My Initial Reaction to 13th Age

I started reading 13th Age.  Largely due to +Aaron R‘s continuous stream of information and also +Ian Borchardt‘s mention that it is a very elegant looking game, though he is waiting for the Bestiary before he makes the full commitment.  Others have told me that it is too Pathfinder like and I am assuming they make that call because it is a d20 system.  I bought the PDF ages ago when it was on special at DriveThru and so I cracked the cover for the second time.  This initial reaction blog is after I have read the character creation section of the game.  I will update my reactions the further I get through the book!

The first time I cracked the cover I hit one of the first concepts, the Icons.  On my first scan I mistakenly thought that the icons were the same as character classes and I did not like the look of them.  It may be that first impression that has caused it to be ages before I opened the book again.

The Icons are not character classes.  They are the big personalities, movers and shakers of the world.  These Icons and how your characters relate to them matter to the story.  I am going to be up front and honest about them, I still really do not like the Icons.  I want the ability to create my world how I want but here in a major section of the book are the Icons and then I am told that in Character Creation I have to define my relationship to these icons.

The cover of the game

Before I get jumped on, I know it says that the GM should be consulted prior to making these decisions about the Icons and therefore as a GM I could change the details.  I am talking about how the game plays out of the book, especially from the point of view from character creation at the moment.  I always love to make a character up to learn the basics of the game so I moved away from being crabby about the Icons and I started the chapter about how to make a character.

I downloaded a couple of character sheets (the basic one and then an excel version sheet) and decided that I would make my character as I went.  The character generation chapters started with a nice little summary and then moved into a bit more specific detail about how to deal with the character generation process.  I started building a character and decided that I would be making a Dark Elf Ranger for my character.

I am not going to go through a detailed run down of this process, you can buy the book for that, but I will talk about how I felt about this process.

I quickly realised that this game was miles apart from Pathfinder, and for that matter DnD 3rd and 4th edition.  This game was very different.  From varying statistics right through to the focus of the game.  Sure, I had a Dark Elf Ranger.  The Dark Elf was a new addition to the base races that are normally in the games though the rest of the races were pretty much the same.  The classes on offer are pretty well standard too.  Fighter, Bard, Thief, Wizard etc. No monk though which was a little bit of a surprise.  They must be in one of the books as the form fillable sheet for excel I was using had Monk’s on it along with a bunch of other classes not in the main rulebook.

It was its own game system and this intrigued me.  If I were to describe this system to you I would have to say that it was a melding of story telling games like FATE Core and the like with some OSR factors put into it as well.  The first time you come across this is the “One Unique Thing” section that the player is asked to come up with for their character.  This is not a new concept at all but it is not really something that you are asked to do in the main games that are popular at the moment.  This section is given a lot of space too with plenty of examples given.  The unique thing should not give new combat powers and the like but it should be heavy with story possibilities that the GM can weave into the story.  For my Drow I came up with “I was born under a fell moon and was raised by the spirits of fey that inhabited the stones.  I have no parents.”

Then the Icons come into character creation.  By this stage in the book, though I was still a little anti-Icon, I could see their purpose.  They were a story driving construct that had personal connotations to the characters.  in fact in some circumstances these relationships could be personal relationships with the big movers and shakers of the world.  There is a neat mechanic involved in here that allows the GM to call for a roll based on their connection.  the results not only drive the plot or the story but also have the capacity to add complication much like the mechanics in FATE and Dungeon World.  The idea of success at a cost is there in spades and it makes for a very interesting idea in this style of game.

Do not think that the story telling portions of the game end there though.  The skill system is a ripper.  Essentially you are given 8 amount of points to spend in values up to 5 in a background of your choice.  So I might have 4 points as a guide, 2 points as a tanner and 2 points as an acrobat.  Then the use of the skills comes from a story telling perspective.  Say for example a GM said to me that we were suffering badly  from the cold as we made through the snow.  I could say that my character used to deal with this situation as a guide and I am sure that I can reduce the chance of everyone getting frostbite.  If the GM agrees then they allow me to roll with my skill level, character level and I believe my attribute modifier to make a DC.

Then there are feats in game and they are much better than the millions of feats that are presented in Pathfinder.  Instead there are a few feats that can be shared between the classes but then there are only a few short sections of feats for specific classes that match the details of the classes abilities.  I am in two minds about this of course.  Pathfinder has squillions of feats and therefore customization level of characters is high.  13th Age has far fewer feats and the customization is really localized to the character class but there is far less for the GM.  I just don’t know here.  I like it in a way but I am torn here.

The equipment and armor section is something I have not gone through yet.  I do think from suggestions in the text that armor is a selection made on your concept.  The reason being that each class decides on how effective armor is to it and it bases this off a light or heavy armor as well as shield detail standpoint rather than a specific type of armor gives a certain bonus.  It is similar with weapon damage.  The gear your character is given is actually not based on an amount of gold either.  They are pretty happy for you to have what you want and the equipment section is refreshingly brief!

So, what is my overall impression?  At this stage I have to say that I have warmed to this system quite a bit.  It really is focussing on story and story concepts.  It is simplifying a lot of the more intricate rules from D&D and Pathfinder to make it more about the story and less about searching through the book for rules.  It has an OSR crossed with FATE feel to it and I truly believe that this my be the gateway game to move people from games like D&D to FATE.  I still do not like the Icon approach.  It is way too prescriptive and if I were going to run this game I would make my own Icons.  The game assumes though that you will be using it in the world that they have presented to you.  I do not like that presumption 🙂

I think there is a lot to look at here.  I feel that this is a great middle ground RPG that introduces the role playing aspect back into it with a simplistic and attractive approach.  They want you as the player to help develop the story as much as the GM and their skills, Icons and unique things are all geared in this direction as well as the simplification of the equipment rules and level structure (there are only ten levels).

So from my first portion of reading I would suggest people take a look at this system.  I am still working my way through the details and my ideas on it are all very much from a newbie perspective.  If I have intrigued you I suggest you befriend +Aaron R on Google Plus and watch some of his related videos.  He is fully into 13th age and does a good job championing the cause!  Until next time, keep rolling!

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