Lotta people interested in me taking a walk to think about my Dragon Age game. Thanks @slyflourish!
Dragon AGE has largely supplanted D&D as my primary tabletop RPG over the course of the 9 months after my D&D group finished Tomb of Annihilation. I got into TOA because I was feeling burned out on DMing and nothing like playing to get you in the mood to start running.
Dragon Age is the very popular Bioware fantasy setting franchise using Green Ronin’s AGE system. It’s very similar to 5E in that everything is an ability check. I’ve written more on the System before. It has some drawbacks, I don’t think it’s as elegant as D&D but it’s a refreshing change of pace.
What I’m stuck on right now is the best way to move forward. Last session was kind of the Season Finale and right now there is a big wide open canvas. In order to figure that out though I need to explain even to myself how we got here.
This campaign started with me running Curse of Strahd in Dragon Age. Curse of Strahd is very much my “big high school football game” that I look back on and try to relive but I need to move on to different stories and games. But that’s how we started, with that campaign and those NPCs. One NPC in Curse of Strahd is Rudolph Van Richten. He is the Van Helsing expy. The Vampire Hunter with the tragic backstory out to destroy evil. In Curse of Strahd he initially meets the party as a colorful circus performer, Rictavio. I introduced my version of this NPC as a Colorful Antivan Mage. Immediately one player was smitten with love for this NPC. So I knew I was keeping them around.
This NPC’s backstory has filled overtime as the campaign largely became a journey from a small town to a big city to find him. I eventually gave him a name, Tomas. This was not quick to develop because I improvise almost everything in every session. I basically sit down for an hour prior to the session and then write the session. Tomas didn’t have much of a backstory to start because I didn’t know how important he would be to this PC and more importantly, he wasn’t onstage.
I came up with an idea when I realized that the PCs wanted to go to Antiva City to find Tomas. This is nerdy DA lore but they met Tomas in The Fade, which kind of like a plane of dreams. Every piece of Dragon Age fiction has a “fade section” where the characters confront their past, their desires, or their worst nightmares. I gave the PCs a quest from Tomas. He learned, in the Fade, that there was an ancient temple somewhere in the world with an Artifact he wanted. He couldn’t get near the place himself in the Fade, too many demons. He couldn’t get near the place in real life, too far away. But he hires the PCs to do it for him.
The Artifact turned out to have two parts. Firstly, it was a book. Specifically it was the Testament of Tenebrious, an ancient mage’s book of his forgotten lore. It was also home to a powerful spirit of remorse, basically an avatar of this mage’s guilt for all the terrible things they did in life. The party did not want to fight him but they wanted to soothe the spirit’s guilt and they took the book. Contact with this book corrupted both the PCs and Tomas when they used the power here to learn the DA equivalent of the sending spell.
I’m still not sure what I wanted this book to do or what it meant in the plot. It was a macguffin reason for the PCs to go find this NPC.
So the PCs keep adventuring and working their way to this NPC. Eventually they meet a different mage who does three things for them. 1) She gives them a portal that will take them immediately to the city they want to get to. 2) For this service, she wants their book for a night. 3) The PCs had a spirit traveling with them for some reason and she implanted this spirit into this book. I also had no idea how to pay this off but this really should be a Dungeon World Style Front.
So the PCs make the bargain and use the portal to get to their destination. Problem #1, when they arrive, the NPC has been arrested and is going to get shipped off never to be seen again. Problem #2, someone is killing people using a magic poison that Tomas actually developed. Problem #3, even they free Tomas from prison he is possessed by a demon, the same remorseful one they met before. I came up with kind of a BS reason that Tomas wanted to make more people mages. In Dragon Age mages are kind like in Harry Potter where you’re either born capable of magic or you’re not.
After the PCs stop the murders they go into The Fade to defeat the demon possessing Tomas. They do so and at the same time they sort of fuse the demon possessing Tomas with the ghost possessing their book to create a new more helpful NPC, named Atonement, who is finally ready to physically make up for those ancient crimes. They also find out there is a bigger demon waiting in the wings who tells them, if they free Tomas from prison, many more people are going to die.
Writing this out I can see part of where I went wrong. I’ve put the cart before the horse and overemphasized these NPCs. In my partial defense, what I’m trying to figure out here is what quests these NPCs that I’ve come up can offer the PCs that would interest them. Fortunately I have some great cards to work with here. Before I go on my walk, let’s review them.
There will be some heavy Dragon Age Lore here so apologies if I throw proper nouns out. I’ve tried to tone them down up until now.
- Jean Allard – A City Elf Rogue from Val Royeaux, the Paris of the Dragon Age setting. He is on the run after slaying a noble who slew his friend. Jean’s player is a fairly casual gamer. He’s in a romance with Mundon, an elf who is sort of their comic relief porter. He is torn between being afraid to go back home and wanting to go back home to protect his family. Early on he also found out that the noble he murdered belonged to a house that is involved in illegal slave trading. That hook fell by the wayside but it is still out there.
- Myra d’Estremont – The Rebellious Warrior Princess. Myra is from the same country as Jean which is basically France. She left home rather than be married off to some noble by her overbearing mother. She also left behind family but feels less conflicted about it. Unlike Jean, her family has the resources to actively look for her. In a recent game she was arrested when the PCs got hired to do a robbery and was let out in exchange for being betrothed. The PCs agreed to run security for this noble’s family in exchange for breaking the betrothal but I’m not sure they’re going to keep faith.
- Karli Slothisen – The big hearted mage. Karli is a mage from the barbarian mountain tribes, which is traditionally a leadership position among them. He’s also the de facto leader of the group, a title which he loathes. But his actions have largely driven the plot the way it’s gone. He wanted to go find his love Tomas in the big city, he wanted to exorcise the demon possessing him, he wanted to break him out of prison. The question is what to do now since he’s rescued his romance, Tomas. The group has a whole is very much on the run from The Church since that’s where they broke Tomas out from. Karli is the healer of the group and usually prefers talking to NPCs over combat which I’m often (perhaps too often) happy to indulge.
- Shiralvhenas – The newest player to the group. Shiral is an Ancient Elf, basically this setting has Three Kinds of Elves. The Elves had their empire long ago but it fell and they were enslaved after that. Then they were freed and became the wood elves people are most familiar with. Then they went to war with humanity and lost. So most of them became the bottom of the social order in big cities and some are still wood elves. But a very small number of elves from way back when put themselves into a kind of stasis. Their existence is a big secret in the world. Shiral doesn’t really have a goal yet. They woke up and are baffled/horrified by the world. Shiral was in a romance with Electra who sort of ran the Thieves’ Guild in a city the party visited. I want to bring Electra back since she was a cool character the party really liked.
Then we have the NPCs
- Mundon – The Comic Relief. Voice and character based on Dolorous Edd from ASOI&F. In a romance with Jean. He was a city elf who ran away to join the wood elves, then he left them to join the party. His goal is to live and be safe.
- Tomas – The Voice of DM. Originally based on Rudolph Van Richten, his voice is my Spanish accent. Love interest of Karli. I’m not sure what to do with him now. Originally requested the party bring him this artifact but I’m not sure what to do with it. My first idea was that he wanted to use its knowledge to make more people into mages. He had a son who died which drove him to research The Fade, where it’s said the souls of the dead reside. I kind of see him as wanting to seek out death whilst fighting evil but he’s not sure where to direct his anger. One secret about this NPC, as a Mage he can be magically tracked by the Church.
- Atonement – A spirit of Wisdom fused with a Spirit of Remorse. This ghost takes the form of an ancient wizard and seeks to undo his wrongs.
- Electra – Ran the elven thieves’ guild back in the big city. Also a member of the Red Jennies, a sort of world spanning alliance devoted to helping the downtrodden and striking back against the powerful. She is in a romance with Shiral but the party has left the city and her. She was trying to earn the elves a place at the table. She’s torn between being a leader and being a rebel. I think I’m going to have Shiral make the choice for this NPC.
- Josephine Montilyet – A skilled diplomat, heir to an old but impoverished house. She sought to marry Myra to her brother but the party convinced them to break the betrothal. Accepted the party’s promise to serve her instead. But since the PCs left the city in a hurry after their jailbreak I don’t know if this will happen.
- Brice – A templar (anti-magic paladin) the party met during their jailbreak of Tomas. The party needed a Templar’s help and persuaded him to come along with their extremely high checks. This NPC is addicted to a drug and going to run out without more.
- The Chantry – In Dragon Age this is the equivalent of the Catholic Church. If I had to explain this religion to someone who knew nothing about Dragon Age I would say, “It’s Christianity but if Joan of Arc was Jesus.” Another feature of this religion is that they have authority over the schools of magic in the setting. Again, what if The Catholic Church ran Hogwarts? The party has an antagonistic relationship with the Chantry. In one of their first adventures they decided to break two kids out of their custody who were being sent to Magic School. In their most recent adventure the PCs broke the Mage Tomas out from their custody. This was not a stealth operation, the PCs attracted the attention of several paladins and ended the adventure running for their ship. The party’s defiance of the Chantry has attracted the attention of the Seekers of Truth, the Gray Guards/Secret Police of the church. These guys are coming after the party and most likely the party is going to need to earn a pardon before they get stomped into the ground.
- Dwarven Merchants Guild – Represented by the famous Varric Tethras, the Dwarven Merchants Guild sold the party magic drugs to exorcise Tomas and gave them a ship to get in and out of the Magic prison. They ostensibly did this for a magic sword, money from Electra, and favors to be named later. I needed a plausible way for the PCs to get in and out of the prison and this faction supplied it. The PCs are in debt to them but I haven’t given them an inkling of how far in debt they are because it’s largely a background plot function. Plus Varric is a fun NPC.
- Obella – This NPC is an assassin who belongs to the fascist culture known as the Qunari. She was The Killer in the big city, seeking to destabilize things to make things ripe for an attack on the city. The PCs stopped her and managed to negotiate a truce, convincing her that the attack would be unsuccessful and refusing to help her make it work. She ran off but she’s still out there.
- Imshael – A demon the PCs met in The Fade. It feeds off people making evil decisions. The PCs disrupted his first feeding ground and so he moved on to torturing people in the big city, running an army of lesser demons. When the PCs came to exorcise Tomas’s demon, Imshael told them how to do it. But it warned them that if they chose to do this, knowledge of it would spread and many would die. This might be a Campaign Big Bad.
- Morrigan – Another prominent NPC from the canon. I think there has to be some kind of revelation from Atonement going back to the knowledge the PCs gave her to create a race against the clock but I don’t want to pull that trigger yet because the PCs will jump at this shit. I’m not sure what it should be.
- Isabela – Isabela is a canon NPC from the games who I spontaneously decided to be the one providing the ship helping the PCs with their jailbreak. Honestly I kind of regret putting her in because there’s no reason that boat has to be Her Boat. She is very similar to Electra. I foresee she will be one of Myra’s many short-lived romances.
I’m blessed to have an embarrassment of riches to work with here. I need not search for targets, only offer them up to the PCs and see which hooks they bite.