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.

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


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


Sometimes a class is a bit more than a single class! The new demonologist class in Book of Demons is a bit like the druid in 13 True Ways in that it uses talent choices to define its class features and spell lists. The three demonologist paths—corruption, flame, and slaughter—have features in common, including resist abilities to specific types of damage and demon summoning. However, two demonologists with talent choices in different paths can play extremely differently.

As with the druid, you can mix demonologist talents from the different paths to create the character you want to play. With a single talent in a path, you’re said to be an initiate. You’ll have access to the path’s spells and its summoned demon, but not as much access as a demonologist who has become a devotee of a path with two of its talents. Use all three talents in the same path and you’re a fanatic—which may be a worthwhile choice for raw power, but will cut down on your versatility.

If you’re curious about the mechanical feel of the characters you can create using the different paths, here are the arguments for why each path might be the most interesting.

Corruption is the best path because you already know your enemies are weak, and your spells and talents will ensure it.

Talents from the path of corruption tend to power-up the effects and conditions your spells (and sometimes your allies’ spells) place on enemies. Examples include Contagion, a talent that transfers a condition to a different enemy when an enemy suffering from one of your spells drops; and Inimical, a talent which raises the saves required against all your spells. These bonuses apply to any spells you cast, not just corruption spells. For example, if you take Inimical as your one corruption talent and choose two talents from the flame path, all the ongoing fire damage your flame path spells deal will be harder to save against.

The demons summoned by corruption path demonologists are spoilers, oozing creatures that somehow daze or weaken enemies, creating conditions your corruption path talents may be able to manipulate.

Flame is the best path because everyone burns when you say so. 

A demonologist heavily invested in the flame path might play something like a summoning-capable sorcerer who specializes in fire spells. Unlike the hypothetical sorcerer, however, the flame path demonologist gets better at overcoming resist fire abilities the more talents they invest in the path. In playtesting, that made the difference between a path that no one could see themselves playing, and a path that could handle descending into a hellhole.

The path’s spell selection is more than just fiery offense. Spells like flaming teleport and flame shroud and golden claw (pictured at right!) interpret fire control as a source of improved mobility, so that demonologists on the flame path are a bit more survivable than similar brittle spellcasters.

Slaughter is the best path because you get to wear heavy armor, chop enemies up with swords and melee spells, and still summon demons.

I admit that it’s hard to dispute the slaughter path argument. Previously you could multiclass into a character who wirlds both swords and sorceries in 13th Age, but this is the first class implementation that deliberately invokes at least three Elric-tropes.

I’m not sure that the slaughter path is better, per se; but I know it’s popular, whether mixed with one of the other paths or followed to a full-fanatic three talents.

The demons summoned by slaughter path demonologists include two of the new demons added in this book, the claw demon and the hungry maw.

Art by Rich Longmore

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).

Fallen icons, apocalyptic fire giants, and a purple dragon who throws the best parties: welcome to 13th Age Bestiary 2!

More than 250 individual stat blocks appear in 51  entries, along with with story hooks, icon relationships, customizable campaign variants, and advice on creating exciting battles.

New monsters for your campaign include:

  • The Gold King and the Forest that Walks, fallen icons who must be defeated by a blend of swords, spells, and campaign victories.
  • A wizard bonded to their spellbook, a rogue bonded to their magic cloak, and other former heroes who took shortcuts to power by merging with their magic items.
  • The Lich King’s covert undead propaganda force: the Cult of the Silver Hand.
  • Fomorians, monstrous worshipers and children of the ancient chaos gods.
  • Malatyne, the purple dragon whose entertainments are legendary—and the player characters might be the main attraction…
  • Lions (temple); tigers (elemental and rakshasa); and owlbears (snowy and great horned).

Plus an appendix on using these monsters when playing 13th Age in Glorantha!

Lead Designers: Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW

Developer: Rob Heinsoo

Art Direction: Rob Heinsoo, Cathriona Tobin

Interior Art: Rich Longmore, Ania Kryczkowska, Aaron McConnell, Lee Moyer, Patricia Smith, Naomi VanDoren

Authors: Liz Argall, Paul Fanning, Jaym Gates, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Lynne Hardy, Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW, Cal Moore, Carrie Rasmussen-Law, Wade Rockett, Aaron Roudabush, Michael E. Shea, Ruth Tillman, Jonathan Tweet, Steven Warzeha, Emily Westfall

Product code: PEL13A14

Pages: 304pg, hardback, full colour

Buy now

High Druids World_cover_350A collection of playable monster stats for NPC druids and powerful druidic dragons. Creatures from level 3 to level 11 show how player-character style spells can be adapted to ‘monstrous’ applications. It also includes ideas on the philosophy of the High Druid, and notes on what’s hidden by the green canopies of the forests on our cityfolk map of the Dragon Empire. By Rob Heinsoo.

High Druid’s World is the twelfth installment of the second 13th Age Monthly subscription, You can buy it as a stand-alone PDF, or purchase the collected Volume 2 to get all 12 issues plus the 2016 Free RPG Day adventure Swords Against the Dead!

Stock #: PEL13AM26D Author: Rob Heinsoo
Artist: Naomi VanDoren Type: 11-page PDF

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mounted-combat-cover-350Rules for riding horses, war rhinos, giant lizards, bison, giant spiders, sable antelopes, and other critters into 13th Age battles. If you recognized some of these as Gloranthan creatures, that’s because this issue of the Monthly will include content aimed at 13th Age in Glorantha that will be perfectly at home in other fantasy campaign worlds. By Rob Heinsoo.

Mounted Combat is the ninth installment of the second 13th Age Monthly subscription. You can buy it as a stand-alone PDF, or purchase the collected Volume 2 to get all 12 issues plus the 2016 Free RPG Day adventure Swords Against the Dead!

Stock #: PEL13AM23D Author: Rob Heinsoo
Artist: Rich Longmore Type: 10-page PDF

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ROB_tile I’ve been looking through old design files, finding interesting mechanics that we never got around to exploiting, and passages of writing that dropped through the cracks through no faults of their own. Here’s one such passage, an introductory paragraph that Jonathan must have written back when the druid was going to appear in the core book instead of waiting for its star turn in 13 True Ways. It’s often hard to tell whether Jonathan or I have written a section, even for us, but I’m pretty sure this was written by Jonathan because of the passage’s ironic parallelism, because I never highlight words using underlines, and because I would have used the word ‘rumors’ at the end instead of ‘fable.’ Three clues!

If you compare this passage to what we eventually published in 13 True Ways, you’ll see that our thinking progressed towards a storyline in which the resurgence of the High Druid was making druidical magic and the power of nature something that even folks in “more civilized lands” would have to think about very soon, if not yesterday.



The world isn’t just ruled by the forces of nature, the world _is_ the forces of nature. Druids devote themselves to these forces. On one hand, the forces compel the druids, pushing or drawing them along unknown paths. On the other, the druids use these forces to compel, heal, or destroy others. For druids, this means giving up mere individuality for a truer selfhood, tied flesh and bone to the natural world. In some places, especially in forgotten valleys far from the imperial highways, druids are the priests rather than clerics. In more civilized lands, druids are rarities, subjects of curiosity and fable.


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.

17_Gladiators front cover_350In the Dragon Empire, the imperial city of Axis is the hub of civilization—but even there, the barbaric spectacle of bloody arena combat draws cheering crowds. Who among the gladiators will ascend to fame and glory today, and who will fall?

Here you’ll find notes on gladiatorial armor, dragon patrons, crest-taking, staged holy wars, Dragon Empire gladiators as they compare to Roman Empire gladiators, the Lich King’s arenas, and other surprises involving war sports. By Rob Heinsoo.

Gladiators is the fifth installment of the second 13th Age Monthly subscription. You can buy it as a stand-alone PDF, or purchase the collected Volume 2 to get all 12 issues plus the 2016 Free RPG Day adventure Swords Against the Dead!

Stock #: PEL13AM19D Author: Rob Heinsoo
Artist: Rich Longmore Type: 9-page PDF

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