Friday, March 13, 2015

13th Age: 13 Thoughts for Friday the 13th

This week saw us hit session 17 for our online 13th Age campaign. They finally made it to fifth level, giving them access to Champion tier stuff. That's further than we made it in the 13th Age game I played f2f. For this 13th Age celebratory day, I I've assembled some thoughts and impression from running and playing it for a while.
  1. I’ve pretty closely followed the book for Icon interactions. Our sessions average somewhere between 2-3 hours, leaning towards the lower end of that. So I don’t do Icon rolls every session. Instead I spread them out and roll them at significant breaks.The players roll at the end of a session so I have time to think about how I might bring those results to the table. That takes some pressure off and gives me fodder for planning.
  2. Because the players roll and know their Icon checks, I try to point at those when they happen at the table. I make it clear a particular encounter, piece of information, or gifted item, is tied to that roll. Usually I sketch out one or two incidents or bits tied to rolls of 5 or 6. But I also allow the players to call on those established results. For example, when the group desperately needed a particular magical protection, one of the players burned his “5” roll to establish a contact quickly. Of course the merchant overcharged them heavily. Players can still call for an Icon roll, but if can use established ones definitively. If they do so, I pocket the ideas I’ve come up with for a later time.
  3. Besides items, contacts, information, assistance, chance meetings, and revealed plans, I’ve also used Session Icon rolls as boosts. This is mentioned in a couple of places in the books. For example, after making their Icon rolls the players detoured into a multi-session dungeon crawl. The Cleric had a couple of 5 rolls with their positive relation Icon, so I shifted things such that the treasures involved were artifacts related that figure (The Surgeon Penitent). But I had trouble working in some of the others. I ended up giving players rerolls for Skill checks connected to their Icon. They received a flash or inspiration or a reminder of what they fought against. If they burned a 5 result, they got a reroll at the cost of a recovery. I’m keeping that use exclusively non-combat.
  4. There’s a kind of split within 13th Age. On the one hand for GMs like me it offers a cool, robust d20 fantasy system. I like how it puts the crunch of choices in the players' hands and keeps combat streamlined. On the other hand, the built-in world of the Dragon Empire’s awesome. And all of the Pelgrane material builds on that setting- down to what might be generic in another game, the Bestiary and the Book of Loot. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in between. Since my campaign’s using other Icons, I often have to retool items and concepts or hunt around to find the closest analogue. At times I feel I’m wasting some of the game’s potential. But that’s usually during prep- when we get to the table that all fades away.
  5. We built our world using Microscope and the players came up with several of the Icons. We made that a phase in the process. Others popped up naturally in the history building and I made up the remaining ones. That’s been cool and the players have forged strong connections in play. I’ve seen other settings put forward alt Icons (like Midgard). You should hunt around and check those out. If you’re doing a fresh setting or a player-built world, consider giving the players an opportunity to build these figures for the campaign. It’ll tell you what kinds of stories they want. The scene several sessions ago where the players arrived at the island-sized figure of Grandfather Turtle, the animal who teaches Wizardry, remains one of my favs.
  6. Quirks. I love these conceptually. When Aaron ran the demo session I played in, they offered a great hook. But juggling multiple quirks can be a problem. Usually they’re just tugs, but where you have short sessions that can get dropped to the side. Definitely focus on a single quirk and track that. In my case, the players built an interesting logic into the world. Magic items are powered by a person’s spirit, the secondary animus in their body (think of it like a spirit or totem animal or force everyone has). You have to strengthen that spirit to use more items (i.e. level up). In this case the quirk for having a full load doesn’t come from the item, but from the person’s animus. So if a person has a Fire aspect, they might become hot-headed or if they have a Crow spirit, they might turn to scavenging at any instance. I haven’t put this into play yet, but I plan to give the players some choice in this.
  7. Hydras are awesome, but man did mine go down fast. In what was supposed to be an epic fight, the players dispatched two of them with relative ease. Don’t forget some monsters can do miss damage. I forgot that for the first round, so I didn’t hit as hard as I should have.
  8. If you can bear it, don’t learn the player characters' powers. I know and trust most of my players. I let them figure out how things work. If something seems too potent, I’ll check it after a session. I’ll also hunt it down if they have a question. If you remain blind, you free up more mental space to worry about the monsters. Plus you will be continually surprised at what they can pull out. I love it when they turn the tide with something awesome. Our cleric dropped his crit-negating talent on me a session ago. Of course I rolled three of them during the fight and lost that extra damage. It was dynamite. This is general advice- sometimes you’ll have players who need to be helped through the rules. I have one often has questions, so I’ve boned up on his class rules.
  9. Speaking of the Cleric…they’re wicked. If you have a Cleric in the party, then hit hard. Push the players to use their resources. Smack them around until you have the measure of them. Each time I think I’m about to drop someone, the Cleric steps in and “saves” them. Bah.
  10. It may take you time to learn how hard the fights should be. I keep underestimating the players. I need to step up my game. As the book says, if the players have a chunk of magic items, dial up the opposition. Use the movement and intercept rules to your advantage as well. I missed how that worked for the first couple of fights. Attackers with multi-target effects and/or status inflicts really boost the opposition (especially a Confusion effect like the Harpy’s). After a few sessions you’ll begin to see the synergies between the players’ abilities (often before they do). Players will forget that they have one-shot items, so feel free to distribute those.
  11. Why is Turn Undead a daily? It should at least be a recharge or per battle. Why do some online people say the Druid is underpowered? We had a Shifter Adept Warrior Druid and he tanked with high defenses and HP as well as dishing out tremendous damage. Maybe it becomes less potent as the players level up?
  12. Recoveries are a great resource to pinch. The game talks about four fights before a full rest. Try that, even if you're used to more downtime. To my mind a full rest is at least a day or two in luxury with the attention of a physiker and strong wine. I mentioned powering Icon boosts with recoveries above. I also make that the cost for environmental problems. Failed survival checks cost a recovery or even two with a fumble. I'm sure you can come up with some other devilish options. 
  13. I love running 13th Age with Roll20. The abstract nature of the movement in the system means I can use all kinds of maps and not worry about scale. I’ve laid out overhead dungeons, 3d rooms, flow charts, and strange tourist-style layouts. The Roll20 character sheet for 13th Age is great, and you can link that to tokens. Plus you get easy hidden areas via the Fog of War, a quick roller and initiative tracker, plus great drawing tools. You don’t have to learn much to robustly use Roll20 with 13th Age.
Finally, if you're interested in 13th Age, but wonder what's out for it check out my post: 13th Age: System Guide for New Players