I recently grabbed the Dragon Age Quickstart Guide, and I love this system. Haven’t played it yet, which may change my opinion of course, but I love what I see. Were I to design D&D 4.5, I’d make something very similar to Dragon Age.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to describe DA in comparison to D&D 4E.
Instead of rolling a d20 on tests, you roll 3d6. This gives you a lovely probability distribution curve, so you’re more likely to roll an 9 than you are to roll a 3 or an 18. This is beautiful; it makes wild success (or wild failure) less likely. Unfortunately, degree of success is not factored into the system that I can see, so that distribution curve isn’t as significant as it is in, say, FATE. But it’s better than a straight d20.
The six basic attributes (called “abilities” in Dragon Age) are renamed, and two are added: Magic and Perception.
Each attribute/ability can be augmented with a Focus, so your Perception might have a focus of Hearing or Tracking. The Quickstart Guide doesn’t explain the rules for how many Focuses you can have.
In 4E terms, your base attribute score is gone, leaving only the modifier. So, your Dexterity will only be 3, not 17 (+3). Since 4E has rendered base attribute scores pretty much obsolete (when was the last time you needed the base number itself?), this is a wonderful simplification.
Skills are gone, replaced with abilities and Focuses. To roll a test, you use the appropriate ability’s value. Use of a Focus adds +2 to your roll. So, to listen closely to a conversation behind a door, you’d use your Perception ability. If you had a Focus of Hearing, you’d add +2 to that.
Everything is against a Target Number, single digits being easy and teens being hard.
Combat rounds are structured like 4E’s, except that there’s no Move action. Moves are integrated into Major (equivalent to Standard in D&D) and Minor actions. You can move during your Minor action, and/or run (move double your speed) during your Major action. And yes, those stack. I like this, and am curious to see how it’d work in-game. While I like the Standard/Move/Minor split, I have certainly seen players slow down combat as they try to figure out whether they’re going to “waste” a minor action.
Defense in DA is split into two numbers: Armor Rating (which works just like Armor Class in D&D), as well as a Defense (usually 0 to +4), which is subtracted from whatever damage is dealt to you. This allows for somewhat more complex defensive situations, such armor that doesn’t much Armor Rating but greatly improves your Defense (you’re just as easy to hit, but it does less damage).
Instead of targeting defenses like Fortitude, Reflex, or Will, attacks can target any attribute and Focus. This makes a lot of sense, since Fort, Ref, and Will are built off your attribute scores anyway.
Dragon Dice and Powers
One additional tweak is the dragon die. One of your three d6’s must be a different color than the others, and that will be your dragon die. When attacking, you can use the roll on your dragon die to buff your attack in different ways, via a lookup table. This strikes me as a bit fiddly; I’ll have to see how it works out in play.
In addition, your dragon die is used as a plus in certain circumstances; if you roll a successful Heal check, you add your dragon die’s roll to the number of HP gained.
Powers are a much weaker component than in 4E, at least in the Quickstart Guide. there’s no standardized format for powers, so they’re simply written out descriptively in plain text. There doesn’t appear to be any at-will/encounter/daily power break out, either.
But that’s the only drawback I see. Overall, I love the simplifications of the system, and the additions (such as the dragon die) make immediate sense.
Remains to be seen how it’ll work in-play, of course, but I love what I see.