At long last a day is here. They announced the next D&D Hardcover Adventure, you ask? NO YOU FOOL. Faces of Thedas, the next (Last? Only?) splatbook for Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG has arrived. At least in PDF form. Still gotta wait a bit for the dead tree edition.
For those interested in the “I Told You So” I did tweet on October 14th 2018 that Faces would be out in more than two months and less than four. IN WITH 16 DAYS LEFT ON THE CLOCK. Although it is still The PDF and not The Book.
That will be the last All Caps in this essay.
There’s art on the back cover with the Dragon Age Cast. I see Celene, Flemeth, Solas, a Saarebas, Tallis, Cole, and a variety of other characters from the games. Someone will have a lot of fun picking out all the people.
The book clocks in at 132 pages with the covers included. Looking at the table of contents there’s an Intro and then we get right into the Stat Blocks. From Anders to Zevran we have pages 4-95 loaded with 41 entries different Dragon Age Characters. Some are larger than others. Scout Harding gets one page. Josephine gets three. Alistair gets four. From page 96-121 we have organization descriptions like The Carta, The Qunari, The Friends of Red Jenny, and The House of Crows. Pages 122-127 are rules for relationships. The index and back cover close it all out.
The character descriptions are not just stat blocks. There are deep dives into the lore of the characters and how to use them. Since Dragon Age is often about people being not very nice to each other your enemies are most often humanoids and this is certainly a big smorgasbord of them. The characters themselves are built exactly like Dragon Age PCs at level 5, 10, or 15. These are the same rules you would use to make characters for a Dragon Age game. Most of the characters are level 10. The Origins characters and Big Villains tend to be level 15. Minor characters are level 5.
First interesting thing is Who Made The Cut? There are some surprising omissions and inclusions. Obviously there are fan favorites: Cole, Iron Bull, Morrigan, Flemeth. On the dark horse side we have Krem and the Chargers, Warden Stroud, The Dog, Marjolaine, and biggest surprise entrant to me, Yvette Montiliyet. But the list of snubs is also big. There’s no Bhelan, no Maric, no Blackwall, and no Vivienne. We have no Fenris which I find shocking. There’s also no Arishok. We got Wynne and Lord Seeker Lambert but we lack Rhys and Evangeline. We have Meredith but no Orsino. We have Sebastian but not Shale. Nathaniel Howe from Awakening is the only character exclusive from that DLC. And last of all, there is no mention of Solas, not in his Start of Game incarnation and not The Dread Wolf you meet at the end of Trespasser. This was the first thing I looked for.
One thing I looked for but wasn’t surprised about is that there is no description in the Stat Block for Lambert or Cassandra how the Seekers might be different from normal templars. Cassandra’s ability to set the lyrium in a mage’s blood aflame remains a strictly narrative power. Between this and excluding Fenris I want to say the authors really avoided adding mechanics to the game that would add to Dragon Age Lore. Explaining how Seekers work or how Fenris works was not done, but we have mechanics for Cole which I’ll get to.
Let’s look at a randomly determined stat block. A random number generator gives us 19 because the reach of the Dark Tower is eternal you say true I say thankya. The #19th character in the book is Scout! Lace! Motherfucking! Harrrding!!!
At about a page and a third this is one of if not the shortest profiles in the book. But it tells me everything I would need to know about using this character. The book says she is Scout Harding, Surface Dwarf, her role is “Adorably Sarcastic Lead Scout.” It explains her backstory, what she would do in an encounter, and explains what she would look for in a romance as her character is semi-romanceable in the video games. The stat block is honestly the least interesting thing here. She is a vanilla level 5 Rogue. This is not D&D where unique humanoids or monsters tend to have unique powers. She is a level 5 Rogue no different than a Level 5 Dragon Age Rogue PC. This character is very similar to my own City Elf I played, Elhar, who was also an archer Rogue. Her stats are better than I think is normal for a level 5 character. But if you wanted to make your own AGE Scout this is not a bad template to follow.
Let’s hit the random number generator again and #17 is Flemeth. This is very appropriate because while Harding is possibly the lowest level character in the book who was rigidly built within the Dragon Age RPG ruleset Flemeth…is not. Flemeth can cast any spell, she has infinite mana, she has permanent 8 Armor that cannot be penetrated, and she can transform into a goddamn Dragon. This entry does not spoil Dragon Age: Inquisition. But it does give her history, her relationships, and how a GM might use her in the story.
Three characters I would like to call attention to, Cole, Iron Bull, and Merrill. All are level 10 characters. But in these sections you will find something verrrry interesting, three new backgrounds for your Dragon Age character. In D&D terms, Background is your Race in this system. This is the only player crunch in the book. The new backgrounds include: Incarnated Spirit, Ben-Hassrath, and Dalish Mage.
The Incarnated Spirit has 10 speed, same as Human. You gain a bonus to Perception and choose between Stealth or Empathy. Your random bonus chart includes increases to Willpower, Dex, or Con, with potential ability focuses Initiative, Investigation, Self-Discipline, Stamina, or Persuasion. You can be a rogue or warrior. Is it weird that Cole is based on a Mage but can’t be a mage yet spirits are living magic? Whatever. The Spirit can also get a specific talent, Vanishing. You can make someone forget you just like Cole does. Curiously the Master Level of this talent is the only part that requires you to pick the emotion your spirit embodies.
The Ben-Hassrath table seems to be incomplete. Maybe it’s not but there are a few typos which mix up the issue. It doesn’t gain a plus to an ability score. What I’m guessing you’re supposed to is use the Ben-Hassrath random ability chart and then gain the static abilities from another race. A City Elf Ben-Hassrath gains the city elf traits but they speak Qunlat, and they roll on the Ben-Hassrath chart.
And what will probably be the most popular background, Dalish Mage. No more Apostate or Dalish Elf for you! Unlike those two backgrounds which give a +1 Willpower, this one gives you that all-important +1 Magic in addition to regular “Elfy Shit” like +1 Dex, Historical Lore, Staves, and Tracking.
So how do we feel about this book. The book with shipping was $42 and the PDF was an extra $5. I’d say Vivienne and Fenris would’ve bumped up the value to make this worth it. This is pricey for a not massive book of mostly good-aligned boss style NPCS built exactly like PCs. The lore content is good and the advice on how to use these characters in your home game is insightful. Well worth the extra $5 to start reading this now for the DA inclined. The PDF itself will set you back $19.
There are a few other typos I noticed and I usually don’t catch that sort of thing so there are probably many more for those who notice clean copy. There are also numerous errors in the stat blocks of the various characters which is the worst part of the book. Several characters are missing ability scores or their damage with a weapon isn’t calculated correctly. For a book that is entirely devoted to stat blocks finding missing scores and errors in those stat blocks is a real middle finger to the reader. This drops the book in quality by at least a full letter grade more for egregiousness than the inconvenience of not having Cole’s Willpower score.
I overpaid for this but you know what, I consider that extra $10 my, “Please Publish More Dragon Age Content” tax. I love this universe and I’m running two games with these rules. Green Ronin, please publish more Dragon Age content, Bioware, please approve this content in a timely fashion. This universe has more stat blocks, spells, and especially adventures and I’d be happy to fork over cash for them. I could take or leave D&D, but Dragon Age is where my heart is right now.