13th Sage: Alternative Ability Scores & Very Interesting Things

Many 13th Sage columns come from moments when I realize that I’m playing the game slightly differently than I was playing it before. Today’s column features two small wrinkles that have been working well in our games.

New Alternative Array Ability Scores: The first bit comes more from Jonathan than me. It’s something we put together while working on 13th Age Glorantha and appears on page 24 of that book.

Instead of using the ability score line-ups or the point-buy system in 13th Age, we’re often using the following six ability scores, arranged as the player likes: 17, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10.

As Jonathan said in 13G: “Compared to the point-buy arrays on page 309 of 13th Age that let you spend 28 points, this alternative array is better. But it’s better on the bottom end, which people nearly always ignore when they’re using point-buy systems, and that actually works well for our system.”

Very Interesting Things: Playing with people who are new to roleplaying, or uncomfortable with being put on the spot, I’ve been saying that people who are having trouble with One Unique Thing for their character can start with One-Very-Interesting-Thing. Newcomers may feel pressure when they’re trying to come up with something unique, but have less trouble coming up with something ‘very interesting.’ It’s sometimes a matter of phrasing. Consider that one of the most-used uniques in the game—“I’m the bastard child of the Emperor”—may not be entirely unique later on in the campaign if the GM plays the soap opera/Game of Thrones card of locating other bastards!

With a few moments of GM advice and guiding questions, you might be able to turn a Very Interesting Thing into a true unique. For example, after a few moments, a player who had decided that their Very Interesting Thing was that they were a werewolf realized there were probably other werewolves in the world. They made themselves more interesting by saying that they’d been a perfectly happy alpha wolf that had been bitten and turned into a human/werewolf, and that worked into a great One Unique Thing.

If the player hadn’t been comfortable pushing the envelope, it could have stayed as “I’m a werewolf,” even if the world had other werewolves. As GM, I would have had fun bending the story around that. We would have been able to find story developments later in the campaign that would make the character’s werewolf-situation just as compelling as other character’s uniques. I usually approach One Unique Things that way in any case, gradually unfolding complexities and conflicts the player may or may not have expected when the unique first struck them.

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