My tumble down the rabbit hole of 5th Edition D&D continues and this week I’m going to share some of what I’ve been working on: a conversion of Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG (based on the fantastic Bioware games of the same name) to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Rather than simply show you what I’ve done and have you fawn all over me (cause how could you not?), I’d like to present this as a lucky bag of tips on creating monsters and how to approach converting existing content to an RPG system. Be warned: many an acronym lies ahead.
Dragon Age and The AGE System
Back when Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) released back in… holy crap 2009?! Sigh… I’m old. Anyway, back when DA:O released Green Ronin acquired the rights to publish a tabletop RPG set in Thedas, the world of Dragon Age (Fun Fact: Thedas is literally The Dragon Age Setting).
In 2010 Green Ronin released Set 1 of the Dragon Age RPG (DARPG) using the Adventure Game Engine (or the “AGE system” – see what they did there?) designed by Chris Pramas. Set 1 allowed players to play characters from levels 1 to 5 and Green Ronin planned on releasing sets 2, 3, and 4 six months after each other, with each subsequent set adding another five levels of play. The idea behind this, and behind much of the design of the DARPG, was to mimic the old D&D Red Box by making a tabletop RPG that was easy to understand, didn’t require reading 3 daunting books to play, and allowed you to get playing with straight away.
The system, for the most part, accomplished that. It was easy to pick up and play and used only six-sided dice in place of the suite of polyhedral dice associated with D&D – d6’s being both familiar and easily found in most houses, thereby aiding in the accessibility. It also had a fantastic mechanic called “Stunts” which allowed players to pull off evocative moves and manoeuvres in combat if they rolled doubles on two of their three dice. I was an early adopter and quickly fell in love.
Unfortunately the release of subsequent sets did not go as planned. There were huge delays in releases, with playtest rules for set 2 and then set 2 itself being released over a year after set 1, before sets 3 and 4 were lumped in together and finally released in 2014 – some two years after the expected release date. Only those involved in the project know why these delays occurred but most blamed EA/Bioware for being slow on approvals. Whatever happened, releases stuttered and stumbled and I slowly fell away from the DARPG and roleplaying in general.
Flash forward to now and I am consumed with thoughts of role-playing, and D&D 5th Edition in particular. My Curse of Strahd campaign should finish up soonish (one way or another… *evil grin*) and I’ve decided to go back to our old Dragon Age game. We had played the campaign for years and our group remembers it fondly, so it just made sense to combine our love for our old Dragon Age game with our new found love of 5th Edition. Which brings us to where we are now: Dungeons & Dragon Age!
NOTE: It’s not all bad news for the AGE system by the way. Since its stuttered launch Green Ronin have released a complete Dragon Age RPG book covering levels 1 to 20 which won Gold at the 2016 ENnies Awards for Best Interior Art and Game of the Year; they’ve also released their own Fantasy AGE book (presumably to be free of the shackles of EA!); and the AGE system was used for Wil Wheton’s tabletop show Titansgrave which you can also get the setting book for! It’s still a system close to my heart and I would highly recommend it for those looking for a “popcorn” or easy-to-use RPG.
Converting Monsters: Mechanics and “The Essence”
This being a Dragon Age conversion, the first thing I decided to bring over into 5th Edition was of course the Darkspawn.
For those of you familiar with the Dragon Age setting and the games, you’ll know that there were some pretty extreme changes in how the darkspawn were presented in DA:O and DA2. Most notable of these changes were that Genlocks went from being short, dwarf-like orcs to being ‘roided out ape-lookin’ things. However, when we initially began our Dragon Age game back in 2010 all we knew were the darkspawn from DA:O so for my conversion, and to avoid confusion, I decided to keep the “classic” genlocks.
When I set about to convert/design the darkspawn for 5th Edition I was pulling information from a few different places: the lore of the video games and expanded universe, some of which was contradictory; the mechanics from the games, which changed depending on which game you were playing; and Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG itself, which my players were use to… well, assuming they could remember.
Converting monsters from the AGE system was actually quite easy and proved to be a lot of fun. Though AGE has 8 attributes where D&D has 6 ability scores, most of the stats can be easily mapped across or can be created by combining and averaging two scores. Strength is obviously Strength in both regards. Cunning in AGE is comparable to Intelligence in D&D as it represents the synapses firing in the ol’ noodle, but wizards also use Intelligence to cast spells in D&D so it could be linked to Magic in AGE. Depending on what fit the creature I averaged these two scores or took the highest as needed.
(There were similar analogues when it came to weapons and armour: an Armour Rating of 4 in DARPG meant heavy leather, so when it came to D&D I gave that character studded leather; if a character had a longsword… well then they had a longsword!)
A character’s score in an attribute in Dragon Age typically ranges from -2 up to 4, 1 being average, with even higher scores for characters of higher level or powerful creatures. This is not dissimilar to D&D which sees character’s ability score modifiers generally ranging from -4 to +4, with +0 being the average, and scores beyond that typically being reserved for the most powerful monsters in the game. Dragon Age even used 3d6 when calculating attributes at character generation which players then referenced on a table, very similar to D&D’s 4d6-drop-lowest style of ability score generation.
Rather than be beholden to these tables and constantly referencing back and forth, I used these as a rough guide but often went with my gut and what felt right. You can see a comparison below.
A Hurlock in both the DARPG and my 5th Edition version has +4 Strength and +3 Constitution, so a direct conversion. However its Cunning and Magic in the DARPG is 1 and its Intelligence in D&D is +0. As I mentioned, these are the average scores in each system so it seemed to fit better. A standard Hurlock isn’t dumb, but it isn’t particularly clever either. I generally handled these numbers by keeping them the same if they were above 3, and altering them as needed if they were below 3. Determining the Hurlock’s Wisdom score was interesting, as Wisdom represents your awareness of the world around you in D&D but is also often used to resist certain types of magical effects that affect your character’s mind or will. In the DARPG these are two different attributes: Perception and Willpower. The Hurlock’s Perception is 2 which is one above average, so in D&D terms its Wisdom should be +1. Its Willpower however is 3 which is two above average, so +2 in D&D terms. In this scenario I just averaged the two scores and rounded up for a final score of +2.
The reason I mention all this is because I wanted to explain that I didn’t have a set “formula” for converting monsters from the DARPG to D&D. I tried to be as true to the original monsters as possible but there were things I wanted to bring to this conversion that I didn’t have in the original DARPG. For darkspawn, it was that I wanted them to be a fearsome threat. This meant increasing the amount of health the hurlock had (a hurlock in DARPG has health equivalent to a level 1 character, in my version they’re equatable to a 5th or 6th level character) and using some of the really interesting monster abilities and traits in 5th Edition to create something that I felt was truer to the darkspawn as depicted in the lore of the Dragon Age games if not the mechanics. I felt the essence of the darkspawn was that they are terrifying and vicious creatures, almost a force of nature. I tried to make my designs reflect that.
The long winded point I’m trying to make here is that whether you’re creating a new monster or converting a monster from another system, video game, or book the most important thing is to hone in on what makes that monster unique, what is the essence of the creature, and what do you want from it. I found I was far better at doing this for my second conversion, demons, as they were greatly underrepresented in the DARPG. This took the shackles off and allowed me to hone in on how the monster should feel in play rather than trying to perfectly mirror mechanics from a system that I had since set aside.
So I had planned on getting stuck into how I went about creating some of my darkspawn but this article has already gone on quite long. So next week I’ll get stuck into the nitty gritty of actually creating or converting a monster for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
Until then, you can check out a brand new section of the site that has links to downloads of all the various different things I’ve created to use in my games. Contained there are up to date files on all my Dragon Age conversion work, as well as a number of form fillable PDF’s for things like items and character classes. It will be updated regularly so be sure to keep an eye on it!
Until next week!