13th Sage: Speeding Combat

13th Sage: Speeding Combat

By Rob Heinsoo

My current 13th Age group are more interested in roleplaying than the details of combat. Maybe that’s not precisely true, but at this early stage of the campaign, the game sings when we’re roleplaying and drags if we have too many rounds of combat. Two rounds is fine. Three rounds is OK-ish. Four, not so much. So I’m experimenting with a couple ways of speeding things up, and I’m happy to hear other ideas in the comments.

More damage, less hit points: The first requires a tiny bit of math, possibly on the fly but easy to accomplish ahead of time. I’m reducing the monster’s hit points and increasing their damage output. My first experiment will reduce monster’s hit points by a third. A gnoll who normally has 75 hit points will only have 50. Meanwhile, I’m gonna experiment with increasing the monster’s damage output by a third to a half. The gnoll’s mace normally deals 18 damage, now it’s going to deal 24 minimum. That will probably be scary enough, no need to go to a 50% damage increase, but we’ll see.

Lunar escalation: In fights against particularly powerful enemies, I’m going to use the Lunar escalation die rules from page 309 of 13th Age Glorantha. The short version is that the escalation die increases by 2 each round, and the enemies share the escalation die when the GM rolls beneath the current escalation die on a d6 at the start of the round. When the escalation die reaches 5 or 6, it cycles down by 2 until it reaches the bottom and cycles back up. Check out the printed rules for the details, it definitely pushes the pace and heightens the tension, so I think I’ll use it when dramatically appropriate rather than tying it to a particular Dragon Empire faction.

Less dice-rolling: I’m finally going to give in and do it Jonathan’s way, figuring out average damage for most player character attacks. I’ll probably have people roll damage when it’s dramatically satisfying to see the roll. And I know this won’t work for the player who comes with a new set of amazing polyhedral dice every session! But several players in this group will be perfectly happy not rolling damage 90% of the time, and we’ll find ways to make their d20 rolls more interesting if they aren’t already more interesting thanks to their abilities.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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