13th Age: a GM trick for managing information

This is a quick thing. Also, very portable to other games, in case you’re not playing 13th Age.

So, when I run 13th Age, I have to track a lot of information for each PC and reincorporate hooks for those important character aspects into play. I mean things like remembering that Marcel has a background as the head of the Violet Pearl spy network, that Priya failed an Icon relationship roll and now is owed trouble from a mysterious Diabolist curse, and that Kyra has a cursed black eyeball on her palm. Apparently I enjoy curses.

Index cards

I tried a number of techniques to remind me of these things, such as a notebook and keeping copies of their characters, but in the end I took an idea that’s actually in the 13th Age rules. It’s a very short rule with a lot of punch. It’s so short, I’ll include it here in its entirety:

Player Picks: Adding Recurring Elements to the Game

At the end of every game session that has gone well, the GM may ask you to pick an element of the session’s fiction you’d like to see as a recurrent part of the campaign. You might choose an NPC, a city, a type of monster, a legend, a magic item that got away, an ambiguously aligned cult of ecstatic dancing, or any other engaging element of the campaign that appeared in the current session. As the campaign develops further, the GM should incorporate the players’ picks into it. Some of these picks should recur once, with the session “resolving” that pick. For example, killing a recurrent villain resolves that pick. Other picks take central roles in the campaign.

If the campaign already has enough player picks that have not yet been resolved, the GM can stop adding new ones.

I started doing this with my group, but I had them sharing an index card. That didn’t work particularly well for me, so I changed it subtly. I gave each player a handful of index cards and asked her to write her name at the top right, and write one and only one thing in the middle of each card. What to write? Something about her character that she wanted me to bring into the spotlight during a game, something she wanted me to remember.

Here’s a short list of the kind of things that make good index cards:

  • backgrounds
  • one unique things
  • Icon relationships
  • pets, familiars, animal companions
  • magic items and their personalities
  • boons or trouble owed from Icon rolls
  • plot hooks that were introduced but not developed
  • other special things about the character (for example, Kyra is a Gargoyle, a statue come to life; it’s a custom race in my setting)

Some cards don’t belong to a particular character. Some are for the entire group. That’s okay! Just write “EVERYONE” at the top instead of a character’s name.

Using the cards

So, it might be obvious to you, but here’s how I use the cards. I shuffle them.

Throughout play, especially if there’s a lull in the action, I look a the top card and try to touch on it. Sometimes the touch is light, giving the player a chance to showcase that special thing, or a magic item rearing his ugly head and trying to influence the character. Sometimes the touch is less subtle. I saw that (in my Intrigue campaign, where the characters are 5th level) Priya and Kyra both had a crush on the Prince of Shadows. Kyra’s player had missed a couple games, so I had her return to play on her pirate ship, and told her that she’d spent the last month carousing with the Prince of Shadows himself. I was curious to see if her bragging would lead to friendly competition, nasty jealousy, or hushed sharing of personal details. It turned out to be the latter, without the “hushed” part.

Sometimes I have no idea what to do with a card. I just push it down under two or three of the top cards and deal with it later. The point is that I’m cycling through this deck of plot hooks that the players told me were important to them.

Sometimes I write on the cards myself, clarifying what the card means or fixing the card as its meaning changes through play.

At the start of every game, I hand everyone their cards and ask them to update them, remove cards they don’t care about anymore, and add new cards if they like.

Too many cards is not a bad thing. If one player has way more cards than everyone else, that’s probably okay. Just make sure she’s not hogging all the spotlight. Give each of her cards less attention. If one player has far fewer cards than everyone else, just make sure she gets extra spotlight time when her cards come around.

Use these cards to drive your game and the game will practically run itself.

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One Comment

  1. You are soo awesome! I don’t believe I’ve read through a single thing like thst before.
    So nice to discover someone with unique thoughts oon this topic.
    Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This site iss something that is needed on the web, somewone with some originality!

    Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:06 am | Permalink | Reply

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