13th Age Combat and Running the Game

One of my mates asked me a couple of days back if I truly liked 13th Age and I replied to him that would depend on what I found in the “Running the Game chapter.  To a smaller degree I wanted to look at combat too to see how that worked as compared to the other d20 systems I was used to.  I am happy to say that I have now completed those sections (in fact I have been finished them a while but I did not want to crowd the blog) and am now willing to fill you all in on what I think of these two crucial elements.

All ready to get some characters going…

First of all, I want to offer all of the designers the title of honorary Australians (assuming they are not Australian that is) as they seem so laid back.  The tone of the writing in this book is so down to earth, take it or leave it kind of tone which is atypical of Australians on the large part.  Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo are put up front and centre throughout the book commenting on mechanics and often the pair disagree and give alternates (there were obviously more designers involved but these two are touted as the Legendary Designers in the promos!).  This is a really nice touch to these rules.  It not only says to the GM that it is OK to change the rules how you like but it states quite clearly “This is how one of our lead designers change it”, so typically Australian so great work.

Now apart from that point let us start with combat.  This chapter is fairly brief as far as d20 combat chapters go and this is because combat is relatively easy!  There are no detailed diagrams of shapes of things on a grid as they do not see it as a miniature game necessarily though they say miniatures give people a good idea of relative position.  Relative is the word to note there as they say it is impossible to represent precisely and therefore they do not rely on them.

The escalation die I think was the thing that I was most keen to learn about in this game and it is a neat mechanic I think largely designed to reduce the time spent in combats!  The escalation die increases as the combat continues and it gives all the players the ability to hit more often the further into combat they get with the monsters as a general rule not using the die means that they are as good at the start of combat as they are 10 rounds into combat while the players are hitting much more often and some of the classes may actually have powers that rely on that escalation die.  This mechanic allows for the combats to progress faster as the rounds increase and is very clever.

Opportunity attacks are hidden away in here but they are simple.  Move away and you draw an opportunity attack unless you attempt to disengage which is a 50/50 chance you will get away.  Casting spells and shooting stuff while nearby will also draw attacks but the rules here are very, very simple and you are not going to need a gaming degree to work this out which is a MAJOR improvement as you will not forever be looking at charts.

The addition of the special moves here is brilliant.  There is a “Fight in Spirit” ability that allows players that are unconscious or dead (or just generally not involved) to explain how their actions have helped an ally to fight (and gives the ally a bonus to fight!).  The idea of fleeing and rallying in this section is also a very nice touch to the rules here and give the players a good deal of control in combat.

I am loving this…

There are quite a few other nice touches in the combat section but I don’t want to rabbit on too much as I have another chapter to talk about yet.  What I do want to comment on is the awesome advice on combat modifiers.  The section is called “Don’t sweat on modifiers” from memory and it basically says that a +2 is pretty good and a +4 is pretty much where any situational modifiers should stop with the same in the negative direction.  It just asks for you to be loose and at ease pretty much stating a player is likely to be able to talk themselves into a +2 modifier but a +4 should be only if they really deserve it.  Nice work 13th Age.  very nice work.

So, let us wander on over to the next chapter.  “Running the Game” is a thing of beauty.  It really is AND it has almost even sold me on the Icons.  Yes I know.  Shocking.  Perhaps not on their specific Icons but definitely on their role to progress the story and add to an unpredictable story path.  The reason behind this is the role of the relationship dice and how the GM is expected to use them to build the tale.  I really like this because the relationship dice add personalisation of the story to the saga and that in itself is worth its weight in gold.  It is something that almost needs to be improvised because you can’t predict the roles (though you could prepare for every opportunity).

Besides this there is a good section of this chapter that thoroughly clears up the purpose of the Icons for me.  They are in essence a multiply useful plot manipulation device that personalises the story to the player character.  In English that means it makes the players feel the story is about them rather than the plot being applied to them as random variables.  That is awesome.

Then it moves on to how a GM should look at the world through the lenses of adventurer, champion and epic environments.  This turns design of games and running games in an environment where you may need to do a good deal of improvisation an absolute breeze.  These lenses work so well.  There are not pages that you have to read through to find a DC in this specific circumstance.  There are three DC’s per environment and they all appear on the one chart.  This also looks at things like impromptu damage.  E.g. a player falls into a lava pit at the epic tier 4d20 damage!  The same lava pit bubbles up and spews lava out over the party in range, each player takes 4d12 damage.  Where are these impromptu damages?  All listed on the same table.  

They talk about balancing encounters in this game and openly admit that they don’t actually factor in critter special abilities to this.  They again provide a simple table that suggests how well things can be scaled and they offer some advice around how to handle adding creatures with special abilities which I love.  It is shrug your shoulders in feigned helplessness and say, “Sorry, this system does not take powers into account when balancing encounters.  Roll initiative.”  When I read that I laughed an evil maniacal laugh, which was rather odd because I was reading in a room full of students at the time 🙂

They describe levelling in the game in this section too.  Thinking about experience?  Think again.  They give guidelines for the GM to run a certain amount of games and then just get the players to level!  If that is too simple they also offer an incremental levelling system where the player grabs bits of the next level in an incremental way until the GM finally gives you those last little bits too.

There are also details on how to add treasure and loot with them actually turning largely from the kill something and get treasure route to a version where your allies give you items you may need in a lot of circumstances.  If this feels unnatural though there are some good options to be found in here also with variations away from that rule.

There are rules about ritual magic and also rules on how to handle gods which are both relatively easy to understand and apply in game.  In fact this whole chapter just makes this game sound as if it is so easy to run.  The honorary Australian’s have done an awesome job in these two chapters.

Must get this book…

In fact, after I have read this material I am really looking forward to running a session of this game.  Of course I have to wait though as it is a big book and I still have a lot to read!  I am on to monsters next and past that I think there is a gazette of the Dragon Kingdom which I will use when I run the game so I will be interested to see how they have set this up and what hooks I will get out of the section.  So to answer my friend’s question about if I like this game, from a readthrough to this point that is a big YES.  It looks like a system that I can enjoy running and further than that I believe it is a system my players would enjoy playing.  Keep rolling!

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