Friday, January 7, 2011

Rotted Report 02: Too cool for (mage) school

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I'm currently making my way through The Name of the Wind. Or at least, I was. The early part of the novel was enjoyable, but now that the protagonist has arrived at mage school, I've begun to lose interest.

See, I hate mage school.

Part of the reason is that I find it to be an immersion-shattering analogue to real-world education, in which the smart and fortunate kids go off to college to learn how to become masters of the universe. But also, it just doesn't fit my conception of magic, which I think should be mysterious, impalpable, and unique to each practitioner. If you must have magic training, it should be through an individual master of questionable repute, or perhaps a secret society operating in the bowels of the squalid big city. Once you institutionalize it, you take some of the, well, magic out of it.

So, as you can probably guess, I'm not a big fan of the Magi Background in Dragon Age: Origins. I understand that if you're only going to have one origin for mages, it has to involve the Circle of Magi because of the group's importance in the setting. But personally, I'd rather play an apostate. They're the cool kids who skipped class and retained an aura of mystery. They're the ones who learned how to cast Fireball the old-fashioned way: by blowing stuff up. Honestly, setting aside looks and everything else, who would you rather hang with - Morrigan or Wynne?

If you said "Wynne," you're weird (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Anyway, in The Rotted Rose, you are the cool kid, an apostate who has recently escaped the Circle Tower and is on the run from the templars.

I've had the Apostate Background set up for months now, except for one thing. A bug prevented me from inserting a new description without causing the game to crash during character generation. After wasting an evening looking for a solution, I decided to set it aside in hopes the problem would be fixed or become irrelevant in the next patch. But as the months went by I grew tired of waiting for the patch, so I went back to the forums looking for a solution - and found it. So now when starting a new character for The Rotted Rose, players will be able to read this mini-backstory that describes the Apostate Background and sets the stage for the module:
You were once a promising mage in the Circle of Magi. Now you are a criminal, to be hunted by the same templars who once watched over you at the Circle Tower. Worse, the Circle has your phylactery, allowing them to track your movements. In order to truly be free, you will need to get it back... somehow.
In planning my module, I went so far as to buy a PDF of the Dragon Age Player's Guide, a source book for the Dragon Age tabletop RPG (yes, there is a Dragon Age tabletop RPG). While the book describes an Apostate Background, unfortunately it doesn't include any information that was useful for my purposes. It seems the tabletop game rules differ a lot from the video game's. Oh well, that meant I had license to do what I wanted. And this is what I wanted:
  • Start with one skill rank in Survival instead of Combat Tactics
  • Start with the Lightning spell instead of Arcane Bolt
  • Get to wear a naughty Tevinter outfit rather than one of those unflattering apprentice robes
Obviously, those are some pretty minor changes, intended only to mix things up a bit. In truth, the starting stats for the Apostate Background won't matter too much because the PC will start out at a higher level (TBD at the combat balancing stage, but I'm thinking at least level 5). So at the start of the game, you'll have a chance to choose most of your own skills and spells.

Choose wisely, because you'll need them all to survive. For most of the game it is just you and your mabari hound (which I'll be profiling in a later post). While the lack of a full party may disappoint some, I think solo play makes the most sense for an apostate who's being hunted through the streets of Denerim. Fortunately, mage is the most entertaining (and perhaps only non-boring) class to solo in Dragon Age.

In the early stages of the game in particular, I've tried to create a sense of being pursued and cornered by the Powers That Be. That means you will have keep a low profile and at times run away if you want to evade the Circle Mages and the templars. If you don't, the Circle may ship you off to Aeonar - which is way worse than detention.

The Rotted Report is a periodic update on my upcoming standalone adventure for Dragon Age. Feel free to stop by The Rotted Rose project page on the Bioware Social Network.