The Dragon Hack mod by Josh Jarman has created a lot of discussion on converting Dragon Age to various D&D settings. This post is an attempt to put down some of my thoughts on how to go about this for a 4e (mainly Eberron) conversion.
First off, let’s look at backgrounds in Dragon Age. The first thing to note is that backgrounds determine both your race and your class, as well as where you were born and so on. For example, the “Circle Mage” background obviously limits your class to mage, but also your race to human or elf. Similarly a number of the Set 2 backgrounds are for human rogues or warriors from various locales. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, it just reflects the game’s setting. But D&D typically has a grid like structure of race and class: you can be an elven mage, an elven fighter, an elven cleric, a dwarven fighter, dwarven cleric etc etc. So does this mean that we need backgrounds for every combination? That would certainly be one option, but it could get a bit tedious writing them all out!
An alternative option, and the one taken by Josh in Dragon Hack, is to split the background into racial and class components. So being an elf gives you +1 to an ability as well as a number of racial traits. Choosing a class (fighter, paladin etc) gives you an ability focus, extra traits on top of the base Dragon Age class (warrior, rogue and mage) as well as a background table to roll on. This tends to make Dragon Hack characters slightly overpowered compared to Dragon Age but then the GM can just scale encounters accordingly.
In 4th ed D&D characters can take feats and paragon paths based on race, rather than their class, in a kind of “be the best elf you can be” way. This suggests that you could accomplish a similar thing using racial talents: all characters would get the novice degree of their racial talent and players could then invest in it further if they chose. (Note that the idea of racial talents was first raised by this post on Dragon Age Oracle.) The important thing is that the novice degree of this talent should really capture the essence of the race – it should not just add another ability focus. I envision many of these incorporating some of the traits from Dragon Hack as well as features from 4th edition D&D.
4th edition D&D also has a larger number of classes than Pathfinder/Dragon Hack, especially when you consider the different builds: there are 5 fighter builds, for example, not counting Essentials. Is it necessary to replicate all of these in a Dragon Age conversion? I would say not, as the Dragon Age mechanics are not based around the four roles that 4e uses (defender, striker etc). So generally I would say that the Dragon Age warrior is basically equivalent to the 4e fighter. They even get a choice of weapon talents to differentiate themselves: a 4e “guardian” fighter would take the Weapon and Shield talent, for example. One could even get rid of the background table by using the Set 2 rules for buying background benefits: you get 3 advancements to spend on ability score increases and focuses of your choice.
The Kobold Quarterly article on Divine Gifts also gives us an easy way to create “fighter-like” classes. A “paladin class” could be achieved by allowing a warrior to replace a starting weapon talent with the appropriate divine gift. This may not, of course, give a 1st level “paladin” the powers one might expect – but “lay on hands”, “summon warhorse” and the like could be saved for a “proper” paladin specialization available at level 5. Similarly the idea of replacing a standard starting talent can even extended to other warrior-like classes: a 4e ranger is a warrior with Armour Training, either the Archery or Dual Weapon Styles, and Scouting or Animal Training replacing the other weapon style…
The “gift” concept could be extended to other classes. For example, “arcane gifts” for mages could include a Wizardry talent (gaining a spellbook, familiar etc), a Warlock talent (various pacts), a Sorcery talent (bloodlines) and so on. Clerics could be modelled as mages with a divine gift and possibly restrictions on the type of spells they could learn.
In the next few days I hope to post some examples of racial talents and class templates using these ideas.