Monday, August 26, 2013

!3th Age and Innovation

While I am no longer in St. Louis, and no longer a grad student, I am still interested in gaming; while much of my writing time is taken up by my other blog, The Inner Limits, I do find time to read up on RPGs a few times a week. Most recently, the one I have been looking through is called 13th Age. It's a d20 system variant, which means it has a lot in common with 3rd Edition D&D, but it also has a number of features which remind me of 4th Edition; it seems like an effort to take some of the best parts of both and blend them together. I haven't played the game yet, so I don't know how well it accomplishes that, but it looks good on paper.

The parts of 13th Age I find really interesting, though, aren't really tied to the system. There are three separate areas I like involving character creation that make me want to find a group and start playing - maybe even running a game, once I feel comfortable with the system. First is the idea of One Unique Thing. In 13th Age, your character is special; he isn't necessarily a world-conqueror or the greatest wizard ever, but he or she is unique. Thus, each character has one unique characteristic about him (sorry, I use the male pronoun by habit) that makes the character special. Examples from the book include 'I am the only halfling knight of the Dragon Empire', 'I am a human child of a zombie mother', or 'I see truths in shadows that others cannot'. Each of these helps to define the character - and in some cases, the world around him (why is the first example the only halfling knight?). It isn't something that helps out in combat, but it does give each character something different from every other character.

Second are Icons and relationships with them. In 13th Age, there are 13 Icons - extraordinarily powerful beings with varying goals - whose power puts each of them in an uneasy detente with the others. Some are good, like the Great Gold Wyrm who blocks the gates of Hell and trains paladins, while others are evil - the Orc Lord who just wants to demolish civilization - or somewhat ambiguous, like the Elf Queen, who is queen of not just high elves and wood elves, but dark elves as well. Because these beings are so powerful, and because so many of them are at odds with several others, they do not go against each other directly, but rather tend to employ champions and adventurers to aid them. These are the PCs. In 13th Age, each character gets 3 points to put in relationships - either positive, conflicted, or negative - with icons. The number of points determines the strength of the bond, and at the start of each session, each player rolls a die for each relationship point to see if there is something interesting occurring between them - whether this is a squad of elven rangers in service to the Elf Queen showing up and offering aid, but only in return for a favor later, or the local ranking servant of the Great Gold Wyrm looking on your character with favor (or not). This means each session has the potential to change the world around you depending on your relationships, which I think sounds fun.

Finally, where D&D, and many other games, use skill systems to determine what out-of-combat things a character is good at, 13th Age uses backgrounds. Each character gets 8 background points, and can put no more than 4 in a background; each background is essentially like a skill package, something like 'legionnaire of the 17th legion' or 'corsair of the seven seas', and can do things that would be expected of a person with that background - a legionnaire would be able to follow orders, march, fight in formation, construct a camp, and other soldierly things, while a corsair could use rope, climb, sail, and probably threaten others. If you can make a case to a GM for why your background should help you in a situation, then you can use it to help out. I like this because it means that my fighter, who has a past on a pirate ship, no longer has to spend all his skill points in things like Use Rope and Sail while missing out on things like Endurance or Athletics, because each background can cover a wide variety of things, and your degree of competence is determined by how many background points you assign to a background. I don't know if it would work well in all games that use skill systems, but I like how 13th Age has put it to use.

I haven't had a chance to play an RPG in a while, but 13th Age really makes me want to test out those metaphorical muscles again.It probably helps that the game was designed by people who were heavily involved with both 3rd and 4th Editions of D&D, and that instead of just following a formula they have instead come up with some very creative and interesting ideas. I look forward to the chance to try this game out sometime in the near future - or, if nothing else, steal the ideas outlined above for another game.

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