makes the ranged option viable, adding some extra punch and versatility to the powers the rogue has at their fingertips, as well as keeping them out of the action and more able to exploit the foes’ position and to be honest, I always preferred my party’s rogues in the computer games to be ranged, so seeing this as a choice pleases me greatly. (Editor – At least in ‘Dragon Age Origins’ it was always more viable to play ranged rogues, due to their annoying habit of running through laid traps if they were a melee spec. You also have the issue of template AOE spells causing friendly fire, which in the tabletop would of course be deadly.)

Ranger: This one I’m unsure of what to say, as its main power is calling upon local wildlife for a short duration or a single combat. Outside of combat this isn’t really a problem, but trying to use the power in combat will knock you out of usefulness to the party for a number of rounds, if not the entire combat. This achieves a small pay off comparatively.
The only benefit in my opinion is the journeyman power, but even then that is situational as you won’t always have initiated a surprise round on the first turn of combat.
(Editor – Yes, they put an extra bit of power in there to make the character a bit less passive. I must say though, this specialisation really needs some strong consideration to homebrew elements. For example, the animal summoning. Of course it should take a while and it’s a no brainer that anything they meet should be fair game to attempt control, but I also think that it lasting only 30 minutes would be a total pain. After all, consider the elements of travel and how time is burnt. I think it would be fairer to rule that the ranger can either release the beast, or control it for a day, with perhaps increasingly difficult tests to extend this per further day.)

Shadow: Compared to the ranger, the shadow feels like a more appropriate step forward and one I would definitely consider running with. Focusing on stealth and guile, this specialisation makes it hard for your foes to land blows and even generating decoys to force an automatic fail on the attack roll – plus for all you melee rogues, there is the benefit of the Shadow master power gaining a bonus to backstab damage equal to their cunning. So stack up on your sneaking abilities my stealthy cohorts, this one promises much, but can it deliver?
(Editor – Depends on whose hands it’s in. A player that can utilise this well will prosper. It also sounds like a proper rogue type behaviour – relying on smarts to survive.)

Shapeshifter: The animals in DA can be deadly and giving a player the ability to transform into a select set of these creatures can cause some interesting and complex situations.
Each level of this specialisation grants a spell that allows you to use the forms of animals and more monstrous creatures, though certain ones might need your GM’s approval. Whilst in these forms, the mage can’t perform any of their normal abilities, but they do have access to the powers the creature has. This grants some new tactical choices but can could generate a whole new bunch of problems as our own group found out when Pete transformed into a wolf, walked around a town and used his new bite attack… yeah that ended well.
(Editor – It’s a dog’s life for Pete isn’t it? But aside from our tragically comical player Pete, I’ve never really seen the point in having this specialisation. After you’ve spent the time changing into the thing, you may as well have stayed as a mage and performed all of those damaging and (most importantly as a distinction) situation changing spells. Yes you can become a bear, but who cares? The party aren’t scared of bears, so why should the NPCs? This system encourages player characters to be strong, (especially at higher levels) than most wild animals. Once your party are that strong you would need to throw multiples of a creature at them to make a difference, and of course the shapeshifter brings only one…)

Spirit Warrior: This specialisation is again situational as its powers work best against demons, denizens of the Fade and incorporeal creatures, and while you may think templars would jump at the chance to fight back against these creatures with power like this, you’ll find that the Chantry would more likely treat you like a possessed mage. This could be an interesting roleplay point of course, as the warrior would have to obtain a spirit that would be willing to cross over from the Fade, yet also sharing a motivation that is in line with the spirit’s own alignment, such as a warrior who wishes to see wrongs put right, and being vengeful in his undertakings being a good fit for a spirit of justice.
(Editor – This is absolute roleplay gold for a character. It helps define the crux of your PC, which is a handy thing to do sometimes, as you can get away too far from the concepts that you set out for. With that said of course, you also don’t want to feel stifled by the limited choices of spirits available, feeling pressured into fitting the bill and getting shoe-horned just for the sake of taking the specialisation. I think it’s better to let your character’s specialisations come about organically, based on revelations they have, people they meet and so on.)

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