Monthly Archives: June 2013

Unique Things, Icons, and Awesome Characters

Well, those neighborhood boys that I ran through a quick tutorial with are all gung-ho ready to play 13th Age! They’ve started reading the rules, and I was amazed when they came back with really good One Unique Things (“Uniques” for short), Icon Relationships, and Backgrounds. They both added things to the world, and gave me juicy hooks to play with. The whole exercise of coming up with a Unique and the Backgrounds seems to have really captured their imaginations, and made them really invest in their characters.

Oh, and they recruited their other brother and their dad to play too, so we’ll have a nice group of 4 people. This will be an interesting experiment, since the other brother is 9, and really wanted to play a wizard (not the easiest class in 13th Age). He’s quite a bit more immature than the other two, but with the support of the older brother’s and their dad, I think it will work.

Check out their work!

The Cast So Far

Malek Freeborn – Half-Elven Fighter

  • Unique – The last remaining descendant of the Elf Lord who ruled prior to the current Elf Queen. We’re totally adding stuff to the setting at this point. We’re saying that the current Elf Queen received aid from the Wizard Emperor (now the Lich King) in her coup to rule the Elves. Long ago, the Lich King stole an amulet that belongs to Malek’s lineage, and has undefined “amazing powers,” which can’t work for him as long as the line persists.  Malek has only recently become fully aware of his lineage, but now the Lich King also knows about him, and wants him dead. The Elf Queen thinks the line is dead, and doesn’t know about Malek, but would probably feel threatened if she did, but he doesn’t have a personal beef with her. This development plays well into my campaign plans because I was also creating some conspiratorial ties between the Elf Queen and the Lich King, and was going to use the Lich King as one of the major antagonists. This is great stuff!
  • Icon Relationships – Lich King (Negative 2), Elf Queen (Conflicted 1)
  • Backgrounds – Lone Survivor +5 (very ranger-ish, wilderness survivalist, etc.) and Acrobat +3 (circus performer)

Sorin Markov – Dark Elf Sorceror

  • Unique – The most accomplished historian in the world, custodian of THE library in Drakkenhall. Gave himself status without giving himself power, and added a distinct object to the world. There is now a exquisite library in Drakkenhall, which he is responsible for. He’s an Indiana Jones style adventuring archaeologist, with a particular passion for studying dragons. In fact, he’s acquired a mysterious patron that keeps funding his research into distant dragon lineages, in exchange for passing on a copy of all his findings. Sorin is 90% sure this patron is the Prince of Shadows. Sorin is also in hot water with the Three, as he delves deeper into things they don’t want him poking around in about draconic history and nature. They have actively destroyed his works recording his draconic studies, but luckily he had backup copies (since he had to provide duplicates to his sponsor anyhow). So now is a good time to lay low, and leave Drakkenhall on another expedition with this young half-elf, Malek. This is great because I was already planning on using the Three as my other major antagonist, with the Prince of Shadows being a side force complicating things for all of the other icons. I normally wouldn’t have been okay with a positive relationship with the Prince, but the way he’s worked it, I can totally go with it.
  • Icon Relationships – The Three (Negative 2), Prince of Shadows (Positive 1)
  • Backgrounds – Historian +5 (All scholarly mundane knowledges, very little magical), and Archaeologist +3 (the adventuring, dungeon-crawling kind)

Squilly Sponsor – Dwarf Wizard (this is the 9 year old’s character)

  • Unique – Son of the Dwarven King’s High Wizard. This is a good connection. I was planning on the Dwarf King being a secondary, but involved, icon. His character will be out in the world, his services “on loan” from his father and the King to the Archmage, as a show of diplomacy to the Humans. I have plans for a major dwarven element later in the campaign, so his connections with the Dwarf King will not matter as much for a while. But his position allows him to carry a strong bit of political clout out in the world.
  • Icon Relationships – Dwarf King (Positive 2), Archmage (Positive 1)
  • Backgrounds – We need to do some reworking here….

What’s really interesting is that while the boys aren’t disinterested in their mechanical abilities, they are much more interested in their stories and place in the world. It’s pretty cool to see.

Deities and Drawers…

I’m still waiting to do character generation with the dad, but I hear he wants to play a dwarven cleric. What’s more, apparently he wants to be devoted to Anoia, a goddess from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Confession, I’ve never read Pratchett (I know, I know, take away my geek cred card…) but I looked it up on Wikipedia. The overall tone is rather comedic, and at first I was like, “How the hell am I going to fit this in?” In the default 13th Age setting, which I’m using for this, the gods are very vague and distant, so I don’t have a problem with the idea of inserting this goddess, but it was more a question of themes. However, I saw this note on the wiki entry that Anoia is “making a move into becoming the Goddess of Hopeless Causes.” That’s a theme I feel I can work with! I’ll be asking him to focus on that a little more than drawers.

Next Steps

We should get started this week, so I’m excited to share how things go! I’m planning on using the intro adventure in the 13th Age book, Blood & Lightning, as a jumping off point for the campaign, but I have a much larger plan in mind, which I’ll share later.

Intelligence-based Challenges – A Response to Dungeon Talk #20

This weekend I was listening to Dungeon Talk #20, one of the awesome podcast segments put out by DnD Academy. There was a good discussion around a listener email asking about how to best handle the topic of handling intelligence-based challenges with players, specifically puzzles. The discussion centered around the classic question of “how can someone roleplay a character smarter than themselves?” which is a very legitimate question. Roleplaying is all about being larger-than-life heroes. I can legitimately fight with a sword and throw a punch, but I’m no professional warrior. And I fancy myself a pretty smart dude, but I guarantee I’m no Master of the Arcane toting around an 18 Intelligence. We play heroes that we wish we could be. I am personally a fan of playing very clever and intelligent characters, but I am only so smart. So how do we handle challenges in-game that require the players to be quite smart, and how do you shine the spotlight on the appropriate character, even if that particular player isn’t capable of solving the puzzle on their own?

Here’s my thought based on how I’ve seen this handled in a past game. Note that this is taking the approach of a challenge that is meant to challenge the players not the characters.In the particular example, this DM was using a challenge the drew on some piece of music theory that he was confident one of the players would know. I can’t remember if that same player was playing the bard, but for the sake of this argument, let’s say someone else was playing the bard. So we have a puzzle requiring knowledge XYZ, and one player has the capability to answer to XYZ, but a different character  is the one that would make the most narrative sense to know the answer.

  • Present the puzzle/challenge to the group.
  • Allow the group to talk through it, work it out and figure out the solution out of character, as a group. Let them put their heads together and even maybe allow searching the web for ideas. Let them be as communally intelligent as they can.
  • At this point have all of the appropriate characters make their knowledge/skill rolls, ability checks, or simply nominate the character most likely to have that solution from a narrative standpoint. In the case of rolling, the highest roll gets the spotlight. That character steps forward and gets to activate the solution that the group came up with.

Since the challenge was intended to challenge the players instead of the character, I’d say that the roll is really irrelevant here, but if you want to use the roll, if none of the rolls succeed, the “fail forward” approach makes a lot of sense here. They manage to open the special door, but spring a trap, the path behind them caves in, or it took too long, and they get attacked while the spotlight character is inputting the solution. But because the group came up with the right answer, they solve the puzzle, since the point was for everyone to have fun solving a puzzle together. This approach allows you to challenge the group in a way that personally engages everyone, but still give the narrative spotlight to the right character.

Do you have any further thoughts on this idea? Join the discussion on their forums. 


Introducing new players to D&D / 13th Age

So today I got to do something exciting. I got to introduce two young neighborhood boys to  RPG’s. These are two brothers, one 15, the other is 13.  They’ve had some interest in other gaming stuff, (Magic, Warhammer, etc), and I asked if they were interested at all D&D. They’d heard about it, and seen stuff at our FLGS, but didn’t really know much about it, but were interested. So we sat down tonight and dipped their toes in.

I had about an hour of prep time to figure out what I was going to do. Which system would I use? I was seriously considering 3 different options:

  • D&D Next
  • Pathfinder
  • 13th Age

I’ve been following the D&D Next playtest very closely, and have really wanted to give it a try. That system seemed the simplest, and probably would be the easiest to introduce. However, I’m not too keen on getting something started with brand new players, and then deal with the changes to the playtest packets and such. I didn’t want to be dealing with an extra layer of uncertainty from the whole “this is a playtest, so it’s kinda in flux right now” thing.

I’ve had quite a bit of experience with Pathfinder, and am very comfortable with it, and all the rules are readily available online through, which would be handy for them. However, there are a lot of fiddly bits with the system that can get really overwhelming really fast. And after having fallen for many new systems lately (Savage Worlds, Fate, D&D Next, 13th Age) there are just a ton of things that annoy me about the system. But it also has a ton of content support.  I could easily run one of their standard modules. Easy peasy.

I just pre-ordered 13th Age this last weekend, and have been devouring the rules from the PDF I got through their Bricks & Mortar program. I really like it! I love how it combines the best of 3.X and 4E, with a strong emphasis on epic narrative (an elements I’ve recently realized is a central desire in my gaming). It has a pretty light rule-set to get started with, not much heavier than D&D Next. And… I kinda wanted to drive around the shiny new RPG I just bought.

In the end, I decided to roll with 13th Age. However, I was uncomfortable introducing the icons and background/skills systems right off the bat. Icons require a ton of additional explanation before you can use them at all, and they really have more to do with world-building/character conceptualization, than learning the basics of the game. The backgrounds/skill system isn’t complicated at all, but it’s really open ended. I decided i can tackle both of those pieces later during character creation.

Here’s how I introduced them to it:

  • I printed off all the 13th Age pregens. Note that they are all level 2.
  • I grabbed a bunch of different character miniatures that I had, my dice bag, and a laminated battle map.
  • I started by explaining what an RPG is in a big-picture sense. The whole “cooperative storytelling where your characters are the heroes of a fantasy adventure novel” thing. They ate it up.
  • I also explained a very little bit about how there are a lot of flavors of D&D, mainly to make sense of the fact that they were about to see 13th Age on everything instead of D&D.
  • I explained the different classes, in a very basic way and tied them to the character models I had. I cannot overstate the impact of having the models handy. They kept picking them up in turn as we discussed the different class concepts,
  • I then explained the core d20 mechanic of “roll a d20, add some modifiers from your character sheet, and compare it to a target number set by me.”
  • I explained the big 6 ability scores, and how they defined their character.
  • I had them each pic a pregen that sounded interesting. The older boy picked the Half-Elf Fighter, and the younger boy picked the Dark-Elf Sorceror. We picked some models that worked for those.

We then played through super simple scenario. i told them they were breaking into an Orc fort to rescue a captive, I placed their models in a hallway drawn on the grid. I had them make Stealth checks, (simple Dex check) to introduce ability checks. They failed, and 2 Orcs came running around the corner, and we rolled initiative.

At this point I had to do some heavy controlling to keep the characters from overwhelming them. Even though the rules are quite simple and streamlined in 13th Age, even level 1 characters have a LOT of options. I actually got them to ignore the majority of their powers for round 1, and just focused on their basic or at-will powers. As each round passed, we explained how more of their options on their character sheets worked.

They LOVED it! We’re going to try to play weekly. They both wanted to stick with the classes they used, and made some different race choices. I’m going to mostly build their characters for them, and give them a handful of distinct choices they can make on some details. I think I’m going to use the sample adventure in the 13th Age book, Blood & Lightning. While we’re playing through that, I’ll probably look for some other content (Paizo probably…) that I can hijack and convert.

So that’s how I introduced two new players to D&D, err…. 13th Age today! Look for more updates later!