The other night I was finally able to get the first game of 13th Age in with my crew of neighborhood boys. It was a blast!
After getting everyone settled, answering last-minute character build questions, we got going. We opened with character introductions, which came very easily because of their “Uniques.” It gave them an solid foundation for their character, which made it easy for them to give an explanation to the others. The Backgrounds gave everyone clear cues about the role that each could play in the expedition they were part of. I had everyone make their icon rolls, and noted them for later. I ended up not actually getting to use them this session since the rest of our time was spent in the combat. But their icons relationships were already very tightly tied to why they were involved in the first place, that their presence was felt, even if I didn’t get around to using the rolls.
I’m using the Blood & Lightning sample adventure from the core book. I’m using the Elf Queen version of the tower, and it’s caught between attacks from the Lich King’s goblin minions and the forces of the Three.
We quickly moved into the first encounter, a simple skirmish with some goblins. I had 3 PC’s, and decided to add an extra goblin grunt and scum, so that there were 3 of each in addition to a goblin shaman. This ended up being a pretty challenging fight. Had I not included those extra goblins, it would have been pretty easy. One character had to rally, and another was close to going down. That Goblin Shaman hits hard when you’re only dealing with Level 1 HP pools.
So, what did the boys think? They loved it, they had an absolute ball! The oldest and middle boys seemed to have a pretty good grip on their abilities, and were very into the figuring out their powers. The oldest one, especially, really dug into the narrative descriptions. The youngest one struggled more with putting things into words. We helped with some questions, but mostly he was happy to plunk away with his golden sparkly magic missiles, and he just couldn’t wait for a good chance to use his Acid Arrow. We had to help him know when the right time to use his spells were, like Shield, and eventually Acid Arrow. Even though he wasn’t describing much, I could tell he was picturing this epic combat in his head, because in between turns he never stopped making his sound effect for magic missiles. The battle was raging on in his mind all night! It was pretty hilarious, not to mention adorable. I made a real effort to keep the battle descriptions really exciting and active.
The fighter’s flexible attacks were awfully fiddly, and the oldest boy playing him missed several opportunities I think. We really need to summarize those options into a 3×5 card for him, so that it’s easier to keep track of. The wizard is a lot to handle for the youngest boy (about 10), and he definitely requires some hand-holding. The middle boy playing a sorceror handled his just fine, and it feels like a good balance. He hasn’t tried the breath weapon spells yet, which I think will complicate things more.
Battlemaps and Movement
We were using a battle map, I actually was using a corner of the Ranger’s Camp by One Dollar Dungeons, and it worked great! Everyone was also using pawns from Paizo’s NPC Codex Box. Movement was handled very freeform, even though they were on the grid. They easily latched onto the meanings of engaged/nearby/far away. The general rule was that nearby was 5-7 squares, always erring in their favor. It was super easy to manage. The fight moved around nicely, but it never felt finnicky or tedious.
The fight lasted for 7 rounds, and took about an hour. I’m pretty sure had I not added those extra goblins it would have ended two rounds earlier. The Escalation Die was awesome! By the time that thing reached +5, the felt like they couldn’t miss! I’m a big believer that missing is no fun at all, so I really enjoy this mechanic. I can also see it providing a nice incentive for characters to not “go nova” on round, unless the opportunity is just really juicy, knowing that they’re odds of hitting with their big guns are much better later in the fight. I definitely will port this simple mechanic to any PF or 4E games I play.
How does it compare to D&D?
How did this “feel” compared to PF/3.5 and 4E and other D&D experiences? Speed-wise, it felt a little faster than PF/3.5 and a lot faster than 4E. There really wasn’t any “analysis paralysis” going on. There was no counting squares, no checking to make sure they’d used their full action economy. Now, to be fair, this was a group of first time players, (beyond a basic tutorial) so the system mastery was nil. But it was easy, fast, and a LOT of fun. It also felt “authentically D&D,” if that makes sense? I absolutely felt like I was playing D&D, not some spin-off. I will definitely be filing this mentally as an edition of D&D, despite not being made by WOTC. I would probably say that mechanically it felt closer to 4E, between defenses, saves, and clearly defined powers, but a lot faster and looser. Narratively it felt more in line with older editions.
I have more thoughts about 13th Age that I’m going to save for later posts. But I’m a big fan so far. I enjoy this system quite a bit, and so are they boys!