13th Sage: Multiclass Design Notes

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Despite our chatty and occasionally informative sidebars, we don’t get around to explaining all our design decisions in 13th Age. Today we’ll take a look at a 13 True Ways design choice that could use a bit of explanation.

Multiclass penalties

The multiclass system in chapter 2 of 13 True Ways is a tool whose significance depends heavily on the user. I know players who have never read the chapter and never will. I know other players who picked up 13 True Ways, skimmed a bit, then turned to the multiclassing chapter and read every word before even looking at the new classes.

As a game designer, I originally told myself that I wasn’t that interested in multiclassing. Jonathan cared more about it, mostly because he knew we needed it and he was being the responsible one. But I was the one who ended up handling the fiddly and in-depth work, and along the way I carved a multiclassing system that creates characters I enjoy playing.

The key is that multiclass characters sacrifice a bit of power for flexibility. That’s pretty obvious when it comes to classes like the sorcerer and wizard, characters who depend on spells. Getting access to spells one level behind a single class character is an obvious reduction in raw power.

Weapon-users were trickier to handle. With a few exceptions for classes that are all about weapon-use and shouldn’t be penalized (exceptions mentioned at the bottom of page 107), multiclass characters suffer a die-size reduction, using WEAPON dice that are one size smaller. The point is that weapon-using multiclass characters who need to take a hit to their raw power take that hit through dealing slightly less damage every time they attack with weapons. It’s not crippling, since you’re still rolling one WEAPON die per level, but the point is that this damage reduction parallels the damage reduction that spellcasting multiclass characters suffer.

Questions about corner-cases we didn’t handle should consider our design intent. A multiclass character who has found a way to roll a number of damage dice equal to their level, all the time, should probably be taking the die-step penalty unless both their classes are from the classes listed as taking no weapon damage die penalty.

Those classes, again, are the barbarian, bard, commander, fighter, paladin, ranger, and rogue. It made no sense to us to put two classes that are great at using weapons together and produce a multiclass that was worse at using weapons. Happily, game balance works out fine allowing these multiclass characters to keep their full weapon damage. They all take some form of hit from lagging a level behind on class features, the class-by-class exceptions detailed in the chapter curb specific excesses, and their raw power isn’t so great that the increased flexibility of multiclassing somehow pushes them above other classes.

 

 

13th Age Organized Play: What’s Next

13AgeLogoFull_small-300x300This week, Tales of the 13th Age GMs receive The Battle of Axis — an adventure that brings the first season of 13th Age organized play to a thundering conclusion!

The fact that 13th Age organized play exists at all is a minor miracle wrought by ASH LAW. Rob Heinsoo originally believed that 13th Age’s flexible and customizable approach made an OP program impossible, because OP relies heavily on everyone playing by the same set of rules. ASH proved that it could be done, and our free, play-anywhere-you-want program helped build word of mouth and was a critical part of the game’s early success.

Now we enter the next phase of organized play, with an approach that reflects where the game and its community of fans are today.

Tales of the 13th Age Concludes

With the Archmage’s Comet passing over the Dragon Empire and playing havoc with the Archmage’s wards, the Lich King has decided now is the time to strike and seize an ancient source of power! Battle of Axis drops this week, and the email to GMs will include a special offer for those who take 5 minutes to complete a quick survey.

The 13th Age Alliance Begins

13th Age Alliance black bkgrnd13th Age organized play is more than creating and delivering new content: it’s a community of GMs and players. That’s why, starting with the new season, the 13th Age Alliance will take its place among the Societies and Leagues of the roleplaying world.

(If you signed up for Tales, you are already in the Alliance — no need to complete a separate sign-up process.)

Signing up for organized play will continue to be free.

13th Age Alliance members will have access to all Season 1 adventures for free. We have other exclusive OP community stuff planned, but it’s too early to talk about those right now.

13th Age Alliance members will ALSO get the first three episodes of Season 2 for free. If you aren’t already familiar with our OP adventures, download the ENnie award nominated Archmage’s Orrery to get an idea of their quality.

The remaining ten Season 2 adventures will be bundled with 13th Age Monthly, and will be available exclusively to 13AM subscribers over the next year. We knew that we couldn’t repeat the Season 1 experience of giving away 70+ hours worth of official adventures for free, but we also didn’t want to charge for OP. Bundling the adventures with 13AM was the best solution, especially if we included a free option that would help take 13th Age OP to the next level.

Which brings us to…

FLGS Support

We want to encourage retailers to host organized play, so people can walk into their FLGS and see in person what 13th Age is all about. That’s why retailers who sign up to Bits and Mortar will have free access to 13th Age Monthly material for in-store use — including the new adventures. If you’re running OP at a game store and need the latest adventure, plus rules for summoning or dragon riding, just ask the owners.

Join Us At Gen Con!

We’re debuting the first Season 2 adventure at Gen Con Indy. Didn’t get in to one of our play sessions? We’re also doing a 13th Age organized play panel on Thursday, July 30 at 1 PM in Crowne Plaza, Pennsylvania Station B. Hearing me and ASH talk about organized play is almost as fun as playing, right?

Have questions in the meantime? Please leave a comment, or post to our Google+ or Facebook communities.

The Plain People of Gaming: Iconic Poles

Robin Laws’ multi-award-winning Hillfolk is a great game in its own right, but its DramaSystem engine includes a toolkit for describing and dissecting characters that can be used in other games. One of these tools is the concept of dramatic poles.

To quote Robin: Driving any compelling dramatic character in
any story form is an internal contradiction. The character is torn between two opposed dramatic poles. Each pole suggests a choice of identities for the character, each at war with the other. Events in the story pull the character from one pole to the next. Were your character’s story to conclude, her final scenes would once and for all establish one of the identities as the dominant one… In many cases, you can conceive your dramatic poles as your desire, on one hand, and, on the other, the character trait that makes you least likely to attain it.”

In 13th Age, the player characters have relationships with one or more Icons – rulers and other powerful NPCs who shape the world from behind the scenes. As a relationship can be Positive, Negative or Conflicted, a well-designed Icon is always divided on some level. Even the most heroic Icon needs a little hint of darkness; even the vilest villain needs some redeeming quality. In the Dragon Empire setting, for example, the Lich King may be an undead tyrant who wants to conquer the lands of the living and restore his lost empire, but he still thinks of himself as the rightful ruler and has some sense of obligation towards his prospective ‘subjects’. The Priestess may be the mystic champion of all the Gods of Light, a shining vessel for their blazing kindness, but her overwhelming niceness might be hiding a secret agenda.

A well-designed Icon, therefore, is torn between two dramatic poles – usually, one that might draw the player characters to serve or support that Icon, and another that makes the Icon seem suspicious, dangerous or destructive. Evil Icons flip that around, so they’ve got one pole that makes them villainous and ghastly, and another that doesn’t redeem them, but makes them more nuanced and interesting than straight villains.

For the default Icons, I usually go with the pairs of poles below. Your own interpretations may differ, of course – and if you’re creating your own Icons, then you may find these helpful as inspiration.

Archmage: Benevolence versus Hubris – is the Archmage building a utopia, or a house of cards?

13th Age icon symbolsCrusader: Necessity versus Humanity – what does it profit a man to raze Hell to the ground, but still lose his soul?

Diabolist: Power versus Self-Interest – does the Diabolist have the courage of her convictions, or it all just a game?

Dwarf King: Tradition versus Friendship – can the dwarves move past the grudges and debts of their ancestors?

Elf Queen: High versus Wood versus Dark (yep, three poles) – which aspect of Elvendom holds sway?

Emperor: Law versus Truth – can the Emperor save the Empire from the intrigues and double-dealing of his courtiers and governors

Great Gold Wyrm: Heroism versus Sanity – mainly for the Wyrm’s followers, when does divine inspiration become indistinguishable from madness

High Druid: Nature versus Humanity (the concept that of Icon – and its followers – being pulled between elemental forces and humanity shows up a lot in my games).

Lich King: Death versus Obligation – what do the dead owe the living, and vice versa?

Orc Lord: Destruction versus Destiny – is the Orc Lord a disaster, or an opportunity?

Priestess: Divinity versus Humanity – can a mortal embody the gods and remind human?

Prince of Shadows: Anarchy versus Civilisation – what’s beneath the Prince’s mask?

The Three: Hunger versus Intrigue versus Malice (three poles again) – which head of the Three is dominant?

Summoning Spells

13 True Ways introduced druids and necromancers as the first summoning spellcasters. Now this installment of the Monthly adds:

  • Updated summoning mechanics for 13th Age
  • New demon and elemental summoning spells for the wizard’s spellbook
  • New archon summoning spells for the cleric’s prayer-roster
  • Stats for summoned archons, demons and elementals
  • A new demon type: the laughing demon!

Summoning Spells is the sixth installment of the 13th Age Monthly subscription. It will be available to buy in the webstore in July. When you subscribe to 13th Age Monthly, you will get all issues of the subscription to date.

Stock #: PEL13AM07D Author: Rob Heinsoo
Artist: Rich Longmore Pages: 13pg PDF

Escalating GUMSHOE

Created by forum member Kazekami

This article offers a way you can use the 13th Age Escalation Die in your GUMSHOE games.

GUMSHOE games and 13th Age manage the narrative flow of combat – the emotional upbeats and downbeats – very differently.

In all GUMSHOE games, players usually start a battle with more combat resources than when the battle is done. Each combat ability has a pool of points. Those points represent flexibility, preparedness, competence and freshness. The PCs start on a high, burn through these resources, and must get their opponents down and out of the fight quickly, or resort to another resource – their ability to flee. This is just right for games such as Night’s Black Agents, where competent Agents need to seize the initiative, give it their all, finish their foes and get the hell out of there.

In 13th Age, typically, the narrative is reversed. Players start at a relative disadvantage against their foes. In round 2, the Escalation Die makes a welcome appearance, set at 1, and all the players can add this value onto their attack rolls. Some values of the Die also trigger other benefits. Each round the die increases by 1. So the combat starts on a low with player characters fighting superior foes, reaches a point at which it could go either way, then usually turns in the favour of the player characters, just the dramatic arc you want for heroic adventurers.

Using the Escalation Die in GUMSHOE

So, if you want that 13th Age feeling in GUMSHOE, for a more pulpy, heroic arc, how can you do it? Well, that d6 can’t act as a bonus, because the steps are too big for a d6-based system. Resources in GUMSHOE are pools of points and bonuses, where they happen, are usually no more than 1. So, here is method which is resource-based but offers the same ebb and flow as 13th Age.

The Escalation Die appears in round 2, set at 1. It increases each round by 1. If all players agree, they can tap the Escalation Die at the beginning of any character’s turn and all characters refresh a combat pool, Athletics or Health by the value on the die, and the die disappears from the table. The players should describe what changes the mood of scene – a narrow-eyed glance of shared determination, inspired words, or just a well-practised, coordinated attack.

If the value on the die is 6, no agreement is required.  You can’t refresh Health if it is below zero. Any excess points are removed at the end of the combat. Just as in 13th Age, you can’t increase the die if you are backing off from combat – you must take the initiative. To balance this, Game Masters will need to up the total combat ratings of baddies by 3 multiplied by the number of players. So, if you have four players, you’d distribute 12 points between the foes in a typical combat.

Do let me know if you try this and if it works for you.

 

Seven Answers to the 13th Sage

by Rob Heinsoo

Here are answers to the trivia questions from a few days ago, along with bonus stories and links.

A. What monster in the core 13th Age rulebook became one of the player characters in my home campaign?

The demon-touched human ranger on page 235 is one of just two human antagonists in the book. I came up with the monster when I wanted to show just how dangerous the Diabolist was to make deals with, in my campaign the character was an outlaw leader who’d proudly acquired a magic item, only to find that it was eating him. The PCs overcame the bandits and felt bad for him, since he was screaming about the demon eating his arm. So the PCs cut the bow off his arm and used magic to keep him alive in the process. They had the impression that the outlaw was going to do as they told him, now that he only had one arm, and that turned out to be true, he cooperated and talked what was left of his gang into taking the wagon they’d been stealing back into town while the PCs went into a dungeon after the piece of the treasure the Diabolist’s agents had managed to escape with.

Fast-forward to our next campaign, and one of the players said that his One Unique Thing was that he only had one arm. And that he was the demon-touched human ranger who had been scared straight by losing his arm and was now trying to become a hero! It worked for all of us.

It’s probably not even weird that the incident had an even bigger impact on the rulebook. The example of the ritual on page 194 and the full-page illlustration on page 193? That’s pretty much what had to happen to get rid of the demon bow after the PCs cut it off the ranger’s arm. The group tried to keep it around as a functional magic item but the bow started talking to people and making deals and the wizard stepped in with a ritual to destroy the demon-bow before the fighter could follow-up on its intriguing offers.

B. What is missing from the map published in the English version of the 13th Age core rulebook?

Paul guessed this one: thanks to a Photoshop layer problem, the roads between some of the Seven Cities didn’t show up in the maps on the endpages or center of the core rulebook. You can see pieces of the roads in the small cut-outs that show up near the write-ups of the various cities. You can download the the map with the roads on DriveThru RPG.

I missed this mistake for ever. I believe I didn’t realize it until the French translation wanted to do the map and someone mentioned that we had missed the roads. As mistakes go, I sure don’t care. I’m fine with the map either way.

C. What is the name from a monk power in 13 True Ways that I’ve used in many/many published game products over the years, for reasons that I won’t say yet because that would lead to the answer?

I got into game writing by writing for the Alarums & Excursions fanzine put out by Lee Gold. My zines were usually called Flagrant Blossoms, and I use that name where I can. A monk form in epic tier was the perfect spot.

D. What was the original shape of the Great Gold Wyrm’s symbol?

It was an ouroboros, a wyrm-like dragon with its tail in its mouth. I became dissatisfied with the symbol when I realized that it was playing off the wrong archetypes. The GGW isn’t an ouroboros, or at least we weren’t thinking of that style of symbolism at the time. Alchemically speaking, I suppose that might be an interesting variation on the Wyrm, so perhaps some version of this will come out some day! But Lee Moyer didn’t like the original symbol much either, he thought it was the weakest of the batch, so he created the much-improved symbol that went into the final book.

Somewhere in my dice jar I have a one-of-a-kind creation, a sample icon die that mistakenly used the original GGW symbol. It can stay there, for now.

E. Who originally created the Koru Behemoths?

Steve gave us the answer on the quiz page: the Koru Behemoths were created by Keith Baker, of Eberron & Gloom fame, presently putting together the fascinating Phoenix: Dawn Command game. Eventually we’re going to find a way to set a game on a Koru’s back with some fun maps, and now that I think of it again, maybe we need to find a way to tie in with some phoenixes.

F. What 13th Age monster tile was I shocked and happy to see for the first time while standing in the lobby of a hotel that happened to have the same name as the monster?

We were staying at a hotel in Kalkan, Turkey, that was in the middle of a name change. Originally it had been the Harpy Hotel, named after the harpies that were mostly-benevolent spirits, important creatures for the area, captured in wonderful stone on the Harpy Tomb that were removed from their homes in Xanthos and presently live in the British Museum. But the very sweet people running the hotel had become uncomfortably aware that many of their guests thought harpy were monsters, so the name change from Harpy to Happy was half-way finished, with some signs saying Happy and others still saying Harpy. As we checked out after a several day stay, and sent one final email from the hotel lobby, the first monster tile that Lee Moyer had sent me from the 13th Age book popped into my inbox. It was the harpy.

G. What power name is shared by two classes in 13 True Ways, approaching the same words from entirely different angles?

Alex Greene nailed the last question, and I wasn’t sure anyone was going to notice. I didn’t realize until editor Cal Moore mentioned that there is a power/spell called “You Know What to Do” in both the commander and the necromancer. The commander’s came first. Later in the playtest process, I got a complaint about the very dark name I’d originally used for the necromancer spell. I changed the name without realizing that name might have been in my head because I’d already used it earlier in the book. In context, the necromancer version is still very dark, but it’s subtle-dark instead of just-awful-dark. When Cal asked whether we could use the same name twice, I said, “Yes, definitely! You know what to do!”

Eidolons

Eidolons_cover

Eidolons cover

These bizarre, other-dimensional creatures present themselves as aspects of mortal concepts — meanwhile twisting reality into shapes that have nothing to do with mortal concepts. This comprehensive 13th Age Bestiary-style monster writeup is a gift to GMs who don’t mind shaking the tree until walruses and new philosophies fall out.

Eidolons is the fifth installment of the 13th Age Monthly subscription. It will be available to buy in the webstore in June. When you subscribe to 13th Age Monthly, you will get all issues of the subscription to date.

 

Stock #: PEL13AM06 Author: ASH LAW
Artist: Rich Longmore Type: PDF

13th Sage: Trivialities

By Rob Heinsoo

Welcome to the first-ever 13th Age Trivia & Miscellany 7-Question Non-Contest Experience. If you’re into trivia contests, oh happy day, hooray. Make your answers to one more questions as comments below and we’ll give a shout out later to the first person who correctly answered each specific question.

If puzzling over obscure trivia isn’t your thing, hold on a bit. I chose these questions because they have interesting answers. We’ll post those answers next week.

A. What monster in the core 13th Age rulebook became one of the player characters in my home campaign?

B. What is missing from the map published in the English version of the 13th Age core rulebook?

C. What is the name from a monk power in 13 True Ways that I’ve used in many/many published game products over the years, for reasons that I won’t say yet because that would lead to the answer?

D. What was the original shape of the Great Gold Wyrm’s symbol?

E. Who originally created the Koru Behemoths?

F. What 13th Age monster tile was I shocked and happy to see for the first time while standing in the lobby of a hotel that happened to have the same name as the monster?

G. What power name is shared by two classes in 13 True Ways, approaching the same words from entirely different angles?

13th Age Organized Play: May 2015 Update

Tales-of-the-13th-Age-LogoComing Soon

ASH LAW reports that The Battle of Axis will be the next adventure in our Tales of the 13th Age organized play program. This epic-tier adventure features a multi-session battle against the undead in the very heart of the Dragon Empire!

Gen Con Play Events Sold Out

We submitted nearly 70 organized play events for Gen Con, and tickets for all of them have been snapped up. Which is partly great news, and partly a bummer if you weren’t able to get tickets. We’ve heard of at least one GM who’ll be set up in Games on Demand to run Pelgrane games, and we might get additional volunteer GMs to run more official slots for us.

Girl Scouts Demo 13th Age

A Girl Scout troop in Colorado is going to start hosting tabletop games demos in the meeting room at their local library, and 13th Age is one of them! The scouts will demo a different game each week to acquire badges, learn valuable business and life skills, and (of course) have fun. We sent them PDFs of our more kid-friendly adventures, and an organized play kit that included a copy of 13th Age, a t-shirt for the organizer, promotional flyers, pre-generated characters, printable minis and icon postcards.

Play 13th Age at DexCon 18

Andrew Heo is organizing a team of GMs to run a 13th Age track at DexCon 18. Here’s the planned schedule:

Thursday: Shadow Port Shuffle, Wyrd of the Wild Wood, Quest in the Cathedral

Friday: Fungaloid Infection, The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle, Tower of the Ogre Mage

Saturday: Wrath of the Orc Lord, The Elf Queen’s Enchantment, Domain of the Dwarf King

Sunday: Three Hearts Over Glitterhaegen, The Feast of Gold

Keep an eye on the DexCon website, where event signup should be open soon!

13A Dark Lanterns LightWatch Dark Lantern’s Light Online

Hey, did you know that we have a head of online organized play, and that you can watch his group (including Seattle radio personality Rev. En Fuego) play online? It’s true — watch Aaron R.’s 13th Age Eberron campaign Dark Lantern’s Light and follow it on Obsidian Portal.

At Land’s Edge / The Harker Instrusion

Released for Free RPG Day 2015 – exclusively through retailers on 20th June 2015.

This adventure will be also be available for download as part of the 13th Age Monthly and KWAS subscriptions in July.

TWO QUICK-START ADVENTURES ONE BOOK

Night’s Black Agents

Once, you were a spy. From Moscow to Melbourne, London to Lagos, you worked behind the scenes. Black operations. Deniable missions. Surgical strikes. Now, you know there’s a secret behind all the secrets. You know who’s really pulling the strings.

Vampires. The actual, no-kidding bloodsucking undead.

When you found out, they destroyed you. Wiped out your old networks, blackened your name, left you broken and burned.

But you’re still alive. You’ve found allies, others like you. And you’re going to kill the dead.

In THE HARKER INTRUSION, A mysterious tip-off sends you to Morocco. There’s a journalist there. She knows too much, and won’t see the dawn unless you save her. With six pregenerated player characters and a quick-start version of the award-winning NIGHTS BLACK AGENTS rules, this adventure has everything you need to go hunting vampires…

13th Age

You set off with a fair wind behind you and the blessings of the Icons lighting your way. You hoped for an easy voyage.

That was before the unnatural storm shipwrecked you.

That was before a gigantic living dungeon rose out of the ocean and vomited a swarm of monsters.

That was before everything went wrong.

Now you’ve got to – quite literally – salvage the situation. Reunite your crew, repair the ship, plumb the mysteries of this strange island, and escape before the living dungeon returns. You’re right on the precipice of doom here, in AT LAND’S EDGE.

13th Age is a d20 game of battle, treasure, group storytelling and heroic adventure. This introduction to the game includes pre-generated characters and a full adventure for the GM and 3-6 players.

 

Stock #: PEL13AN01
Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Chris Huth, Jeff Porter Pages: 40 Page PDF