You thought this was gonna be something else, didn’t you? While I may, or may not, write a piece on handling suicide in your media (tl;dr version: don’t consult psychologists on how to handle it and then proceed to do the exact opposite of what they say won’t be harmful) eventually, today is not that day. Today, I have the first half of 13 reasons why 13th Age is the coolest game from a player’s perspective. The other half will be from the GM’s side of things by the Heavy Metal GM because ya girl bird has never GM’d a thing in her life.
1) BSing Your Backgrounds
13th Age was my first ever TTRPG, but I’ve spent a few nights playing 1st and 3.5th editions of D&D. The thing that stuck out to me most as a difference between them was the lack of flexibility in other games. If my friend has a limb ripped off by an errant owlbear and they’re taking 20 ongoing you-just-had-your-arm-forcibly-removed-from-you damage, I can at least try to tie a tourniquet around their arm to staunch some of that until we can get them to a qualified healer, even if I don’t have a background specifically in healing. In D&D, my party member bleeds out because I didn’t take the first-aid skill and “press down on a wound” is just soooooo far out of my range of capability as an adventuring person. If you can sell it to the GM and the dice are on your side, you can do anything. Or at least try and have some hilarious stories to tell about crit fails. Backgrounds in this game are a little more loosey-goosey than others, the freedom of which is quite refreshing; and as long as you can sell why your background might apply to the GM, you can add it for a bonus to skill checks. “Former court jester for the Emperor” might help you with anything from diplomacy checks to feats of acrobatics; the possibilities are endless until the GM decides to rein you in. ;)
2) Cool Combats, Even for Clerics!
My other big beef with older versions of D&D (I have yet to play 5E) was that as a cleric, I got to do absolutely nothing interesting in combat. My friends would get the snot beat out of them, I would say “I heal stuff” and then my turn was over. In 13th Age, you get three types of actions; standard, move, and quick, and you can downgrade one type for more of the other. Healing spells are usually a quick action, which means your shank-happy girl gets to give life and take it away in the same turn. >:D The other nice thing about this is that if you’ve split the party (bad idea, do not recommend), you can downgrade your standard action to get two move actions and put a meat shield between your squishies and whatever eldritch horror they’ve irked in one turn, rather than having to revive them after they take that 50 points of tentacle damage.
3) GET SOME CLASS!
The class system in 13th Age is really diverse, and even within classes, it’s possible to come up with completely different builds. We had two clerics in my Tuesday group and we couldn’t have been more different functionally, and we never felt like we were stepping on each other’s toes. Side-note: HIGHLY recommend playing a bard; they’re a lot of fun and I feel like are the best example of being able to build vastly different characters within the same class. Bonus: you can take a spell called “vicious mockery” which basically means sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never --- oh dear, I’m dead.
4) Make Your Own Gods
13th Age allows players to come up with their own set of gods and there aren’t set rules as to how a follower of so-and-so needs to behave, something that, you guessed it, rankled me as a player in 3.5; which, to be fair, may have just been the GM at the time. Gods also aren’t explicit movers and shakers within the 13th Age universe, although GMs can certainly choose to make this the case. Instead of having gods meddling with the affairs with mortals, 13th Age encourages the use of the icon system, my next point.
5) The Icon System
The Icons are 13 power-players in the world of 13th Age and are (mostly) mortal. They’re people who can be killed, but it’s not recommended for players to attempt to do so before 10th level. Each player takes relationship points with different icons and rolls a d6 for each at the beginning of the session. 5’s and 6’s will allow a player to do a thing they are normally not capable of, if they can sell why their relationship/affinity for an icon would allow them to do the thing. As an example: if I’m out of heal spells and my friend is dying from that vicious owlbear attack and I want to re-attach their arm, I can spend a 5 or a 6 with the Priestess to do so because she’s a pillar of strength and healing, and that has inspired me to find an extra reserve of magic. Fives come at a cost determined by the GM, so for this example I might be draining my own HP to complete this ritual, whereas sixes are just straight up boons without major consequences.
6) Finding an OUT
OUT, in this case, stands for “one unique thing.” Pelgrane Press forces you to come up with a fun, non-combat related quirk for your character. Sometimes they’re silly, other times they’re central to your character’s development/arc in the plot. They can range from ,“I have a mouse companion that swaps out all of my gear to something equivalent when I’m not looking” to “I am destined to kill the Orc Lord” to “I am an animated suit of armor with the previous (deceased) user still inside it” to “I know when I will die, but not how.” Whether your character shares their OUT with the rest of the party makes for interesting player dynamics.
7) Magic Items!
You can make your own with the help of the GM! HOW COOL IS THAT?! The standard ones in the core rulebook are pretty sweet, with each type of item granting a standard bonus (e.g. armor gives a +1 to AC and PD) and then typically a funsy on top of that (e.g. being able to see around corners). The Book of Loot contains magic items that are tied to specific Icons (e.g. a ring that will transport you to The Elf Queen’s chambers each night when you go to sleep) which have some really fun story implications. Another fun element from Pelgrane is that if your number of magic items exceeds your current level, you begin to exhibit the “quirk” denoted under each entry for a specific magic item, such as “exhibits a strong taste for rare meat” or “remembers poetry from obscure 11th Age authors” – offering players a unique roleplaying opportunity and a nice ice-breaker for those new to the role-playing scene.
After three years of playing this system and little else (Gumshoe & Star Wars being the exceptions), I’m not tired of it, and having something that remains entertaining and accessible for newbies and old hats alike is pretty awesome in my book. With that, I’ll turn it over to the Heavy Metal GM (in a few weeks), who will tell you why 13th Age is the bee’s (metal) knees from the GM’s perspective.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Cospix, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress, all under the same convenient handle.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.