Read Part 1 Here
Anyone who has read my blog, The Heavy Metal GM, knows that I don’t try to hide that 13th Age is my go-to game. It stimulated my imagination like nothing else had before, and for that reason, I’m hooked. I played for maybe a year before I decided to take a dive into GMing the system. Learning how different it is behind the screen has been a trip, but it’s honestly only deepened my love for the game. Here’s the other six reasons to get into this game, from my side of the screen.
8) Monsters Are Simple (For The Most Part)
Other game systems in the TTRPG genre tend to follow this dice mechanic; roll to determine hit/miss, roll damage. 13th Age doesn’t do that; you roll to hit and monsters have a set amount of damage that they do, some with a few nasty effects added on. This helps speed up the process of laying down the hurt on your players, and I definitely prefer it to rolling damage. That’s just scratching the surface, as this sort of style makes encounter building easy too. You don’t have to consider the “if factor” of your monsters rolling near max damage every time. That pesky d20 could wipe out a party if it’s hot, but better one die than several.
I feel I need to address a valid comment that someone made on the previous post. To paraphrase, the individual had stated that the structures of some effects were a pain to keep track of. Some monsters get abilities that trigger on the Escalation Die, natural rolls (even, odd, natural x+, etc.), player hit points, and the like. It can be tough to remember, and if you’re referencing monsters from different books, laying that out in a manageable manner can a challenge. Here’s what I do: I remember what I can, disregard about what I can’t. Back tracking because you forgot an ability slows everything down. I keep my books open to the page I need, stack them on top of one another, and reference as needed throughout a combat. If you have the means, you could print the pages you need from the pdf if you have it. Maybe if I’m lucky, I can pitch the idea to make monster cards to Pelgrane (pfffft, in my dreams). To remember effects, conditions and ongoing damage, we use soda bottle rings of all different colors to throw onto a miniature. I hope this helps!
9) Halfway Finished
Playing a setting like Eberron (which love) requires someone to reference thousands of years of history, geographical locations, people, and many other things. The Dragon Empire, the stock setting for 13th Age, has a half-finished history. You old-school gamers e may be shocked and appalled at this idea, but it actually comes in handy. It means that every time you play in someone’s 13th Age game, the settings may be similar to one another but it is never the same. Details and rumors will vary from table to table, and man, does this keep the game fresh.
I absolutely adore having the wiggle room to inject my own twisted (I mean fun) ideas into my campaign. This is a very Tolkien-esque philosophy to world building. There’s so many gaps to fill that it captivates the imagination. You can’t be wrong if most of the “facts” are actually rumors, am I right?
10) Familiar But Fresh
I’ll say this about 13th Age until I’m blue in the face. Being an F20 game, it feels familiar and mimics games like D&D. It makes the transition from one game to another pretty close to seamless. This comes as no surprise, considering Rob Heinsoo is one of the designers. In my opinion, this is a very strong point to jump into this game. You basically don’t even have to learn a new rules system, it’s a painfully simplified version of D&D with some narrative fiddly bits. Said bits may even be easy to grasp, if your style is role-play heavy anyhow. All it does is take your style and apply a couple of simple yet effective mechanics to it.
From the GM standpoint, you have even less rules to learn because the only new thing you directly interact with is the aforementioned Icon Relationship rules. Backgrounds function like skills, the only difference is the negotiation. That only requires you to be a little gracious towards your players’ creativity, something we need more of in this hobby. Players have been doing the One Unique Thing idea since the dawn of role-playing. Rob and Jonathan made the concept mandatory, that’s all.
11) Story Flexibility
The fact that you could start by hunting a pack of orcs and end up in the Archmage’s flying citadel in the same night is a total win for me. All the published adventures hinge on how the player characters are tied to the world through their Icon Relationships. You could play an adventure 15 times over and it won’t ever be the same twice. The other narrative mechanics presented make every session one of a kind, where the details will almost never be the same unless you simply choose to do so. It’s truly a beautiful thing that I’ve grown to love as a GM.
It makes running the same adventure more than once at a convention just as exciting and new as the first time. The experience only gets smoother the more times you do it while maintaining a level of freshness. Even if you’re running your own adventures, that Icon Relationship thing can make it take some unexpected turns. Things can also get exceedingly deep if you have someone in your group that’s a big-time role-player. Chances are, their one unique thing could be a focal point for an entire campaign. Bouncing ideas off of each other as to how to develop it and how their comrades fit into the equation as things go on is an interesting way to experience a narrative. The more players you have like this, the more twists and turns the story takes, giving it a life of its own. Letting the story take its own direction is a blast, this game does it exceedingly well.
12) Heroic Heroes Doing Heroic Things
13th Age is a game of heroes. A first level player character is still a seasoned adventurer, not a farmer that decided to pick up a sword instead of a pitchfork. Though, that could very well be your character’s story, the idea of the game is to not be starting at that transition. Instead, you’re plopped down somewhere in the middle and are supposed to continue that growth that your background hints at. At first level, orcs and kobolds are still scary but you’re not going to get completely destroyed by them. I’ve thrown packs of gnolls at second level characters and they didn’t bat an eye. The combat was riveting, dangerous and interesting but I didn’t once feel that it was too much for them to handle. They felt powerful, they felt important, they felt heroic. Being a badass in the 13th Age is a surprisingly easy thing to do, and it feels good!
As you move through the tiers of play, things do get more difficult but the math increases in such a way that it instills confidence in your abilities as a player. Having double digit math at low levels does have its drawbacks, however. At tenth level, things do get a little silly, but the game doesn’t fall apart in the same way that other games seem to at the epic/paragon tier of play. If your tenth level fighter uses a two-handed great sword, they’re rolling 10d10 damage on a single swing of that bugger. A huge red dragon has 1200 hit points, but that stuff hurts! Thanks to things like the Escalation Die and some of the more frightening baddies, it doesn’t get too bogged down. Combat still runs smooth and fast while feeling like some good ol’ high flying, adventurous fun.
13) Strong Organized Play
Every time I read one of the Tales of the 13th Age adventures, I’m a giddy goat. The organized play structure that these guys developed is very episodic and theatric. It’s all free, and the adventures are done incredibly well by ASH LAW. He has a penchant for all things whacky and weird, making each adventure a truly epic experience. All the adventures can be loosely tied together, but they throw you all over the Dragon Empire, giving you a chance to see how the Icons interact with one another.
The season one Halloween adventure, The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle is great. What was beautiful about that piece in particular, is that it has the potential to be whimsical like Hocus Pocus or it can be a truly terrifying horror story. It’s so easy to change the tone of the adventures, which makes them versatile. Some people like silly adventures, others don’t, and there’s no change in the story substance to run it either way. To put the mechanical frosting on the narrative cake, all the combat encounters come with tables telling you exactly how many of each enemy use depending on headcount. No challenge rating calculations, no guessing, just plug and play.
If this post in tandem with the first one doesn’t make you want to take this game out for a test drive, I don’t believe that anything will. Both tantalizing art, and the beautifully simplistic nature make this game a heavy contender in the world of table-top. I truly hope that you’ll grab your dungeon delving gear and plunge headlong into the fantastical world of the Dragon Empire.
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, Join the conversation.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.