Dragon Age Tabletop RPG Interview

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2009-11-03
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Earlier this month, BioWare surprised us with an announcement that they'd teamed up with Green Ronin Publishing to produce a tabletop RPG based on their Dragon Age franchise.  Intrigued by the idea of BioWare entering entirely new territory, we sent off some questions to Green Ronin's Chris Pramas in order to learn more about the project.  The results to follow:

GB: To start off, can you give us a little background information about yourself and Green Ronin Publishing? What other role-playing products have you created and published in the past?

Chris: I got into game design professionally in 1993 and I've been working in the industry ever since in a variety of capacities: freelancer writer, staff designer, creative director, company owner, and president. I've worked on many RPGs, and written and/or developed hundreds of books and magazine articles. I did a four year stint at Wizards of the Coast, working on D&D and the Chainmail miniatures game.

I started Green Ronin in 2000 while still at WotC. I was working on Chainmail at the time and wanted to keep a finger in the roleplaying pie. I did not have grandiose plans at the start. I wanted to publish a beer and pretzels game I designed with Todd Miller called Ork! The RPG. Then I thought we'd take a risk and do an adventure using the as yet untested Open Game License and see how that went. I wrote Death in Freeport and we released it at GenCon 2000, on the same day the third edition D&D Player's Handbook debuted. It was a huge hit and the company quickly expanded. By the time I left WotC in 2002 I was able to step into doing Green Ronin full time.

Over the past nine years Green Ronin has published well over 100 books and games. I suppose I ought to figure exactly how many at some point but I lost track a couple of years ago. Our most successful line has been Mutants & Masterminds, a superhero RPG now in its second edition. In addition to a long line of d20 products, we've also published True20 Adventure Roleplaying, Spaceship Zero, Blue Rose, and Faery's Tale Deluxe. Our most recent game is A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, based on George R.R. Martin's awesome fantasy series.

We also spent three years working as a design house for Games Workshop. I designed the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and we worked with GW to create 20 odd support books for the line as well.

GB: How did the Dragon Age RPG deal actually come about? Did you approach BioWare, or was it the other way around?

Chris: They approached us and we talked off and on for some time. We were, of course, quite interested. I love BioWare's games. I rarely find the time to actually finish computer games, but I played through Knights of the Old Republic twice (light and dark side). I was pretty much sold on Dragon Age on hearing the phrase (spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate.)

GB: What has it been like to work on a project that was originally conceived by another party? Do you have people from BioWare on hand at all times for any questions that come up during the tabletop game's development?

Chris: Green Ronin has done many licensed RPG adaptations in the past: Black Company, Thieves' World, The Nocturnals, Red Star, and A Song of Ice and Fire. Working on Dragon Age has actually been closer to how things were doing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. In both cases we were working with a company using the same prop erty for a game of a different category. So it's a matter of deciding how to best express the game world for each style of game. I took a trip to Edmonton and met many of the Dragon Age folks. They gave me a lot of info and we talked over approaches for the RPG. Since then we communicate mostly via e-mail and sometimes on the phone. My regular contact is Mark Darrah, and he's been great at getting my questions answered.

GB: How long have you been working on the Dragon Age tabletop rules, and do you anticipate any difficulty in meeting the September release date? How much more work needs to be done?

Chris: About a year, though at this point last year it was mostly thinking and taking notes. The schedule is pretty tight for what we're trying to do, but such is the game business. At this point I still need to finalize the text of the first set, which means incorporating playtest feedback, developing some material contributed by other authors, and writing some of the soft material (like GM advice).

GB: Long-time BioWare fans are probably most familiar with the tabletop rules associated with Dungeons & Dragons. In what ways will the Dragon Age ruleset be similar to/different from D&D?

Chris: Like D&D and indeed many games over the years, Dragon Age is a class and level system. Like the computer game, the RPG features three classes: mage, rogue, and warrior. It's different in many ways. It uses six-sided dice only, it uses a spell point system instead of Vancian magic, and it has no alignment system for starters.

GB: The new tabletop game is described as "easy to learn". What steps have you taken to ensure that the tabletop version doesn't have much of a learning curve for veteran role-playing enthusiasts and newcomers alike?

Chris: Our first release is a boxed set and it presumes no previous experience with tabletop RPGs. It's designed to teach people how to play, so it has lots of advice and examples. On top of that, the system simply isn't as complicated as either third of fourth edition D&D. Everything runs off ability tests, so you're rolling 3d6 and adding one number to get your result.

GB: How many rulebooks will the system be comprised of initially, and what will each cover? Are you going to be featuring BioWare-created concept art and other illustrations within the books?

Chris: The boxed set has two books (Player's Guide and GM's Guide), a poster map of Ferelden, and 3 six-sided dice. The Player's Guide introduces roleplaying generally and the game specifically. It shows you how to make a character and gives you the first five levels of each class. The GM's Guide teaches the art of game mastering and includes an adventure you can use to kick off your campaign. Both books will feature art created by BioWare, as well as new art that we are commissioning.

GB: If the tabletop version is successful, do you intend to expand the initial offering with more books and modules over time? Where would you like to see this project go in its first year? How about five years?

Chris: Yes indeed. As I mentioned, the first set covers levels 1-5. We'll be doing additional sets to cover levels 6-10, 11-15, and 16-20. We'll be supplementing that with adventures and other material. What I like about this approach is that we're not asking you to buy an intro set and then buy the (real game.) The intro set is the game and you're just building on it.

In a year I'd like to see the second set out and a thriving community of Dragon Age players. In five years I hope to see a whole bunch of new tabletop RPGs who got into the hobby because of Dragon Age. Traditionally, most RPG companies leave acquisition of new blood to whoever is publishing D&D at the time. I think we need more gamers and I'm doing my best to make some!

GB: Compromises often have to be made in order to bring tabletop rules to a video game. Since you're working in reverse on this project, are you finding that you need to flesh out the content from Dragon Age: Origins (skills, spells, lore, etc.) in order to accommodate a tabletop RPG?

Chris: So the computer game and the tabletop game share certain core conceits, but from the beginning BioWare understood that our game couldn't just be a transliteration of theirs. The lead designer told me straight up that I wouldn't want to use their resolution system, for example. So you'll see the same spells and classes, but you shouldn't assume that everything is just like it is in Dragon Age: Origins.

GB: What sort of pricing will we be looking at for the Dragon Age rulebooks, and will any of it be available electronically? Any plans to include the basic tabletop RPG with a collector's edition of Dragon Age: Origins?

Chris: The first set is going to be $29.95 and we do plan to offer the rules in PDF format. While I would love to include our game with the collector's edition of Dragon Age: Origins, I don't think the timing is going to work out.

Thanks for answering our questions, Chris!