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[Let's read] 13th Age Playtest, first round

mkill

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#1
The first playtest round of 13th Age ended yesterday, and with it the first rule of playtest (Don't talk about playtest). So let's talk!

Since the game is still in development, and half of the rules have probably been rewritten by now, it makes no sense to go too much into detail. But I think the game has drawn enough interest that gamers want to know where the game might be headed and where it could carve its niche.

The file is titled "An indie-style d20 RPG by Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet" and I think that's a good description. It definitely reads more like a home campaign transcript, but in a good way. There are many cooments in the way of "Rob prefers it like this, but Jon skips this rule", which encourage the DM to take the game and make it his own. I hope the final product will be full of this meta-information, because it provides good insights even to experienced DMs.

Next up... Chapter 1: Icons
 
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mkill

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#2
- Chapter 1: Icons -

The Icons are a unique and central concept to 13th Age, and putting them first in the book underlines this. The concept isn't entirely new to D&D - every game world has powerful NPCs that shape its fate. For example, Planescape has the Lady of Pain, Ravenloft has Strahd, Dark Sun has the Sorcerer Kings, Eberron has the Lord of Blades... The Icons in 13th Age take these as a general concept or templates that the DM can flavor according to taste. For example, the Archmage is the archetype of the powerful Wizard, represented by Elminster, Mordenkainen or Raistlin.

Wisely, 13th Age avoids the Lord British Postulate (if it has stats, we can kill it). So no stats. The file does include a chapter on how to handle encounters with an icon, but it's purely narrative.

Instead, each PC allocates points to icon relationships. This doesn't mean the PC knows the icon personally (although that could be true, if it fits the background). Rather, it represents a relationship the PC has with the icon's larger organization. The PC could be a member, or he could just be able to call in some favors. It could also be that the relationship is antagonistic, and that the points represent a high level of "know thy enemy".

In their current form, icon relationships represent contacts, influence and resources (in the lingo of RPGs that have these things). For someone coming from 4E, it would also be cool if the icon relationships could provide something like inherent bonuses, or utility powers. Say, invoke your "Boon of the Lich King" to take control of a group of skeletons.

Currently, there are 13 icons (one for each age). We'll see what the final list will look like. There is a "Create your own icon" competition going on, maybe they'll take an idea or two from there.
http://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=7814

The publicized ones so far are Archmage, Lich King, High Druid, Diabolist, and a fifth unnamed one in the title bar of the homepage.
 

mkill

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#3
- Chapter 2: Character Creation: Races -

Character creation is fairly standard D&D / D20, with some indie elements thrown in.

Start with choosing a race. Races are split in "standard" (human / elf / dwarf ...) and non-standard (aasimar, tiefling, dragonborn, warforged ...) For unknown reasons, drow are "standard", which should raise some eyebrows. The current text encourages players to come up with unique characters, even if that means coming up with a completely new racial writeup. Which is cool. It also should encourage DMs more to just say yes - life is too short to set arbitrary limits to creative PCs. Quote: "The point of 13th Age is to set up the version of the game you want to play. If a player wants to play one of these races they should have that right, but not necessarily at the expense of the GM’s vision if the GM already knows how they want to handle such characters." In my experience, this so-called "DM's vision" is just enforcement of D&D clichees. D&D clichees is what 13th Age is about, but it should encourage their creative use at any opportunity.

The racial writeups are fairly similar to 4E (+2 to one of two ability scores, get an encounter utility power). Some of the powers are different, though. The Tiefling one is interesting because it's rather generic "DM's call what happens". These kind of generic powers show up again in class abilities, and they mark quite a step from the very formulaic nature of 4E. It fits some DM styles, but probably not others. They are marked as experimental in the test, so it's not clear how they'll look in the final print.

Next up is class choice, but that's better covered when I talk about classes. So I'll skip them and go for ability score generation.
 
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mkill

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Character Generation: Ability Scores

It looks like Rob Heinsoo likes to let his players roll stats, while Jonathan Tweet likes point buy. So 13th Age has both in pretty standard versions. Personally, I'm fiercely in the point buy camp, rolling stats can GDIAF. Ah well, that's a different thread.

To these base scores, you get a +2 bonus from both race and class. Which is kind of funny because the 5E team had the same idea, probably independently.

The stats then determine modifiers in standard D20 fashion.

First-level hit points are determined in a way that's not 4E but end up in a similar ballpark (around 30 at level 1). I'll talk more about hp / damage scaling later.

There are 3 defenses, AC, physical and mental. AC is as expected, physical defense is fortitude, reflex defense is split between the two, and mental defense is will. These three stats are generated by taking a base number by class and adding the middle value of three ability score bonuses. Say, if you have +4, +1 and +0, the stat modifier is the +1. As much as I like the rest of the system, this rule struck me as a sore thumb. If you want to make a character with one really good score and many mediocre ones, this really screws your defenses. I hope the final game will find a better way to handle this.

Next up (tomorrow): more on character creation, and I'll answer questions as far as I can.
 
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Spider Proletariat

Fascism At It's Basest
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#5
When you were talking about races, are there literally dragonborn/warforged/tieflings/aasimar, or are you just using a shorthand for equivalents? Also, any 'new' additions to the race lineup?
 

mkill

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#6
When you were talking about races, are there literally dragonborn/warforged/tieflings/aasimar, or are you just using a shorthand for equivalents? Also, any 'new' additions to the race lineup?
Unless WotC puts Tiefling etc. under OGL, other publishers will have to skirt around the issue with alternate names.

I don't know anything about new races.
 

Mr. Teapot

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#7

Matt Sheridan

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I'm really interested in 13th Age. It sounds like it's running contrary to expectations in multiple directions, while still very much aiming to produce one coherenet vision. I mean, "3e/4e D&D but more narrative" is a really odd idea. I think it could be completely awesome.

I really dig the sound of those little inside-comments-from-the-designers asides. I think a lot of games could benefit from that kind of transparency.

Hey, so what about the basic rules of the game? All pretty much d20 standard? What kinds of "indie-style" elements are involved?
 
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