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13th Age?


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Here you go - a brand new topic for you to go on at length!


Seriously - I know next to nothing about it, but I keep seeing it and am curious. ::):


The Auld Grump

A bit late to the party here, but anyway...

When the 5E playtest first came out I signed up for it and put my gaming group through the paces a few weeks later.  The response was tepid at best.  In part that was due to its unfinished nature (it was a playtest after all), but at least one of the players didn't like the "backward looking" nature of the design.  While I kept up with the playtest by reading the packets as they were released, my group did the Pathfinder thing.  We switched over to 13th Age when it came out and haven't looked back.  I'll refrain from talking it up too much, but needless to say we like it for our d20 games.   ::):  


As far as 5E goes, I'll probably still go ahead and pick it up eventually as I am very interested to see what the final version looks like.  I also find the proposed modular design to be an interesting concept, and the print runs will show us how well the 5E team understands its audience.  Hopefully they manage something between warehouses full of unsold books vs too small of an initial print run.



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 From what I've heard on the WotC boards, a lot of 4E players are jumping on the bandwagon. Although I haven't played or read the rules yet, the things I've heard discussed have been intriguing. I particularly like the idea of an escalation die during combat and the One Unique Thing that each character gets, that could literally be anything...

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Read a little bit about it from their wiki and it seems gimmicky to me /shrug. I've seen a lot of d20 stuff and it just seems that one tries to out gimmick the other. "Look at my new system...its just like your old one except we took two things out and put one new thing in"...

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Phew, I just intended to hit up a few things before work, but kept on going.  I'm working the weekend, but I'll try to touch base when I can if you have any questions.


First off, 13th Age is an OGL d20 game so its not some wild departure from things you've already seen.  It's the child of Jonathan Tweet (designer 3.0) and Rob Heinsoo (designer 4.0) and their 14+ years of gaming together.  They basically took what they liked from the previous systems and discarded what they don't use.  The book contains a few sidebars where they discuss design choices, which if you like to see why elements turned out the way they did, is interesting.

I'll just touch on a few things here in the order they are presented in the book before I head off for work:

Icons - Icons are the movers and shakers of the world, and exist as story devices.  All the PCs have some kind of connection to at least one of the Icon's organization, which can provide aid or conflict.  Obviously, you can replace them with whatever you want for your campaign.  

Races - The races are what you'd expect.  They have their own ability modifiers, but a PC also gets to chose a modifier from their class as well, so all combinations are valid.  They also don't like penalizing small races in combat so halfling barbarians pack as big of a punch as a half-orc.  They do continue the 4E idea of each having a racial power to set them apart from each other.  

Classes - One argument against 3E was the old "linear fighter, exponential wizard" where they classes weren't necessarily balanced against each other.  4E went for balance by giving all the classes the same set of at-will/encounter/daily powers per level which created its own problems.  13th age has classes that play very differently and, though admittedly even by the designers not perfectly balanced, closer than 3E was.  On one hand, the Barbarian has a few simple things like cleave, but overall just rolls to hit and rolls for damage.  On the other, the wizard has a spell list that they have to pick from every day (though not nearly as extensive as 3E was).  Some are at-will, which is a holder from 4E that I like.  The other classes fall somewhere in between.  Most feats are tied to class abilities.  One of the players decided that mechanically, this version of the rogue is the closest to his ideal.  Paladins are balanced but boring, clerics seem to play a lot like their 4E versions, and the Sorcerer was played by a casual player so I don't have the best feel for it.  New party: wizard, bard, fighter, barbarian.  I'll know more once we get to second level.

Combat - Combat is not a board game.  Characters are either "nearby" or "far away," engaged or not.  They do use minis for relative positioning and tracking (and my group likes having something down for relative positioning), but if you want to keep everything verbal that works too.  Still, you roll a d20 to hit, and then roll your polyhedral die for damage.  Damage scales with level, so a 1st level fighter might do 1d10+3 damage on a hit, while a 7th level fighter might do 7d10+6 (balance melee dmg vs. spells and all that).  They do use the recovery mechanic from 4E for healing.

Monsters - They like the idea of monsters being able to do lots of cool things, but thought that the way in which 4E handled it put a lot of unnecessary tracking on the DM.  Recharge this, so many uses of that, etc.  What they decided to do instead was to use triggers.  Instead of tracking everything, the monster's attack roll determines what, if any, special abilities get used.  For example:

Sharp Claws +16 vs. AC - 100 damage
    Natural 11-15: The dragon can make a bite attack as a free action.
    Natural 16+: The dragon can make a poison breath attack as a free action.

Having run a few combats, it makes it really quick and easy.  At first, I wasn't sold on static damage for monsters, but it does flow really well and it is balanced against PC HP.

4E minions have been replaced by Mooks, a la Feng Shui.  Mooks are weak monsters that share a pool of hp, with one mook eliminated every so many hp.  That allows a melee character to hit one mook really hard, and blow up the entire mob.  In combat, that is a lot of fun.

The Index - It also doubles as a Glossary, which is a nice touch.

Innovations and blatant theft from other games - So what makes 13th Age special, or what should you steal from it for your game?

Backgrounds - Backgrounds replace skills, and PCs argue with the DM that their background applies to the current situation.  "As a cat burglar, I'm trained in navigating narrow ledges." Or "As a member of the Winter Wolf Clan we hiked through the snow in just our loincloths.  This survival check is cake."  You get the idea.

One Unique Thing - Something that makes the PC unique.  It's supposed to be a story thing rather than a mechanics thing, but you can have fun with it.  There are some interesting examples out there.  For a test bard I made up I made Str his dump stat (8) and then made his One Unique Thing that "He was the weakest Half-Orc in the entire world."  ::):

Fail Forward - An indie game concept that I'll probably use in every game from now on.  There are obviously times when a failed roll should result in a failure (such as combat), but other times a failed roll just kills the narrative.  Raise your hand if you've played a mystery adventure and then rolled a 2 on your spot check to find a clue.  The way I came into gaming, that was a failure and no clue was found, no plot advanced.  DMing advice was to create multiple clues so that a bad roll or two didn't derail the adventure.  Under fail forward, either way the party finds the clue and moves onto the next scene.  The difference being, with a success maybe they find the clue right away and make it to the bad guy's hideout just as he jumps out the window.  With a failure they spend 40 minutes tossing the place before finding the clue, and by the time they get to the hideout the BBEG has split.  Rather than stopping the plot, the failed roll creates a plot complication.

Of course, you better DMs out there already knew that.

Rest and Heal-ups - Players of 4E are familiar with the "4 encounter work day," whereby after a few fights over the course of a few minutes (game time) the party is depleted and needs to take a rest.  It works against the suspension of disbelief quite a bit.  In previous editions I don't remember it being quite as bad, but every party locked themselves in a closet as some point in order to rest and get some spells back.  13th age is all about "Big Damn Heroes" however, and those types don't stop every 15 minutes to take 24 hour break.  So, every 4 encounters (more or less, depending on the encounters) the party gets all its abilities back and keeps on trucking.  They give several possible examples of how in might be rationalized from a role-playing standpoint, but mainly it exists to keep the action moving in a dungeon crawl.

The Escalation Die - The escalation die exists as a bonus to PC attack rolls.  It starts at 0, and then keeps increasing up to 6.  In rounds 1 and 2, the monsters have the advantage, but then it swings to the PCs.  I think its a fun little mechanic that keeps combat from dragging out.  Certain monsters have special abilities that are tied to the escalation die, while really nasty ones (like dragons) use the escalation die just like the PCs.  When everyone is +6 to attack rolls, there's a lot of damage being spread around.

No XP - Everyone levels as the story demands.

Damn, now I want to play instead of go to work. :down:

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I like 4e in some ways, but it requires such careful balance that it is easily broken and hard to add custom stuff. Heck, I would be hard pressed to keep all of my bonuses in line at level 20+ without character builder but it is very difficult to do anything off the books that way. Hopefully 13th age can keep the good with more story.

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I really like running 13th age.  I have done a pair of one-shots and an 8 session campaign. 


My favorite parts are the way One Unique thing, Icon relations ships and backgrounds can all work together to make varied and interesting characters that are just crying out to have stories written around them.  

The half orc carved out of a glacier with a hatred of the undead, but no memories of going into the glacier.  The dragonborn commander who used to work for a Blue Dragon Armies, transferred to the Emperor through a bureaucratic loophole.    The gnome sorcerer who has an invisible right am due to a magical accident where he blew up on of the Archmages research towers.   Each Unique thing practically spells out backgrounds and some of their icon relationships.   


The regular icon rolls act to shift the focus between PCs helping insure that they all (eventually) get to take center stage. 


The gridless combat is fast, the escalation die helps ensure that most combats end quickly (round 3-4) without being 1st strike rocket tag that some edtions of D&D become. 


Going back to trying to place pathfinders weird (if accurate) spell blast shapes makes my teeth itch.

I did add a system of quick action "Dicey moves" for grappling, disarming tripping -   it gives the simpler melee PCs and more intelligent monsters some variety of actions. 


My biggest beef is just the lack of published material.  1 core book so far and 2 in the works.  I'm not even sure what one is going to be, it seems like a second core book, more classes, more monsters and more setting material.  The other is a pure bestiary, and quite good - Preorderers have a mostly finished PDF copy. 

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My biggest beef is just the lack of published material.  1 core book so far and 2 in the works.  I'm not even sure what one is going to be, it seems like a second core book, more classes, more monsters and more setting material.  The other is a pure bestiary, and quite good - Preorderers have a mostly finished PDF copy. 


If you don't mind 3rd party content, Kobold Press has released a 13th age edition of their Midgard Bestiary.  I believe the $5 off Pelgrane coupon has expired, but its still a fairly reasonable price for 100 monsters, 13 new icons, a few magic items, and extra player races.


If you're still following this, Jonathan typed something up for you 3E/Pathfinder players.   http://www.koboldpress.com/k/front-page17696.php

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