13th Sage: Why 13th Age Is A Good Gateway RPG

ROB_tileAn interviewer once asked us, “If someone has never played a tabletop RPG, why would 13th Age be a good game for them to try?”

Well, that interview never ran, so we’re going to share our answers here. We designed 13th Age for experienced GMs, but it can be a great entry point into the hobby for new players. Here’s why:

Jonathan: Number one: creativity. When new players try a tabletop RPG, they often get excited about the creativity and imagination that go into creating their characters. They’ll say things like, “I want to have a pet fire lizard like one from the Pern books,” or “I want to be a princess.” In other games, you can try to make these unusual features work somehow, but in 13th Age inventing unique traits for your character is built right into the rules. The system is flexible enough to accommodate oddball ideas without having to make them fit some pre-existing character template.

These days, computer games make it easy to create characters “by the book,” but only tabletop games really give you free-form, creative flexibility, and we really dialed up the creativity with 13th Age. A beginner will see right away that this isn’t just a computer game on paper.

Rob: The character’s “One Unique Thing” really goes over well with young players. “I’m the only person who can talk with birds,” said a 7-year old in a friend’s game. “I’m the Last of the Clockwork Knights,” said another friend’s 12-year old, who decided that 13th Age would be the first game his father would run for the family. Instead of telling new players, “No, that’s not what this game is about,” 13th Age starts with a half-designed world that asks players to help start the stories and background ideas that matter to them. The character who talks with birds ends up getting messages from the Game Master that couldn’t be delivered to anyone else. The clockwork knight turns out to be the last of the mechanical people we called forgeborn, but in this world they’re going to be called clockwork knights.

(Actually I’m not going to run games for beginners again without using the One Unique Thing, and I mean any game, not just 13th Age. To get new players seriously involved in a tabletop RPG quickly, check out our implementation of the One Unique Thing and apply it when you are running other games.)

Another great reason to start with 13th Age is that the game is grounded in the traditions of fantasy gaming and fantasy fiction. By providing players with the comfort of the familiar, along with various twists that inspire them to take things a step further, the game frees them to create exciting new stories.

A third reason to start with 13th Age is that we tried not to waste the reader’s time. Playing tabletop RPGs is the opposite of boring, but even some of the best RPGs have boring sections. If you take the time to read a page in 13th Age, we aimed to provide ideas, sentences, and small surprises that would make that time well spent. For examples of what I mean, look at the price list, the example of play, or the index. Even I feel silly saying that—who wants to look at those sections?  But we found ways to make even those pieces worthwhile.


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.

2 Responses to “13th Sage: Why 13th Age Is A Good Gateway RPG”

  1. Michael Bernstein says:

    How would you compare the ‘One Unique Thing’ feature of 13th Age with Fate Core (or Fate Accelerated Edition)?

    • Wade Rockett says:

      Unlike Fate aspects, the One Unique Thing in 13th Age has no mechanical benefit and doesn’t connect with an in-game resource pool of points. It’s pure storytelling.

      Also, from what I understand of aspects, uniques tend to be grander, and more powerful from a storytelling perspective. “Wizard private eye” is an aspect — “I am the world’s only wizard private eye” is a unique, and prompts the GM to say, okay, the player has just established something about the world. Now I need to figure out WHY he’s the only wizard private eye, and build that into the setting and the campaign. Were there more, and they were all killed, and their killer is hunting this PC?

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