Author Topic: 13th Age - Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Modern Game Design  (Read 11381 times)

SageNytell

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Take one part Dungeons and Dragons, add one part FATE, and sprinkle with Old School Hack to taste - Welcome to 13th Age!

13th Age combines classic elements of fantasy roleplaying from D&D, especially 4th Edition, but it takes character customization to an unparalleled new level.  The game uses a variant on  the D20 system but makes use of modern game design concepts to provide customizable backgrounds, character relationships with the icons and factions of the world, and flexible, fast-paced combat. It's currently being developed by both Jonathan Tweet (who worked on both 3e as lead as well as 4e D&D and designed Ars Magica, Over the Edge and Everway) and Rob Heinsoo (lead designer from D&D 4e and designer of Feng Shui), and my group and I were given the privilege of taking part in the closed beta test of the system.  I was under an NDA preventing me from discussing the game until today, thus providing some of the more cryptic posts I've been making for the past few weeks.

13th Age is a breath of fresh air, especially when I think most of us have seen D&D Past 5E and are a bit dissatisfied. 13th Age is a very simplified system - unlike 5E it has a definite level curve and works with much bigger numbers, however the math in terms of conditions and attacks and defenses is actually much flatter. Movement is not based on a grid, however there is still a fun and easy to use system of engagement based on relative distance that means you can still use your gridmaps if you played 4E, just ignore the gridlines. Essentially, if you can see it, and it's not an incredible distance away and if there aren't any fun obstacles between you, go there, stand there, attack that dude, why not? Just be prepared when his buddy intercepts you, and disengaging from combat can be a challenge in itself.

Classes, at least those released thus far, are what you would expect in standard D&D - So far there's the Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorceror, and Wizard. Classes in this system are a little more like 'chassis' that you can build any sort of character around - but more on that later. The playtest at least ranks each of the classes in terms of complexity, from the Barbarian to the Rogue, but you can relax in terms of questions of balance. Damage potential between classes is incredibly smooth, and trap options are nonexistent. The Barbarian doesn't have a lot of choices to make but the options he picks are reliable and effective, and he'll still serve a player who wants a simple play experience just as effectively as another's Dying Earth Magic Wizard.

Classes each get to pick at least three 'features', and most classes have some sort of signature mechanic to go along with it, from the Barbarian's rage to the Fighter's flexible melee attacks to the Rogue's momentum and the Sorceror's ability to Gather Power. Even at high levels casters only have a few spells to work with and there is incentive to use your daily abilities in many fights because most classes have the ability to regain spent abilities through different mechanics. Most martial characters either build off of basic attacks or utilize a system of flexible attacks that can trigger off of how the die rolls rather than the end number, and allow for a number of adaptable tactical options. One class, the monk, works almost like a fighting video game and specializes in martial arts that offer opening moves, flow attacks, and finishers, much like a combo system.

Skills. Are. Incredible. Forget what you know about skill systems, in 13th Age you get a number of points that you can sink into Backgrounds. Backgrounds have a value between 1 and 5, and you add them with your level and a relevant stat for all of your skill checks. These backgrounds are things like 'Former Knight of the White Rose', 'Disconcertingly Popular', 'Urban Orphan' - they evoke a history and theme to your character and allow any character to be skilled in any field that fits their character's background. One PC I've seen statted up was a fighter who used to be a wizard's apprentice - all of his skills were based around magic. This allows for incredible customization, and with some of the changes they've made to defenses means your stats are only as relevant as you'd like them to be - anyone familiar to the concept of Death To Ability Scores will like this.

Next on the subject of customization is your One Unique Thing. Every character gets it, and it can be literally whatever you would like it to be so long as it doesn't break your GM's game and make him cry. I've seen everything from 'Upon This Man's Flesh is Scriven The Name of God' to 'I Used To Be A Bird, Why Am I An Elf Now' and 'I Was Cursed To Live Forever, Help Me Find Out How To Die'. This 'unique thing' doesn't have any sort of mechanical benefit attached to it - instead it is a way to give GMs hooks, to help you flesh out your character, and to allow you to have a bit of narrative control over this medium of collaborative storytelling.

Speaking of storygames, one of the other nifty additions is the Icon system. The Icons are major figures of the gameworld - not gods, but figures and factions, real people that exert power and influence and can be aided or opposed. Every character starts out with 3 points of relationships that they can spend on the Icons of their choice to have positive, negative, or conflicted ties to the Icon - these are used in play to influence a scene by rolling a number of dice equal to your relationship. This can have straightforward positive or complicated effects, but if you succeed at a relationship roll something interesting is bound to happen.

The game itself has 13 icons already statted out, from the straightforward High Druid (hail the power of nature) to the slightly schizophrenic Elf Queen (three elven peoples have very different agendas but only one queen) to the amazing Crusader.
The Crusader is probably my favorite Icon - he is described as the Fist of the Dark Gods. He has been sent on a quest from his dark and evil gods to wipe out all demons from the world, and will work with the humans of the Empire, the elves of the Queen's Court, and the dwarves under the Dwarf King to do it... until the world is finally cleansed and is pure enough for his gods to enter the world and corrupt it to their whims.

The setting is very cool, and it has a lot of interesting ideas - the Eastern Sea hates civilization and spawns monsters to attack us, the Inner Sea was purged of monsters long ago, Behemoths of titanic scale wander through ancient migration paths, demons fester in hellholes. It's certainly not the traditional Tolkienesque world I've come to dread.

Monsters that came with the playtest seemed interesting, and I haven't run enough games to try most of them out, but designing new monsters takes only a concept for any interesting powers and a moment's work. I've designed three or four monsters thus far, and it's incredibly simple. Combat is fast and fun, and my players have specifically requested that we switch systems because of how much faster and easier things run.

TL;DR: This game is awesome and you should check it out. My NDA's finished, I'd be happy to answer questions.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2012, 02:57:07 PM by SageNytell »

SageNytell

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« Last Edit: June 16, 2012, 11:57:29 PM by SageNytell »

Shallazar

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Ahh so this is the "mystery system" that Pelgrane were being coy about at GenCon last year.
They kept mentioning an "unnamed product".

I didn't get into any of the GenCon events for it. I'm glad for your playtest. Great job and things!
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clockworkjoe

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I'll post the next playtest tomorrow.

SageNytell

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Y'all should check it out, the second game is much more representative of the game as a whole.
I seriously can't rave enough about the skill system in this game, and it's given a nice spotlight in the first half of the session.

Shallazar

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So what I noticed as a big change from 4E and junk actually reminded me of another game an MMORPG, specifically some mechanics in Guild Wars 2.

I'm speaking of the downed mechanic and self heals in GW2. It might've just been my imagination but during the first fight, the players were facing a TPK and then rallied.
It was pretty epic, especially the implications and the way the system handles death and coming back from it.

Is there less of an emphasis on the trinity(tank, healer, damage dealer)? Was it really crippling not having some AoEs?
 That's the feeling that I get as the cleric didn't have an inordinate amount of heals and it basically came down to coordination and stacking different synergies.

I know table top games and MMOs are kind of super different but I like the forward thinking that I thought I saw (heard).
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SageNytell

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So what I noticed as a big change from 4E and junk actually reminded me of another game an MMORPG, specifically some mechanics in Guild Wars 2.

I'm speaking of the downed mechanic and self heals in GW2. It might've just been my imagination but during the first fight, the players were facing a TPK and then rallied.
It was pretty epic, especially the implications and the way the system handles death and coming back from it.

Is there less of an emphasis on the trinity(tank, healer, damage dealer)? Was it really crippling not having some AoEs?
 That's the feeling that I get as the cleric didn't have an inordinate amount of heals and it basically came down to coordination and stacking different synergies.

I know table top games and MMOs are kind of super different but I like the forward thinking that I thought I saw (heard).

There were a couple of things going on in that fight.  Each character has at least 8 recoveries - these vary in size depending on you class, but they're sort of similar to healing surges in 4E.
Some major differences: The recovery is measured by a die, from d6 to d10.  Every time you spend a recovery you would roll a number of those dice equal to your level and add your constitution modifier to it, at 5th level you double Con and at 8th level you would triple it.  This sounds like it would lead to a lot of delay as you roll ten dice at 10th level, but 13th Age suggests that you use the following dice conventions - anytime you roll more than 3 dice, roll 3 and average the rest, and for recoveries in particular players get to choose if they want to roll at all or just use the average result.  The game recommends you ask players at the start of an encounter/adventure if they want to roll or average, and stick to it - that way your players who like to gamble can take their chances and your other players can just heal a flat number.

Death mechanics are again similar to 4E but the details are a little different.  You still drop at 0 HP, and from there on out you begin making Death Saves.  A save in 13th Age is a flat d20 roll, usually without modifiers - an easy save requires you to roll 6+, a normal save is 11+, and a hard save like a Death Save requires you to roll 16+.  If you fail the roll, you take another step toward death, and after three strikes you're out (but see below!).  If roll 16 or higher, you get to stand up and take a recovery from zero, and if you roll a 20 you get to take your full turn on top of that.  Anyone using a healing ability likewise brings you up from zero.  There aren't yet rules in the playtest version for helping your buddy up without magic, but I would rule that as a difficult skill check for an appropriate background.

Recoveries still spend a standard action (certain racial features and class abilities change this), and the first one is easy.  You can use any number of recoveries (up to your total) in a single fight, but after the first (non-death recovery) you have to succeed on a normal save at 11+ - if you fail, take your turn normally, no recovery spent, but you don't get to try again until next turn.  You don't get back your recoveries and other abilities by sleeping for 8 hours, instead you get a 'full heal-up' after certain goals or encounters are met - so that means that you need to keep track of your resources carefully.  Retreating to take a full heal-up early counts as a campaign goal loss, whatever your GM takes that to mean.

One fun thing I liked is that they recommend a dramatic death rule - unless you like a game with random death in any encounter, have deaths against non-named foes count as a complication and possible loss of certain campaign objectives.  Fighting local guards and losing leads to coma and a need to find a strong healer, but fighting against the Six-Fingered Count Rugen is playing for keeps.

In the fight in question in Gobpocalypse, the characters are taking a pounding, and one of them recklessly used his stealth ability to move right into the center of the mass of goblins and is getting torn apart.  During the span of the fight, all three of the players managed to roll a natural 20 at one point or another in getting back up from death, and at one point a character called on his Icon Relationship with the Great Gold Wyrm for aid and rolled a 6, or a complete success without complication.  The Wyrm is described in the book as working in dreams and blessings, so in the context of the fight I ruled that he had placed a contingent blessing of healing on the cleric to take effect if the heroes were brought down.  The Icon system is honestly brilliant for things like that - one of the things I used for inspiration when using those relationships was the 'Plans' mechanic from Ross's Killsplosion - a success is treated as a plan a character had already put into place using his relationship with a faction without having to necessarily decide all the details to begin with.

As for the trinity, there are classes that approach that but everyone is capable of doing damage, and in a way everyone is capable of doing AoEs - 'mook' enemies use shared hit points, every time you beat a certain threshold of damage you kill that many mooks, whether they're directly engaged with you or not.  This could be treated in-game as foes retreating, routing from terror, improvised attacks, or, as I chose to interpret it, a bunch of goblin pistoleros with itchy trigger fingers shooting one another.

Edit: The rally you noticed was also in large part due to the escalation die, which adds steadily to attacks until the players are rolling everything at +6 and also triggers certain class abilities, like the cleric's ability to re-use spells cast after turn 3.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 01:00:12 PM by SageNytell »

SageNytell

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Episode 2 of our playtest is live!  Thanks again, Ross!

Check it out, if only for Sven.  Sven cannot be described... he must be experienced.

SageNytell

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Holy shit, Greg Stolze is going to be writing for the 13th Age Facebook game!  :o
It's an article about how 13th Age came to be, and some of the plans for the future of the game.

Salkovich

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Whew, finally got around to listening to these. Great games, seems like an excellent system. And Sven. Boy oh boy Sven.
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