This is a playtest for myself of the 13th age system which has a lot in common with any d20 system and 4th Edition D&D in particular. Not surprising given who the designers are. I find doing play tests this way helps to cement things in my own mind.
I have a few house rules in mind already to make the combat simpler for my needs but this is being played straight out of the box. Any changes from RAW is purely error on my part.
Note that all dice rolls are randomzied using random.org and are used as rolled, no fudging involved.
Scene 1 – Where’s my Two Dollars?!
We open our scene with Hu’nchi walking back to the room he’s renting. He’s just lost the biggest in a serious of bad losses in the Arena. Not just as a warrior but as a promoter. He was betting the house, almost literally, on this last series of fights he’d arranged and is now wondering how he’s going to pay various debtors. This is the backdrop for the ‘why’ this character is going to start a life of adventuring. Also known as killing things and taking their valuables.
GM: “After the debacle today at the arena you’re heading back to your place on the Street of Tinkers where you have a small stock of golds hidden away as a rainy day fund. You were able to put paid most of your losses at the arena with only a couple of outstanding debts. One is minor and you’re on good terms with the vendor but the other is a moneylender who carries various nicknames like Legbreaker and No Mercy. Him you owe several hundred in gold too, golds you borrowed for your last string of bouts. And it was him you ducked out on at the arena.”
Tom (Hu’nchi): “I’m going to act natural, my normal self but I want to meet Legbreaker on my own terms not his so I’m going to keep an eye out on the way.”
GM: “The streets are still fairly crowded as the sun goes down, the artificer lamps keeping a glow on everything. It’s market day after all when the outer fief’s and villages come to town to trade and buy. Can you give me an perception roll using either Int or Wis?”
Note: This is an d20 roll that the player will make using their Intelligence or their Wisdom modifier at their choice. This isn’t something spelled out per se in the 13th Age rules but as a GM I feel that a character could either intellectually note something or just have a ‘feel’ about something.
Tom: “Would either my Combat Trainer or Arena Organizer/Participant backgrounds come into play? I rolled a 19 and add 2 for my Wis modifier and 1 for my level for a 22. I can add another +1 or +2 depending on which one of those backgrounds might apply.”
Note: The player has a couple of Backgrounds that they believe might give them a benefit in perception, situational awareness or just spotting things. As it turns out the GM agrees. (If there’s any doubt then say yes)
GM: “Either will work so add the highest at +2 which gives you a 24. Not that you needed it. It’s a normal difficulty so a 15+ is good. As you enter your street, you get vibe from the crowds, the same vibe you feel before a match is about to start in the arena.”
Tom: “I stop at a vendor and check out the wares so I can scope the situation out and see what has everyone on edge. I’m looking up and down the street especially closer to the place I call home for now.”
GM: “A couple of thugs wearing the yellow/purple sashes of the Legbreaker’s men are leaning up against the wall of your house in the shadow of the front steps. The crowds are swinging wide of them leaving which causes gaps that enable you to catch glimpses of them.”
Tom: “Can I get a read on their body language? Do they look like they’re looking for a fight or a conversation?”
Note: The GM decides this is a gimmie, based in part because of the background of the character and primarily because the GM doesn’t personally believe every tidbit of information should be a random event. Another character with different backgrounds would probably be a roll of some kind.
The initial ‘sense something wrong roll’ is there because the GM’s feels it adds a good branching to the story, in one branch the character notices something and reacts accordingly. In the other he doesn’t notice something and has a completely different experience with the upcoming scene.
GM: “They look pretty relaxed, they’re talking about something you can tell and they don’t have weapons out.”
Tom: “I still don’t like it, Legbreaker isn’t known for his kindness to children and small animals. I’m going to duck across the street and into the alleyway. If it’s clear I’m going to go up the drain pipe on the back wall to the second floor where my room is and slip in and grab my stuff and get out.”
Note: The details of the player’s room weren’t known until now when they created them. This type of give and take is what we strive for as GM’s. Get the players to invest in the world. 13th Age helps with this through the backgrounds which the players come up and the GM then incorporates into their world. The fact that this town has organized MMA fights is based solely on the character’s backgrounds.
GM: The GM makes a roll to note if the thugs notice Hu’nchi cross the street but gives them a penalty for inattentiveness of -5. Being Mook’s they have no real background bonuses other than what makes sense to the GM based on the situation. This means that they need a natural 20 to spot anything and they fail with a 8. Note that the current iteration has no real recommendations for bonuses of penalties for skill checks, just the base DC’s for normal, hard, epicihard checks for each tier. There are indicators, perhaps, that a +/- 4 or +/- 5 might be the edge of bonuses or penalties one might add given the various Feats and Magic Items that grant them.
“You apparently make it across the street without anyone noticing and navigate down the cluttered and dark alleyway, there’s only reflected light back here and what comes through a few windows or badly fitting doors from lighted buildings. Reaching the back of your building you start up the outside using the drain pipe or rather it’s supports for help. Take a +3 for that and make a strength check.”
Tom: “Being an active arena fighter would it be safe to say I’ve had to climb some obstacles or heck just the wall when things go bad and the dragonlings are winning?”
GM: “Sure, add the +1 for that.”
Tom: “Okay a 13 on the die and a total of +… 8? 21. I scale the pipe trying to be as quiet as possible, hopefully the crowds out front will cover me and I only have to get to the second floor. I arm walk using the edge of the roof over to my window and nudge it open with my foot before reaching down and climbing through.”
Note: Hu’nchi has a 19 strength (+4), is level 1 (+1), has a moderate resource in the form of the drain (+3). While one might consider that doing all the above with one roll is being a little too generous on the part of the GM, remember the GM is supposed to make it possible for the players to feel heroic and awesome. Making four rolls that result in a near 100% likelihood that random chance will cause a failure isn’t typically fun for the players and can slow down the action.
Besides the GM has a surprise for the player.
GM: “As you drop lightly to the floor inside your room, a slow clapping starts from across the room where your single chair and table are. A light blooms and you see a familiar figure seated in your chair. You also don’t fail to notice the three thugs clustered on the far wall. Behind them on the floor is a cloth covered lump. It’s Faelin the Legbreaker’s nephew. Also known as Fancy Fae although not to his or his uncle’s face. His rich clothing is at odds with your rather run down room.”
Tom: “I nod at him but don’t say anything. Let him talk first.”
GM: “A few moments pass and then he says ‘So Chi, you don’t mind if I call you Chi do you? Great. After the bout this afternoon somehow Uncle’s bagman missed you at the Arena and he was a bit put out with him for not making the pick up. When he’s able to walk again, I’m sure he’ll do a better job in the future at his job. Uncle asked me to come by and talk about your debt.’ He sniffs loudly looking around, ‘Although I must say if I’d of known just how badly you lived I might have objected more.'”
Tom: I’m going to try and talk my way out of this since I don’t have his money and four on one odds aren’t great. “Hey Faelin, fancy meeting you here… Sorry must have missed your man at the arena, it was pretty packed. Wasn’t intentional I can assure you. I was just on my way to collect some money owed to me and was going to drop by Legbreaker’s place later this evening.”
GM/Faelin: “And you came climbing up the side of your own building like a spider monkey because? It wouldn’t have anything to do with my boys out front? The ones that are now in the alleyway….”
Tom: “Can I hear anything or tell if he’s lying?”
GM: “Give me an intelligence roll for hearing and/or a wisdom roll to detect if he’s lying.”
Tom: “I think my arena participant background will cover the lying part, I’m using to dealing with lying scum. My combat training should help with hearing someone sneaking up behind me, even if it’s two stories down.”
GM: The GM agrees and Tom rolls. For insight into Faelin’s lying he rolled a 9. Add +2 for his background, +2 for his Wisdom and +1 for his level for a total of 14. Failed. If Faelin had been actively lying it would have been an opposed roll. But he’s telling the truth. For his hearing check he does better, a roll of 15, +1 for the background, +2 for Int and +1 for level for a 20 total.
“You can’t really tell that he’s lying, if he is but through the window behind you comes the sound of movement, people not trying to be subtle or sneaky. You also notice the cloth covered, it looks like your bedsheet, lump behind the three men moved.”
Tom: “Greeaaaat. How big is that lump?”
GM: “Maybe human sized give or take.”
GM/Faelin: “I see you’ve noticed my package. Jek could you open our present for our friend here?”
One of the thugs bends down and hauls the bundle up, the bedsheet falls away and the slight figure of the landlord’s daughter is revealed. She has a lump on the side of her head with a slight trickle of blood but is breathing if unconscious.
“Just in case you were entertaining bad thoughts about not…”
Tom: “I attack while he’s monologing. I don’t see any way this is going to end well for anyone so why give him the pleasure?”
GM: “All right then! Let’s make an an opposed check your dexterity versus an average intelligence roll for them. If you win, I’ll give you a +5 bonus on your initiative.”
Note: As of this writing there is no surprise or surprise round in the system. The above seems like a decent compromise to me, for this specific scenario two sides, both kinda antsy but one going into action in the middle of someone else talking who’s used to people hearing him out. Rather than make 4 different rolls which helps to insure that the player won’t win, I chose the single roll average but will give them a bonus for their number.
13th Age works well without any maps and requires no grids at all but miniatures or just some way to differentiate rough positions can help to keep things straight in people’s minds. In this scene, anyone in the room is considered to be Nearby each other and anyone outside the room is considered Far. In general I believe you could use a dry erase board with one big circle and a few smaller circles inside it to designate a few Nearby zones and the overall Far zone and call it good. Then move the mini’s which could be anything, actual minis or coins or dice or chips next to each other to designate Engaged as necessary.
Tom: “Okay I rolled a 12, add +3 for my dex, +1 for my level and my combat training should work here for another +1. That gives me a 17.”
GM: “Okay I’m going to give them a total of +3. That’s +1 for their average Int mod and I’m going to add +1 for each two of them for a total of the +3. A 7 comes up on the die so a total of 10. You win the reaction contest and get the +5 on your init roll.”
Tom: “Sweet!, Damn another roll of a 12 with a +3 for dex , +1 for level and the +5 bonus for a 21 init roll.
GM: “The bad guys get a 16 total for the mob of thugs and Faelin gets a 14. You get to go first, then the thugs will go and then Faelin. I’m gong to give them a -2 because you’ve kind of shocked them with your speed of action on their rolls for the first round.”
Round 1 -
Init: Hu’nchi, Thugs, Faelin – Note: Order is fairly static barring someone delaying their turn to go later for the remainder of any battle or other things that might change the order.
Tom: “I’m assuming we’re all Near here in the room and the guys below are Far.”
Note: 13th Age has four distances, officially three, there’s Far, Nearby and Engaged. I add the fourth one, Not there. It’s a move action to change from one distance to another. So moving from Far to Engaged is two move actions or your whole turn. This can change based on situation and GM discretion. There is no ‘grid’ in 13th Age. You can use a move action to engage anyone you’re Nearby, preferably with some nice narrative.
This is where something like Hero, Karma, Plot, Benny, Fate chips would come in handy, to allow the players to spend those to get an actual combat bonus provided they give a good narrative for their maneuver.
Tom: “I’m going to draw my sword and dart across the room and plunge my sword into the thug holding Emillia and try to get him to drop her.”
Mechanically: Tom declares he’s going to use a Flexible attack. This means he rolls his attack roll first and then picks which attack from his repertoire he’s going to use. He rolls a 18 on the die. This allows him to use either of his flex attacks. Since Precision Attack triggers on a 16+ roll and it makes narrative sense he choose that. He also a feat that doubles the damage boost on it which isn’t a bad thing. He rolls damage, 1d8 (he’s using a long sword at the moment for his walk about town) for a 6 roll and adds his Strength mod for a +4. Precision Attack adds an additional +3 for his Dex modifier and he took a feat that doubles that so another +3. That’s 16 damage.
Mooks are similiar to Minions in 4E and various other low end mobs in many other systems. In 13th Age mooks are tyipcally a group of 5 creatures that have the stats of their base creature. In this case a Human Thug. They share a pool of hit points, each being worth 1/5 of the base. In this case the base Thug has 27 hit points and we’re going to round that up to 30 to get a number divisible by 5 so each mook is worth 6 points.
GM: “Very well done, that’s going to take out 2 and wound the third! Tell us what happened.”
Mechanically: Tom’s 16 damage drops the pool from 30 to 14. For each 6 points he kills one mook and the leftover damage is applied to a remaining mook if any.
In this case, he’s used his move action to Engage all three mooks since the scene has already been set such that they’ve been described as standing together. Tom’s killed two of them and wounded the third. Pretty sweet results for him and he narrates his victory.
Tom: “I dart across the room to stop in front the three of them and before any of them can react, I’ve punched my sword through the one holding the girl in the throat and he staggers backwards trying to stop the flow of blood. I continue the motion sideways and slam my sword through the second one, puncturing his lungs and then slam a foot into the third driving him sideways with the sound of ribs cracking.”
Note: The player has free rein (at least in anything I run) to describe the results of their actions. Personally I don’t describe the player’s actions for them, it disengages them and frankly it’s a lot of work trying to come up with clever narrative for every single action of both the players and the NPC’s.
GM/Thug: “Faelin starts yelling for help, shocked by the outbreak of sudden violence. The remaining thug in the room staggers, face twisted in pain and then draws a heavy studded club from his sash and moves against you, trying to bring it down on your head but his aim is thrown off as his ribs grate in his chest and the heavy weapon smashes splinters from wall sending a loud thud through the building. Through the window you hear the sounds of someone struggling to climb up the same pipe you did followed by a yelp and then a heavy thud and pained cry while rapid footsteps clank down the alley, possibly heading toward an entrance or just to get help.”
Mechanics: The Mook rolled a 4. +5 for his base bonus for a 9 which doesn’t meet or beat Tom’s current AC. The thug outside rolled a 3 for his attempt to climb up the wall. Too much beer and not enough working out obviously.
Note: Faelin hasn’t acted yet, just screaming like girl isn’t an action. His yells were designed to engage the remaining two mooks in the alley into the fray.
GM/Faelin: “He stumbles backwards, the chair falling over and almost knocking him down. He draws his sword, a thin rapier like blade with a jewel encrusted hilt. He continues backwards into that corner, yelling for help the whole time.”
Mechanically: Faelin is going to Ready or save his standard action and use it to attack Hu’nchi if he advances.
Note: Delay, Ready, Refocus, Reserve actions aren’t officially a part of 13th Age but the designers do mention, use them if you wish and have a need for them. In this case it makes perfect sense to use something like the 4E Ready action but without modifying Initiative order in any way. If by the start of his next turn he hasn’t done anything he’s lost his action and must act as normal although he can choose to Ready that action instead.
Round 1 results: 2 thugs are dead or dying. A third is wounded. A fourth and fifth thugs are doing something out of sight of they player. Faelin is waiting for the player to do something.
Note: The Escalation die, a d6, is put on the table showing a 1. The players get to add this value to their attack rolls. It rotates to the next highest number at the start of each round until it hits 6. The GM has the option to reset it if the action stagnates for some reason, personally if everyone calls a time out and tries to negotiate a surrender or whatever I’d reset it to 0, and of course it’s reset between battles.
Tom: “I’m going to circle around to the side of the thug and then attack him. I want to be able to keep an eye on Faelin.”
Mechanically: He rolls a 4, with a +5 for a 9. A miss. He’s going to invoke his Comeback Strike which lets him make a free attack once per battle when he misses with his first attack. Its at a -2 penalty and he rolls an 8, +5 – 2 is an 11. With the +1 from the Escalation Die a 12. Not nearly enough to hit the Thug’s 17 AC.
But heroes deals their level in damage even on a miss so the Mook pool takes another 2 damage, 1 from each attack, dropping it to 13.
GM/Thug: “The thug is recovering a bit and he bats your first strike and then your second away, sparks flying from the metal studs in his club but the broken ribs in his chest grate as he exerts himself, grinding into this chest. Behind him Faelin shouts 100 gold if you cut the son of a bitch down! His eyes light up and he swings but you parry his club away easily. Through the door to the hall comes the thudding footsteps of at least one person racing up the stairs and then the door bursts open and one of the thugs from outside is standing there, a wicked long dagger in hand. He’ll be in the room next turn.”
Mechanically: Another roll of 4, the sun’s giving us some crappy numbers right now. (random.org uses sunspot activity to create random numbers)
GM/Faelin: “A gold hilted dagger flies past your head easily three or four feet wide and hits the wall sideways and drops down the floor. Faelin grits his teeth and draws another one.”
Mechanically: A roll of a 2 on his throw…
Round 2 Results: Nothing much happened although the remaining two thugs have managed to move to where they can enter into the room next time.
Note: Escalation die moves to 2.
Tom: “Damn it’s going to get crowded in here, this guy has to go down fast.”
Mechanically: He rolls a 10, +5 (str+level bonus) for a 15, +2 for the ED for a 17. Just enough to squeak a hit in on the guy. A damage roll of 8 + 5 yields 13 damage. That’s as much as is left in the mook pool killing them all…
What this really means is that he didn’t magically kill all three including the ones outside. But we’ll let him describe it.
Tom: “I whip my blade up with both hands, eviscerating the bastard in front of me and his chest opens up like a paper bag dumping his internal organs out onto the floor and blood sprays out covering my front. I kick the body back where it slams into the guy standing in the doorway. With his friends blood dripping off my face and my blade I flick it tot he side leaving a line of red on the floor as I give him my best Arena victory scream and vow his death will be even worse. He and the other guy in the hallway turn and run, dropping their weapons and I slowly turn toward Faelin.”
Note: This is an excellent way to narrate the character’s ‘killing’ the remaining mooks. You don’t have to kill a creature to get victory over it. The player now feels like a flippin hero of legend with his actions.
GM/Faelin: “Shadows take you! What’s it going to take to let me walk out of here.”
Note: Faelin is a coward and a bully. Without his men to back him up, he wants no part of this fight. Not after seeing three of his men killed in seconds and two others scared away.
Round 3 results: Three thugs dead or dying, two removed from the encounter, both of the remaining primary characters unwounded.
Tom: “I advance on him slowly with a terrible purpose on my face and with proper Princess Bride intonation say ‘Drop. Your. Sword.'”
GM: “Give me a Charisma check to intimidate him. He rolled a 14 to oppose”
Tom: “Damn, a 11, +1 for my Charisma mod. Could I get +2 for my experience intimidating people in the arena? What about the escalation die?”
GM: “Sure on the background use, no on the ED, it’s only for attack rolls per the rules although I’d be tempted to use it here. But that’ll give you a 14 and I’ll give you the tie.”
GM/Faelin: “The sword clatters to the floor as does the dagger in his other hand.”
Tom: “Sit. Down.”
The remainder of the scene plays out with Tom tying Faelin to the chair. His weapons he takes and passes one of the jeweled daggers to the girl for her trouble, he keeps the rapier and other dagger. Bundling up the possessions he wishes to keep he leaves and heads out toward the main gate, pack on his back and gold in his pockets from a quick sell of Faelin’s weapons. He knows if he stays that Legbreaker would get to him eventually so it’s best that he get on the road and see what the world has to offer.