castleonedgecolortestloresEyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.

If your ongoing 13th Age campaign doesn’t have a place for a gigantic megadungeon like the Stone Thief (listen! Can you hear its plaintive earthquake-like whimpering as it begs you to let it rampage through your game?), then the thing to do is get out your shiny +3 Axe of Book Dismemberment and chop the dungeon into its constituent parts. With a few choice hacks and a little sewing of plot threads, the Stone Thief’s thirteen interconnected levels become thirteen regular dungeons suitable for an evening’s delving.

 

The Maw

The Maw, together with the Gizzard, are actually the two hardest levels to convert – they’re both tied to the Stone Thief’s schtick of eating bits of the surface world, which doesn’t translate neatly to a stand-alone dungeon.

For the Maw, drop the Chasm encounter entirely, so the players have to enter via the Front Door. They make their way down past the Ghouls and Spear-Fishing Bridge as normal (optionally, sub in a standard fight scene for the Goblins). Leave the Stolen Palace as a cryptic side quest, then have the Doorkeeper’s door open onto the Gates of the Stone Thief, so the PCs have to surf down a landslide of rubble (that runs under the Spear-Fishing Bridge) to get to a final encounter of your design. Maybe…

  • it’s the lair of an orc shaman with elemental earth powers (explaining the churning landslide, and the orcs)
  • A natural gate to the plane of elemental earth has opened, and must be sealed before it turns half the world to stone
  • A swarm of monstrous subterranean beetles are digging their way to the surface, and the hive queen must be slain before they undermine the city. The orcs and ghouls are opportunistic scavengers, drawn by the anticipation of carnage.

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet’s easy to convert. Drop the Giant’s Causeway and the Belfry encounters, and you’re left with a killer dungeon in the ruins of an ancient dwarven temple to the gods of the forge. The objective of the dungeon is to recover Grommar’s sword from the body of the fearsome minotaur who killed the dwarf master-smith. The party enter by the Falling Stairs… and well, if they survive the traps and trials of the Gauntlet, they deserve a death-slaying sword. You can reskin the Mad Butcher as Grommar’s vengeful & insane ghost if you want to make the place even more dangerous.

Alternatively:

  • Grommar’s buried library contains some fabulous treasure, or lost secret of the dwarven smiths that must be recovered
  • It’s a race against another party of rival adventurers to get through the Gauntlet and recover the sword
  • The Gauntlet is a prison used by the Dwarf King to punish those who have really offended him
  • It’s a competitive dungeon-arena under Axis where teams of adventurers race to complete the course as swiftly as they can

The Gizzard

The Gizzard best pulled apart for parts. You can use Jawgate and the Slaver Camp as part of some other orc-themed saga. The Halls of Ruins and the Gizzard chamber itself could be presented as a weird dungeon where a crazed wizard, the Architect, tries to build a patchwork city out of the ruins of past Ages – the Stone Thief writ small, effectively.

The Ossuary

The Ossuary’s a self-contained crypt dungeon, and requires next to no changes. You might wish to rewrite the imprisoned Gravekeeper as another undead – maybe the Gravekeeper is an emissary of the Lich King, charged with protecting this ancient tomb complex, and the Flesh Tailor is an arrogant, upstart necromancer who’s taken over and is endangering the balance between the living and the dead.

  • The Flesh Tailor can be a recurring villain in your campaign – start off with the PCs encountering his masked undead spies, then they track the necromancer down to his lair and slay him – and only then does he come back in his augmented undead form.
  • Move the Ossuary to Necropolis, and you’ve got a tale of intrigue and body-snatching among the nobles of the Undying Peerage, where the Flesh Tailor stole the palace of the Gravekeeper.

Dungeon Town

Dungeon Town is best pulled out of the dungeon entirely. Reimagine it as a settlement of castaways and survivors – maybe they’re shipwrecked on a monster-haunted island, or trapped on a flying realm, or on the back of a Koru Behemoth, or stuck in some extradimensional plane. The Wild Caves become the perilous landscape just outside this little fortified community of survivors.

If you’re making Dungeon Town the centre of an adventure, then you may wish to make the Provost into more of a villain – perhaps recast him as the Jailor, who deliberately trapped the other survivors here for some mysterious purpose.

  • You can drop Dungeon Town into some other dungeon of your design. Maybe the people aren’t trapped – they’re drawn to the dungeon by the promise of wealth (the dungeon’s a gold mine) or power (it’s a well-spring of magical energy, or youth, or it boosts spellcasting ability) or devotion (it’s a temple taken over by monsters, or a holy site).
  • Alternatively, rework Dungeon Town as a criminal stronghold – a thieves’ city underneath Glitterhaegen, perhaps, or a pirate port out in the Spray.

Sunken Sea

Drop the “sunken” part, and you’ve got a perilous archipelago of mystery instead of a flooded cave network. Swordapus, the sahuagin and their demonic temple don’t need to be changed at all; neither does the wreck of the White Dragon. The Lonely Tower gets teleported here by accident instead of being eaten by the dungeon. The biggest change is to the Cascade – obviously, it doesn’t lead to an exit from the dungeon or to a control room, so you’ll want to put something else at the bottom of that slippery staircase. Maybe:

  • It’s an arcane version of the Bermuda Triangle, and the magical relic at the bottom of the Cascade is what draws all those ships to their doom.
  • It’s a magical lighthouse, built by a former Archmage, and it needs to be relit to re-establish his spells to tame the Middle Sea (or, if the PCs are allies of the High Druid or some villanous icon, it needs to be quenched to free the wild waters).

The Grove

There are two obvious ways to approach this dungeon – make the Elf Tree the centre of events, or put the Breeding Ground as the core encounter. (Or make it into two separate adventures!) If you make the Elf Tree the main encounter, then clearly the High Elves tampered with Things Men (And Elves Too) Were Not Meant To Know, and the Breeding Ground is a hideous magical accident that can only be stopped by closing the magical portal in the observatory. In this set-up, move the Elf Tree so it’s in the centre of the Grove.

If you want to make the Breeding Ground central, then obviously it’s the rest of some evil druid’s machinations, or demonic perversion of natural magic, or the Crusader trying to turn druid magic against demons – whatever works for your campaign. The monsters from the Breeding Ground drove the Elves out of their tree.

When converting the Grove to a stand-alone dungeon, drop The Castle With Your Name On It encounter, and make the Herbarium less of a mysterious ruin – turn it into a ruined Elf stronghold, or a druidic temple. Hag Pheig can be left unchanged, or cast as the villain of the dungeon. Maybe she’s trying to gain control of the Druid Circle, and the horrors of the Breeding Ground are her sins made manifest.

Deep Keep

Drop the Secret Sanctum encounter, and describe Deep Keep as a captured fortress instead of a weird patchwork castle, and you’ve got the front lines of the Orc Lord’s armies. They’ve taken an Imperial fortress and enslaved the population – now you’ve got to take out their leaders and organise an uprising against the invaders!

Take the Giant’s Causeway from the Gauntlet, and Jawgate and the Slaver’s Camp from the Gizzard, and use them as encounters on the way to the castle. Replace the Vizier with some other evil advisor – who’s the Orc Lord working with in your campaign?

  • If you want to keep the deep, so to speak, then make it a subterranean dwarf fortress
  • Introduce a different divide between the orc factions – maybe Grimtusk’s followers want more loot, while Greyface’s are all about honourable conflict. Alternatively, perhaps Greyface is secretly possessed by the ghost of the former lord of the castle, and that’s why he’s willing to rebel against his warlord.

Maddening Stairs

In the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, the Maddening Stairs sets up lots of plots related to the Cult of the Devourer and the ultimate fate of the dungeon. If you’re using it as a standalone adventure, then you’ll need to give Chryaxas and Ajura the Dreamer and Maeglor the Apostate something else to pontificate about. Perhaps the Alabaster Sentinel is an Icon from a previous age, an avatar of justice that once brought unyielding, merciless law to the lands until it fell into this pit and became trapped. Maeglor seeks to restore order to the Dragon Empire by resurrecting the sentinel – Chryaxas argues the case for fruitful chaos and freedom, while Ajura might want to trick the PCs into stopping Maeglor, or perhaps she believes that the resurrected Sentinel will bring about the end of the Age when it decides that the Archmage is too unpredictable to be tolerated.

  • You can also use the Maddening Stairs as a perilous journey – maybe it’s the stairs into Hell, or up to a flying realm in the Overworld

Pit of Undigested Ages

The Pit really doesn’t lend itself to conversion into a stand-alone dungeon. By its very nature, it’s an eclectic collection of weird places from across history. Don’t even try to come up with a linking story – instead, use each encounter on its own. That gives you a buried dwarven treasury, a lost temple of the serpent folk, the ruins of a magical library and a gnoll death cult. The First Master is probably too closely tied to the Cult of the Devourer to make sense on his own, so take him out and drop him into the Onyx Catacombs instead.

  • The dwarven treasury fell into the Underworld during an Age-ending cataclysm. Finding it requires descending into the lightless tunnels and battling past hordes of eyeless monsters.
  • The temple of the serpent folk is somewhere within the jungles of the Fangs; the Black seeks it, with the intent of stealing the primordial magic of the serpents and adding it to her own arsenal.
  • Quillgate was protected by magical wards; when the quake struck, it vanished from this world. It’s out there, somewhere, in the planes of existence. Step into the Archmage’s Faultless And Unerring Dimensional Projector – it’s sure to work this time…
  • And it’s well known that only the Hellpike can slay certain powerful demons. If one of those infernal lords rises to threaten the Empire, then the Hellpike must be found, and found soon

Marblehall

Marblehall’s best used as the result of a magical experiment gone wrong. Instead of getting embedded in the Stone Thief, it’s…

  • Adrift in the skies as the newest flying realm
  • Turning into a Hellhole
  • Spouting elementals
  • About to become a Living Dungeon in its own right

Whatever happened, the Witch and her weird experiments are too blame. Can the adventures save the Artalin family from their own wayward daughter?

Onyx Catacombs

If you take the cult out of the dungeon, then you should also take the dungeon out of the cult. Instead of being a bunch of dungeon-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, make the Cult of the Devourer into a bunch of <insert-dire-noun>-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, and redecorate their hidden city to match. Maybe they’re demon cultists, or shadow cultists, or wolf cultists, or poison cultists, or tentacled alien god cultists, or discordant-music-that-ends-the-world cultists. Turn their dungeon level into a mysterious lost temple in the depths of the jungle, or in a dimensional fold, or across the wastes of the Moonwreck, and you’re good to go.

Heart of the Stone Thief

Like the Pit, this level’s too tied to the concept of the Living Dungeon to make sense as a stand-alone adventure, so it’s best stripped for parts. I’m sure your campaign can find a loving home for a volcano, a crypt of undead adventurers, or a fabulous treasury of epic-level wonders…

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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.

thawconMy 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.

Battle Scenes

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.

Preparation

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…

LogoJoining an extensive list of European languages including French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, Korean will be the next translation of 13th Age. Our newest licensees, Dayspring Games, sent us the picture below.

“My name is Sungil Kim (on the left) and I work with Narim Park (on the right) at Dayspring Games. We are the oldest and the most active roleplaying games publisher in South Korea. I had visited Pelgrane Press’ booth at GenCon last August and talked with Simon. I was so sold on 13th Age that I wasted no time in asking for the translation license once I was back in Seoul. If you can believe it, 13th Age is probably going to be the first officially released d20-rolling game in Korean language since the Red Box D&D!

We expect to go to print in Fall 2015.”

Koreans

 

Mutant_City_Blues_Cover01Continuing 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]

Initiative: +3

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.)

AC17

PD14    HP 27

MD12

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,

Health 4

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

Health 6

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

Health 8

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

Health 30

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: -3

Damage Modifier: +6

Armor: -3

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

 

 

 

BattleCaptDwarf_ThumbA[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

1st Level

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.

2nd Level

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.

3rd Level

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.

4th Level

All that exercise is staring to pay off as our dual-wielder gains an extra recovery thanks to the bastion feat.

5th Level

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.

6th Level

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.

9th Level

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!

10th Level

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

1st Level

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.

2nd Level

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.

3rd Level

At 3rd level we pick up toughness. The slayer goes toe-to-toe with too many monsters to scrimp on hit points.

4th Level

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.

5th Level

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.

6th Level

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.

7th Level

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.

8th Level

At 8th level the epic smite feat comes into play, giving us even more damage with her signature finishing move.

9th Level

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.

10th Level

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.

Forgery ColourHave you ever noticed that having one really beautiful set of mechanics next to another really beautiful set of mechanics leads to lots and lots of friction and unforeseen attraction between them? It’s like the set of a CW show up in this Pelgrane design space, sometimes.

Here’s how to take the wonderful Relationship rules from 13th Age (pp. 35-37, 179-183) and use them to add still more behind-the-scenes action and maneuvering to your Night’s Black Agents game.

Relationship Points

At the beginning of the game, each player may spend up to 3 build points (total) on Relationships with … not Icons, exactly, but mighty powers with their own agenda and overweening ego. You know, like the CIA. The Relationships need to be with entities capable of operating at a distance most places in the world, and capable of low-profile, high-power maneuvering: intelligence agencies, multinationals, major NGOs, the Vatican, non-vampire conspiracies, etc. (All right, Icons it is.) All Icons are Ambiguous or Villainous, except in Stakes-mode games, where agencies of the good guys (defined however) can be Heroic. Likewise, the game group’s politics likely determines which are which.

You can put all 3 points in one Relationship, split them up, whatever. (In Mirror mode, you can save them to be “revealed” later.) You then characterize each Relationship, as in 13th Age, as Positive, Conflicted, or Negative. So you might have: CIA (Positive) 1, Mossad (Negative) 1, Royal Dutch Shell Oil 1 (Conflicted). This doesn’t outweigh your Network contacts (or any other spends) with individuals in those agencies; this is a “default” based on your dossier, past, and general rep with the Icon. But a Positive agency asset NPC might be open to Reassurance in a way a Negative agency operator wouldn’t.

Relationship build points come out of the General build point pool.

In Burn-mode games, no Icon Relationship can be Positive.

In Mirror-mode games, starting with a Positive Relationship gives that Icon 2 Trust points from your agent. Each time you get a 6 on a Relationship roll for that Icon, it gets 1 more Trust point from you.

Relationship Rolls

Just like in 13th Age, at the beginning of each session (or if the Director suspects this will introduce too much chaos, at the beginning of each operation), roll one die per Relationship point. 6s and 5s are just like it says in 13th Age: positive boons from the Relationship, or favors with strings very much attached.

However, in the darker world of espionage, you also need to look at 1s. Those mean someone will screw you over — maybe send a wet-worker after you, maybe just rat you out to the locals and raise your Heat (by +1 per 1 rolled), maybe anything the Director’s cruel heart can surmise. And yes, the Director can absolutely save up those 1s for a less propitious time. Who, exactly, is gunning for you depends on your Relationship: If it’s Negative, it’s the Icon or one of its cut-outs; if Conflicted, it might just be extra Heat or unwanted interference; if it’s Positive, it’s not the Icon but its enemies who are griefing you — your CIA (Positive) earns you the enmity of the Chinese MSS or al-Qaeda. (And vice-versa for 6s from Negative Relationships, of course.)

If your Relationship is part of (or has been infiltrated by) the Conspiracy — if, in our example above, Shell Oil is vampire-riddled — that should get some story juice (blood) flowing for sure. Clever players may even be able to guess at such vampiric subversion when a few too many of their Shell favors come with a side of Renfield attacks.

Relationship Spends

You can also spend Relationship points as a dedicated Investigative ability pool for finding things out involving that Icon. You can also spend 1 Relationship pool point to get a +2 on a related General test; e.g., spending 1 pool point of FSB for +2 on an Infiltration test to break into an FSB facility, or on a Surveillance test to shed FSB watchers. Relationship pool points refresh like Investigative pool points, at the end of an operation.

You can also spend Relationship pool points (1 for only +1) on Network contact tests if the contact is either part of that Icon or actively opposing the Icon in that test.

Relationship rolls are based on ratings, not pools, so “spending yourself invisible” is impossible.

Relationship Shifts

While at Heat 6+ your Relationship automatically shifts to Conflicted or stays Negative; it shifts back one session after the Heat dies back down.

The Director may also shift your Relationship negatively if she senses you’ve abused it too much; conversely, she may just have the Icon demand a favor right now at the most inconvenient possible time in order to “balance the books.”

If you are the sort of teacher’s pet agents who go around doing favors for globally powerful entities (or if in a Stakes-mode game you do something unimpeachably heroic) you might be able to shift a Relationship from Conflicted to Positive. Only in the sunniest possible game can you shift a Negative Relationship to Conflicted, much less to Positive.

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.

GenCon logo_websiteComing to you live…

Well, obviously not live live – while I may be writing this from a hotel room in Indianapolis, it won’t be up on the Pelgrane site for a week. And for that matter, I’m hardly alive either, after the arguably best but very definitely longest four days in gaming.

Let us start again. That seems to be a wise move.

I ran two or three 13th Age demos each day of GenCon, using pregenerated characters that had basic mechanics but no Icon, backgrounds or OUTs, and a very simple intro scenario that can be summarised as “something bad is happening in Glitterhaegen that is neatly resolved in an hour with two quick fight scenes and a skill roll”. While all the demos (bar one) followed that basic story, bringing in elements from the players’ contributions meant every game felt radically different.

I’ll use the last demo I ran, late on the Sunday afternoon as an example. Even though five people had signed up, only one actually showed (every other demo had between three and six players) – a lovely chap named Edgar, and I hope he doesn’t mind being used in this article. With only one player, Edgar asked for a halfling rogue pregen, so after running through the basic mechanics, we started on what makes 13th Age different from other F20 games and such a joy to run.

I gave all the demo characters a 1-point Positive relationship with the Emperor, mainly so I could use “you’re all working for the Emperor” as a fallback story if nothing else suggested itself. I then showed Edgar the full list of Icons, and asked him to pick one more.

Negative with the Elf Queen, says he, picking an unexpected Icon relationship. I asked him to go into a little more detail on this, and he describes how he was the only thief to successfully steal from the Queen’s court, coming up with his One Unique Thing at the same time.

I told him to leave Backgrounds blank for now – in a one-shot demo, or even in a campaign for that matter, it’s often more fun to fill in backgrounds when they’re needed in play. As there was only one player, I added a GMPC, a half-elf paladin of the Crusader (OUT: On Fire).

I had three different variations of my simple little plot based around three different Icons – a soul-stealing merchant for the Diabolist, a grave-robbing necromancer for the Lich King, and a pirate plotting to take advantage of an impending Orc Lord attack. I could have just said “because you’re servants of the Emperor, you’re called upon to help Glitterhaegen” and introduced any of the three variations or used my GMPC paladin’s Crusader relationship to bring the PCs in to investigate the soul thief, but instead I changed ‘Orc Lord invasion’ to ‘demonic elves out of the Bitterwood’ and brought in Edgar’s antipathy towards the Elf Queen. I always try to tie plots to the player characters; even if the connection is a bit tenuous, it’s worth it to be able to go “because of this thing about you, in particular, you’re involved in this adventure.”

Next, we rolled Icon relationships; Edgar’s Emperor came up with a 6, and I gave him a belt of the city (from the Book of Loot) to help with the investigation.

Actual play time! I described how the city was under threat of invasion by dangerous, isolationist elves who considered humans to be usurpers. While the Imperial Legion manned the walls, there were rumours of elven commando units sneaking into the city, and traitors were said to be in league with the elves. The PCs had traced one such traitor to the grand bazaar, a huge, crowded open-air market in Glitterhaegen.

I planned to set my first fight scene in the market. My original notes called for an attack by a band of illusory orcs, but I could use disguised elves just as easily. I then asked Edgar a few questions about the market.

  • The grand bazaar’s dominated by a structure or monument of some sort. What is it?”
  • “Something’s happening in the market that’s going to make your investigation harder – what is it?”

By asking these questions after I’d set the initial parameters of the scene, I gave Edgar control over specific details of the scene while retaining overall control. No matter what he came up with, I could still use my attacking elves. It gave him a sense of engagement with the setting, which is great. It also forced me to stay awake and keep thinking on my feet – setting up situations where the GM gets surprised is super valuable, especially when you’re running a bunch of convention demos in a row. If there’s no challenge for the GM, it gets boring and the players pick up on that boredom. Finding tools to keep your own energy and enthusiasm up is a good habit for a GM to cultivate.

I deliberately didn’t ask open-ended questions, like “where do you find the traitor?” Some players freeze when given that much freedom of choice – for that matter, I wouldn’t be completely confident about my ability to improvise a scene that would still work within the constraints of a demo if the player came up with something completely unexpected (“I find the traitor in a dragon’s lair under the city!”).

Edgar proposed a giant statue of a former admiral, blowing a horn, and a street preacher, both of which worked perfectly with my intended plot. I decided that the street preacher was the traitor in disguise, trying to convince people to abandon Glitterhaegen and flee on the waiting ships – which his pirate fleet would then capture and despoil. The giant statue was a great image and focal point for the fight. (Previous demos gave answers like “a huge crystal gazebo”, “a temple to Mammon”, or “an elven graveyard” and “a children’s festival” or “a funeral procession”).

Edgar’s halfling went off to listen to the preacher, so I got to ambush him with my fake demon elves who attacked the gathered crowds. Cue a quick fight scene. I used the orc stats I’d prepared earlier for my elves instead, hastily reskinning them. If any of them had critted, I’d have described their expanded-crit-range ability as a blast of magical hellfire or something suitably infernal.

Afterwards, I didn’t bother to make him to roll to see if his rogue noticed that these elves were common wood elves, not the fabled demon elves that threatened to attack Glitterhaegen. Instead, GUMSHOE-style, I just told him that because of his experience in the elven court (his OUT of “I stole from the Elf Queen”), he recognised these elves for what they were, and he quickly deduced that they were deliberately trying to whip up terror and dismay in the city. The flipside of the ‘fail forward’ principle is that if failure is boring, don’t ask for a roll. He quickly deduced that the elves and the street preacher were in league, and scampered up the statue to confront the traitor.

Instead of attacking, he launched into his own speech, rebutting the traitor’s tales of gloom and doom. I asked Edgar to roll, and he decided to create a background on the spot to give him a bonus. He was, he announced, the former mayor of a Halfling town, and so was experienced in public speaking. Defining backgrounds in play often generates surprising juxtapositions like that – if I’d insisted that he fill in all his backgrounds during the brief character creation phase at the start of the demo instead of leaving them blank, he’d probably have gone for something like “burglar” or “forester” to fit in with his One Unique Thing of having stolen from the Elf Queen, not “ex-mayor”.

Between his not-bad Charisma, his belt of the city, his background and a good roll, Edgar’s Halfling convinced the people of Glitterhaegen to rally to the defence of the city instead of fleeing on board the waiting ships. The frustrated preacher revealed himself to be the treacherous pirate, dropping his act and acquiring an outrageous accent – YARR! – in the process. While my original notes called for the player characters to encounter the traitor on board a ship, a swashbuckling fight on the shoulders and head of a giant statue worked just as well.

Fight scene, players win, demo ends. Huzzah!

One could argue – and in certain moods, I’d agree with this – that 13th Age is a game of two halves. There’s the relatively detailed and balanced combat engine, and the considerably looser and fuzzier story-generating mash of backgrounds, Icons and OUTs. Certainly, in a simple 45-minute demo like this one, I was able to use that divide to my advantage by warping the mutable story-side elements around the player’s choices and answers, while leaving the mechanical side unchanged.

Interestingly, one of the take-aways from the 13th Age adventure design panel seminar was that people preferred using adventures for inspiration and pre-prepared encounters to use in their own games instead of running the adventures as written in the book. While we’re unlikely to go so far as to publish a book that’s half stats, half fuzzy ideas on how to put those stats into context, that flexibility is one strength of 13th Age that we’ll build on as we look towards GenCon 2015.

 

 

Gen Con is almost here, and we have some great seminars lined up. Pelgrane Press has also submitted a GUMSHOE panel as well as an overall Pelgrane Press panel, and we hope to see those go live soon.

13th Age Adventure Design
Date & Time: Thursday at 1:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C
The freeform story rules in 13th Age require a different approach to adventure design. Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Philippe-Antoine Ménard and ASH LAW will talk about how to design with icons, backgrounds, uniques and more, and answer your questions.

13th Age GM Roundtable
Date & Time: Friday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Grand Central D
Rob Heinsoo, Mike Shea, Ruth Tillman and Wade Rockett share their advice on how to run 13th Age, from handling icon rolls to collaborative world building and beyond. Got questions? Bring ‘em!

13th Age: Year One
Date & Time: Saturday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Victoria Stn A/B
13th Age debuted one year ago at Gen Con! Join Rob Heinsoo, Simon Rogers and Wade Rockett as they talk about where the game is now, share what’s coming next and answer your burning questions.

13th Age Monster Workshop
Date & Time: Sunday at 2:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Pennsylvania Stn C
Join Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and ASH LAW as they build a new monster that’ll take advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver all sorts of nasty surprises at the table.

Pelgrane Press has received 15 nominations in 11 categories for 9 products in this year’s ENnie awards, in a field festooned with stellar games and publishers. And this year, 13th Age is up for Best Game, Best Rules, and Product of the Year.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Midgard Bestiary: 13th Age Compatible Edition from Kobold Press (designed by ASH LAW and edited by me) is nominated forBest Monster/Adversary.

There are so many great RPGs in the running this year that it’s hard to go wrong. But if you honor us with your vote, we’d be incredibly grateful.

(And hey, check out the free ENnies Sampler 2014 that Pelgrane posted on DriveThruRPG, with excerpts from each nominated book and music from the two nominated game soundtrack albums.)

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