Monday, November 18, 2013

13th Age Game One: After-Action Report

Saturday night we did something I rarely get to do: played something that wasn't Pathfinder! I've had chances this year to play some Magic World, a bit of BRP, and now 13th Age. Plus, of course, Pathfinder every danged week!

13th Age was an interesting experience. We generated characters in about an would have taken less time if everyone wasn't new to the game, plus the pregens I had downloaded were all 2nd level it turned out....and I really wanted the game to start from the beginning, as it were. The group ended up with a funny mix:

An aasimar sorceress who was once a cleric of the High Priestess, and had a profound experience which changed her magic to arcane

An aasimar paladin with a unique thing in which anything he cooks becomes edible

A human cleric who find all undead are amicable and polite to her

A dwarf fighter who was cursed by an unknown mage who has made countless clones of himself

Another aasimar (!), this one a ranger who has daddy issues and is ostensibly the only ranger with mental health problems

And a high elf wizard who is the spiritual reincarnation of an old archmage who fell in ancient times

Yes, a lot of aasimar.

I had worked out some details on a setting tailored for 13th Age that I cribbed some notes on....but I also brought my "Empire Era Lingusia" reboot campaign, with some notes on how to integrate the icons into my existing campaign. I had a scenario that I could stick in either setting...and for me, setting matters. I ended up using Lingusia, since it's my venerable campaign and was easier to fill in the story bits on.

To get everyone into the thick of it I dropped them in the middle of a story, so we could get right down to testing the feel and style of the system. The group was working for the Empire (of Hyrkania) to hunt down a rogue dark elf who had commited various war crimes, and after this rogue was exiled from his own homeland for being too extreme and profane (he worshipped devils) he sough refuge with an ogre buddy. The party was hunting him down, for justice...or at least trying to find out where he went. The group started at the entrance to the ogre's cave.

The course of the session involved bartering with some orcs for passage into the area where an old temple to the beast god Wolfon had been taken over by the ogre and his goblin cronies. Then they tried to pass a subterranean river before the temple where a trap dumped them in to a fight with an albino cave alligator (I derived its stats from the bear). Then there was a skirmish with the ogre and his goblins, and the reveal that A: the ogre appeared to have a problem (his sack-like body was full of insects) and B: the drow had moved on...north, to the ruined city of the gods (Corti'Zahn) judging from a map they found.

The group camped in the caves and during the night were ambushed by a party of lizardmen. In the morning they took off, following the map, where they found in the dune sea a partially buried structure that the map called "The White Station," with two fully intact ships on its "ceiling" and one that had fallen to ruin. Suspecting they were old air ships, the group moved in when the ranger, leading the way, felt the earth shake and a massive guardian purple worm appeared between them and their destination. We left it on the cliff-hanger (hint: I'm not expecting them to fight the worm but to learn to circumvent it).

Some observations on play:

Seeing in the Dark: Right off the bat I asked who could see in the total dark of the caves...answer: no one! Apparently night vision, dark vision and all that is simply not a factor in 13th Age. I took that to mean that everyone needed torchlight to see in total darkness, even if we assumed some races had excellent night vision ordinarily. In 13th Age terms I realized this is an environmental detail that I guess can be taken into consideration or ignored according to each tables' tastes.

Not All Classes Are Equal: By which I mean not all classes, at least at first level, have as many funky things to do as you'd expect. Specifically if I had to call out one class which seemed ridiculous simple to run it was the paladin. All classes had generally good combat effectiveness, however.

The Damage on a Miss seemed Small: damage on a miss was a minor deal. On the surface I imagine from a design standpoint it's got some value...I guess...but in actual play it was sort of useless to track that extra point of damage. Maybe it could be relevant at high level, but it's one of the few "tedious book-keeping exceptions" the game keeps.

Infinite Ammo?: the guy playing the ranger was curious about that. I worked out a deal: whenever he rolled a 1 on an attack, he could make an 11+ save; if he failed, he was out of arrows.

Holistic Skill Design: A couple of the hardcore Pathfinder players were at first perplexed at the background system for skills but got the hang of the idea that this was a negotiation system. I think if I had a group as a whole rebel against the background mechanics I'd just solve that by making pick from the Pathfinder skill list, case closed.

Smooth Engagements: in actual place the engament mechanic (and abstract spacing) worked really well, and worked fine with minis and map used as placemarkers to keep track of the action.

Escalation Die Madness: this was a great extra gimmick, and it guaranteed that success of actions ramped up as the turns ticked along. Everyone liked it.

No Buying Magic: This was a shock to a few players who are used to buying stuff. May work out a purchase sheet...we'll see. I explained that loot was generally found in the game, not bought, but to insure that works I have to be a good GM and remember to reward them with stuff, too.

No Magic Item Identification: this became an interesting bone of contention. "We have magic items...a chakra, rune and some how do we determine what they do?" For the moment judicious skill roll use and experimentation. Need to read deeply into the rules to find out if there was a method we were overlooking (ritual, maybe) or what. I was fine with the old school methodology of "mess around with it until you figure it out," but my players are used to Pathfinder's very friendly informatin system via spellcraft and identify.

We can all see playing 13th Age again being a thing, so the plan is to meet once every two weeks now. We're going to do an escalating 10 games/10 levels campaign, so I will plot the storyline around ten levels of escalating mayhem accordingly!

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