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13th Age with family

With Easter convention (GothCon XLIV) cancelled I found myself celebrating Easter with my family for the first time. Let that sink in for a while. Me and my Maria have lived together since 1994... and never celebrated Easter together. We have two kids (12 and 16 years old) ... and never celebrated Easter together. (except my 16-year-old has joined me at GothCon the last couple of years. But now thanks to COVID-19... I had no more excuses.

So naturally we invited my brother and his family over and... played 13th Age two sessions on Saturday and two more on Sunday! They stayed the night.

I had 7 players in the group, between 47 and 12 years old. And we had an absolute blast!

People who know me know I'm madly in love with this game. It brings so much joy to me it's a little bit scary. But I think any game that lets you run D20-style combat with 7 players without it dragging on long enough for a 12-year-old to fall asleep, or lose interest, is worth a closer look.

So I will send my pre-generated characters to Ron and have him upload them for you all here and you can ask me questions in the comments. I'd be happy to talk about anything regarding this game, so fire away!

/ulf

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
13th Age

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

I have been eyeing 13th Age for a while, but never taken the plunge. I am interested in what setting you were using? What kind of settings work well with the system? Glorantha being one example.

But my main question is how does it play between the combats? My biggest gripe with D&D 4E was that it was a skirmish game masquerading as an RPG. Now, I do not have an issue with this per se, but the role-playing felt tacked on. How does 13th Age handle the role-playing? 

Thanks!

 

Thank you for asking:

What setting? Setting in 13th Age is very open and player defined. By design the "Dragon Empire" as they call it is very vague and open to interpretation and player input (including GM). So even when there is an Emperor as a main player in the world, he is never named, his back story is never spoken out, but there are hints, suggestions and options everywhere for GM's and players to latch onto.

Some might call it lazy design. But the way they do it is (in my opinion) quite genius. And this is the reason: It give us (me and my player group) enough input to get our imaginations flowing, but at the same time it allows us to make this setting very much our own. This will be important to remember when I answer your second question.

How does it play outside combat? There are three things in play outside combat, system-wise.

1. Ability Checks and Backgrounds: Want to know if your persuasion attempt is successful? Roll a Charisma check vs DC. Want to know if you managed to jump the gap between the rooftops? Roll a Dexterity Check. etc. The basis for the check is always your ability modifier (classic d20) plus your level. In addition to this you can apply bonus from any of your Backgrounds. Backgrounds take the place of skills in "normal" d20 systems. A Background could be anything the player defines as part of their character's background. You gain 8 points to distribute between Back grounds when you create your character, and you cannot give more than +5 to any one Background. Other than that you can have anything from 8 different +1 ones, to 2 backgrounds (one at +5 and another at +3). Backgrounds serves as skills AND the player's way to influence the campaign and setting. Example: If a player creates a background that says: "Mercenary Deserter +4" they get to fill in the blanks as well if they want. What war? who fought in it? What was the captains name? Why did you desert? etc. So in this one simpel Background, not only have you created something that could be called upon to giv you bonuses to ability checks the way a normal skill could, but you have also already started to weave the campaign threads and signaling to the GM what elements you want present in the game.

2.  Icon Relationships: There are movers and shakers in this world. Powerful characters and beings that are like demigods (like Sauron or Gandalf) to normal heroes. These NPC's are called ICONS. And you (even at level 1) start out with some relationships to these people. Icons is one of the few things that are pretty well defined in the setting, but it is defined in a manner of what spheres they influence and what objectives the "may" have, for example every icon has a section saying something along the lines of: "Everything will be alright as long as..." then it lists a couple of things that this icon DOES NOT want. It lists othwer ICONS as enemies, or allies etc. What it doesn't do; is tell you specifics. It only packages the "drama" this icon brings to the table, and you and your player can figure out the rest. You start the game with 3 points to distribute between the icons, and you can put more than one point into one icon if you like.For example I may say htat my character have a 2 point relationship to the "High Druid", and a 1 point relationship to the "Lich King". Mecahnically this will give me (the player) narrative control over parts of the story at certain points. And it works like this; At the start of every session, each player rolls their icon relationship dice. 1d6 for each point, and you need to track results for each icon separately. If you roll a 5 or 6 on any die that means you basically have a "token" to spend with regards to that icon this session. If you don't spend it, you lose itand next session we roll again.

So what can you do with "Icon spends"?; You can basically siese temporary controll over the narrative and inject and/or change things to allign with said icon.

Let me give you an example; Let's say I have a possitive relationship to the Emperor and we are going down to the docks to talk to some stevedoers about missing shipment. Instead of rolling the charm them or fighting them etc. I could spend my Emperor Icon roll of 6 to instead declare that they recogize me as an agent of the emperor and treat us all with the outmost respect. Even more drastic; let's say the GM presents you with a scene in the capital where a band of thugs jump you from the sahdows to beat you up, but you spend your emperor token to change the game by either a) have the thugs be City Guards you know, instead or b) have some palace guards hear the fighting and come running as backup etc. Player's call, and negotiated with the GM as needed to not break the story completely, but the GM should be pretty admitting here.

I've had players change encounters on me... where I prep a battle agains golems and automatons...but a player says; I spend my Orc Lord icon, wouldn't it be cool if there was an Orc raiding party here instead? And we work that into the story, and change it.

Icon relationships can also be spent to "find" magic items. The reasoning here is tha tmagic items are all in one way or another connected to the icons. "I thinnk right about here is where I find my golden shield... I'm gonna spend my Great Gold Wyrn icon here..."

The whole idea is tha tif you know these powerful characters in the world they WILL have an effect on your life and your story... your fate if you will.

3. One Unique Thing:  Every character is unique. This is another opportunity for the players to shape the campaign. You work with the GM to come up with something truly unique and suitably epic that sets your Elven Bard apart from all other elven bards in the world. Usually (but not always) this also ties in to an icon or two. The most obvious examples include: "I am the Empeors only son, but I do not know it myself." and things like that. The One Unique thing is supposed to be cool enough to found a campaign around it, but it should not give you any obious combat advantages or anything like that. So for example I had one player create an elven wizard with a connection the the Arch Mage of the worl, and a background as a librarian in the Archmages library.... his one unique thing was that he was acually a perfect automaton copy of an elf... the only one of its kind. So for all mechanical intents and purpouses he was still an elf... but story wise we could explre the pinoccio theme of wanting to be loved by his creator, trying to find a place in the world, what it means to be human etc.

Those three things make up the core of the 13th Age systems around "non-combat". Hope you like it.

/ulf 

Sean_RDP's picture

Ulf

Thank you. That does sound intrigiuing and is something I could sink my teeth into as a GM.

Sean_RDP's picture

I figured I would give a little more.

The ICONS concept seems brilliant to me. All at once it creates a larger world without the need to nail specific relationships. It also seems to give characters more weight.  And the example of the Lich establishes a relationship to a negative force in the world without the baggage of religion and alignment. 

Correct. You get to define if you want your relationship in question to be "possitive", "Negative" or "Conflicted", but to be honest this is more a story tool than anything else.

 

For example a proud knight in shining armour who always protects the weak and is a standard good hero, may still have a relationship with the Lich King (who by most are considered to be evil)... maybe the Lich King hates his guts and goes out of his way to make life misserable for this night in particular? Maybe he was a former death-knight who is now reformed and trying to do good, and the Lich King thinks he can "win him over again". making this relationship conflicted etc. It's all gravy for the campaign.

And yes actual alignment are not in the game att all, though there are some suggestions where the icons might end up on that "grid" if you want to go that way. I never did.

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

Sean, in Monday Lab: DIY Diagram, Ulf used 13th Age for his "project," which shows how the Icons are critical gears. The design seems very productive: concrete enough to do things, voluntary enough to integrate with other parts of play instead of just moving points around.

Ron Edwards's picture

Please, pleeeeease tell me who played the wasted little sort-of undead halfling, and what they did.

Oh that would be Franke, my 12yo son. For reason still a mystery to me he has a thing for necromancers.

So let me give you some background to how I set this little campaign up:

The Younger players play the younger characters. (Paladin, Barbarian, Necromancer and Duck)
These characters grew up together in and around Red River Vale. There are three settlements of note in the vale. Crown Hill, Appleton and Vake Vale Fort. So these guys know eachother from childhood, but when they reached adolecense and started to become adults they drifted apart and went their own ways.

The Paladin was the only one of them who stayed behind in the Vale and started to serve at the Fort where he basically was raised since he was found in the forest. He grew up at that fort and saw no reason to leave.

The others have ad 5-7 years worth of life outside the Vale, but have all, at the start of the adventure found different reasons fro returning... something is up... something is about to happen in the Vale and they need to be there.

The older characters (maybe about 10-15 years older than the others) are all played by older players (i.e. my brother, his wife and my wife). Two of these characters are also native to the Vale but never left it, so they have been here all along. The Fighter (Emma "Twiggy") is also serving a tthe Fort, so she knows the Paladin quite well. The Ranger (Minerva) is a friend of both of them and the Cleric was not bron here but arrived maybe 5 years ago, so he has very little connection to the youngsters but knows the other adults.

So there... long intro, sorrry.

Crazy shit the Necromancer has done in game; When the party wanted to find the Dwarven Barbarian he asked if he could use magic to find her and I said sure... then I explained to them how 13th Age deals with magic rituals.

Basically any class with the "Ritual Casting" class feature can use one of their Daily spells to transform it into pretty much anything they want as long as it has the same "flavor" as the original spell.

"Puddles" summons a crows to tell him where Elsa is.

I describe this nasty looking zombie bird come flying in and lands in front of him... a rotten eye pops out and rolls up to him... he picks it up... the table starts teling him to eat it and I think, sure if he eats it I'll give him a vission. But he hesitates... and instead looks into the eye really close up and focused... So I give him the visions that way instead. Now he knows where Elsa is. And then... he tells us he eats the eye. The table all start laughing. :)

Second; there was this casm with burning embers at the bottom crossing their path and they had to get to the other side of this battlefiled. Franke uses ritual casting again to createa  rotten flesh bridge for them to walk on... describing how the meat started to cook as there was heat comming up from below and telling people not to be alarmed should hands try to grab them as they crossed over... barbeque bridge... After they crossed and tried not to puke, Franke says; "And if we need to feed the villagers we know where the food is."

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

This is a remarkable feat of family unity and entertainment.

It's what people should learn about role-playing instead of celebrities smirking about fashionable geekdom.

Kind words, thanks. I agree. To be honest, if I could just get more of this attitude into the regular "adults" game group, I think we would have more fun. And playing 13th Age I feel like I can, more easily than in most other systems. That is probably a big part of why I love it so much.

/ulf

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