Today I’m going to talk about a 13th Age game session I played with a few near-strangers in Canada. There’s an interesting aside about the icon relationship rules in here, too.
I occasionally travel to Canada for business. I realized that I should be reaching out to Toronto-area gamers to help me while away the evening hours that I’d otherwise spend in front of the tv in my hotel room. It turns out that I knew someone up here–he goes by “Ry” on the internet–and I offered to run a 13th Age for him and his gaming group. This was a couple months ago.
It’s a little intimidating running a game for a bunch of people I haven’t met, especially in an intimate setting like someone’s home. Nonetheless, everyone made me feel welcome. We had some salad and lasagna, got to know one another a bit, and then headed down to the basement where the gaming magic happens.
It took us a couple hours to make characters for 13th Age. It always does. The mechanical stuff isn’t all that complicated, but the creative aspects of character generation can be challenging. Each player has to make up two or three freeform backgrounds, choose relationships to the icons, and make up one unique thing about the character. I don’t like skipping character generation (and using pregens), even if it gets into play quicker. I feel like a 13th Age character is a fairly personal thing and I want the players to be invested in the choices, especially the backgrounds, motive, icon relationships, and one-unique-thing. I suppose I could pregen everything but those items.
I’ve talked about a characters “one unique thing” (aka Hallmark), the one thing that is totally unique about your character. Some of the Toronto players were shy about this at first. Him: “I’m the only one who can do this in the city?” Me: “No, in the world. You’re unique.” What it does is set the PCs apart from the NPCs in a major way. PCs are really goddamned special.
The four players created some pretty awesome characters:
- Trysylar, a wild elf ranger who is the High Druid’s Strangler and who can magically weave plant matter into ropes and garottes
- Morgath, a dwarven fighter who is a sort of dungeon shock trooper (“gate crasher”) for the Crusader and expert on machinery; he was the last remaining gunsmith
- Rindarin, a human wizard who is an arcane power engineer (“arcanotect”) who could feel the presence of ley lines
- Alexardros, a dark elf rogue who is a notorious master thief, circus runaway, and career gambler
All of them had some motivation to go into a dungeon, so I riffed off Rindarin’s power engineer thing. We started with them approaching a recently opened Living Dungeon, the entrance of which was guarded by a half dozen serious-looking dwarven halberdiers. Rindarin said some clever words about crisscrossing ley lines and impressed the sergeant and they were allowed into the dungeon.
I imagined this dungeon as part of Scaffold, the buried dwarven city under Tenrook, but corrupted by a living dungeon. I explained to the players that every living dungeon has a “heart” of some kind, though it might look like a machine or cyst or something else, and that they needed to find it and destroy it. I had one of Dyson Logos notecard geomorph dungeon maps.
The first part of the dungeon was dwarven construction. There was an old arcano-mechanical train here and they managed to get it working. Rindarin cast an acid spell as a ritual to recharge the train’s “battery” and they got it moving down the tracks into the lower dungeon.
They stopped the train in a terminal room deep in the ground. It was some kind of station, and it had a weird drain with an iron grate over it. When they investigated it, they awoke some kind of acid slime monster (I reskinned 6 giant rat “mooks” for this purpose and changed their damage to 5 ongoing acid damage). There were some scary moments, like when the dwarf took a critical hit for 10 damage and couldn’t make his save the next turn. Eventually, though, they mopped up the ooze and found a magical magnifying glass. Picking it up, Trysylar learned that it was a pervy thing that wanted to know everyone’s secrets. He gave it to the rogue, who used it to learn the secrets of a door they wanted to enter, and it showed him its traps, which Alexardros disarmed.
Rindarin traced some unusual ley lines through the walls and ceiling and figured there had to be a secret door here, and they spent some time searching for the means to open it. After the party failed repeatedly to find the mechanism by normal means, Morgath called on his training from one of the icons.
A segue about icon relationships
I don’t use the icon relationship rules in the playtest document. In our playtests, my players thought that too often the fairly common “nothing at all happens” result was boring. The rules call for you to roll a d6 for every level of your relationship (1d6 for weak, 2d6 for medium, or 3d6 for strong). Any result of 5 or 6 and you succeed. Any result of 5 means trouble or a complication. In theory, it’s awesome. In practice, a lot of the time nothing happens at all.
I changed the rule to be a standard skill/background roll–that is, you still need to make some kind of skill check here–but you get an extra d20 for each level of relationship, and every natural odd result is a complication. You’re pretty much guaranteed trouble if you’re rolling 4d20 skill checks, since a natural odd will come up 15 out of 16 times.
I’m not sure it’s right, but it’s more interesting. I may change the trouble rule to activate only on a natural odd that misses the DC of the skill check.
So to get back to the story, Morgath picks up 4d20 and rolls and gets the success he needs but also gets two trouble dice. They get the secret door open, but the double doors on the other side of the room slam shut and all the lights go out: torches, even the wizard’s magical light on his staff. I say, “roll initiative.”
They ended up fighting a pretty tough monster in the dark. I was inspired the disgusting description of the dretches, but I used stats from the owlbear instead. The players called their foe a “shit bird.” It was an eight-foot-tall (that’s 2.4 metres, guys) birdlike demon with rows of teeth on its wings and weird bone spikes all over it. It ripped them up pretty bad but they eventually killed it. I think one or two characters had to use recoveries. The rogue made good use of his evasive maneuvers to attack and then get out of range of the thing.
During the combat, it made a weird, demon-bird noise that turned out to be it summoning nearby monsters to help. After the killed the demon, they had to contend with six goblin mooks (a pretty easy encounter), but we were running out of time, so we fast-forwarded through that to the end.
They found the living dungeon’s “heart” and I asked one of the players what it looked like. He described two ley lines crossing in a magic circle, and a bunch of rubbery tentacles trapped inside. I told them that if they fought it while it was “powered up,” it’d be a tough encounter, but that the arcanotect could just divert the power and they could dispatch the monster-heart easily. They fled the dungeon as it rumbled and collapsed around them.
13th Age made a great impression. I asked them each to send me a short email outlining the salient features of their characters to jog my memory while I wrote up this playtest report. Most of them sent me very long, very detailed histories and personalities. Morgath’s player ”went to bed with my head brimming with ideas.” They have all agreed to play again the next time I am in Toronto. Since I get up there every few months, it’ll be slow going, but it’s guaranteed to be a blast.