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Sell Me/Unsell on 13th Age for a D&D fan


Cyberprep Warrior
Validated User
Hi! :) My birthday was a few days ago, and I got some money to spend for the holiday sales, and I’ve been looking at my local game shop for some rpg-related stuff.

One book that had caught my eye was something called 13th Age, and it sounds like it was similar to D&D. As someone who loved D&D (especially 5e and homebrewed B/X), I was wondering if 13th Age would be a nice fit for a new game.

It sounds like it has some Backgrounds that may work like Barbarians of Lemuria (and/or perhaps like Heroquest), which sounds good and flexible.

I’m just curious how it plays. It looks like it has traditional combat (which I like! :) ), but I was wondering how narrative the rest of it is.

I’m not the biggest fan of story-heavy-mechanics games, so I don’t know how much weight the story mechanics has.

So, I would like to hear about pros/cons of the game, and if it could be a good fit for someone likes D&D adventure stuff.

For references of games I really like playing, I like D&D5e, B/X, The Black Hack, and Blue Rose AGE. 🙂👍


Follower of the Way
Validated User
There really aren't particularly heavy "narrative mechanics" in 13A. The only ones I can think of are:
-- Icon rolls, which are a player rolling d6 for each point of relationship (positive, conflicted, or neutral) with one of the big mover-and-shaker types of a given game. Rolling 6 means the player is supposed to get an advantage from their relationship to that Icon and their goals; rolling a 5 means an advantage may be had from that relationship, but it comes with strings or complications. This is entirely optional and many DMs have icon rolls at the *end* (rather than beginning) of a session, so they can plan out how that stuff will happen.

-- One Unique Thing. This varies a lot in exactly how "narrative" it is. You can keep it purely nonmechanical, or make it have implications or...whatever. It's pretty open, and the two designers (Heinsoo and Tweet) are very clear that they use the same mechanic differently, providing usage guidelines rather than strict rules.

-- Backgrounds. They're basically "define it yourself" skill packages. They're mostly mechanical, but need a very little bit of care to avoid abuse.

As far as selling you: 13th age has brilliant design, and the books are written in a wonderful semi-conversational structure where each designer or both provide personal input on how *they* use stuff. The system is balanced but super open to flexibility (there's a comparatively huge fan-content community for such a "small" game). It has really genuinely clever ideas, like the escalation die (the most commonly stolen mechanic for inserting into other systems) and the 13 True Ways Monk class with its "opening/flow/finishing" moves that are just great.

Really the only complaints I have are that I don't personally like the "range band" system (it's too loosey-goosey for my taste, but if you like combat in early D&D it may please you), and I don't like the handful of "traditional" D&Disms that have marred some otherwise excellent class design (like the Paladin being kind of boring in play because all beefy 13A classes are really simple* and most if not all caster classes are pretry damn complex).

It frankly sounds like 13A is super for you, so if you can, try to get a look at the product; if you like the small bit you see I suspect you'll like most of the game.


You are Number 6
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I can recommend it highly as the game that got me to run a D&D like game again after I gave up on AD&D in 1986. I am an Escalation supporter and my name is on page 4 of the book.😁
I've been running a campaign on Roll20 since 2014 and now we're at 9th level and having fun.


Registered User
Validated User
It's simple, each class is a blast to play. From the crit fishing Barbarian to the Wizard who can unbind reality I've seen people have fun with every class they've played and they all get a lot of cool stuff in their belts so from level 1-10 the party remains relatively even power level-wise. The monster side of things are very easy to use for new DMs and a thrill for older DMs as well. I've had sessions where I had no idea what I was going to do as a DM and just steered it completely by ear and everyone has had so much fun. If there was a single system that has made me grow and improve as a DM, 13th Age would be it.

I know someone who has been into RPGs about two years now and has come up with a completely new system using 13th Age as a framework.

The only downside I feel are the icons. They aren't explained the best in either 13 True Ways or the Core Rulebook, especially for a new DM and just not using them isn't a very good option because so many classes like the bard, sorcererer, commander, and chaos mage are all tied up so heavily in them. You have to do a LOT of digging online for some good resources on how to use the icons.
Also the books sass you. It's great.

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
For what its worth, though I've yet to play it, what I've read has interested me enough for down-the-line that I picked up a number of the subsidiary books too. The only things I'm leery about is the range vagueness (for much of the same reason as Ezekiel, though I'm willing to give it a try) and the Backgrounds thing (because I think its liable to turn into a constant discussion because of its open-endedness).

Jive Professor

Trying to fly
Validated User
Personally, I think 13th Age is both one of the best D&D-style experiences available, and a huge toolbox of ideas you can steal for other D&D-style games. It's one of my favorite games to GM and to play.


Registered User
Validated User
I'm currently running two 13th Age games. A short list of takeaways:

- I and my group love Backgrounds. I almost always err on the side of forgiveness -- yes, that "Handmaiden to the Queen of Birds" Background is usable for diplomacy and stealth and eavesdropping and keeping a poker face and knowing stuff about the Queen of Birds and probably some other stuff I forgot. Especially if it's a +2 and not a +5.
- One player just loves the cleric, which seems pretty by-the-numbers but empowers the party to just liquefy faces.
- The supplements are great reading, especially the megaadventure Eyes of the Stone Thief and the bestiaries. They're idea mines.
- Fistfuls of dice will be rolled. An 8th-level ranger is rolling 8dweapon for her weapon, and 8d6 for her bear if it hits.
- Mooks are great. The escalation die is great.
- Relationship dice are the hardest thing to adjudicate in the game, though they're also not super-critical. The best thing about them, though, is that your players are voting for the content they really want to see during character creation. Three players took dice to oppose the Lich King? Your players want to fight some undead this time around.
- There are some really fascinating class design philosophies; the druid and monk are my particular favorites (though they're not in the core).
- The combat works just fine. Not quite as transparent and reliable as 4e combat, but that's a high bar to clear.
- Some of the conditions are going to mean different things than they mean in other D&Ds. It takes a little getting used to if you remember "dazed" as meaning something else, for instance.
- The build-your-own monster rules are pretty workable, which is good, because some monster types are underrepresented. The core book has two human enemies, for instance: a 1st-level mook and a 4th-level archer with a demonic bow grafted to his hand. If you were looking for a dashing bandit chieftain or an evil plague-priest, you'll have to build them yourself (or do some reskinning to another stat block).
- The 10-level band isn't great for campaigns that you want to linger around the heroic tier for a good long while, but it is great for running a 1st-level-to-epic-conclusion campaign in a reasonable amount of time.
- Backgrounds + One Unique Things = player character concepts that are so much fun. It's a delight whenever the elven rogue whose OUT is "I cannot lose at games of chance" tries to find a way to indulge her love of gambling without being arrested or beat up because she can't so much as throw a hand to divert suspicion away from her, and it's an equal delight when the clockwork warrior discovers a clockwork island where his creator has been trying to come up with something as good as his masterwork, the PC.

It's hard to say if it would absolutely be for you, but you're sure to find something within it, be it a mechanic or a monster description, that you want to steal and use elsewhere even if you don't get deeply into the game itself.


Validated User
Addendum to other folks, all of whom I agree with: I have nothing but move for 13th Age. It has been great for my kids as a first RPG (both under 10 at the time), and it was great for me as an RPG I could throw together a game for quickly and easily. The way monsters work lets the d20 take care of a lot of the complicated stuff for me as DM.

I found that even at 2nd level, players felt pretty powerful. If you and your D&D-experiences players assume every level in 13th Age is 2-3 levels in D&D, you’ll be roughly on target.

Only caution, not likely applicable in your case, is that while it’s great for new players, it assumes a basic D&D knowledge for DMs, making it less than ideal as a game for first-time DMs. (I think this was a safe call on their part.)

Not a caution but a note: some classes have constant tweaks and upgrades, and others have most of the customization handled at character creation, with little real change beyond bigger numbers at most level ups. Again, this is by design. Want to play a simple melee person who only worries about major class features every few levels? Barbarian, Paladin, most Rangers. Want a more complex melee character with more fidgety bits? Fighter, Rogue, certain types of Ranger, melee Cleric.

Spellcasters range from moderate to heavy complexity — there’s nothing as simple as a 5E “Just let me zap stuff with Eldritch Blast” Warlock, which I miss when I go back to 13th Age after D&D5E, but a Sorcerer is simple enough that folks who don’t want huge complexity still have a spellcaster to play.

I personally love how Backgrounds allow you to assume cantrip-style non-combat magic. If my ally and I both investigate the life-drained corpse, but he uses “Shadow Port Private Investigator,” while I use “Occult Spirit Medium,” my ally is looking for footprints and marks on the body, but I’m reading auras and consulting with minor magical spirits in the area to get a sense of what happened. We can both succeed with our own flavors.

Anyway, hugely recommended for a lighthearted group of friends. It assumes a comfortable level of camaraderie and a non-adversarial relationship, and if you have that, the game makes it easy to have a lot of fun.


Cyberprep Warrior
Validated User
Cool! Thank you, y’all. :)

A lot that was mentioned so far in this thread sounds pretty good to me so far, and I’m also checking out the SRD link that Talisman Talisman has helpfully provided as well. ^_^

So, the one thing that I feel would be a major make-or-break sticking point is... the Icons stuff.

ezekiel ezekiel mentioned that Icons was optional? Does that mean not using it at all, or is it more about the ruling effects of the relationship dice connected to the Icons being optional?

I was looking at the SRD’s brief, basic descriptions of the Icons, and so far, I’m not really inspired by most of those Icons. Does the book go more into detail about these Icons? Maybe hearing more backstory and details could interest me.

Can I make my own Icon? If so, are there resources that provide some guidelines on how to create an Icon?

I love Clerics and Cleric/Fighter combos. Are there any setting gods/goddesses for Cleric players? How do Domains work for Clerics (if any)?

Thanks! 😊
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