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Magic Via Stunts

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My mind has continued to dwell on the topic of Stunts and this time around it has turned to how magic interacts with this game mechanic. We already have Spell Stunts in the game that allow Mages to enhance their spellcasting as it happens with various effects (d20 players know these as metamagic feats) and those are really good. I mean, I have seen Mages cast Stunts-enhanced spells that have stopped entire combat encounters cold in one action. Given the flexibility of Stunts, however, I have kept wondering how these could further couple with magic to create interesting and neat effects for the game.

I have two people to blame for this post, Mark Miller (@mrkmllr) and contributor Josh Jarman (@joja_rpg). Every so often I see Mark and Josh chatting back and forth on Twitter about Dragon Age and the AGE System as they hash out ideas and mechanics for their games and for Josh’s project, Dragon Hack. One night I saw a tweet fly by that captured my attention, talking about having a kind of Stunt that allowed a character to cast a spell. Hmm… I chimed in, told them I liked that idea, and they went on. It’s a concept that has come up in conversation a couple times now, but none of us has done anything with it yet. I’d like to change that and Brian Molix’s recent update to the Improvised Magic rules for AGE gave me a great idea.

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[Environmental Stunts] The Swordstorm

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In the previous post I outlined some general thoughts on creating environmental Stunts that take advantage of specific types of adverse weather or interesting locations. In this post I present a more fleshed out example of an adverse weather system that should be generic enough to show up in most fantasy campaign world, a terrible system called the Swordstorm.

Swordstorm

The dark clouds rolled in a few hours ago and churned incessantly in the sky until they disgorged their fury upon the land. The rain fell hard right from the start, driving at the earth with angry force, creating rivers of mud in seconds. The gray-blue twilight that had descended with the storm was only broken by the regular flashes of lightning cutting an electric swath across the skies and down to the ground. Wind blew from all sides, howling, tearing up the landscape. The booming sound of thunder seconds later shook everything to its core. This was no mere storm; this was one of the legendary Swordstorms that rolled in every few years down the mountains and across the plains. It would last for days and it would sow destruction that would take years to recover from.

Of course the enemy would choose this time to make their attack…

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Environmental Stunts

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With Hurricane Irene churning away in the Atlantic Ocean this week, my thoughts turned to adverse weather and its effects. The scene of a battle in the midst of pouring rain, say like the Battle of Helms Deep in the Lord of the Rings movies, is one of those atmospheric pieces (no pun intended) that amp up the drama of any situation and that, by all means, should be brought to a game. But how exactly? It could be done entirely in description, with the weather simply being there for mood. It could be done with pages and pages of weather-specific rules that detail every single possible effect of rain on the field of battle. Or it could be done with a combination of the two that brings mood into the scene and adds some rules for that extra effect borne out of the specific environmental situation. In short, Environmental Stunts.

These kinds of Stunts were introduced in an adventure in the Blood in Ferelden sourcebook (I won’t say where or in what context to avoid spoilers) to great effect. During the battle in which they are relevant, these specially available Stunts offer players specific neat effects that enhance the drama of the combat in ways which make sense given where/what they are fighting. The idea is a fantastic one and worthy of extrapolating to other areas.

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Specializations in AGE

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The AGE system presented in Dragon Age Set 1 provided many ways to define your character.  Background, class, and Talents could be combined to create characters with a lot of diversity.  Set 2 brought us Specializations, which allowed players to go a step further in making their PCs stand out from the rest.  It provided three Specializations for each class, for a total of nine.  These allow for a variety of character types, especially for most small to medium-sized gaming groups. However, there is also plenty of room for additional specializations, whether for specific campaign settings or for more generic fantasy settings.

When I started writing Specializations, I was focused on Stunt Points.  I thought up a number of abilities that allowed characters to use Stunt Points in different ways and created Specializations around them.  But something seemed odd, and I made myself read through the Specializations in Set 2 again.  What I realized is that out of the 27 powers throughout the Specializations, only two of them rely on Stunt Points.  This made me sit back and think a little more about how new Specializations should work.

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[Beyond Dragon Age] Hammer of Thunder

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I saw Thor this weekend, and though I have a few nitpicks, overall I liked it. I mean, I got exactly what I went in expecting to see: the god of thunder being boisterous and arrogant, hammering his way through problems and letting fly mighty Mjolnir all around. All that plus frost giants, Asgardian deities and Hawkeye? Yeah, I can forgive the rest.

Naturally, as I watched the movie, I thought about how some of those elements could be brought into a game. d20 and all its derivatives, from 4e to Pathfinder, have tons of published and fan material out there to emulate a lot of what the movie showed, but given the newness of Dragon Age/AGE we still have the opportunity to create new stuff. And in keeping with the simple and elegant design stylistics of AGE, rather than create complicated and exhaustive designs, I’m choosing to highlight only two elements here. Perhaps you will create some other elements and share them as well.

Note:There are minor movie spoilers ahead. Nothing major, just some cool scenes, but be warned.

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Goodbye Binary

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For the 15 years I’ve been GM-ing RPGs, it has mostly been a binary world – Did my heroes manage to find the clues they needed? Yes! Did their last-minute dive to stop the hail of arrows raining down towards the king succeed? No!

This is all well and good but when it comes down to how successful they are, the binary world I’ve been playing in does not compute. These games of 1s and 0s only tell me yes or no, on or off, hit and miss. How many clues did the heroes uncover? I dunno, the dice only tell me Success or Fail. How many arrows did the group’s heroic dive to save the king stop? Uhhh 5-ish, maybe but I’m just making it up because the roll of my d20 only tells me that I hit, or that I missed.

D&D has implemented a couple of mechanics (Climb checks come to mind) that allow me to know if I fall or stay put depending on how poorly I roll, but that sort of “story within the die roll” is the exception, and is hardly consistent throughout the rules. Natural 20s provide the only real context as to measure of success, and even then its still fairly binary in the sense of it being a massively good hit – there’s no variation to add layers of success and story to my dice rolls.

Admittedly, what initially drew me into Dragon Age RPG was the Stunt system (and the constant Twitter endorsements from @newbieDM and @DragonAgeOracle), but I’ve found myself more pleased with the Dragon Die mechanic as a whole. Every roll can tell a story – it doesn’t have to – but it can. In fact, storytelling dice is what drew me into Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (By Fantasy Flight Games), which is a slick albeit complicated game where pools of dice indicate degrees of success and failure. This concept is put into a more elegant practice with the AGE system, and below are some of the storytelling mechanics I’ve applied to my initial Dragon Age games (or plan to in the future).

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Stunt Man

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Well I don’t know about you fine people but one of the things I immediately fell in love with when I first ran the Dragon Age RPG for my group was the stunt mechanic. Those first Blight Wolves outside Vintiver in The Dalish Curse nearly decimated my players, but then the tide of battle flowed back their way and they swiftly cut down the snarling beasts. I’ve heard a few players say that this first encounter nearly turned them off the RPG as a whole but for me anyway this is when I decided that Unisystem had been knocked off it’s perch as my favourite RPG and Dragon Age now reigned supreme.

Of course the stunts aren’t the only reason I love Dragon Age. I could go on about the intriguing world Bioware have created with it’s dark fantasy edge, or the simplicity and retro feel that Green Ronin gave us in their ruleset. But then I’d be babbling and keeping you fine people from the purpose of this post.

Within a week or two of playing the pen and paper RPG and still heavily enamoured with the CRPG I decided to expand on the stunt list. I looked to the CRPG for inspiration and went about transferring as many as the abilities from the Dragon Age: Origins game to be used as stunts in GR’s RPG. They seemed to go down a treat as a year later I got messages of support from people and requests for more.

So here we are. I’ve readdressed some issues with the original stunts I created and clarified some points, and I’ve also added a whole page of new stunts: Mage, Unarmed and Special. I hope everyone enjoys them and they bring more fun and excitement to the fast paced combat of Dragon Age.

Download:

Dragon Age New Stunts by Saisei (PDF; 6.8 MB)

 

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