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.
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.
With a title like that, I have to spill the beans. I’m only 22 years old, which apparently make me pretty young in the gaming community. This fact makes me proud to be a part of the hobby’s growth and development but makes me the butt-end of many jokes. Considering my upbringing, it just kind of rolls off, my family was awful like that. Two out of my three groups are with “older” gamers. To most people my age, it seems rather weird that I game with people ten or twenty years older than me. The way I see it; people are people and if you can look past that, there’s a lot to gain, learn and enjoy. More than most would think, there’s plenty of good stuff you can get from gamers outside of your age bracket.
Most obvious of all, gamers who have been in the hobby for a while have a good grip on what’s going on. The internet is spattered with GM advice, player advice, homebrew rules/settings etc. etc. What’s great about being involved with a game group of folks older than you: they did all that before the internet existed. This means that everything they’re hashing out has been honed by many nights spent in a terrible setting run in a terrible way that ultimately lead to a polished mindset of game design and development. Moreover, things tend to be less stereotypical with experienced gamers. People who have been around the block more than a few times tend to be bored with the slaughtering of kobolds for their gold and tend to think outside the box. For me, it often delivers a more intriguing, deep and unique story that makes you think and question the world.
Perhaps stating it that way makes it seem a little more dramatic than it actually is, but the gaming experience does tend to be more rich. Experience doesn’t only shine in a well thought out world, though. Techniques for foreshadowing, table management, characterization, plot building and every other aspect of the game simply tends to be better. If the other players are of the same ilk, I find that things also can run very smoothly. It’s really taught me how to be a good contributor on both sides of the screen.
2). Rigid schedules
My Saturday group struggles to get together regularly as opposed to my Tuesday one. This could be for a multitude of reasons, but the one that’s most obvious to me is the difference in personal lives. The Tuesday crew is my elderly group (not really, oh, are they going to love reading that!) and tends to meet far more regularly. That group also has a lot more people, which likely has a huge amount of relevance. However, upon pondering the subject, it makes sense. People with families and full time jobs tend to have a lot more predictable lives in regards to scheduling.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s easier to set aside one day for something a week when every other day is spoken for already by a family or job. Maybe being younger and having a lot more free time makes people prone to doing other stuff or getting distracted. Who knows? The point stands. On the other hand, those with kids can be absent for a long time due to extracurricular activities. I would assume that’s why my Tuesday group has seven players with a minimum of four to play a game.
But wait… I have a predictable schedule and a full time career. What does that make me?
3). No longer embarrassed
Role-playing games are a bunch of people sitting around a table playing pretend. It sounds foolish in that light, but honestly, what would you call it? When I describe it to people outside of the hobby I call it “collective storytelling,” but that’s just because I don’t want to sound strange. Hundreds of times over, I’ve brought somebody into this hobby and they can’t get into the game because they’re embarrassed about playing pretend. To be fair, it does take some time getting used to, but it can get a little frustrating, too. Playing with the Grognards is amazing because nobody cares. Everybody just says/does whatever they think would be relevant for the character, without a care in the world.
It’s such a liberating feeling to be sitting around a table with that kind of atmosphere. When everybody has that level of investment in what they’re doing, it helps make the game immersive and rich with imagery. Even better, when things are less serious, the comedic element is all that more potent.
4). Amazing stories
Our hobby is almost infamous for creating memorable moments. Even if you’re new to gaming, there’s bound to be some sort of memorable story for you to talk about in the future. As with most things, more time invested means more conversation points. Playing with Grognards really accentuates that fact. My favorite role-playing story actually comes from my Tuesday group in the Eberron campaign setting. It pretty much hashed out the way that the classic Gazeebo story does, but instead we faced a stone elephant statue. The main difference was, instead of actually dying, they had to fight it and be shamed into running away.
Don’t you love it when inanimate objects turn into monsters? But anyhow, before the game, sometimes the group gets wrapped into a reminiscing session about epic moments in previous games. It’s a total blast to listen to, kind of like listening to a war veteran talk about their experiences. Okay, that comparison might be a bit of a stretch, but the sense of wonder and amazement can be similar.
On the short hand, for you tl;dr type people; go find yourself a group outside of your age bracket. It’ll probably be the best thing you ever do and help improve your understanding of role playing.
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
I have to admit, sometimes I am a lazy role-player, and more recently I am the laziest role-player. I expect to turn up at the latest session -ready for fun- with little-to-no time in preparation.
I haven’t always been this way. I have done the GMing stuff where there is more work involved, but at this point in my life I want a gaming experience that takes me away into the mythical world and away from the drudgery of laundry and lesson planning. However, my foray back into regular gaming was not my easy, comfortable sweater that I expected and wanted to slip on. No, it was shiny new settings and games, and I had a lot to learn. As lazy as I am, I am glad for it.
1 . New games make you read
I know it sounds like a boring reading comprehension test, but with new systems and settings comes new ideas and ways of looking at role-playing. And every rule/adventure book has its own feel that you become immersed in. Now, I’m not talking about just skimming the pages until you see numbers underneath the class/race/occupation/skills that make your eyes light up (but you do need to do that as well). I am talking about reading about the world that has been lovingly crafted for you to explore or being consumed into a new culture through someone’s words. These can be the clearest depiction that gives each person the same sense of what is going on or they can be an outline that make you develop those places and people together. Often a completely new setting will spark your imagination and energise your play.
Furthest to the south is the sandy and inhospitable lands of the Owl Clan, who share strange and arcane secrets with the emptiness of the desert. They are known for consorting with spirits that often spell ill to their "mistresses."
From a stone-age fantasy D&D 5E setting created by VP Quinn
2 . New games make you think and role-play differently
We all fall into a bit of a routine with role-playing. Even those with a streak of interesting, dynamic characters often use similar techniques to get information, to engage in combat, or even to interact with NPCs and PCs. There are vastly different games each with their own idea of these interactions. They force you to think differently. As an investigator in the Cthulhu world, I started by looking into one thing at a time at one place… like some sort of linear path. What I learned was that sometimes a scattershot of searching sometimes works best. It is a small thing, but it is a skill I will use in other games.
Also, with my first jump into the Cthulhu world being just a few months ago, the simple words from the first handout are a callback to an unending exploration of how I role-play and how fear can motivate action.
A landlord, Mr. Knott, asks you to examine an
old house in central Boston, known as the Corbitt
House. The former tenants, the Macario family,
were involved in a tragedy and the owner wishes
to understand the mysterious happenings at the
house and set matters straight. Mr. Knott been
unable to rent the house out since the tragedy
and hopes that you can clear things up and restore
its good name. He offers to reimburse you
for your time and trouble. The landlord gives you
the keys, the address and $25 cash in advance.
Call of Cthulhu, The Haunting
What could go wrong?
3 . New games remind you of some of the awesome things you used to do
Remember that one time, you put that clever twist on your gaming experience. No, not that one, the other one. Nope, not that either. I think you did it around 2005…. What do you mean you don’t remember that far back?
Often, we remember the epic battles and the clever encounters from years back. We have told and retold them with great fervor. But sometimes it was the little things that added more interest to the group and kept things going. Often a new game will remind you of such experiences and rekindle the love of the minute details.
Though my jump into 13th Age was only one session, I was enamored with their idea of the “One Unique Thing.” Often, I had characters with that extra trait that set them apart, but often as time went on those clever ideas were left behind in the process. This forced me to look at that critically at the beginning of character creation. It is now in the forefront of my mind as I am in the midst of making a new character right now.
4 . You have a chance to use different dice
Seriously, I have some under utilized dice in my pack. I look forward to dusting off some d6s for this wade into the Star Wars 3E universe.(Editor’s note, Star Wars’ games seem to like using odd or specific dice. The fantasy flight version of SW has its own dice which are cool, but it also requires you buy their specific dice. It’s a marketing ploy only a big game can get away with.)
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.