The Escalation Die is one of the unique pieces of mechanical design introduced in 13th Age. In the core book, it is described as:
As the characters fight in a battle, they build up momentum and tactical advantages that help them defeat their opponents. This bonus to attacks that increases as the fight goes on is represented by the escalation die. (p 162).
Essentially, it represents the PCs growing to understand the creatures they are facing and the gradual shift in battles to their favor. Now the escalation die has a lot of integration in 13th Age already. Many powers—for both PCs and monsters—trigger off it. And there is a bit of advice on setting the die to different starting values in the Gamemaster’s Resource Book (see page 58 of that book).
We at Iconic have talked about the escalation die in episode 9 of Season 1 (check it out here). Since then, J-M has used the escalation die in new ways, and is sharing them now:
Chaotic Escalation – 13th Age Glorantha introduced two new ways to employ the escalation die revolving around how different categories of monsters—the Lunars and Chaos—interact with it. When fighting Lunars the escalation die advances by two (1,3,5 or 0,2,4,6) and then ebbs back down in a similar manner. Chaos has a 25% chance of stealing the escalation die each round. This gives each of these monsters a unique feel to them and makes them a bit more unpredictable to fight. It also throws the default assumptions out the window for players. That first time the escalation die does not do what it’s supposed to, you can see the players sit up!
Adapting these rules for the Dragon Empire is simple. The Lunar progression easily adapts to fighting lycanthropes or places where magic is out of whack. The Archmage’s wards are failing? Deep in a Hellhole? Traveling to the Overworld but the Djinn are working to stop you? The die advances by two and then retreats, it fits for places where the normal rules of the world don’t work. As for the theft of the escalation die, J-M now uses it whenever the Prince of Shadows is involved. After all, the Prince can steal anything right?
Horrific DE-escalation – The escalation die gives the players a sense that they are in control. Eventually that die will start triggering all of the cool powers and that +3 in the fourth round is super nice. It represents the heroic fantasy nature of the game. But, what if you want a fight to be a bit more scary. Try starting with a double strength (or because J-M is evil, a triple strength) battle, and starting the escalation die at 5 or 6. The PCs will feel like Big Damn Heroes, until at the start of round two, the escalation die drops by one…and continues to drop. In this case, the die is a timer. The heroes will grow weaker as they face the magic/life draining forces of the BBEG, or just succumb to the horror of what they are facing.
Escalation Timers – We touched on this one in the episode, but J-M loves using this. Using the escalation die as a fight timer for when events in the battle trigger. Use the different values to see when things happen. For example:
- Every time the escalation die reaches an odd number, more reinforcements arrive on the scene, giving the battle the sense of unstoppable waves of minions flooding into the fight.
- The area of the battle is unstable, and if the escalation die gets to 6, before the heroes defeat the monsters and get out, the ceiling collapses causing major damage.
- Events—traps, magical rites, healing, summoning, etc—which trigger on certain numbers.
- Villainous soliloquies spaced out throughout the round!
- The classic ‘stop the ritual’ quest becomes more interesting if it goes off when the escalation die reaches 2 and gets worse the longer the heroes take.
Escalation Trade Off – J-M is a big fan of consequences in his games. He will often negotiate with players or plan in scene effects which will grant the players a boon at the cost of the escalation die. In exchange for what the players want—or as a consequence of them calling in a ‘5’—the escalation die may freeze for several rounds at a specific number—usually 0. This represents the fact that the monsters had a plan or more time to prepare. In one case, the cost was that the die started at 1, but the monsters got it the first round! Then it dropped to 0, and then increased as normal. Escalation die trade offs are the perfect consequence for a 5 on an icon relationship.
Those are just some of the new ways Iconic are using the escalation die. What are some unique ways you have used it? Let us know!
Written by J-M