A couple more 13th Age things

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1. Session 3 of my one-shot went very well. It was an evening of almost entirely combat – 2 encounters plus some stuff in the middle. The encounters went very nicely and there was some sweet improvised stunting.

At one point the characters were on an airship that was plummeting to the ground, out of control.

Len (whose character had taken the ship’s helm and was looking for a place to crash land): “Is there a body of water nearby? or some woods?”
Me: “Well, there’s the Queen’s Wood…”
Len: “Do you think she’d mind?”

Next up for us is converting the characters from our 4e game!

2. Support the Kickstarter to fund the first supplement (which will include the Monk, Druid and Chaos Shaman classes as well as some really sweet setting stuff like Living Dungeons, which are awesome).

3. One thing my players didn’t like was the character sheet. The defenses are on the front (or page 1) but the basic attacks are on the back (or page 2), leading to constant flipping. So the redoubtable John O’Brien cut and pasted up a one-page version from the one that was provided. Since it was directly derived from their sheet I checked with Rob Heinsoo before posting it, and he said okay, 13th Age- New Sheet!

4. Dan – you remember Dan? From the last post? – played a demo at GenCon. Here’s his report:

The 13th Age demo was held at the Pelgrane booth; in the fires of Mount Doom itself, if you will. We all squeezed in, and Rob gave a quick 5 minute overview of what was to come. Everyone at the table had some idea as to the basics of 13th Age, and all were eager to get this ride started. So Rob reached into his notebook and took out that which we were all waiting on: the character sheets.

I have learned one thing at GenCon about RPGs and pregen characters: unless I have a burning desire to play a particular character/class, I sit back and let others choose first. Why? That way the players at my table are happy with their choices and no one is being grumpy, sad, whatever. Hell, I can have fun playing a merchant named Sandy who sells sand in the middle of the Sand Desert.

As the choices disappeared, the Halfling rogue eventually fell into my lap. All right then, let’s learn more about rogues in the 13th Age world. Scanning the sheet, scanning, scanning…

There, I’m a Halfling! And a rogue! Okay, looks like a standard d20 point-buy system build for stats. HPs, to hits, damage bonuses, defenses … no equipment? The hell am I doing 2d8+5 damage with? Am I wearing leather armor, bracers, cloth…? I have no skills, and neither does the Halfling character (HEY-O!). Hrrm. I look up a tad confused, as do the other 5 players. “Uh, Rob. Some things are missing.”

“Yes. Yes they are.”

Remember in my 13th Age seminar entry when I wrote about how Jonathan Tweet stated that backgrounds and story now matter in the game? Essentially we were now moving into the CHARACTER creation, if you will, as the math was provided for us.

Let’s chat about the equipment bit first. Here’s a perfect example of how the actual equipment names/type mean more to flavor and story and are not a determining factor to the math. The barbarian-druid decided his damage would be dealt with a gigantic cudgel. No two-handed axe for him, and this made perfect sense when you consider his background. In my world, his character became more real, more defined, and more importantly, the player was quite pleased with this nuance. This is clearly a way to bring more characterization into the game via a stated and defined rule.

And then Rob explained how “My One Unique Thing”, backgrounds, and icon relationships work. He encouraged us all to think of something, and stressed that this is the part of the game that essentially dictates how the game will play out moving forward. This is where the players get to take hold of this newly created game world and actively shape it.

I had a problem with that, apparently.

Whenever I play a game where grand statements are required to define your character, I am always disappointed when someone picks the “Superman” option, attempting to break the system with some cleverly chosen words. But in 13th Age you are encouraged to be that albino unicorn. Rob did not seem at all concerned about players breaking the system/game since he had stressed how this portion becomes a group activity. For me, everything else about my character flowed from this statement. A few examples…

First player starts us off with a solid idea of having his cleric have a heart of stone. Since the Priestess is an icon of love, his heart will be a stone for all … except one (the Priestess). Okay, a clever idea that. But then Rob started asking questions, like “Why” and “How do you see that playing out? Is it REALLY stone or metaphorically stone?” Rob kept stressing that this is how My One Unique Thing works. It’s a shared collective in many respects, but driven by the originating character.

A few questions later and the following idea is posed to the table: what if it’s not a stone heart, but rather a mechanical heart, created by the dwarves. The player and table agree whole-heartedly (see what I did there?); we have our priest in the bag. We moved around the table, getting everyone’s character developed.

“I see the ghosts of my ancestors.” We discussed if they were real or not. They were, and that brings in a probable interesting relationship with the Lich King.

“I was stricken blind by the Elf Queen.” His eyes were turned into opals with the Queen’s mark upon them. We now have our Daredevil archer    cool.

“I have no parents. I was found by a druid in the hollow of a tree stump.” He’s never left the grove, he’s a half-orc barbarian, but thinks he’s a druid. Tons of meat on that bone for the GM.

Clearly we were having some excellent ideas put forth, and the only thing I have when it’s my turn is that I think my female Halfling is a renowned circus performer. But that sounded mundane to me – so we had a table discussion about some extensions of this idea. Rob suggested that I was in the circus of the Diabolist, entertaining in Hell. I somehow managed to entertain/perform my way out of there.

Beauty; everything seemed to fall immediately into place.

For my backgrounds (think skills), my rogue had 10 points to spend. Just like in many other games, rogues get a couple of more skill points than other classes (6 sounded average, and someone else had an 8). I took Circus Performer for 4 (duh), Hell-hardened for 3, and Deal Maker for 3(the table liked that last one). In D&D skills were listed like college courses. In 13th Age you simply describe who you are or what you did; I like that. All you have to do is describe how that Background will be assisting with the task at hand and then you receive the appropriate bonus. But to be clear – the math is still based on a d20 type of skill check. If you liked how that was handled in D&D 3.x, hooray for you! If not, move along, there’s nothing new to see here.

From a GM’s perspective, Rob took some time to explain how the character creation process can really set the campaign’s tone. He mentioned that his previous play test was far more whimsical in construction. My group was “grittier”, so that’s how he ran our demo. I can see how a discussion of what sort of campaign will be run needs to be made clear before anything is done character-wise. Or if it strays far from that guideline, that certainly tells you what the group wants to play. Either way, there is participation from all sides.

Characters done… adventure time! In a demo setting you don’t have much room for subtleties, so our scene is straight ahead:  escort the barbarian-druid to a druid circle. Once we arrive at the druid circle, D&D’s oldest XP provider makes an appearance. An orc shaman and his orc bashers have corrupted the circle’s stones – to combat!

Minis are placed right on the table as there is no need for squares in 13th Age. Half of the orcs are “near” and the other half are (in Grover’s voice) “FAR!!!” Initiative is rolled and recorded, and things start flowing. And flow it did. The removal of squares helps a ton in reducing slowdowns. Bop here, bop there, move your mini to that spot … essentially do what you do and move along.

Combat is very D&D. Add your “to hit” to your d20 roll. If you hit, roll dice and add your damage bonus. For monsters, they have a set amount of damage – less rolling, faster pace to combat. Turns are flying by, damage is being dealt and taken, and the first round is over. Thus the appearance of the escalation die was heralded. I love this mechanic. After the first round a D6 is placed on the table, with the number 1 face up. This number is used by the PCs to add to their “to hit” total. The third round it goes up to 2 (+2 to hit), etc.

At one point the wizard wanted to use a spell (Frost Breath), but a bit of environment gave the orc cover due to an LOS ruling. All the wizard had to do was move his mini a bit to his right and the world was good again. (Note: I asked Rob about this post-game as to why that was necessary given the fact that squares are not being used. His response, and this goes to his old school DNA, “I just wanted to be a bit of a pain.” Note how the rules work against this old school sensibility. Interesting.)

We worked effectively as a team, identifying the risks and opportunities, managing the field of battle like so many 30/40-something, slightly overweight Sun Tzu disciples. Or we rolled our asses off. I forget which. Either way, this battle in 4e would have lasted … 90 minutes? At the table it took us no more than 30 minutes. More importantly, it felt smooth, it kept moving along, and it felt rewarding.

Rob did a great job of giving us a sense of how 13th Age would play out in a full-fledged session, as well as how a campaign could feel.

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