The Game Master’s Guide for Dragon Age RPG is a 64 page softcover. Nice cover picture on the front, useful charts and tables on the back cover.
Between those covers, the 64 pages of content is broken down into 15 pages of GM advice, 9 pages of “Using the Rules,” 12 pages of bad guys, 4 pages of “Rewards” and finally, a sample adventure.
Chapter One: “The Art of Gamemastering”
This section is actually the most substantial in the book (other than the adventure) and covers all the standard expectations of a “how-to” chapter. This reinforces my belief that this game is aimed at newer players, especially assuming some impulse buys from computer RPG players who may not have strayed over into pen-and-paper yet. This is not a criticism, just an observation. The advice is well-written and interesting to read. It specifically calls out “Gamemaster Fiat,” and provides some insight into the use/abuse of same. I find this interesting in light of the constant forum discussions I read on topics that are all some variation of, “Do you let players see your rolls?” or “Is is okay to Fudge a die roll?” I will freely admit, I usually roll behind a screen. I rarely fudge, but I like having the option.
The chapter also covers adventure design, talks about why Dragon Age is dark fantasy, instead of some other kind, and provides a pretty concise but brutally honest assessment of the types of players you may encounter as a GM. One of my favorite readings on this topic in a long time. I enjoyed it more than the somewhat PC and sanitized advice offered in the latest 4e DMG products. This is a game that does not always encourage the GM to say “yes.”
Chapter Two: “Using the Rules”
Not much to say here, this just expands on the systems and ideas from the Player’s Guide, with a focus on things the GM needs to know. One piece worth noting, they created a pretty simple set of flying rules that I like better than any basic flying system I’ve seen in a while too. I may take a look to see if I can make these work for 4e. The one issue, these rules are very forgiving to fliers in that it doesn’t seem attacking them can ever bring them to ground without actually killing them…
Chapter Three: “Adversaries”
A basic explanation of NPCs and some level appropriate monsters, such as Genlocks and Hurlocks. The chapter includes a discussion of how to scale adversaries and giving class levels to monsters. NPCs and monsters have the same stats as PCs just in a very stripped down format. Overall, they did an excellent job of representing monsters from the video game in recognizable forms for players to face. A few examples of building the sentient monsters with character levels may have been appreciated, but the omission is easy to understand in terms of page count.
Chapter Four: “Rewards”
This is the one part of the book I wish they had done more with. As a video game, Dragon Age had a great story and interesting interactions between characters, but essentially it is still built on the looting-and-leveling model. The rewards chapter spends less than one column of one page discussing magic items, and then provides another page of specific examples. This is a section which would have benefited from far more explanation and care being given to it. Perhaps this will be addressed more in the later sets when your characters are higher level?
Chapter Five: “The Dalish Curse”
A nice adventure making up the balance of the book (24 pages), it has a reasonably elaborate storyline. The NPCs are exciting enough to make playing through the story fun, and the plot, maps and locations are well thought out and bear enough resemblance to the kind of quest the video game would throw at you to be a good introduction for crossover players. I won’t say much more because I don’t want to divulge any secrets to players.
Overall, I feel as if this book reinforces my, kinda, “old school” feeling about the Dragon Age RPG. The game is simple, but well written. A lot is placed in the GMs hands and task resolution really does have a narrative feel. This may not be a game to build a three year campaign around, but for a change of pace, or a convention game, I think it will be perfect.