A funny thing happens over time with an RPG that you’ve designed: your opinions can change. As you play it, and as new designers bring fresh perspectives and approaches to the table, you discover some unexpected things that work really well, and some things that…could be better.

With that in mind, here are  two do’s and a don’t for 13th Age that I’ve learned recently—two from playing the game with my home group, and one that surfaced during the design stage for Book of Ages.

Do. . .

. . . use the improvement to the incremental advance rules that we came up with while working on 13th Age Glorantha (page 74), limiting the choice of a new class power or spell to one per level when choosing incremental advances.

The new rule is simpler and avoids a couple thorny corner-cases I’d rather not go into. It’s also fun and dramatically proper to save some of the new-power goodness for when your character levels up.

Don’t . . . .

. . . pay attention to the way that Jonathan and I actually chose our own characters’ backgrounds in our home campaign. Please don’t. I beg you.

We wrote some good advice in Chapter 2 of 13th Age about avoiding overly broad backgrounds that demonstrate your desire to control . . . . well . . . . everything. But in the most recent session of our group’s current Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, Jonathan’s cleric/spirit-talker and my monk both ended up making skill checks using lesser backgrounds that hadn’t surfaced much before. Our problem was that we hadn’t phrased them as ‘lesser,’ and when we had to say them out loud, side-by-side, we made quite a pair. Jonathan’s spirit-talker’s background is physical agent and my monk’s 2-point background is as a metaphysical artist. Oh dear. That about covers reality, then. Cue hooting and hollering and laughter as we faced our sin together.

Do . . . .

. . . look to Book of Ages for hints on how we’ll be handling races in the future.

I’ve often been a stick-in-the-mud about adding new races. But Paul Fanning has been doing more and more development work on the 13th Age line, and when I talked with him about my plans to cut most of the races out of Gareth’s wonderful book, Paul made a persuasive case for keeping many of the races in. We developed the mechanics together, and I wrote a paragraph on the option of using new ‘races’ as interesting One Unique Things (page 24). Book of Ages is one of my favorite 13th Age creations, mostly thanks to Gareth, of course, but Paul’s help with the new races also makes me happy. There’ll be more such shifts in approach in future books.

I’ve started running a new 13th Age campaign for my Fire Opal Games comrades and their families. The PCs are (apparently) questing to recover a goddess who most of the world has forgotten. The Elf Queen has several statues of the missing goddess in one of the halls she devotes to her friends, and she wants to know who it was and why the goddess is lost to her.

The quest took the PCs to a uniquely laid out halfling tavern in Concord. (Actually, I don’t think it’s unique, it’s how most halfling establishments should be organized; but that’s a story for another time!) Viv—the former adventurer who owned the bar—had the info the PCs needed, but asked for a service from the PCs: an exorcism of sorts, a cleansing of the bad spirits that had taken over her tavern’s original location. Not just bad spirits, bad alcohol spirits. They’d been weakened over time by the evaporation of the worst of the lot, the Grimtooth Ale. But Viv’s age and the death of her dwarf pal, Rak, meant she needed help. Adventurers who’d finagled heavy winnings out of her tavern’s mantis-fights seemed like people who might get the job done.

All of this prologue is to explain why this month’s installment of 13th Sage is a couple of spirits-related spirits. For the battle I used wibbles (13th Age Bestiary) recast as bad-champagne bubble mooks. A couple of natural 1s with spells cast during the battle probably should have created more wibble-bubbles, but it was more important to keep the game moving for the all-new players. Happily for the newcomers, they cruised through this battle without encountering the worst the spirits had to offer. Your PCs may not be so lucky.

Roll initiative!

 

Rockfist Ale Dreg

Hic.

1st level troop [spirit]

Initiative: +4

 

Thump go boom +6 vs. AC—6 damage

Natural 18+: PC is hampered (hard save ends, 16+, but PC receives a +8 bonus on save if they can tell a story worth hearing that involves beer—the save automatically fails if the story is longer than one minute)

Miss: 3 damage

 

Spirit body: For each attack against this spirit, a PC uses their best mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) instead of the ability score they normally use for attacks. Use the same mental ability score to determine damage.

 

AC   17

PD    15                 HP 32

MD  11

 

Bad Wine Spirit

Disgusting oozy ectoplasmic slime that won’t stop whining.

2nd level spoiler [spirit]

Initiative: +6

 

Wet slap +6 vs. AC—6 damage

Natural even hit: target slides somewhere the spirit thinks is funny; may require a second +6 attack vs. PD if the location is going to result in serious damage to the target.

 

R: Bubbly laughter +7 vs. MD (one nearby enemy)—4 ongoing psychic damage and confused (save ends both)

Limited use: Only on the turn after it scores a natural even hit with wet slap (but against any target, not just the one it slapped).

 

Spirit body: For each attack against this spirit, a PC uses their best mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) instead of the ability score they normally use for attacks. Use the same mental ability score to determine damage.

 

AC   16

PD    13                 HP 40

MD  15

 

Recently we’ve gotten some feedback from players on the summoning mechanics for champion and epic tier druids and necromancers that  coincides with how we handle summoning in new books like 13th Age Glorantha and Book of Demons. In this column, I’m going to take the opportunity to extend one of our summoning improvements to the classes in 13 True Ways.

The change is simple. Use the following rules adapted from 13G and Book of Demons to help summoned creatures contribute to higher level battles.

Attack bonuses: Summoned creatures use the default bonuses of their summoner’s magic weapon or implement, if any. In other words, if you have an attack and damage bonus from a magic weapon or implement, so do any creatures you summon.

Defense bonuses: Similarly, summoned creatures use the default bonuses of their summoner’s armor, cloak, and head items, if any. In other words, default bonuses to AC, PD, and MD from magic items also apply to your summoned creatures. As with the attack bonuses covered above, this only applies to default bonuses. Bonuses and abilities that come along with an item that are not default bonuses only apply to summoned creatures if they specify that. At present, not many do.

This is the only change. Stick with the current rule that druidic and necromantic summonings don’t automatically add the escalation die to their attacks—both classes have feats that get around that, or you can spend a quick action to add the escalation die to the druidic/necromantic summoned creature’s attack (see 13TW page 11).

Part of the fun of developing adventures like Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Red Crag Castle section of Book of Demons is adding monsters that complete the theme. Sometimes those missing bits turn out to be things that fill a gap in all of 13th Age, not just the one adventure.

That turned out to be true for the demonic forces that guard the hellhole centered on Red Crag Castle. One of the demonic factions is all about swords, steel, and a sadistic impression of military discipline. A sword-sword-sword (etc.)-wielding marilith-style demon seemed like a natural fit, but our mariliths are epic 12th level creatures, far too powerful for the champion-tier environment of Red Crag Castle.

What was needed was a 7th level version of something like a marilith. As I poked around our monster lists, I realized that we had precious few normal-sized demons at 7th level, and nothing that could stand in for a melee troop. So I added the minor serpent demon to Redcrag Castle, along with a couple of other generally-useful demonic warriors.

This minor serpent demon uses the same core mechanics as the marilith. It’s useful enough that I think it deserves to be in 13th Age monster lists that might not normally pay attention to demons in specific adventures. I’m going to reprint its stats here, along with two other stat blocks for demon warriors that could physically resemble the minor serpent demon and the marilith, or could be reskinned as you require.

To make them more useful, I’ve placed the new demons on either side of the 7th level minor serpent demon, and designed them for different roles. As you’ll see, each of the demons has a different approach to the question of how to force magically-competent enemies into melee, and how to punish enemies once they’re engaged. The minor variations in stats and abilities are deliberate. They should team up well with each other.

Minor Serpent Demon

Progressing sword by sword and death by death toward a full marilith.

7th level troop [demon]

Initiative: +13

 

Four whirling swords +12 vs. AC (4 attacks)—7 damage

Miss: 2 damage

 

C: Beguiling gaze +12 vs. MD (one nearby or far away unengaged enemy)As a free action, the target immediately moves toward the minor serpent demon, attempting to engage it or get as close as possible to it

Limited use: 1/round, as a quick action.

 

Terrible swords: When the escalation die is even, the minor serpent demon’s crit range with melee attacks expands by a number equal to the escalation die.

 

AC   23

PD    16                 HP 98

MD  20

 

Serpent Demon Slasher

A one-on-one fight may be the best way to face this demon, but is it really one-on-one when she wields three massive two-handed swords?

6th level wrecker [demon]

Initiative: +12

 

Three two-handed swords +10 vs. AC (3 attacks)—7 damage

 

Six-handed devastation: The serpent demon slasher gains a bonus to its attacks equal to the number of different enemies that it has attacked or been attacked by this battle; maximum +6.

 

AC   21

PD    17                 HP 94

MD  18

Bladeweaver Demon

You know how you’re supposed to keep your eye on the enemy’s blade? Don’t.

8th level blocker [demon]

Initiative: +14

 

Churning swords +13 vs. AC (2 attacks that add the escalation die as a bonus)—14 damage

If both attacks hit: Bladeweaver demon can use deadly swords attack below.

 

Deadly swords +13 vs. AC (2 attacks)—16 damage

Miss: 8 damage

Limited use: 1/round, as a quick action and only when triggered by churning swords.

 

Terrible compulsion: Each round, the first enemy that misses the bladeweaver demon with an attack when it is not engaged with the bladeweaver demon must immediately move toward the bladeweaver as a free action, attempting to engage it or get as close as possible to it.

 

AC   24

PD    18                 HP 124

MD  20

Montages—first introduced in our organized play adventures and later expanded on in the 13th Age Game Master’s Resource Book—can quickly advance a story while co-creating events and interactions that might contribute in surprising ways later in the session or the campaign.

Here are the basics of running a montage:

  1. Start with a player who is comfortable improvising, and ask them to describe a problem that the party faces as they travel or undertake an activity, without offering a solution.
  2. Turn to the player to the left of the starting player, and ask them how their PC does something clever or awesome to solve the problem. After they narrate a solution, ask that same player to describe the next obstacle that the group must deal with.
  3. The next player clockwise gets to solve the new problem, then offer up a new obstacle.
  4. Keep going around the table until everyone has both invented, and solved, a problem.

Typically you won’t call for any die rolls, even when the solution to a challenge involves combat. These events occur in quick narrative time, and allow the players to invent stories to reinforce their characters’ defining qualities. (They also won’t actually use any resources, even if they describe doing so.)

For GMs who’ve run games where the PCs take long journeys over land or sea to get to the “real” adventure, the usefulness of the montage is clear: you can make the journey eventful without spending a ton of time, or eating up the PCs’ recoveries, powers, and spells. It’s also a great opportunity for players to warm up for the session with some low-consequence, fast-paced play; and it gives players an opportunity to do two of their favorite things—make trouble for other players’ characters, and make their own character look cool (or entertainingly uncool).

But there are plenty of other uses for montages besides travel. You can apply the technique to any extended activity that the RPG you’re playing doesn’t have mechanics for, or which might be more interesting to resolve with round-robin narration than dice rolls. Here are some ideas and examples of montages from games that we’ve run here at Pelgrane:

  • Two sides—individual champions, groups, or even armies—face off in combat as the PCs watch as spectators. Using the montage technique, the players describe how each side attacks and defends against their foe, with the GM providing colorful descriptions where appropriate. If the battle is uninterrupted, so one side wins and the other loses, you could determine the outcome through narration (deciding as a group who would likely win given what they’ve described). You could also rack up +1 bonuses for each side whenever a player came up with an especially good narration for an attack or defensive move, then roll a d20 for each side against a normal DC.
  • If there’s a battle you want to treat as a cutscene rather than run as combat, use a montage to narrate the fight. This is a handy option when you’re running a prologue to the adventure, a flashback to a fight from the group’s past, or a flashback to a long-ago historic battle that’s relevant to the present-day campaign.
  • Casting a massive ritual often requires special items and ingredients, sometimes hard to obtain. One option is to build an entire adventure or even a campaign arc around this quest, or series of quests. However, you can also run it as a montage. Give the players the list of items, then go around the circle, introducing problems and solutions. (“The first item on the list is the Prince of Shadows’ lucky coin. Jim, where is it located? And if it’s guarded, who or what is guarding it?”)
  • If you’re a fan of police procedurals, you might have seen scenes that compress part of the investigation into a montage. You can use the montage technique in your game to show the PCs interrogating multiple sources of information, and/or canvassing an area to find clues. In each case, there should be a player-narrated obstacle, and a player-narrated way to overcome the obstacle. Upon each solution to a challenge, give the character a clue, or a resource to help the group solve the mystery. (You’ll see this  approach in my adventure Temple of the Sun Cabal when the group is searching for the vampire Eleodra Malfador)
  • Sometimes the PCs might need a small army of their own—for example, when repelling the troll siege in Make Your Own Luck. Let them narrate a Magnificent Seven style montage to describe how each PC gradually trains a group of townspeople to be a formidable fighting force, and cleverly prepares the terrain for the upcoming battle.

Have you used a montage in other ways in your game, or added your own twist to the mechanic? Share it in the 13th Age Facebook group or Google+ community!

 

 

By Rob Heinsoo, with Jonathan Tweet

Another 13th Age campaign, another experiment with the icon relationship dice!

My previous campaign was using a riff on the way that 13th Age Glorantha handles rune narrations. This time, in a campaign I’m referring to as 13th Arduin*, I’m using an idea from Jonathan that he hasn’t gotten around to trying yet because he’s been busy testing the new version of Over the Edge.

In this new campaign, icon relationships aren’t a once per session thing. Instead, you can roll your icon relationships (at least) once per day. (As a reminder, a “day” in 13th Age consists of approximately 4 regular battles, or 3 hard battles, or 2 regular battles and 1 very hard battle.)

Instead of rolling your icon relationships at the start of the day, roll your icon relationship dice at a dramatic moment during play when you’re hoping that an icon relationship might come up and give you a chance to narrate an advantage. The choice of when to roll is up to you, the player, as is the choice of which dice to roll. A player might, for example, roll the die associated with one icon but not another, depending on the situation.

If at least one die is a 5 or a 6, all the 5s and 6s apply to the current situation. At the GM’s option, the player can instead choose one 5/6 result to be the active die. (This gives the GM the right to be merciful when a player has come up with a great story for one icon relationship and isn’t sure about another.)

Like rune narration in 13G, it’s up to the player to tell the story of how their character’s icon relationship gives them an advantage in that situation. At minimum, the player starts the story and the GM can step in and help finish it up. Some players can be trusted to handle their own complications; others require help. Using this system means that complications generally can’t be avoided unless the GM allows it, since all 5s and 6s that are rolled must be narrated.

Using up dice: If the icon roll resulted in at least one 5 or 6, then all the icon dice you rolled are used up for the rest of the day. If there are other icon dice that you didn’t roll, you still have the option of rolling them later in the day. I like to break out Campaign Coins icon tokens to show which dice players can still use, removing an icon token when a specific relationship’s die is done for the day.

Keeping dice: If the icon dice you chose to roll don’t generate any 5s or 6s, you don’t get to narrate any icon relationship advantages at this point. Connections with the icons aren’t in play, so you’re going to have to deal with whatever’s going on in the game with your own powers and ingenuity and hit points.

But you haven’t lost out completely on your icon relationships. Because all the dice you rolled whiffed, you can roll them again later in the day in some other situation. That holds true even for your reroll. You may end up running out of time in the adventuring day, but as a rule, every PC should end up with some advantage from their icon dice. You can’t be sure exactly when your icon relationships will make a difference, but if you get a couple of chances to roll, you should get roughly one successful relationship roll per day.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on how David Hargrave’s mid-1970s Arduin Grimoire provided inspiration for 13th Age, check out this 2012 EN World interview with Jonathan Tweet.

by Rob Heinsoo

When we wrote the 13th Age core book, Jonathan and I traded off writing Chapter 8: The Dragon Empire. I got the chapter rolling with a big rush of ideas I’d always wanted to use in a fantasy campaign. Jonathan added many sections, then I rolled back through to finish the chapter off.

All of that is to explain why I don’t know which of us wrote the following section, which got cut during layout because of space. The phrasing makes me think that it was Jonathan, with me revising; but that may just be a case of how we mimic each other’s style when we write together.

Not only do I not know which one of us wrote it, for years I didn’t remember that we’d cut this piece out of the book! I would have put it into 13 True Ways if I’d realized it had been knocked out of the core book during construction. I’ve told multiple groups the story, thinking that I was just repeating stuff they’d already read.

Touching up the entry for this post, I noticed that “Builder’s Dreams” apparently misplaces its possessive apostrophe—the highway had multiple builders, so why the singular? But I think that was originally intentional: a hint that there may have been a singular builder, one whose dreams are not dreams you want to share.

Builder’s Dreams

Part of the magic of the great Imperial Highways is that no one feels comfortable living too close to them. Inns, towns, and buildings of all sorts (other than temporary shelters from the weather) are almost always constructed at least 100 yards or more from the road.

Travelers who sleep too close to the highways often have problems with dreams. The dreams of the original road builders haunt the highway stones. The dreams won’t touch you if you’re awake. But anyone who sleeps too near the road can count on nightmares, terrible sleep, and a gradual degradation of their faculties.

Such dreams and disrupted sleep isn’t something that has game mechanics effects after a night or a week, but the effects could be a problem after two weeks. People say that the Lich King has no power over these dreams. It might even be true.

The innkeepers near Horizon and Santa Cora show off the strength of their warding spells by setting up closer to the road than inns built in less magically skilled areas.

ROB_tileInspired by the new rune narration mechanics in the upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha book, I’m experimenting with a twist on the icon relationship rules in my Dragon Empire 13th Age campaign.

As before, a roll of a 5 or a 6 on the six-sider gains an icon relationship advantage. But in this campaign, the 5 and the 6 are pretty much the same, and it’s usually up to the player to say they want to use the advantage and suggest how it’s being used.

Instead of 5 always being a complication, I roll for a possible complication when the player uses the icon relationship advantage, normally after the player has said what they’re hoping to get out of it. I roll a d20—on a 1-5, there’s a complication, and I get to tweak the story and make it interesting.

Since I’m using the new icon tiles from Campaign Coins, the players usually keep the green side up in front of them to show they have an icon relationship waiting to be used. If they end up rolling a complication and I feel like hanging on to it, keeping it poised for later use, I tell them to turn the tile over to its red side.

I like this mechanical tweak because the complication comes as a dramatic twist, not as a definite consequence of using the icon relationship advantage. We’ll see how it goes.

ROB_tileWith a sly flourish on Twitter, Michael E. Shea asked how Jonathan Tweet and I ask for skill checks: Attribute? “Choose an appropriate background?”

First Method

There are a couple of ways to call for checks in 13th Age. Jonathan’s is simplest, and he gave it on Twitter (at @JonathanMTweet if you’re not following him yet):

Tweet on skill checks

 

Second Method

But what if the players aren’t entirely certain how they want to solve a problem? Sometimes I’ll say something like, “It sounds like you’ve decided you want to keep the refugees calm about the moon/water spirit in Halgrim’s Well. One of you should give me a skill check. Tell me who, and tell me a little about how you’re going to manage that.”

In that particular case, the player decided to calm the refugees with a Charisma check. With a natural 20, not only did the refugees feel comfortable about the spirit, they started propitiating it!

But in some cases, how the character has decided to accomplish a task doesn’t sound like the type of check they’ve announced at all. In that case I’ll say something like, “Okay, you’ve said you’re working behind the scenes to figure out what everyone needs, and get it done without them even knowing it. That’s a Wisdom check. What backgrounds do you have that might help you pull off this behind-the-scenes course correction?”

Partial Credit & Failing Sideways

Here’s one trick I enjoy: when it seems like a player is really stretching to apply a background to a particular skill check, I give them partial credit. I ask them to narrate what they think they’re doing, subtract 1 or 2 from their background, and let them roll. If they succeed, hey—turns out that they did know what they were doing, and how it works out may be funnier or a bit different than usual.

Same for failure! Situations like this are probably where my players get the idea that I sometimes turn their fail-forward moments on skill checks into fail-sideways. If the player stretched their background for a skill check, I say thank you, and load extra-fun (for me) complications when they fail forward-ish!

ROB_tileby Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo

When creating characters in a d20-rolling RPG, some of us will always want to roll ability scores. Others hate the randomness, or the risk of rolling up a less-then-competent characters, and opt for point-buy systems. In our games, we let players choose the method they like. When we make our own characters, Rob has always opted for rolling ability scores while Jonathan uses the point-buy system from the core rulebook.

But while we were creating 13th Age in Glorantha, Jonathan came up with an alternative we both like. It creates more diverse characters, it’s simple, and it’s what we have been using lately and suggesting to our players.

Assign these six scores to your abilities: 17, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10.

This alternative array is better than the point-buy arrays on page 309 of 13th Age, but it’s better on the bottom end. Low scores usually get ignored with point-buy systems; but a bit more emphasis on the low end of the scores helps characters in 13th Age because skill checks call on many different abilities, and your defenses are based on multiple ability scores.

Try it, and see if you like the results!

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