by Rob Heinsoo
A few weeks ago a man in a toga told me that he was considering giving up on 13th Age because it was too complicated. He was two fruity Halloween cocktails away from being staggered, so I pursued quickly to learn what he was having trouble with.
The problem turned out to be the grab rules. “We had a fight the other night and someone got grabbed. We had to page through the book. It was a bit too much. Oh hey, did you write the note afterwards saying ‘you might not want to use grabs?’”
Yes. Yes, I wrote that note. And now I’m going to go a bit further, to explain what I’ve been doing with monster mechanics instead of using grabs, and explain what I’m actually doing in my games when a monster grabs someone. Along the way, we’ll get a vigorous dissent from Jonathan, and you’ll be able to decide which flavor of revision you prefer, if any.
The Sidebar in Question
As a starting point, here’s the important part of the sidebar I wrote on page 173 of the 13th Age rulebook after the rules on the Grabbed condition.
We don’t like using grabs unless it’s the core of what a monster is about, and even then we may opt for different attacks that accomplish something similar. Don’t feel any obligation to allow anyone to make grabs, and don’t use these rules for just any old attempt to hold on to someone. These rules cover serious claw- and tentacle- and pincer-aided holds for monsters that are big enough to pick people up. The rules are more interesting when they are an exception, something that makes some big monsters scary, rather than rules you have to worry about whenever you fight an ogre.
This sidebar wasn’t successful. The one person I’m sure understands it? Me. If you run through 13th Age, the 13th Age Bestiary, and 13 True Ways looking for grabs, you’re going to find around five monsters in each book that use the grab rules. Why so few? Because I was the final developer on these books and I did everything I could to find more interesting things for most of the monsters to do with their attacks.
Meanwhile, otherwise well-designed third-party books that handle 13th Age monsters are pretty much jammed with monsters that grab. Grabbing is such a natural thing for monsters to do! With very few exceptions, third party publishers writing 13th Age-compatible monsters have been using grab mechanics on many monsters.
Maybe that’s not a problem for your games, but I’m sure it’s a problem for some people. This problem is my fault. I used the familiar d20-rolling term “grab,” gave it somewhat over-complicated rules, and followed-up with a qualifying sidebar explaining that I recommend avoiding grabs whenever possible. I was talking out both sides of my mouth there.
I have three approaches worth mentioning.
The first is advice to designers and GMs about how to rephrase grab mechanics as something that’s easier to use.
The second is my still-slightly ticky-tacky rule for how I actually handle monsters that grab in games I’m running.
The third is Jonathan’s rejoinder to my revision.
Design Alternatives to the Grab
Grabbing is one of the most obvious nasty things a monster can do to its enemies. My first question whenever I encounter a monster design that involves grabbing is to ask, “Is grabbing really the most interesting thing this monster can do? Isn’t there something more unique or special that this monster could accomplish that would bypass the need for using the grab mechanics?”
Nowadays, if the answer is still no, I try to find another simple way to get the flavor of a grabby monster without directly using the grab rules.
Here’s a simple example, using the stirge from page 197 of the Bestiary. As originally designed, the stirge grabbed people it was fighting. I did not want to deal with the grab rules for freaking stirges. So the finished stirges don’t say anything about grabbing you. But if you stay engaged with them after they have hit you with their claws, their next attack will be to jab you with a draining proboscis. The result is that you probably want to get away from the stirge, or simply kill it.
A lot of monster attacks that might have involved grabs can be rephrased in this fashion. Write the monster’s attack with an effect that will trigger only if the creature it hits is still engaged with it at the start of the monster’s next turn. If the effect is nasty enough, some weak or wounded PCs will do whatever they can to disengage or teleport away. Others who are better in melee will tough it out. In either case, the extra qualifiers that got loaded onto the grabbed condition, and rules about carrying smaller creatures and et freaking cetera don’t need to apply. The simple question is whether you stayed engaged or moved away.
How I Play Grabs Now
However, this engaged-or-not effect doesn’t make grab mechanics easier to use for monsters that already have them.
For that, if you like, you can use the variant grab rule I’m using in my games.
The way I handle grabbing now uses the rules on pages 172 and 173 of the 13th Age rulebook, but with fewer fiddly bits.
- No more -5 disengage penalty to get away from a grab.
- The grabbing creature doesn’t get a +4 to attack creatures it is grabbing.
- Instead, if a monster has a PC grabbed at the start of the monster’s turn, the monster deals automatic damage to the grabbed PC equal to half the base damage of the attack that resulted in the grab.
- Unless you really care, ignore stuff about not being able to make opportunity attacks.
- And if you feel like making a ranged attack and taking an opportunity attack, well OK, knock yourself out, or let yourself get knocked out.
The big deal, and the rule that matters because it’s what will come up often, is that you’ll suffer automatic damage unless you disengage or find another way to pop free, and we’re ignoring the original rule’s fiddly -5 disengagement penalty.
The +4 attack bonus for the monster that is grabbing is also no longer necessary or desirable because hey, automatic damage! Not many monsters do automatic damage, and in many cases, half the normal attacks’ damage is significant damage that the PC is going to want to avoid. Of course other PCs, who have a lot of hit points, or cunning plans, are going to say, “No, no, I’ve got better things to do with my actions. I’m not even going to try to disengage, I can take it.”
Applying the rule: I’ve looked through most of the monsters that we’ve published in Pelgrane books and the auto-damage variant I use works fine for ankhegs, glabrezou, hezrou, treants, werebears, and pretty much all the other critters with grab attacks we’ve published.
The only grabby monsters that I’ll use the old grab mechanics for are the gelatinous cubes and other monsters that engulf people. The engulf mechanic makes sense to me as something that could use the old mechanics, but really, it’s a corner case and either way would work.
My guess is that most of the grabby creatures in other publishers’ books could also use my variant.
How are we going to handle grabs in books that Jonathan and I are working on together? Like, say, the 13th Age in Glorantha book.
The answer is: I don’t know!
Because Jonathan surprised me. His simple answer to what should happen when you get grabbed is “You can’t take any actions except trying to disengage when you are grabbed.” He might or might not make an exception for something like rallying. He might let you teleport. I don’t know. He’s like an ogre.
Jonathan is all about simple. Jonathan is also not afraid of being harsh on the players. In fact, he thinks it is fan service to make sure that you care deeply about the die rolls you make. Disengage check when you’re grabbed? Oh, you’ll care.
So what we are doing in the future? That’s to be determined. If you playtest either of these variants, feel free to send me your results at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com.
This past week, as Jonathan and I bid each other good night after a day of working together in my gaming garage, we used some variation of the following shtick:
Jonathan: “And that’s why the Gloranthan monsters should have real grabs. They grab you and that’s it. You’re grabbed! Escape it you can.”
Me: “Get out. Get out now. Get out of my garage.”
Then we say good night for real or make plans for the next work day.
One way or another, we’ll grab you later.
My old-school AD&D players were prepared for 13th Age, and then it was my turn. In the old days, I’d just plot out some locations and wing it when I needed to. I know the AD&D system, creatures and the characters well enough to put together encounters on the fly, and I missed out on the whole monster challenge thing introduced in 3rd Edition. I could have adapted one of the excellent Organised Play adventures, or the Free RPG Day Make Your Own Luck, but as the publisher I had another option, to kill two birds with one stone.
This brings me to Battle Scenes, a new project for 13th Age from Cal Moore.
Like GUMSHOE, 13th Age is a hybrid system, that is, it has two rule sets which interact in play. In some ways, the 13th Age rule set is even more bifurcated than the GUMSHOE one. There are the story game elements, and the combat elements. The combat system is fun entirely on its own, but it’s the the characters One Unqiue Things, icon relationships and backgrounds which make individual combat scenes much more engaging of the combat more than survival and treasure. Climbing a tree is one thing; clmbing a tree to rescue your kitten is another.
Combat scenes run smoothly when the GM has all the monster stats laid out in an easily accessible format. With AD&D I pretty much know their challenge levels, abilities and stat blocks by heart. With my first 13th Age game I didn’t want to be jumping between pages in the Bestiary or spending time cutting and pasting stat blocks around the place as a new GM.
So my desire was a product which had a bunch of preconstructed and losely-linked encounters with all the monsters stats front and center adjusted for different levels and party numbers. Cal wrote it with feedback from Rob, and that formed the combat core of the adventures I ran, giving me way more flexibilty over the story game elements. I also provided playtest feedback on the Battle Scenes as a result.
If you want to playtest Cal’s Battle Scene’s, you can do it here.
I decided to run the game as a sandbox – so I picked printed a detailed area map of the region they’d start in, a small keep from my Source Maps: Castles set, then added a necromancer and a bunch of leads in it. I linked the leads to the battle scenes, ready to flavour them on the fly depending on the direction the players took. I knew what the major NPCs were doing, but this is less important when the PCs are lower level.
Then I plotted out an opening scene – an ambush, one in which they were acting as bodyguards for a well known NPC, a sage. This sage had his own agenda, but was a useful tool for me to supply PCs with information and adventure suggestions. I was hoping they would flee the ambush and take shelter in the keep.
Would they attempt to find and restore the rightful king (as the sage wanted), the king’s young heir, work alongside their main character’s arch-nemesis, the new King Reknor? Or would they, as was much more likely, follow their own agenda?
More next month…
My original roleplaying group began 35 years ago. I received the AD&D Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide for my birthday, learned the game from there, and ran it for my friends. People left and joined the group, set in the same campaign, over the years, but none of them ever played in any other game group, and while they tried Traveller for a while, AD&D was it. I didn’t play with anyone I didn’t know until 2001, when we playtested the Dying Earth, and we formed a new game group.
In 2007, after a break of many years, I met one of the old group and they asked to play the original game again, so every year we get together for a weekend to play with their original AD&D characters who have reached the giddy heights of 25th level or higher, destroy huge quantities of food and drink, hoot, yawp, mock and laugh – ThawCon
This year, one of the players, whose son is a big 13th Age fan suggested we play 13th Age instead. I was up for this, no problem, but some of my original group are quite conservative and sceptical, and so began a campaign or gradual persuasion. “Do we still roll d20s to hit?” “Yes.” “If we roll a 20, do special things happen?” “Yes” After a bit of back-and-forth, they agreed to try a single session. I said we could switch back to the original campaign if they weren’t enjoying it.
This is how I gently lured them into it.
The original email pitch:
13th Age is a D&D-like game set in the current campaign world. Your existing characters get to be Icons of that eg The God Assassin, The Viridian Mage, The Dark King, The Wizard of the Interstices, The Renowned Illusionist, An Awesome Name For Whoever the Hell Chris Currently Is, plus some major NPCs.
Your new characters have an indirect relationship with one or more of these Icons (you really, really wouldn’t want to actually meet any of them) which can be positive, negative or conflicted. You can make an Icon roll to call upon the knowledge, resources or network of the icon.
It’s AD&D, but with extra options. If you think of how your magic items currently work (especially Andrew’s sword) the characters work like that. So you get multiple choices for you actions which can sometime trigger off die rolls – so 20s can be awesome for example, but every class is different. You can always do a basic attack (what you currently do).
Some are complex to play – some are very simple – all are equally powerful. I am running it for the first time next week to see how it plays out.
Character classes, increasing order of complexity. I’ve played a wizard, and it’s about as complex and has as many options as playing say an 8th level AD&D Wizard. I can give recommendations to suit players. I’ve asked Rob Heinsoo, designer of the game and of the previous version of D&D to come up with an Assassin class or bolt-on if anyone wants one George?
[I described each class here, and did recommendations]
Advantages: familiar background, familiar premise, familiar setting, roll d20 to hit and get extra stuff happening on high rolls, reasonably familiar rules, quick combat, characters have lots of choices even at low levels, can survive without a cleric, Steve and Chris know it. I can link the narrative into the main game. Rapid and incremental level advancement (eg you can select a feature of the next level up every now and then). Suits large parties.
Disadvantages: I’m not so familiar with it, requires more effort on my part (don’t mind), it will require some brain work from you to work to learn and take advantage of all the options. Linking to the other campaign might put your new characters in the shadow of the old ones.
I sent them the PDFs, and the details of the One Unique Thing and background and the following reading instructions. You might be able to tell they are quite combat-oriented.
The book is big, but you can miss most of it. Much of it is background specific to the game, which we won’t be using.
The glossary/index is pretty good.
I’d suggest you start with combat, page 159-174.
Then read p29-31 for the character creation overview.
Classes – read p 74-75 then scan through the ones you are interested in. There is all sorts of info elsewhere in the book about feats and all that sort of stuff, but most of it is repeated in each class.
Races follow on from class choice.
I set the game 15 years in the future from the AD&D campaign. This was short enough for familiarity, but distant enough to allow me to make changes.
There original characters had gone missing ten years ago, accused of regicide. I gave them the option of using their original characters as their icons (you couldn’t chose your own character as an icon). This gave them a link to their characters, without their new characters being dominated by the old ones (dealing with the disadvantage I mentioned above).
I recommended each of them a class. The most difficult choice was for George, the eponymous Thaw of ThawCon, our host. Originally, I spoke to Rob Heinsoo about doing an assassin character or bolt-on power. He came up with some good ideas, but in the end George (with assistance from Steve Dempsey) built a horribly min-maxed paladin, Gilfyn, with backgrounds which added assassin-like stealth. His Smite is terrifying, and his chose a form of synaesthesia as his One Unique Thing – to see lies and evasions as a cloudy emission. (I treated this like Bullshit Detector in GUMSHOE). He rolled his stats, and his reputation for incredible rolls from previous years continues. He ended up with a 19 Charisma and a couple of other top stats.
To Mark Fulford (of ProFantasy and Noteboard fame) I suggested a wizard. I said “To be the destroyer wizard, choose Evocation and High Arcana as class talents, then throw Acid Arrow (40 damage for an individual) or Shocking Grasp (18 damage for a group). At third level use Force Salvo (40) and Lightning Bolt (56).”
That picqued his interest. He replied the next day “An evoked meteor swarm in a small space does 160 minimum, 640 maximum on 1 to 4 targets. My kind of spell.” Sold. He decided to roll for stats, which I witnessed over Google+. So Coyote was born – a former slave – and character from the subconscious mind of Tarantino, who sees everything in filmic terms and has a soundtrack. Mark figured out quite how powerful the Wood Elf racial ability is (the potential to earn extra actions), so he took that.
John Scott I know loves his gothic horror. What better than a Necromancer? To prevent him being just unpleasant, he took the Redeemer feature, which meant that his undead minions, when slain, exploded i n burst of holy energy and went to a bad place. He decided to roll his stats, and got the very worst results I have ever seen in a character (in AD&D I do 4d6 relroll 1′s and one stat must be 15 or higher). He got a 6, an 8, and no other stat above 12. Luckily, the Necromancer can take advantage of a very low Constitution using a feat. Beremondo’s mother gave birth while a vampire was feasting on her. Interrupted by his true father, then vampire fled. His mother died, and while his father funded his way through college, he would not speak to him.
Chris Godden, with the help of his son Jay, built another assassin based on the rogue, Zati. He used the point-buy option for his stats to ensure he got exactly what he wanted. This is a second character whose mother died, this time under mysterious circumstances, possibly assassinated by a rival faction. with an inexplicably good sense of smell. Drow cruelty suited this PC.
Andrew Burnford I thought would suit a fighter or commander. I was nervous about the fighter as a fit for Andrew because of flexible attack options at 1st level, and that the damage to start with appears mediocre compared with the paladin, particulary a min-maxed one. Histill was a former Master of Fireworks for the King, and with an incredible display he unwittlingly provided cover for the regicide. Andrew rolled for stats, too, despite our best advice, and did not do well. His One Unique Thing has not yet come into play, and I’d best not mention it.
Steve Dempsey, an experienced player, rolled for stats and built a cleric, Sythiros, happy to boost others power subtly, while not dishing out too much damage himself. He is a Keeper of Dead Knowledge and became a cleric when a dying woman whispered his like to him. He took the Knowledge, Death and Anti-Undead domains. He works with the Necromancer only because the Necromancer is a redeemer of the dead.
So how did it go? Tune in next time…
Next Time: Preparing for and Running 13th Age for the new GM
Continuing Ken’s theme of looting 13th Age for GUMSHOE twists, let’s talk about monsters. In 13th Age, monsters have a sort of rudimentary AI – instead of the GM deciding to use their special abilities in advance, they’re triggered by the result of the attack roll. So, for example, if a ghoul gets a natural even hit, it gets to make its target vulnerable. If a frost giant rolls a 16 or higher when attacking, it also gets to freeze its foe.
For example, here’s a basic human thug:
13th Age Human Thug
1st Level troop [Humanoid]
Heavy Mace +5 vs AC - 4 damage
Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming; it’s not a secret.)
PD14 HP 27
Automating monsters like that makes the GM’s life easier. Instead of having to make decisions before rolling the dice, the GM can just attack and let the triggered abilities make the fight more interesting and complex. The thugs, for example, encourage the player characters to focus their fire or dodge away from the ones who have extra damage lined up for next round. Some of the work of making the monster cool gets shifted from the actual play part of the game to pre-game preparation, leaving the GM free to concentrate on evocative descriptions. tactics and other immediate concerns. (Triggered powers can also surprise the GM, which is always fun.)
GUMSHOE monsters and foes have a limited number of points to spend on their attacks, possibly mediated by an attack pattern. While the attack pattern does take some of the heavy lifting away, the GM still has to make decisions about when to spend the bad guy’s ability pools. Let’s try taking away as much resource management as possible from the GM. For general abilities, for every 4 points a creature has in its pool, give it a +1 bonus, to a maximum of +3, and modelling special abilities as special-case rules or powers triggered by a dice roll instead of the GM having to make a choice. Health, obviously, is unchanged.
Obviously, GUMSHOE’s smaller range of random results means that you’ll have to be a little more restrained when it comes to special powers – there’s a big difference between a power that triggers on a natural 20 in 13th Age and a natural 6 in GUMSHOE. Possible triggers for powers include:
- Natural even or odd rolls – good for alternate attacks or special effects
- Natural 1s or 6s
- 5s & 6s – generically ‘good rolls’, useful for foes that have a chance of doing extra damage or inflicting some special condition, like stunning or knocking prone
- Health reaches a certain threshold – perfect for countdown mechanics, where the fie gets nastier towards the end of the fight
- The attacking player character has no points left in a pool – if you’re out of Shooting, the alien monster breaks from cover and rushes towards yo
You can also have a power be limited to a certain number of uses – a ghoul in Night’s Black Agents might get an extra attack on the first three times it rolls a natural 6, but no more.
All these rules are just for monsters and NPCs – player characters still get to juggle points and manage their resources as per the standard GUMSHOE rules.
Esoterrorist Security Guard
General Abilities: Scuffling +1, Shooting +2,
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
Damage Modifier: +0 (Pistol), -1 (nightstick)
Freeze!: +2 bonus to Shooting in the first round of combat if the security guard isn’t surprised.
Natural 1: The guard calls for backup. If help’s available, it’ll arrive in the next few minutes. The guard misses his next attack. Treat further natural 1s as simple misses.
Night’s Black Agents Thug (pg. 70)
General abilities: Athletics +2, Driving +1, Hand to Hand +2, Shooting +1, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +0
Stealth Modifier: -1
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), +0 (club), +1 (9mm pistol)
Wall of Fire: If three or more thugs shoot at the same target, the last thug gets +1 Shooting
Gang Assault: If three or more thugs attack the same target with Hand to Hand or Weapons, they all get +1 damage.
Night’s Black Agents Bodyguard (pg. 69)
General abilities: Athletics +3, Driving +2, Hand to Hand +3, Medic +1, Shooting +2, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -0
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), -1 (flexible baton), +1 (9mm pistol)
Armor: -1 vs bullets
Protect the Principal: On a natural 5 or 6 when making an Athletics, Driving or Shooting test, the Hit Threshold of whoever the bodyguard’s guarding increases by +2 for the rest of the round.
Stunning Blow: On a natural 6 when making a Hand to Hand attack, the target loses their next action unless they spend 3 Health or Athletics.
Ashen Stars All-Shredder Klorn
General abilities: Athletics +3, Scuffling +3
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -3
Damage Modifier: +6
Natural Even Roll: +2 bonus to Scuffling
Natural Odd Roll: Smash! The klorn destroys some obstacle or object nearby – it breaks through a wall, kicks over a computer console, smashes its spiked tail through the engine coolant tanks, knocks over a nearby ground car or something equally cinematic.
Natural 6: The klorn’s target is impaled on its spear-teeth; +4 bonus damage
Frenzy: When the klorn’s reduced to 10 or less Health, it immediately makes a free Scuffling attack on the nearest foe.
Special: Refreshes health pool when struck by non-lethal disruption fire
by Rob Heinsoo
Jonathan and I had two overarching goals when we designed 13th Age. First, we wanted to create the game we wanted to play together, and hoped that other people would want to play it too. Second, we intended to give people who were already busy playing other games new tools they could use to improve their games. Examples of the new tools include the escalation die, the One Unique Thing, and icon relationships.
What may not be readily apparent about the upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha supplement (presently in Kickstarter mode) is that it maintains both of our original goals for 13th Age. First, 13th Age in Glorantha (13G) is our ticket to enjoy Gloranthan gaming in our preferred d20-rolling/indie-storytelling style. Second, some parts of 13G will be phrased as notions that people playing other games could loot. Glorantha is very much its own world, and the focus will be on presenting Glorantha, but there are aspects of Glorantha that other games could have figured out how to loot a long time ago, and somehow didn’t.
This article takes one of the key elements of Gloranthan adventure, the forays into the world of myth known as heroquests, and explains how heroquests can play a role in 13th Age games played in the core setting of the Dragon Empire . . . . and by extension, any 13th Age games played with their own unique icons.
When in Glorantha . . . . .
In Glorantha, heroquesting takes you across to the Other Side, the timeless world of the gods, the Godtime in which the world was created and nearly destroyed. When things are going right, you tap into a story in which your god (or perhaps just an ancient Godtime heroine) gains power, or wisdom, or accomplishes some great thing for the world, or at least for your clan or for your river valley or maybe just for the magic shield you discovered in a ruin that you think might be connected to a story of the great guardian god Elmal! (When things are going wrong, you aren’t quick or powerful or knowledgeable enough and some aspect of the heroquest kicks your ass and punts you out of the Godtime damaged or disturbed or dead.)
. . . and in the Dragon Empire
The Gloranthan version of heroquesting doesn’t translate directly to the core setting of the Dragon Empire. We deliberately set the gods far away from the world to make room for the icons. No gods in the Dragon Empire heroquests then—but the icons work perfectly as the central characters in the stories that will supply the Dragon Empire’s heroquests.
There were two reasons we chose the 13th age as the setting for our game. The first, of course, is that 13 is ominous, 13 is the number that tells you that the player characters’ lives will be complicated. The second reason is that setting our game in the 13th age of the world gives gamemasters and players almost unlimited freedom to invent stories about what happened in the world’s past.
Heroquesting in the Dragon Empire isn’t about intersecting with stories of the gods. Heroquesting in the Dragon Empire is about using the power of an icon you are involved with to cross over into legends involving the earlier incarnations of your icon. In the world of legend, you interact with the stories that shaped the icon’s power, you participate in battles that shaped the world. As in the bizarre environments of our setting’s living dungeons, heroquests don’t always follow the logic that governs the rest of the world.
I suspect that Dragon Empire heroquesting usually involves performing a ritual at a location tied to the original legend you are trying to quest into. The location requirement is important to the GM, because it sets up plots in which the characters need to travel to specific locations, clean them out, and keep them secure long enough to perform the ritual. Heroquests may occur in the world of legend, but you’ve got to set them up specific locations in the land, the underworld, or the overworld, wherever the legend holds its power. (Gloranthan heroquests have similar geographic variables that may require dangerous adventuring before you can even cross into the dangerous world of the myths.)
This isn’t the place for a heroquest system. That’s coming in 13th Age in Glorantha. For now, here is one outline of the type of fun heroquesting will add to Dragon Empire campaigns that want to cross over there.
The Emperor’s Winter
In some campaigns, the strongest imperial legends concern the Blessed Emperor, who threw down the Wizard King and who tamed the Midland Sea. In other campaigns every Emperor’s reign is notable for the legends he emphasizes to reinforce the power of his rule.
Here’s an example of a powerful legend from the middle centuries of the Empire, a story from the 7th Age known as The Emperor’s Winter.
Sometime in the 7th Age, the frost giants invaded the Empire by freezing all the rivers that came down from the mountains. The giants followed their new roads of ice, advancing ever closer to the Midland Sea. The Empire fought back but was defeated again and again by the frost giants on the rivers the giants had transformed into glaciers.
(Station One: Ice Rivers is a ritual that must be performed on a frozen river, preferably in the mountains. You and your allies slip into the world of legend and fight an ever-escalating battle down advancing ice-rivers against frost giants and their allies. The legend expects you to lose this battle, so even death in this battle doesn’t harm you much so long as you give a good account of yourself and slow the giants.)
All seemed lost, but the Emperor (some versions of the story say it was actually the Emperor’s champion, a bastard son who’d entered the legions as a paladin) donned magic shoes created for him by the Archmage and skated up the worst of the rivers of ice, catching the frost giant king (who has many diverse names, often depending on local encounters with frost giants) in the midst of a great feast in which he was dividing the sections of the empire between the strange members of his own court.
(Station Two: The Magic Shoes can follow immediately after station one or be started later at the mouth of any river that spills into the Midland Sea except the Bronze River that runs past Axis, because everyone knows the Emperor had to travel to get to the worst of the frozen rivers. Everyone knows that the magic shoes are in fact ice skates, but any participant in the ritual who misses a chance to talk about the magic shoes or slips up by using the word ‘skates’ greatly endangers the quest (increasing DCs by 5 and all defenses by 3). Note also that trying to use magic shoes/skates in the first station of the heroquest ruins the quest completely. This station of the quest is a sort of obstacle and endurance and evasion course. The central actor representing the Emperor must wear heavy armor as they move (skate!) up the frozen river of legend. Everyone else can wear what they like, except that all heroquesters must wear ‘magic shoes,’ and anyone flying generally also spoils the effect of the quest.)
One of the Emperor’s traveling companions used magic, or tricks, or god-gifts, to make the frost giants think that the Emperor and his party were also frost giants, come from far away to join the feast. After initial greetings and toasts, the Emperor asked if he might also have a share in the spoils of the Empire. The frost giant king grew churlish and refused him, saying that the victory was his alone. The Emperor dropped the magic concealing his identity and replied that the giant was no true monarch, but that it was just as well that he had not dared to try to make a gift of something he did not own to the land’s true owner. They fought and the Emperor slew the frost giant king and most of the giant’s followers. The rivers of ice melted and until the end of the age, the Emperor could summon or banish winter as he wished.
(Station Three: Winter’s True Ruler must follow immediately after station two. Its first passages require trickery and illusion. No one likes to mention it to the current Emperor, but it’s likely that followers of the Prince of Shadows are extremely helpful in this portion of the heroquest. They might have been around from the beginning. The finale is a perilous frost giant battle enlivened with ice party extravaganzas, and characters who take a moment to loot instead of fighting with every breath can sometimes find treasures that the frost giants never meant for tiny mortals.)
Succeed with the quest and you increase the Emperor’s power over giants and the natural or supernatural forces of winter. Fail and relationships that should have remained strong grow cold, both in your lives and and between pieces of the Empire that should have remained in contact.
Why might the quest of The Emperor’s Winter come to matter in your campaign? Perhaps it’s simply that the Archmage’s failing wards against the worst of what nature has to offer need help. Or perhaps the PCs have taken a campaign loss, allowing the frost giants to complete a great magic spell that ushers in yearlong winter. Or perhaps the icon/dragon known as the White has resurfaced in Moonwreck and something has to be done to put a stop to the great icesheets creeping down from the north.
Back in Glorantha
In the 13th Age in Glorantha book, heroquests like The Emperor’s Winter will appear complete with playable stats, variants, rewards, navigation challenges for performing the stations of the myth out of order, and the myriad surprises and special wrinkles that make each myth special.
Some Gloranthan quests will translate easily to the Dragon Empire. Many others won’t translate so smoothly. But every Gloranthan heroquest will contain elements that could be used inside quests or adventures of your own composition. You can use 13th Age in Glorantha as a key to open your version of a wonderful game world, or you can use even Glorantha’s unique heroquesting as a toolbox to tinker with your own campaigns and worlds.
[Ed: I like the 13th Age fighter. In combat, you make a roll, and depending on the result, you are able to chose between a set of options - these are called flexible attacks. Your fighter moves, sees an opening then makes a choice. A better roll reflects better maneuvering and usually offers more choices. There are, however, some people who don't like the idea of deciding after a roll what happens, or otherwise object to the class. It's possible of course to build rangers or paladins which work as fighters, but some non-fighter flavour is inevitable.
So, I asked ASH LAW to create two fighters using the dual class system from 13 True Ways - strictly they are paladin / rangers hybrids, but they play just like a different kind of fighter, and all the mechanics are there on the sheets.
He's done one for every level from 1st to 10th. They are easy to customise, particularly if you have 13 True Ways. Over to ASH...]
Download the light fighter and the heavy fighter
The Dual-wielder and the Slayer
By ASH LAW
Fighters, eh? Those stalwarts of sword-and board, at the front laying down the pain and keeping the squishier characters safe from danger. Well, here we present two new fighters (that are not actually fighters at all), as pregens from level 1 to 10! They are both built as multi-class paladin/rangers, and have identical attributes— the difference is in feat and talent selection.
There is also a clarification on a ranger talent coming up in this article, so ranger players read on…
The Dual-wielder: Two Swords are Better than One
We’ll start with the dual-wielder. This human character wears light armor and carries two longswords. At first level we start strong with the dual-wielding concept with the double melee attack and two-weapon mastery talents from the ranger’s class. For the paladin talent we start with bastion, giving us a boost to AC and letting us help out the party in emergencies by pushing allies out of the way of dragon fire (and taking damage ourselves in the process). For feats we get two-weapon mastery so that our miss damage is raised, and for our bonus human feat we get the multi-class ranger feat that lets us apply all our lovely two-weapon mastery bonuses to paladin attacks too.
Our fighting style with this character at 1st level is probably going to involve engaging multiple foes with the double melee attack and reserving the mighty blow for tougher opponents or to finish up stubborn mook groups to open up the battlefield.
At second level we pick up the paladin’s smite feat to give us a +4 bonus to attack with the smite attack, which we are calling here ‘Mighty Blow’. After all our dual-wielder really isn’t a paladin… but he is somebody who has perhaps trained in their fighting styles.
Our dual-wielder gains the double melee attack feat, giving him a bonus on his second melee attack if he’s targeting a second enemy. I picture him standing in a field with a load of scarecrows and pumpkins, slashing and practicing stances, simultaneously attacking multiple scarecrows while his companion the slayer rolls her eyes.
All that exercise is staring to pay off as our dual-wielder gains an extra recovery thanks to the bastion feat.
As we enter champion tier we pick up the two-weapon mastery champion feat. Now when enemies roll a 1 the dual-wielder pounces and strikes.
Now is the time to pick some new talents. First up is implacable, allowing us to roll saves at the start of each turn. I picture our lightly armored dual-wielder practicing kick-flips to get up quickly from getting knocked down. Yeah he’s not as heavily protected as his slayer companion, but he can quickly shake off things that would rattle her.
From the ranger side of things we pick up tracker with associated the adventurer tier feat. These two are obviously monster-hunters or bounty-hunters of some sort. He is the one who bends over to stare at footprints while the slayer watches out for rustling in the bushes. All that practicing with scarecrows and pumpkins is paying off, as the dual-wielder is able to perform terrain stunts now. Once per battle the dual-wielder can make use of the terrain around him to disadvantage and disorient opponents.
7th & 8th Level
At 7th level the dual-wielder starts learning a few moves from the slayer, as we picks up the smite champion feat for his mighty attack. At 8th level we get the epic feat for the smite class feature. Our dual-wielder is learning that sometimes you just have to hit a foe once, if you hit hard enough.
At 9th level we get a couple of new talents. Way of evil bastards lets us keep using our mighty when we drop an enemy. First strike increases the dual-wielder’s crit ranges for the first hit against enemies. Our tactics at this point in most fights is to open with a double melee attack against two enemies (with an increased crit range), and then use mighty attacks when the enemies have taken a couple of big hits.
For the feat we’re going to go ahead and get improved initiative. Hit fast, hit hard, hit often… and hit first!
By 10th level the dual-wielder has a super-powerful mighty blow attack that he can potentially use many times per battle, can perform terrain stunts, attacks when enemies roll 1s, rolls saves at the start of his turn, and on his first hit with his double-melee attack crits on 17+.
For the 10th level feat we’re going to get the two weapon mastery epic feat. For one battle each day we can add 10 to all our miss damage. With the blades whirling around in the dual-wielder’s hand it’s impossible for enemies to avoid getting sliced by a passing blade.
At the end of 10th level, after an epic career this character will probably settle down for a well-deserved rest, retiring to spend more time with his huge pile of gold.
The Slayer: Deadly Accuracy with Heavy Armour
The slayer is in many ways the mirror of the dual-wielder. The slayer wears heavy armor and carries a shield, though they can instead choose to drop that shield and pull out a two-handed greatsword in order to roll d10s for damage. The first thing we do is pick up the Favored Enemy (Humanoid) ranger talent; this means that whenever making a basic (ranger) melee attack against a humanoid enemy we crit on an 18+! Yes, this costs us two of our starting talents, but it is well worth it. Orcs, trolls, bandits, evil wizards, minotaurs… most of the things our slayer will face are humanoids. As this character levels up we’ll concentrate on expanding that crit range, with the aim of eventually critting half of the time we attack.
With our remaining talent we get the paladin talent way of evil bastards. This character may or may not be evil, but they do fight dirty… ahem I mean ‘they fight to win’. When the slayer’s mighty blow (actually a paladin’s smite) drops a non-mook enemy it is not expended.
Our tactics with this character are probably going to be opening with a mighty blow on any non-humanoid enemies then switching to attacking humanoids and trying for multiple crits.
At second level we pick up the feat for favored enemy. This allows us, during a full heal-up, to switch our favored enemy from humanoid to TWO other monster types.
Favored Enemy – A clarification
So how does it work when you use the two-talent version of Favored Enemy and switch from humanoid as a favored foe to another type of monster? The answer is that since you spent two talents on it, and the regular version costs only one talent, you can switch out humanoid for two monsters.
Here’s what 13th Age designer Rob Heinsoo and Editor Cal Moore have to say:
ROB: Changing away from humanoid looks like it could go ahead and let you have two favored enemies. Because why not? Really, no reason. Which either reads like errata, a clarification or GM choice, depending on how you squint.
CAL: It’s probably a clarification more than errata.
So a character with Favored Enemy (Humanoid) who is headed into a dungeon full of oozes and undead could spend some time meditating, researching, or otherwise preparing for the upcoming dungeon… and after their next full heal-up can use Favored Enemy (Ooze) and Favored Enemy (Undead). After their next full heal-up they can switch back to Favored Enemy (Humanoid), keep their current favored enemies, or switch to something new like Favored Enemy (Dragon) and Favored Enemy (Plant).
Cool. Now our slayer can go from preparing to slay humanoids to a full-on monster hunting role. I can picture her rolling into a village, having defeated kobold bandits on the road. She sits down in the tavern and as she’s taking off her boots a villager comes up to her and offers to pay her to deal with the dragon that the kobolds were worshiping. She looks at the dual-wielder and sighs; later that night she hauls her books out of her packs and starts researching dragons. “Aha,” she says “they have a weak spot under their wishbone. Fascinating.”, and lights another candle. The dual-wielder grunts from his side of the room and pulls the covers up over his head, trying to get some rest before their quest tomorrow.
At 3rd level we pick up toughness. The slayer goes toe-to-toe with too many monsters to scrimp on hit points.
At 4th level we take the way of evil bastards adventurer feat. Wither or not this character is evil, dark forces have certainly noticed her.
This is our first opportunity to get a champion feat and it goes straight away on increasing the damage on our smite attack, which is becoming this character’s signature finishing move.
At 6th level we get some new talents. Tis character has been fighting scary monsters, and winning— sounds like the fearless talent to me. Now not only is she immune to fear but she is an expert in fighting alone and exploiting the over-confidence of her enemies (especially those who expect her to be afraid).
Our ranger talent is lethal hunter. When the slayer sets her sights upon an enemy, they had best run! Her crit range against her lethal hunter target is 18+, and due to the favored enemy champion feat that we’re getting this level if she’s had a chance to hit the books the night beforehand then her crit range is 15+ against her lethal hunter target!
Maybe she’s inherited new books on monster hunting, or maybe she’s just got really good at extrapolating from her past experiences to guess how best to defeat her enemies.
At 7th level we gain the way of evil bastards champion feat. Her signature Mighty Attack (paladin’s smite) is now really useful against mobs of mooks. When the slayer gets up and going she can really clear rooms.
At 8th level the epic smite feat comes into play, giving us even more damage with her signature finishing move.
At 9th level we get the first strike talent and the adventurer feat for it. Our crit range for basic ranger attacks is anywhere between 18+ and 12+ when our favored enemy, first strike, and lethal hunter talents come into play. Our slayer is probably only using her mighty attack against enemies that she is solo against. Her bonus to attacks with her basic attacks is +12 with a potential crit range of 12+, but her mighty attack has a potential +20 to attack with a huge amount of damage and half damage on a miss.
At 10th level we finish our crit expansion project with a lethal hunter feat, now we potentially crit on an 11+. Our slayer’s once-(or-more)-per-battle melee attack is ultra-powerful, and our at-will attack has a chance of critting half of the time.
After one last grand world-changing adventure our slayer decides to retire to a small village in the mountains, where she will doubtlessly be sought out by young fighters who want to learn the techniques of her legendary fighting style. Eventually she’ll write of her experiences, and some lucky adventurer will inherit her book.
And because I can’t resist magic items…
Book of the Slayer (Recharge 16+)
This heavy book bound in dragon hide has been added to by many monster-hunters. The tome is full of illustrations, anatomical diagrams, and tips for monster hunting. Pick a monster (Green Dragons, Gnolls, Herzou, Fungaloids, etc) and research it in the book; the next time you face that monster your crit range against that specific monster expands by 1 until the end of the battle. You may only have one monster researched at a time, and you cannot perform research mid-battle.
Quirk: Can’t resist showing off scars from monster hunting.
I’ve been asked at panels, on social media and in person about the effect of D&D 5th Edition on 13th Age. The concern is that 5e will negatively affect 13th Age sales is also averred to in this excellent review of the 13th Age Bestiary over at Geek Native. Won’t the new version of 5th Edition have an impact on your sales? My answer is, I sincerely hope so.
When D&D 5e came out, I held my breath. How good would it be? Would it upset people? Would it divide the market? D&D has to be vanilla. I mean that in the best possible way – it has to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible. It was an extraordinarily difficult brief, but Mike Mearls and his team did it. It’s a great game, and there is no noticeable division amongst players of previous versions.
sD&D is the pioneer, with the sales muscle of a big corporation behind it; it’s the category brand, the market leader, the gateway drug. If D&D succeeds, RPGs succeed. (I’m putting aside the special case of Pathfinder for this article, which I might discuss another time). As the co-founder of ProFantasy Software, I am keenly aware that sales of Campaign Cartographer 3 depend on the size of the roleplaying game market – really – the number of tabletop gamers. And we are all D&D players, from the Forge to the OSR. There may well be some churn between different RPGs, but nothing that affects us. The only table-top RPG non-roleplayers can name is D&D.
But this leaves room, more than room, for the distinctive quirkiness of 13th Age and other similar games in the category. D&D can’t speak in the voice of the individual designers, push ideas to the edge of too far, or even irritate reviewers with informal language. But there is room for games which do. I do like the idea that 13th Age is, in some way, a serious competitor to D&D. Hah – we are a pimple on the buttock of their enormous sales! The theory assumes we are talking about a static market, and that 5e is taking share from other RPGs – absolutely not.
What a succesful D&D 5e does is increase the number of gamers.
13th Age appeals to a certain percentage of gamers.We hope that it will continue to appeal to a growing percentage of gamers. However, with D&D 5e a big success and the market getting larger – we don’t have to appeal to a growing percentage gamers. Tiny companies can’t do much to increate market size. Market leaders can. If we appeal to the same percentage of gamers, we will still be selling an increasing number of copies. As it happens, we are doing both.
So in answer to the premise D&D versus 13th Age, who wins?
We found the shark man washed up on the shore, north of the spot where the Old Wall reaches the sea. The others, eager as always to declare themselves free from the constraints of mercy, would not aid him. I gave him a share of my meager catch and went hungry myself. He ate sparingly; a few hours later he rallied enough to speak. Cursed as I am to question and chronicle, I asked him of life beneath the waves. These are the words, as I marked them down.
“Though I thank you for the food, you should know that I am dreaming now. This waterless surface world, though you might believe it to be real, is but a place we go in nightmares, when the waters grow turbid and sleep eludes us.”
Surely this could not be true, I told him. The might of our 13 icons surely intrudes below the waves, undeniably affecting the lives of air- and water-breathers alike. Yet deny it the shark-man did:
“Your supposed icons are but strange reflections of the 13 true icons, who rule the lightless depths,” he said.
“First among them is the Shark Mother, queen and progenitor of my people, who keeps the waves safe for our hunting and slakes our ceaseless hunger.
“Our greatest enemy is the Lizard King, potentate of the accursed reptile men, who dare to compete with us for cruelty.
“Others, like the Colony, neither oppose our aims or force us to oppose them. The Colony rises from the ocean floor, a vast complex of colorful spires, always building and creating.
“The Vent sends lava and dust into the seas from its deepest trench. She keeps the demons from draining the waters of life-giving air.
“Her daughter, the restless Crab, scours the world for stray demons, yet eats many others in her compulsive quest to clean it all.
“Opposing her is the Shell-Borer and its many drilling minions, who pierce through shells and armor and seek to split the Vent for good.
“The Mermaid rules the sunken cities of men who once breathed air, but now swim with the tails of fishes. Her people fear us, though they are not so good to eat as they assume.
“Kelp Woman protects the vegetation, and the things that are neither plant nor animal. This is good, for without her bounty, the things we eat could not maintain their numbers.
“The Phantom imposes a semblance of order on the revenants of sunken sailors. Some of you dreamlings call him Davy Jones, though I don’t know why.
“Many-Arms waits for us to falter, so that his formless servitors may take our hunting grounds. We fear only the largest of them.
“The Collector fills a palace with the messages from the distant gods, imprinted on the surfaces and mottles of shells. In them he reads omens, from which his ever-changing doctrines grow.
“Sharpjaw aids the weak and darting creatures. Beneath his japes and jests lies deadly intent. Feel the currents and sense his presence.
“Of Leviathan I will not speak. To name him is to summon him, and his wrath is a mountain.”
My companions, who fate had rendered impecunious, chose to take the shark man inland in hopes of selling him to an Imperial official. A few days into the journey his skin dried out, and he piteously died.
Because I breathe air and not water, I have never managed to confirm the truth or fancy of his account. Yet chronicle I must.
13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
The Eyes of the Stone Thief, like the eponymous beast, is a monster. It’s on a par with the Ennie-Award winning Trial of Cthulhu campaign, Eternal Lies, and may well be the largest book we’ve ever published. I was intending for it to be monochrome, as Eternal Lies is, but then I saw the beautiful maps, and the idea of full colour grew on me. By this stage, the art, all monochrome, was pretty much in.
So I broached the subject, gingerly, with my colleagues.
I want colour, I said. Surely the artists could just colour the pictures in? You know, get the crayons out and stay within lines? My ten-year-old can do that.
Gareth Hanrahan was all flappy-handed about it on Skype, though full of “Can Do” as always. I interpreted the flappy hands as “No”. Cat Tobin fixed me with a steely glare and said “this book is ready to lay out.” She also pointed out that “colouring in” is not a technical term artists recognise and I should not mention my ten-year-old’s artistic endeavours in this context. Robin D Laws, in a spirit of compromise suggested we do colour plates. Rob Heinsoo laughed with pleasure at the sheer foolishness of it.
Gar approached each artist and asked them to colour one piece each. The colour art in 13th Age uses washes of colour, which mades colouration slightly less problematic. This is what we got.
This is working, I thought.
All the artists stepped up and promised to colourize their art for the difference in cost between colour and monochrome, and do it by the end of September. To keep us on schedule, Chris Huth is doing the layout in colour and using the monochrome pieces as placeholders, to drop in the colour when we have them. This plan was enough to gain acceptance.
I hope the scope, ambition and pure fun of this epic adventure is enough to interest our audience. I have no idea if, commercially, colour is the right choice – the book wil certainly be more expensive. In this case, I’m really doing this just because I want to and because I can, and because it made Rob Heinsoo laugh.
The freeform story rules in 13th Age require a different approach to adventure design. At Gen Con 2014, Philippe-Antoine Ménard (aka Chatty DM), Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW presented a seminar on how to design great adventures for 13th Age. Video recorded by Kendall Jung.
Watch this on the 13th Age YouTube channel here.