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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Unboxing Dragon Age RPG Set #1

by Ken Newquist / February 8, 2011

The Dragon Age RPG intrigues me. With a lightweight rules system, mana pool-based magic, and a killer background setting, it seems like the sort of game that could help pull me back into fantasy role-playing. After spending a night learning more about the game for a Knights of the Dinner Table column, I decided to order the game. It arrived Saturday afternoon, and I wasted no time in getting to the unboxing.

 Set 1 exteriorDragon Age Role-Playing Game: Set 1 comes in a boxed set, just like some of my favorite role-playing products of all time: Dungeons & Dragons, Star Frontiers and Gamma World and DC Heroes.

The form factor mirrors that of the original D&D Redbox (rather than the much beefier box for the new Gamma World game that Wizards of the Coast released in 2010). It feels a little more substantial than those boxed sets of old, but that could be entirely my imagination. I can't do a side by side comparison because none of my boxed sets survived my early RPG days, falling to the fate of all such collections as they were crushed by hardcover books, impatiently rammed together during study hall, or accidentally dropped down stairs.

I can't say out the Dragon Age: Set 1 would hold up to such punishment, but at age 39, I'm not inclined to find out. Suffice it to say that the box seems sturdy enough, and it made that immensely satisfying "sweeee-it" sliding sound as I let the bottom of the box fall away from the top.

 Opening the BoxInside, I had happy flashbacks to the D&D Basic Set as I saw a set of three six sided dice -- two white, one red -- sitting atop the Player's Handbook. Beneath it were more memories.

After lifting the Game Master's Guide out of the way I found a folded up map of Ferelden, the starting region for the game. While not as big as the two maps that came with the original World of Greyhawk boxed set, I couldn't help but think back to it and the many years those maps spent hanging on my wall.

Fully unpacked, Set 1 met my expectations. While it does not have the monster tokens or battle maps that you'll find in the Dungeons & Dragons 4E Red Box, Dragon Age has something you won't find in D&D's boxed offering: a complete game.

 The Contents The D&D Red Box is meant strictly as an introduction to the larger D&D line. It has a choose-your-own-adventure style character creator, but once you've made your character and played through the first adventure, you need to move on to the Rules Compendium, Player's Handbook 1 or one of the new Essentials class books. True, you can play through the Red Box multiple times, but you'll be revisiting familiar ground.

Dragon Age: Set 1, like the original, ancient D&D Red Box, gives you what you need to start playing the game ... and then keep playing it through level 5. It can be argued that the two games fill different niches -- the new D&D offering fills an introductory niche, while Dragon Age, with its dark fantasy setting, is geared toward an older, more established audience. That said, the bigger issue is likely one of space: D&D 4E requires a hefty page count in order to cover four classes, even if you're only doing levels 1-3. Dragon Age is a far simpler, more streamlined game and that allows it to pack its rules into two slim tomes. The pity is that Gamma World shows you can create a condensed version of D&D 4E and pack it into an all-inclusive box.

But I digress. I'm reading through the Player's Handbook now, and enjoying it greatly. The game reads fast, and the task resolution system seems like it will fit with my gaming group's play style. I particularly like how rolling doubles can trigger stunts, allowing players to perform exceptional moves.

The magic system -- in terms of spells and magic items -- is a little light for my tastes, but I expect Set #2 will help in that regard. I'm looking forward to rolling up some characters and putting together a playtest.


I seem to recall aquireing my original Greyhawk setting in a thin cardboard folder, not a box set (a box set was later released).

Seems like a cool game. I am concerned over the extremely limited spell choices, but let us be real and admit, a low level caster does not need much choice. Role Play individualize's the character.

My first Greyhawk setting was the '83 boxed set; I never had the folio. Most of my gaming memories from the 1980s and early 1990s revolve around boxed sets; I had the 1E and 2E hard covers, but Greyhawk, City of Greyhawk and Greyhawk: From the Ashes were the books (and boxes) I beat to hell and back.

I've stopped caring about spell selection (and I say this as the guy who normally plays the wizard). After 20+ years of D&D-style spell casting, I really do think that there are a handful of iconic spells, and everything else is just variations on a theme. I'd rather have the basics covered, and have options to create variations than get bogged down in spell management. I *really* don't miss people spending 20 minutes picking spells at the start of every game...

Thanks -- I'll get on that once I finish my Set 1 read through. I'm already liking the new collection of backgrounds they are proposing...

I'm so glad you're liking it, and yes, I have to agree 100% on how this box made me remember that other awesome red box of yore.

It's interesting that you address the new D&D boxed set as I just finished going over why, as gaga as I am for Dragon Age right now, I ended up picking it for my nephew. All the things you listed as "drawbacks," and which I agree with completely, worked as features when thinking about the specific case of my nephew.

Get a game going. You think you like it now, but then you see the stunts in action and there's no going back.

I'm hoping to get a mid-week playtest together with my gaming group, but we'll see how that goes -- time is tight. Worst case scenario I'll end up running it for the first time at MEPACon Spring 2011 (

Have you played this?

I'm considering picking it up. I had no idea that there was going to be a second box, and when I found out there was I became intrigued.

There will be. I haven't played it yet, but I'm putting together an adventure called "The Deep Roads" for MEPACon Spring 2011. I'll post some thoughts on adventure writing once I have that done.

I'll also post some thoughts on the game itself once I run the adventure. I'm looking forward to it -- it seems like a fun system.