Character Creation

So you want to play in a 13th Age game, but have no idea where to start.  First, I would talk to your GM to learn about their game if it has already started.  If it’s a new game, then all the players and GM should sit down and discuss what kind of game they want to play.  Next, you should think about what kind of character you want to role play.  A big burly fighter, a quick sly rogue, a mighty wizard, or a pious cleric?  Of course there are also multiclass combos to mix it up.  In the 13th Age core book and supplements, there are many choices to try.  I always ask my players what is their concept for their character before we even choose a class.  This is why you should, if you are able, do character creation together as a group.  Nothing is worse than creating your Sherlock Holmes style sleuth for the city based mystery campaign in your head, when everyone else wants to go off and fight demons in the Red Wastes. If you want to use a third party supplement, always get with your GM to make sure they are OK with the class.

After you decide on what kind of character you want to play, next it’s time to decide on the class. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the most complicated class to play. Both you and the GM will get frustrated.  If you really want to go that route make sure you know the challenge and be prepared to ask for help with rules.  It helps if you have an experienced player who is willing to help you with rules and choices for the character.

Along with class, you need to choose a race. Human, dwarf, and elf have been a standard in F20 games for years. 13th Age allows for a wide variety of humanoid races to play. Again, if it is from a third party supplement, check with your GM to see if they will allow it.

Now that you have decided on class and race, it’s time to generate your abilities.  Some people like to randomly roll, some use a point buy; either works just fine.  Remember what your character concept is and assign your abilities to what you want your character to do. Now this does not mean that you cannot have a smart fighter or a strong wizard.  And there is even the concept of purposely designing a weak character, but that will be covered in another article.  For this, let us put the abilities in the corresponding slots to make our character effective as a fighter/rogue/wizard/cleric. Remember your racial/class bonus to abilities and the limits to what you can add to those bonuses.

Once that is done, or even before, you should come up with backgrounds and your One Unique Thing (OUT). These aspects of 13th Age really set it apart from other F20 games.  You might even come up with these during your discussion about the character concept. In 13th Age, you start with eight points to assign to your backgrounds, no more than five in any one background. These backgrounds replace the traditional set of skills in other games.  Instead of this skill list you have life experiences that have taught you how to climb that wall or disarm the trap or even build a bridge to escape the rampaging horde.  The earlier you work with your GM about those the better.  If you both understand the concept in your head, then when it comes up during play, everyone is happy and entertained. OUTs are unique to 13th Age. Your OUT is what sets you apart from other characters. It should not be a power booster but rather a story booster.  In our campaigns at Iconic, OUTs have driven whole campaigns.  It would take a whole article to cover all the ideas and use, but luckily the core rules have a great section explaining OUTs with some fine examples for players who get stuck coming up with one.

Along with backgrounds and OUT, Icon relationships are unique to 13th Age.  Characters start with three points to spend on relationships.  You not only have to decide which Icons, but also if your relationship is positive, negative, or conflicted.  Again these should be specific to your character and not a way to game the system.  Make the relationships fit with who your character is and you will be surprised how it moves and shapes the story.

Once these choices are made then all there is to do is to select feats/talents/powers particular to your class, determine defenses, and equip your character.  These are found under each class description.

The more you create/play 13th Age characters, the quicker this process becomes.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Select your character’s name and go have fun.

Written by Mark

S4-E07: Nocturne Review

This week’s episode is our review of Savage Mojo’s 13th Age product, “Nocturne.” In addition to fleshing out a gothic horror-themed setting and campaign, there are additional races, classes, and monsters. In our spoiler-free discussion, we talk about the things we liked about this book as well as a couple things we didn’t like.

You can pick up your copy of this product at DriveThruRPG. And there’s a Players’ Guide too!

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S4-E06: Random Encounter – Undead Adventure

This week we are back with another brainstorming session as we look at how to start a campaign that’s focused on the Undead as a core threat. We talk about how to introduce the campaign, what sort of restrictions we may want to have, what sort of threat we’d want to leverage, and how to culminate it into something worthy of transitioning into the Champion Tier.

As part of our discussion, we referenced the Mass Combat article that was posted by Wade Rockett a few years back. You can find that article here.

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

GM Resources

How did you learn to be a GM? If you are like me you either learned from someone else or stumbled your way through it because you wanted to play a game and were the only one who had the books. You honed your craft by trial and error and observation. You copied and stole everything from books to movies. Most “GM books” were mechanically focused, not really focusing on the art of gamemastery.

You may not know this, there are a ton of great resources out there for GMs. We are in a golden age of meta-reflection on the art of GMing. People have been running games for decades and are sharing their wisdom and techniques. If you want to hone your craft, you have the resources. And in this article, I want to highlight some of them. (Note: These are all J-M’s recommendations from experience. None of these recommendations are sponsored).

Play Dirty

There are two of these books (Here Here). Play Dirty, written by John Wick of L5R & 7th Sea fame, are perhaps the two most influential books on GMing for me. He walks through how to be a dirty GM, not a killer one. Basically, a dirty GM uses every trick in the game and outside it to ramp up the intensity of the game for the players. Your players will crawl over broken glass barefoot to win, but when they do, the payoff is sweet. If you want nastier options that are narrative and not mechanically based, check these out.

Running the Game

Matt Coville has been taking the RPG sphere by storm. With two great novels, two great F20 supplements, and the Chain actual play, Matt has a lot of content. His ‘Running the Game’ series on YouTube is a fantastic way to learn more about the craft of GMing. His initial goal for the channel was to get people running D&D RIGHT NOW. I think those early videos are a great introduction to how to GM, and the series continues to evolve and grow deeper. If you are just starting out, and video is your medium of choice, check him out.

Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastery

This is an oldie but a goodie. Found here, this small book looks at why players play RPGs. It defines several categories of players and what their motivations are for playing. As the GM your job is to hit those motivations, and Robin gives you some great advice on how to do so. It is only about 30 pages and well worth the cost.

Engine Publishing

Engine Publishing (found here) has a great series of books on being a GM. Their books spun out of the Gnome Stew blog (also a great resource). Their books cover topics like: running sessions, improvisation, and campaign prep. Each of these books cover one topic from a variety of angles and include articles by industry veterans. I have all of them and they are fantastic. If you want to learn new techniques and ways to hone specific aspects of your games, these are a great route.

Kobold’s Guides

The Kobold’s guides are dense. Found Here, the topics are deep. They are a series of articles by big name industry professionals. I have the Gamemastering, the Plots and Campaigns, and the Combat one. They also cover worldbuilding, game design, and magic. These are dense–I mentioned that earlier–they delve deep into their topics and often attempt to explain the abstract components of gaming in concrete terms. But, if you want a course in a class on GMing, these books would be on the syllabus.

Arbiter of Worlds

Arbiter of Worlds is a gamemastery guide for a specific type of game. Found Here, it gives advice on world building, adjudicating rules, and using abductive reasoning. (Yes, it is a real thing!) It does focus less on the narrative aspect of GMing and more of the creation of a world where narratives can form and develop. It may seem like a strange distinction, but it is essentially the difference between a story focused GM and a sandbox GM. 

So there they are, my list of GMing resources. If you have used any of these resources or have any I missed, please let us know!

Written by JM

S4-E05: Book of the Underworld Review

This week we take a look at the now-available-for-pre-order Book of the Underworld! We give our usual Iconic Review, giving a fly-by of what’s in the book that we especially liked, while trying to spoil as little as possible.

And remember, if you pre-order the book now, you can get the PDF of it immediately!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S4-E04: Undead

Somewhat related to our last episode on the Necromancer, this week we focus our discussion on the Undead. What are they, why would you want to use them in a session or campaign, and which of the many 13th Age Undead monsters catch our attention?

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

TTRPGs vs Quarantine

Whew. March and April got away from me. Hence why this article may show up a little late. With the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown of many places around the world, our social gatherings have changed. As a result, our gaming nights have changed. We can no longer gather around the same table, sharing snacks and drinks but are restricted to our computers and kitchen tables. If you’re anything like the Iconic crew, you have been itching to play some games, in any form.

The easiest way to get back into gaming with social distancing is with a conference call and at home supplies. Simply being able to see everyone at the “table” can go a long way to feeling like an adventuring party again. Zoom, Discord, Google Hangouts, and Go-to-Meetings are all platforms I have used to game with friends outside of my home. With each of these, you can have your dice and character sheets on your desk or computer and inform the GM of successes or failures rolled. Many games have basic gameplay and books available for free for the players who don’t own the books. 

What if you want to get a little more fancy? Discord has virtual dice-rollers you can install in your server. Then there are no more fudging dice rolls and an overabundance of natural critical hits. Although I haven’t actually seen that happen in the groups I play with, I understand some GMs want to see their players’ rolls. Go-to-Meeting, Discord, and Zoom allow your GM to share their computer screen. The GM could pull up a map, edit it with a photography program and voila! No more simple theater of the mind. The downside is the cost to use some of these programs, Zoom and Go-to Meeting in particular, if you have more than two people or want to go longer than 40 minutes. Someone has to pay for it. If the group joins together, the cost is reduced, so encourage sharing the financial burden.  Discord, Hangouts, and Jitsi are free for video conferencing. Gimp and Krita are great programs for photo editing or drawing on pictures. 

If that is still not enough for your group, consider Fantasy Grounds or Roll20. You will still need a separate video conferencing platform for Fantasy Grounds, but having character sheets, dice rolls, and maps available to share across the group is often worth the cost. Last month, Nick wrote an article discussing the various virtual tables you can use to enhance player experience. These are great. Using the Fantasy Grounds platform to create encounters and share them with your players is super helpful when theater of the mind is distracting or even difficult. My primary experience is with Fantasy Grounds. The GM has to shoulder the burden of the cost here unless everyone in the group wants to buy a mid-tier version to play together. The full GM version will allow them access to the full program, the ability to create encounters, and the players can get the free version to piggyback off…if they purchase the various games as well. In my personal opinion, unless you are running weekly games and planning to continue to run them through FG, the cost is exorbitant. However, I am always supremely grateful to the GMs who run a game on this platform for me.

In this time of forced isolation, you can still play the games you love. At Iconic, we have turned to the computer and internet to help us run and play games with people a few houses down and across the country. Now is a great time to try something new. If you are interested, the 13th  Age Discord channel has a virtual tabletop channel for options and help. Let us know your favorite ways to still get the gaming goodness. Stay safe, everyone. 

Written by Becca

S4-E03: Class Acts – Necromancer

We’re back for another Class Acts, this time taking an in-depth look at the Necromancer class from 13 True Ways. (also available in the SRD). We discuss the history of the class as well as the Features, Talents, and Spells that we really like!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S4-E02: Interview with Gareth

For this next episode, we brought Gareth Hanrahan back onto the show! We talk to him about the recent novels he has written, then dive into some of the 13th Age books that he’s working on, including Book of the Underworld!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW

If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

Technology and Immersion

Among the many things that are different from when RPGs first became a thing, the development of technology has been one thing that has had a dramatic impact on the gaming industry. You no longer need to pull out a suitcase of books to flip through each of them looking for an obscure rule, you can now just run a search through your PDFs to find it. You don’t even need to be near the people you’re playing with; you can play online with others from anywhere in the world! The myriad uses of technology at the table help make connections and improve the overall immersion of the gameplay experience. But technology is a knife’s edge – as helpful as it is, it can very easily have the opposite effect and do more harm than good.

But before we dive into this, I think it’s helpful to define what it is that’s at risk with using technology, and that’s namely player immersion. How I understand player immersion is that it’s the degree to which the player’s imagination is easily evoked. The higher the degree of immersion, the more easily the players can get into character and mentally ‘see’ what’s being described and respond accordingly. But immersion can be like walking on ice, once it’s broken, the whole charade crashes down into the icy waters below, and it can be hard to climb back out.

You can bolster immersion by bringing technology to the table in the form of playing thematic music, displaying evocative imagery on a screen, messaging secretly with players about character-specific things, having a digital space for notes to be stored and shared, sharing a virtual tabletop with remote players, automating things like dice rolls, modifier adjustments, and HP tracking, and more! Any one of these benefits helps keep the players’ (and your) focus more on the game than on your surroundings, which will lend to deeper immersion, progressing farther in each session, and crafting a more compelling story together.

But as beneficial as any of these things are, each comes with the risk of the technology failing and breaking immersion completely. For example, let’s say you have a music track all queued up to play a musical score to ratchet up the tension as the players step foot into that long-deserted temple. The moment comes, and as you describe the scene, you hit play. But the only thing coming out of the speakers is silence! What usually happens next is that the game gets put on pause while you figure out what’s going on with the music player. When you finally do get it all working, the immersion the players had is now mostly gone and you have to work to everyone back into the flow of the game.

Virtual tabletops typically come with a digital dice roller, and many times it has direct, automated tie-ins into your character sheet. This allows players to look at their sheets less, spend less time crunching numbers, and gives them the mental space to stay focused on the game. But what happens when the player can’t find the right button to click? Or it throws error messages? Or their computer crashes completely? You may end up spending more time working to get the software to work than it would have taken to do things by hand, and by the time you do get it working, you might have forgotten what you were even rolling for!

Technology is a great asset to the gaming experience, but it’s best used when you are very familiar with it and you are prepared for what to do when it fails. As part of your campaign prep, go through the various pieces of how your technology works and get a good understanding of what might go wrong with it. If you’re playing online or using a virtual tabletop, it might be good to use part of your Session 0 or even dedicate an entire session to training everyone on how to use the different pieces of the software, that way everyone knows how to trigger their powers or roll their dice. And before you start each session, test the technology you’re about to use. For example, if you’re going to use some thematic music, be sure to hook it all up and hit play to make sure it works right. And if you’re doing anything over the internet, double check all your camera and microphone connections and your internet stability before getting started.

For my home game, I have four players who are physically present and one who joins us virtually. Over the years, we have tried a number of different technology options trying to find the combination that fits our group the best. And we’ve discovered that using the bare minimum of technology works really well! So even though we use Fantasy Grounds (FG) for a virtual tabletop where we can see scene-setting imagery and the battlemap to tokens around in combat, we still use paper character sheets and roll physical dice. As the GM, I like seeing the entire monster stats, so I’ll usually run the monsters by referencing a PDF or a physical book and rely on FG just to track the monsters’ health. Other than that, we leverage Discord for our text conversations and Zoom for our audio/video connection. Every group is different, but we found that if we use much more technology than that, we start losing that immersion factor.

One of the benefits of our hybrid setup that we have discovered is that we can now be very flexible in accounting for players who can’t physically make it to the game. And we can even switch to playing entirely online for a session or two with very little advance notice. Subsequently, this has allowed us to miss fewer sessions due to player absence than we would otherwise. It adds a bit of extra work for me as the GM to set up and run all of that in addition to the game, but despite the hiccups along the way, it’s been worth it.

It took us a while to settle in on what works, so if you’re wanting to introduce some technology into your gaming group, be patient, and have an open dialogue with your group. There are countless options out there, and I’d love hearing what you’ve found works for you!

Written by Nick