As you may know, 13th Age is well praised for its focus on quality story arc and the player characters as fully realized characters. This is a refreshing hike away from the crunchy mechanics of other systems. This concept is embedded into the actual play of the game through three mechanics that really make this game stand out on the narrative level.
1. The One Unique Thing –
The One Unique thing is something that most RPG players have been doing themselves since the dawn of the genre and now it’s been put in a rule book. This mechanic is designed to make your player character stand out from every other NPC and PC alike, but without giving you a mechanical benefit. Essentially, you make up a trait that hints at a backstory or perhaps a future story that may take place in the campaign you are playing. The title of the mechanic says it all, it’s one thing that sets you apart from everybody else. Just so you don’t forget it, there’s even a little spot on the character sheet to type it in!
Here are some examples:
i. My Forgeborn Sorcerer is actually an animated suit of armor… with the corpse of the wearer still inside.
ii. Everybody things my Twygzog Druid has dandruff but the reality is he’s infecting the world with spores!
iii. The armor of the Dwarf Paladin is a family heirloom that changes color from blue to red depending on the situation.
iv. I am destined to kill the Orc Lord.
v. The Human Fighter carries a six-foot-long sword, although he’s only five foot seven.
Being sick of assigning skills and being held to a rigid structure of proficiencies and what have you, this mechanic is probably the most refreshing. Your Backgrounds replace skills completely. Instead of having things like athletics, knowledge:____, bluff and anything else you can think of, you get to make up your own backgrounds that may or may not encompass many of these concepts. With 8 points to spend, and no more than 5 points in one background, this makes your character not only more effective, but also more fun to think about. The points you assign to a Background are the number of points you add to the skill roll that you make in addition to the base stat modifier plus your character’s level. There’s a kicker: When you want to add a background to a certain skill check, you have to explain to your GM why it’s relevant to the situation. From there, you may or may not get help from previous knowledge! Backgrounds are significantly more fun than skills because it helps you flesh out your character as play continues, building a forward and backward story simultaneously. It also gives your character ties to specific places and things before the story even starts.
i.Wanted Arcane Trickster of Horizon
ii.Imperial Dragon Rider’s daughter
iii.Drakkenhall Shock Trooper
iv.Self-Taught Koru Behemoth Whisperer
v.Memories of Valor
3.Icon Relationships -
This is probably the most complex story mechanic of the three, as it is more dependent on the GM rather than the player. As a level 1 character, you have three points to spend on relationships between yourself and the 13 Icons. That relationship can be negative, conflicted, or positive. Each point you assign represents one six-sided die, which you roll at the beginning of the session to dictate how the appropriate Icon may affect that session. There are only two numbers that count: a 5 or a 6. A rolled 5 represents something happening in the story that works in your favor but has a drawback, a 6 represents something good without drawback. Usually, these are used to create some pretty epic moments and turning points in the story. They can be seen in one of two ways; your relationship points can be seen as player agency over the story or GM fuel for making up interesting ideas on the spot. From my experience, it tends to flip flop back and forth as play proceeds. Sometimes a player will think of a use for a 5, while I have to come up with a drawback, or maybe I ask the player if they want to use their 6 to make some action or effect interesting. Now, of course, the most important part of your Icon Relationship is the story that’s tied to it. It’s important to think about why your character has a positive relationship with the Archmage, but a negative relationship with the Dragon Emperor. More often than not, the Icon Relationship mechanic mingles extremely well with both of the aforementioned story mechanics.
Happy gaming and Stay Metal \m/
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 am become death, destroyer of worlds.