Tag Archives: 13th Age

The Boys RP for the first time in 13th Age!

I finally got to continue my game with the neighbor boys. As a refresher, I’m running them through the Blood & Lightning sample adventure from the back of the 13th Age book. Our last session was spent getting the game started, and the first fight with the goblins, who they discovered were quite ominously in the service of the Lich King. This was especially significant for the Half-Elf Fighter, who has earned the Lich King as a special enemy in his back story.

This session the group reached Boltstrike Pillar, and got introduced to the residents. In this version, Boltstrike is an outpost of the Elf Queen. I prepared some image handouts for the two major NPC’s at Bolt Strike, and had a 3×5 card for myself for each of them with attitudes, motivations, appearance, and mannerisms. The kids really respond well to anything physical I can give them, so finding character portraits for NPC’s will definitely be a priority.
Quellis, the High Wizard at Boltstrike Pillar
Zanj, Quellis’ right hand man, commander of the non-wizard staff
This session didn’t move forward nearly as much as I expected because the boys started roleplaying the hell out of this place! I was shocked. One of the boys got hung up on studying a secret tome that he was bringing with him, and keeping it secret from the other PC’s (but not from the other players). Well this naturally led to one of the other PC’s getting suspicious of what the Dark Elf is doing while  he keeps sneaking off from the group. It turned into some good-natured cat & mouse RP, and was a hoot for all at the table. They also took a lot more joy in exploring the outpost and chatting with the staff.
The two spellcasters got oddly fixated on asking about whether the place had a library they could study. No real purpose, but they were definitely trying to play to their characters’ motivations as they imagined them. I was kinda surprised by it, honestly, but it brought back memories of myself doing the same thing when I was a kid playing wizards.
Oh, and their dad got to join us this time! He spent his time spreading the good word of the goddess Anoia to the residents of Boltstrike Pillar. It was fun having the whole family (not mine, but hey, still cool!) playing together. We’re having a rough time getting together, especially since I’m knee deep training for my fight, so I’m not sure when we’ll play next.
Nothing really peculiar to 13th Age came into play this session, other than the odd background roll for skill checks (which I freaking love, BTW!). But it was really the boys first experience with the non-combat side of an RPG, and I consider it a total victory!

13th Age first play session recap: Blood & Lightning with the Neighbor Boys!

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.

Class Complexity

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!


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.

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 d20pfsrd.com, 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!