This past weekend, as sort of a last minute thing, I ended up running 13th Age for my normal Pathfinder group. The GM for the Carrion Crown Adventure Path is going to be moving away and so is finishing up and the GM for ‘Heroes of Andoran (Phase 2)’ isn’t going to be ready to run until January. So the call went out available one shot adventures and in the end it was decided that I’d give running Blood & Lightning from the core book a try.
Since it was just a one shot, and I didn’t have a ton of time for prep, I grabbed the Level 2 Pregens off the Pelgrane Press website. The adventure sort of assumed Level 1 PCs who will level up to 2 mid-adventure but I figured I could make some slight adjustments to the difficulty if necessary. My three players ended up taking the Half-Elven Fighter, The Gnome Bard, and the Halfling Rogue. The fighter decided he was a time travelling agent for the Gold Wyrm. The bard was a trickster who had ended up hooking up with the Orc Lord’s daughter (oops!), and the rogue was a hunter collecting rogue demons who had fallen out of the Diabolists control wearing a demon suit (suit made from a demon) that I quickly decided came with a level of perception filter (a la Doctor Who).
Setup and Issues
One thing that I need to realize about myself is that I’m a planner. I like having the extra time to wrap myself around contingencies and motivations and when faced with three freshly minted characters I found myself struggling a bit. I quickly drew up a chart to see where the Icons cross-overs were. The Fighter and the Bard both had positive relations with the High Druid so I opted to go with the Druid option for the adventure. The fighter and the rogue had cross purpose relationships with the Crusader. In retrospect, I really should have played up the conflict of interest there but in the interest of this being an introduction to the system, I didn’t.
Even worse, the two Icon relationship rolls that came up a 5 and a 6 were both for the Crusader. A 6 on the Rogue’s positive relationship and a 5 on the Fighter’s negative relationship. I used the 6 to give the rogue a magic weapon on the condition that it be used to pick off some goblin traitors that had defected to the Orc Lord. the 5 I used to put the idea into his head that their was a traitor in the tower, but the specifics of who and why were outright wrong.
I think if I were running this as a campaign, I would definitely want to adopt the practice of having players roll their Icon relationships at the end of the adventure so I could put some time into planning the next session. I also ended up sticking a little too closely to the plot of the adventure. It would have fit much closer to the player’s backgrounds if I’d gone whole hog into a rogue demon plotline rather than sticking with the default ‘The Three’ villainous situation. Live and learn.
Actual play was nice and smooth. The players knew their way around d20 so the only thing I really had to explain was the broadness of backgrounds as opposed to a default skill list. If anything, I think they ended up a little on the under-powered side when it came to skill checks because of it. I primarily called for perception and stealth related skills anyway. The Fighter did have a fun little side adventure where he used his time travel device (a small wooden box) to travel back in time to see what happened. I figured I’d let him use it as an alternative perception check but he failed. I let him fail forward right into being captured by the goblins prior to the attack. Luckily for him I rolled low on the trap roll that he’d set off.
13th Age is fairly fiddly in terms of what a PC can do and I did notice a couple instances where they really should have done better thanks to an ability that was on their sheet but overlooked. The fighter’s crit increasing ability being a prime example which would have greatly sped up the battle with the wounded dragon (wounded demon in my ret-conned version of the adventure).
The other thing I noticed was that the bard had a few tricks that only went off on a high dice roll. As the poor gnome kept rolling low it caused some things to drag more than they should have. Fortunately the rogue was doing a lot of damage thanks to sneak attacks and the blade of vengeance he’d obtained from the Crusader.
Because this was the first time for the players (I’d played it once as a PC at DC Gameday), I ran the game ‘open handed’ with the stats for all of the monsters available to be seen. I think that 13th Age monsters come with their own Artificial Intelligence built into the dice rolls and wanted to be able to showcase that so that the players knew WHY they were suddenly dazed by an attack.
Items of Note
I had arrived, fully intending to use a tactical map for the combats. We ended up using minis but not the map. I liked that approach for keeping track of relative positioning and engagement but not needing to track exact movement. The lack of specific movement really pushed me to think about things in terms of scenes rather than how they were getting from place to place. I think given a chance to run 13th Age again, I would push this divide even further into something similar to Margaret Weis’ Marvel Heroic RPG to handle things like in-between scenes for travelling or interactions.
All in all I really enjoyed the game and being able to run it as fast as I did. I think some of the trickier aspects (like flexible attacks) would improve with familiarity with the characters as well as an attachment that you’re not going to get with pregenerated characters. I really liked the AI built into the monsters with dice rolls and the escalation die. I’m one of those GMs who occassionally feel guilty about screwing over the PCS and letting it happen by the luck of the die roll helps me out quite a bit.
I also have some ideas now for running 13th Age as a Superhero game… but that will have to wait for another post.