Rough GM Idea: “High-level” 1st-level characters
I have a confession to make: I just recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and thus far I only finished the first mission. Yeah, I only finished the intro of the game! So, I have no idea of the story ahead of me, because I managed to actively avoid spoilers so far (so, please, let’s keep it that way). But being a veteran from Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II (and respective DLCs), and a fan of almost all related media (comics, movie, webseries, etc.) I was thrilled to see that my first companion was Cassandra. I mean, my first companion was nothing less than the Seeker of Truth herself! One of the most amazing, experienced, and competent warriors in the world!
And there she was, a 1st-level warrior in all her glory, ready to… Wait, what? Cassandra-freaking-Pentaghast? A 1st-level warrior?
Well, duh, obviously. I mean, it’s a videogame, not a tabletop RPG. All her background and obvious high level must be ignored in order to make her an appropriate companion for the main character, your character – otherwise she could “steal the spotlight” from you and, even worse, you wouldn’t get to develop her through every level to have her stats, talents, and powers exactly the way you want. This is just one of the many ways in which a videogame and a tabletop RPG are different – because if the Inquisition storyline were a Dragon Age RPG campaign, Cassandra would probably be a high level NPC, right? So, we have to accept these little differences in order to enjoy two very different mediums of storytelling.
Do we, now?
Well, yeah. But then I started paying attention to the other characters and companions introduced immediately in the story, including my own character, the Inquisitor. Everything in the story was telling me those were powerful and experienced people, starting the campaign as 1st-level characters just because those are “the rules” of the videogame. Thinking about that I realized: what if I want my players to start with powerful characters in the Dragon Age RPG? What if I want them to play as knight-commanders, Seekers, head enchanters, master assassins…?
Well, you all know the obvious answer: start a campaign with characters above 1st-level. Make them roll or create new characters and advance them to the desired level.
Yeah, right, but what if I want them to be more powerful and I still want them to have the thrills of going through all the 20 levels?
My answer was to use one of my favorite rules in the Dragon Age RPG: simply apply a progression. Progressions (DA:RPG Core, page 270), however, are meant for NPCs and not player characters, obviously. Well, in face of such a dilemma I say: So what?
So, I decided that if I ever run a specific campaign where all characters are “movers and shakers” of Thedas, with extensive backgrounds and objectives and goals to match their exalted status, the players will start and 1st-level heroes with several “built-in” benefits gained through a specific progression. I also ruled that the progression cannot give the character the benefits of high-level class powers but it could give the hero ranks in a specialization talent. The exact type of progression would depend on the power level planned for the PCs and the campaign.
Here’s a quick recap of the progression rules:
roughly the equivalent of 3 levels. Add 1 to any three abilities, add two focuses, increase Health and Mana (when applicable) by 5, and add two focuses and one talent degree.
roughly the equivalent of 7 levels. Add 2 to any two abilities, add 1 to other three abilities, increase Health and Mana (when applicable) by 15, and add four focuses and two talent degrees.
roughly the equivalent of 10 levels. Add 3 to one ability, add 2 to any two other abilities, add 1 to any three others, increase Health and Mana (when applicable) by 20, add five focuses and three talent degrees, and increase armor rating by 3 (this can be done granting the character an innate power, improved protection items such as better armor or amulets, or a mix of both).
Update: I also got this idea. These characters should be able to choose Specialization Talents with the extra talent degrees they get from their progressions.
That way you can play a 1st-level templar, blood mage, legionnarie scout, etc... These characters could improve their specialization or
get regular talents at level 6/8/10. Just notice that they still can't have more than two specializations, so if such a character gets a second specialization at level 6/8/10 he must either improve one of the chosen specs or get a regular talent at levels 14/16/18.
These are the basic ideas, and since I haven’t run a game like this and haven’t even finished Dragon Age: Inquisition yet, it may take a while before I put it to the test. As always, feedback and insights from the community are appreciated, and if one of you ever try this at home please let us know how it went!