Ring Side Report- 13 Age
TL;DR-13th age in a phenomenal RPG. It combines the best of 4th, 3rd, and 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons all while creating its own soul. A word to the wise, this system requires more audience and GM participation that most RPGs thought! 9.5/10
Basics-13th Age is a new RPG from Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet , some of the paragons from 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. After leaving Wizards, this creative group forged 13th Age alone with a few other projects. This game focuses heavily on role-playing while not giving up on most of the crunchy bits that players of Dungeons and Dragons love. The game is set in a world where 12 icons control the fate of the people there. These icons represent things from races (Elf Queen and the Dwarf Lord) to aspects of nature and power (High Druid to Lich King). The PCs all have a relationship to these icons and this relationship changes what occurs in every session. In addition, each PC is unique for several reasons. All PCs possess powers that most of their race to make it know right off the bat mechanically that the players are better than almost anyone. In addition to this mechanical benefit, players also have a unique “thing.” This “thing” ranges from being the world’s smartest Gnoll to a dwarf living in the wild wood in a treehouse in the tallest tree. The uniqueness of the PCs really makes the game enjoyable, and in general keeps the game fresh. There is a reason this game was on the most anticipated RPGs of summer 2013.
Mechanics or Medians, Means, and backgrounds oh my!–
Basics-It’s not hard to see DnD was the backbone of this system. Roll a d20, add numbers, compare to other numbers. Done. It’s worked since Gygax, and it still works. Where fun enters is what numbers you add. For starters, let’s talk about the escalation die. For this game, each round of combat after the first the GM places a die on the table. This die is added to your d20 rolls for that round, and some powers trigger or are affected by it. There are wizard powers that are not used up if used when the escalation die is even. This brings combat to a head very quickly and ramps up the fun as combat gradually becomes more intense.
Powers/spells– Powers and spells how a strong 3.0 and 4th edition influence. All characters have the basic melee and range attacks, but these look much closer to 4th edition powers then simple descriptions in the 3rd edition book. For a layout point of view, this makes the game much easier to read. I know some people flee at the slightly whisper of “powers” from 4th edition, but writing the spells and some combat abilities this way really makes the book more digestible. Also, powers/spells have random refresh abilities. Some powers and spell can be used again if after use you roll a 11 or better on a d20. While this makes the game more random, I will admit it makes the game more fun. All the standard 3rd and 4th edition powers are in the game, so your favorites are there or coming quickly.
Skills-This game has absolutely no skills, but replaces them with backgrounds. At character creation you get eight points to place in your backgrounds. Backgrounds are what ever you want. There is no limit to this except your imagination. Now your background could be as simple as “climber+4”, but that’s boring! What if you were the “savage tree hermit+4”! The second implies more about who you are the just a single ability. When you want to do anything that failure would matter, the GM will ask for a roll. You perform the standard 3rd edition math of d20+skill, but now you can look at the GM as a player and say “As a savage tree hermit, Im used to scaring travelers away from my home, can I add my savage tree hermit background to the roll to intimidate the guards?” Odds are your GM will say yes in that case. This makes what you were before the adventure that much more important. The system is an AWESOME change to the standard gaming landscape of skill use and metagaming.
Medians and Means-This game is not super numbers crunchy. Don’t expect a hard slog through a book full of different way to game the system. This game aims to put roleplaying center, but it doesn’t forget its crunchy, rule heavy roots. The game prefers to use standard damage for its monsters. It also advices the players to do the same. For defenses, the players use the middle of three abilities to find what defense they should use. Again, this discourages metagaming and power-gaming as it forces the players to take into account how focusing on one ability will hurt their characters. Characters can still power game, but this new method for defenses makes a person think a bit more in how they build their characters.
Movement-Like many abstract games, this game uses abstract movement rules. Basically characters are near, far, or engaged with other characters/enemies. This style really makes the game move fast. Honestly, I’ve had combat with six things running around end in less than 15 minutes! In an average Pathfinder or DnD game, that’s at LEAST an hour. Spells are built to take this in account and it really helps the flow of game play. I wish more games were designed like that!
Icon Rolls-At the start of each game session, for each point of a relationship with an icon of the world, you roll a d6. Getting a six means you get a boon from the icon. Getting a 5 means you get a boon but with some strings attached. All this is at GM’s discretion, but it is fun. Keeps the GM from planning too much and makes the world fresh. I like it.
Odds and Evens-A final note, dice rolls matter, but it tends to be more than just the total. Some dice rolls look at if the die is even or odd. Some powers refresh on an odd roll in combat. Some monsters get to add the escalation die if they get even or odd d20 rolls in combat. Its more random, but its fun. New mechanics to keep me on my toes.
Theme and Story-Here is where you will either absolutely LOVE the game like me or may possibly be turned away. As a default, the world is very open. Honestly, the world building section of the book is about 10 pages or less. This is very much done on purpose and not a lazy move by the writers. The writers of the book want each game to be its own thing. You decide if dwarfs love scotch or apple martinis. There are common elements such as the icons, but how a negative relationship with the icon plays out is up to you. Its amazingly fun, but it could cause less creative groups to become paralyzed. As a group, you build your world on the fly. If you want a more developed world, then you may want to check out other games or worlds such as the Primal Thule kickstarter that just ended. To use a food analogy, 13th Age by itself will assume that you’re fine with short order cook work rather than already scheduled catering.
Writing in the Book-I want to bring some special attention to how the book was written. This book has the same vibe that Shadowrun has. Its much less a white washed, corporate generated book. This book honestly feels like two guys telling you about some game idea they wrote as are handing you the word file via dropbox. That’s an AWESOME thing. I like that I feel the authors talking to me via text. Even more, the two main authors openly debate with one another across the text or give how the bend the rules of THEIR OWN GAME to make it their own! One a page, you will see a symbol next to some text and it if accompanies by a small section of someone’s thoughts. Often this is countered by another author’s symbol and their thoughts. This whole process fills me with happies in my heart!
Summary-A great game. Its got some flaws, but any book will. It plays fast and makes the GM really make some choices for the world. Dice mechanics are great and fresh. Nothing feels stale. Nothing is just rehashed 3.5. Players matter and are the crème de la crème of the world. Its about $50 bucks at http://www.pelgranepress.com/ with PDF as part of the deal. To me PDF come standard with a book and Pelgrane Press seems to agree. Go buy it. 9.5/10
Living Games-There is a Living game much like DnD encounters. Want an adventure to test drive this game after you bought the book? Crown of the Lich King is FREE! Go to http://www.pelgranepress.com/ and ask nice and they will send you a link to Google docs where you can get the whole document for FREE! Did I mention is FREE, even for home play? Go NOW!