Tuesday, December 2, 2014

6am Sunday Morning - Time to game! (13th Age thoughts)

I've now played 13th Age twice through the FUTURISTIC MAGIC OF THE INTERWEBS. Though long discussed between John, Thomas and I, we never managed to get an simultaneous online game going (though we did play my troubled VtDA game and may still play a hopefully less troubled Vampire game that Thomas has been threatening to run for half a year now.) but now we have and it's been a blast. Due to wacky time zone differences we play at what is my 6 or 7am in the morning (Thomas is 10 hours ahead of me and John is 5 additional hours ahead of Thomas...) but it's been well worth the early rise, mostly because Thomas and John are two of my favorite people to game with. So here are my thoughts gathered so far based on two early morning sessions of 13th Age played with Roll20 online.

Character Creation
  • Took a little longer than expected, but I think this was partly because we were (a) indecisive and (b) chatty. I had proposed to John that our schtick be that we were criminal brothers and that's what we ran with, deciding both to be Half Elves. I made a Rogue, taking Cunning, Swashbuckle and Tumble for my talents. For Icons I put two points into a Positive relationship with the Prince of Shadows and one point into a Negative relationship with the Dragon Emperor. Backgrounds were the most confusing for me, probably, in hindsight, because I was tired and had mostly been reading the SRD and not the book. But once my confusion about backgrounds was cleared, as the SRD puts it "These are broad categories of experience (cat burglar, for example) rather than specific implementations of that experience (climbing and hiding)." I settled on 'Former Wizard's Apprentice' for 2, 'Lieutenant of Forest Bandits' for 2, 'Street Urchin in Axis' for 2 and 'Heir to the Prince of Shadows' for 4 (remember this last one, it's important later). John decided to play a sorcerer with a positive tie to the Prince of Shadows and to the Three (evil dragons, this will be important later) who was kicked out of Wizard Academy for running a gambling ring and had an illicit affair with a married noblewoman. We decided that we shared a father, a human Wizard, who was supremely disappointed that we had turned out to be ne'er do wells. Thomas suggested we name ourselves after famous brothers, so since John had already chosen Liam as his PCs name, it fell on me to go with Noel. And thus those damned Berk brothers were born.
  • Since I'm smitten with it, here's Noel Berk in the Numenera character sentence style... "I am a cunning swashbuckling Half-Elven Rogue who tumbles and is heir to the Prince of Shadows"
  • 13th Age feels much like D&D, no surprise as it's designers were main designers on the 3rd and 4th editions of D&D. It has the at-wills of 4th but a refreshing lack of reliance on the grid (though we did use gridded maps, we were never counting squares for movement or powers). It also had a refreshing absence of roll modifiers, which both type III and type IV D&D have an over-abundance of, so no worrying if I needed a +2 to counteracting the -4 of an enemies cover or nonsense like that (sorry people who enjoy that nonsense, I just happen to enjoy a different style of nonsense). Though we struggled to find a good way to track it online, I did also enjoy the Escalation die mechanic, which goes from +0 to +6 (so that it's +1 at the start of the second round) and is added to the PCs attack and damage rolls. I was slightly less happy with my Rogue powers. Many of them rely on Momentum, which is a cool concept but because a rogue only gets momentum if they hit an enemy and lose momentum if you get hit, it forced me to attack a dragon a few times when I might otherwise have fled. Another issue I had was that of the six 1st level Rogue powers I only really liked 3 of them. One was useless to me as I did not have a STR bonus, one that let me 'pop' free of an enemy was less useful since I had a class talent that let me do much the same thing, ditto for the power that was just my tumbling class talent as an attack power. Then there was the single ranged power which let me use sneak attack on a ranged attack, useful if I could use sneak attack or needed to make a ranged attack, the power that let me do sneak attack damage on a miss as long as I had momentum and then the interrupt that let me spend momentum to take half damage. So what I came to realize there were several rounds of combats where I didn't have anything cool to do... I didn't have momentum because it was the first round of combat or I had missed or I had been hit, I didn't need to disengage or 'pop' free from any enemy, and if enemies weren't in a position for me to do sneak attack damage all I was left with was a simple melee attack (wah wah). I have a feeling this will be an issue until (if) we hit third level, as my option for 2nd level was to take another 1st level Rogue power, forcing me to take a power that I didn't really care about. Perhaps before next game on Sunday I'll check with Thomas to see if there are any additional powers in the 13 True Ways book as right now none of my supposedly "at will" powers is really a great "hey I can use this every round, that's pretty cool" power.
  • The background/skill check mechanic was pretty sweet, especially as Thomas let us get away with pretty tenuous connections between a situation and our backgrounds to apply the bonus, which is something I'm a fan of. I don't think there was a skill roll where I wasn't able to apply one of my four backgrounds to it. The Icon relationships worked better mechanically than when I tried to port them into Fading Suns without ever having used/been in a game that used them before. Seeing Thomas use the icons by waiting to see which icon came up and fit to be the ? mark of the plot worked much better than when I tried to run Fading Suns and made the plot complete and didn't leave any blanks to put the icons into. That probably makes no sense, so here's an example: in my Fading Suns game, I decided there was a Hazat assassin whose ship had been left derelict floating in space for the PCs to encounter. This made the icon rolls problematic... what happened if no player rolled an icon relationship that was Hazat. I would have been better served to keep the situation (assassin, derelict ship in space) and then let the Icon rolls determine which Icon it was tied to. Maybe someone would roll a Hazat connection but maybe the connection would be Eskatonic or the Dark Between the Stars.
Always Lie...
  • The biggest thing I've realized going forward is that John and I need to talk, and loop Thomas in, about what our characters want. At the end of the second session Liam decided to tell a dragon (crippled, but still a dragon) that we would give it the magic sword that was the MacGuffin of the piece. Because I was groggy or had a glitch in my connection with the Roll20 around then, I missed that important detail so when we went back into the tower I left our fake decoy sword and took the real sword, knowing that Noel, as Heir to the Prince of Shadows, wouldn't want to disappoint the prince by letting the item they had been sent to steal be left behind or taken by anyone else. Needless to say this caused probably 10 minutes of discussion between John, Thomas and I once the dragon asked for the sword and Liam admitted we had it and then we tried to figure out how the characters would actually behave. Fortunately Thomas was pretty forgiving of our retcons and in depth discussion that we hand waved as being "knowing glances" in the game, but it did lead to an awkward "combat" encounter where Liam and Noel tried to flee from the crippled dragon and almost, almost didn't make it. Leading me to remark to John that we should "Always lie."
Final Thoughts
  • While John and I need to figure out our PC motivations better to help ourselves and our DM better plan ahead, I did enjoy 13th Age. Yes, I would like another power option or two for the Rogue as I'm not super satisfied with what I have, but I'm not sure if that's a problem with other classes or perhaps even just a bigger issue as there are only two players currently. 13th Age feels like the streamlined, more coherent version of Type IV D&D I wish I had been playing instead the last two years that I played Type IV.  


  1. Unfortunately, the dearth of powers problem isn't fixed with 13 True Ways, that only adds new classes. I've seen a few discussions of this issue online too. For most classes I feel like one more talent and/or one or two low-level power would really strengthen the game, even if it makes low-level character creation take a bit longer because there's another option. The upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha might add a few more talents/powers for some classes, but it won't be out or playtestable for a while.

    That said, I also feel like in fourth and fifth edition low level characters don't quite have the "one awesome thing to do each round" ability either.

    1. I guess it might not be clear, but I'm less frustrated with not having "one awesome thing to do each round" than with the fact that of my 3 talents and 4 powers at 1st level, 3 of them were based around disengaging... That and with at-will attacks, it would be nice if one of them was better than a basic melee attack consistently, but so far my experience has been that if I don't have momentum or sneak attack then I don't have anything better to do than a melee basic attack.

    2. I think the momentum stuff is why they consider the Rogue to be one of the more complex classes. You're constantly needing to look for sneak attack and momentum opportunities, and keep yourself safe by moving around. The at-will attacks were probably made to be a little more like the Executioner powers from 4e: usable in the right situation. Some classes like the ranger only use basic attacks, so your at-wills should just help you move around, gain momentum, and spend it to help you survive and deal more sneak attacks. Basic attack is still a very good option.


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