Similar Classes, Unique Characters

As long as TTRPGs have been around, it’s been the accepted practice to have varying classes in the party. Wizard, Rogue, Cleric, and Fighter are the four original classes and it was believed that you shouldn’t double up on classes until you have at least one of each four.

This is not the case any more. Games have expanded many classes to allow for the same class to be played by multiple people, yet still have flavor and make sure each character is unique. 13th Age is no different. In fact, 13th Age has mechanics built in to the system to allow for class repeats and still feel fresh.

Any character you create will be different solely based on background and your One Unique Thing. Collaborate with the other player on your characters. Together, you can decide how dissimilar or similar your characters will be. If you collaborate on your background, perhaps even coming from the same Order, you will be instantly invested in each other’s stories.

Moving beyond that, it’s the Icons, talents, and feats that make a character mechanically different. Let’s take a look at the Paladin Class. The first question you could have for any character that you build is the question about Icons. If you are going to follow a typically good Icon, like the Great Gold Wyrm, you will probably take the Path of Universal Righteous Endeavor, or PURE talent. If you decide to follow the Crusader, an Icon that is dubious at best, you may take the Way of Evil Bastards talent. From this one choice, you have given flavor to your Paladin that can be polar opposite to any other Paladin in your group. In the Paladin class, there are nine talents and you choose three to begin with, presenting the opportunity for two paladins to play mechanically different characters. While there may not be more options within the Paladin’s feats (Paladin is a class that doesn’t have feats beyond Smite Evil) there are still feats to choose from the extensive list of general feats.

We, at Iconic Production, recently talked to Ben Feehan, who presented the campaign idea of Gygaxian Rock Opera. A party of bards setting out to make their name in the Dragon Empire or your own world, encounter monsters and dungeons and towns that just need their help. Ben discussed how his groups have multi-classed as bards as well as found unique ways to distinguish their characters from each other. You can listen to that podcast episode at iconicpodcast.com.

On the surface, it may seem redundant to play a similar class to another person in your party. Yet, as any player digs deeper into the classes, you will find the options and opportunities give you the ability to play wildly different characters. And remember, detecting someone’s alignment is infringement on their privacy.

Written by Becca

 

Narrating Icon Relationships

Last month Mark wrote about Icon Relationships and how to use them as a GM, but as they are really tools in the hands of the players, I thought it’d also be helpful to talk about them from a player’s perspective.

As you know, mechanically, if you roll a 5 or a 6 on your Icon Relationships, you get an advantage during that session. And generally, you get to decide what that advantage is. It could be receiving a magic item, or auto-succeeding on a skill check, or bypassing a puzzle, or convincing a neutral NPC to swing to your side, or…well, you get the idea. (And to be clear, spending a 5 will also generate a complication, but that’s for your GM to figure out, though if you have something in mind, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it!)

But 13th Age isn’t really about the mechanics; it’s about the story. That’s why there are so many story-generating tools in the hands of the players. So how do you bridge the gap between the mechanics of getting a boon and weaving together a story, especially when it doesn’t make in-story sense for an Agent of the Icon to simply show up and give the boon to you? For example, let’s imagine you and your cohorts have delved deep into a cave and encountered a lake of lava. You want to use your Icon Relationship with the Emperor to get past it, but how would the Emperor provide aid to your character within the story?

The easy answer is to either handwave it aside or force the GM to figure it out. But the better-player answer is to tell the story of how it happens. Take it upon yourself to come up with a reason for how the Emperor’s reach is still felt that deep in the cave. Perhaps you find his seal embedded in a nearby wall that raises a stone pathway (a complication could arise from what also happens when this dormant magic is newly activated). Or perhaps he had previously given you a magic wand that could be used to create a rope-bridge once (a complication could be that the bridge is teleported from another location, causing havoc elsewhere). 

Reaching back in time and placing something into your character’s inventory for an Icon Relationship boon is a perfectly acceptable way to come up with an in-story explanation. And being tasked with providing a brief story for it provides additional benefits of crafting backstory pieces about your character as well as more details about the world. In doing so, you’re leveraging the same concepts that make Backgrounds such an integral part of 13th Age.  

But if you don’t want to always be coming up with the answer on the spot, during Character Creation, jot down a few items that your Icon(s) had given you which reflect the relationship you have with them. Have a positive relationship with the Diabolist? Maybe, for whatever influenced that positive relationship, she (or more likely one of her agents) presented you with a broach. It will sit ‘useless’ on your character sheet until that one time you rolled a 6 and wanted to get a magic item or needed a way to relay a message to/from her. You’d be getting the mechanical boon in that moment, but you’d also be linking it to an in-story reason that shines some spotlight onto your character and their backstory. But if you’re already in a campaign or you’ve run out of those items, you can continue to be proactive in this regard by asking the GM when you search for loot, “What sort of useless or random items do I find?” Those useless items are fodder for future boons!

Pulling items out of your pack or suddenly finding something that had been overlooked aren’t the only ways Icons can exert their influence over distances or in secluded areas. What are some other ways? Again, instead of putting yourself on the spot to explain it, you can make things easier on yourself as a player by proactively thinking of the ways the Icons could exert their influence you, regardless of where you are. To help with this, think about the nature of your Relationships. Why do you have that Relationship with that Icon?

For example, perhaps your conflicted Relationship with the Archmage is because you fear he is abusing his power. That belief could be suddenly reinforced when you use a 5 to get past a guard. When you hear a bodiless voice whisper in your ear precisely what to say to the guard about his family to prompt him to let you by, you’ve received your boon, and now you and everyone else is even more convinced that the Archmage is spying on people Big Brother like (plus, you’ve given the GM a hook to use for that complication if she needs it!)

Icon Relationships are for you, the player, to not only get boons but to influence the story, and while Rules As Written it simply provides a boon, you don’t always have to use them for just that benefit. Many times, the boon you ask for could do nothing but influence the story. I remember one session where several of us players spent our pool of 5s and 6s to simply get word to our various Icons about what was going on. Mechanically, it gave us nothing in the moment, but it was a way for us, as players, to influence the world and story.

When you sit down to play 13th Age, remember that there is a lot of narrative power at your fingertips, and even more so when you roll a 5 or a 6 at the beginning of the session. What are some of the ways you’ve used Icon Relationships to influence your story? And for those GMs reading this, what are your favorite moments when the players leveraged those rolls?

Written by Nick

Icon Relationships

Icon Relationships

Icon Relationships is one of the things that sets 13th Age apart from other D&D games. It sets it apart from all other F20 games truth be told. So what is an Icon Relationship, and how do you use it your game?

Icons are the movers and shakers of your world; they are not the gods but are actual people who rule or influence those that do rule. Players start the game with three Icon Relationship dice to “spend” on which Icon they would like to have a connection. It could be a positive, negative, or conflicted relationship. Which type of relationship dictates what kind of help or hindrance the Icon will be during the game. On page 35, the 13th Age Core Rulebook states,

Inventing your character’s relationship to the mighty icons who rule or shape the world is key to engaging your character with the game world. RPGs about vampires have clans, RPGs about pagan highlanders have cults, and 13th Age has icons.

If you haven’t already, scan over the icons in Chapter 1 and read the full entry on any icon that intrigues you. As you decide on the relationship to the icons that suits your player character, remember that it’s the nature of this magical world that even the most powerful figures need a lot of help to accomplish their goals. The icons have risen to power levels where they balance each other in an uneasy equilibrium. To advance their agendas further, the icons need heroes and champions to tip the balance in their favor. You should feel free to make your character central to big plot lines, if that’s what suits you.

The fate of the icons is written in the stars. Your character’s fate, however, is in your own hands.

At the start of each session, players roll a d6 for every Icon Relationship they have, noting if they get a “5” or “6” on the roll. These 5s or 6s represent a meaningful advantage you can expect from your Icon that session. A 6 will get you something good, and a 5, well, you get something good too, but a consequence or complication is attached. In addition to the core book, you can find some great advice on how to interpret Icon Relationship rolls in Gods and Icons produced by Dread Unicorn Games.

But what do you do if a player NEVER rolls a 5 or 6? I know it’s rare, but it does happen. Should that player be “punished” by never getting that extra something that everyone else is getting? 13th Age Glorantha use a different method; they use Runes, aspects of their gods, instead of Icon Relationships. They players still roll a d6, but every result is meaningful. A roll of 1-3 corresponds to one of their personal Runes, and with a 4-6, they roll on a random rune table to see which rune gets attuned to the player. This method could easily be converted to 13th Age core; assign 1-3 to each of your Icon relationships and on a 4-6, roll randomly to see which Icon is influencing your day. Handling Icon Relationship rolls this way ensures that no player gets left out, and it also reminds the players of Icons that are might not be prominent in your game. It also just might influence the choice the player will make later when they get another relationship die.

These are just some of my thoughts on the subject. Please let us know how you use Icon Relationships in your game.

As always, roll perception and initiative!

Written by Mark

Playing Without a Cleric

Playing Without a Cleric

Most times, in F20 games, playing with a cleric is a forgone conclusion. It is one of the most, if not THE most, vital roles in the dungeon delving party. Few things will stress a party out as quickly as the cleric hitting 0 HP. And, as we know, 13th Age provides many great options for the cleric, not the least of which is allowing them to heal as quick actions, allowing them to play more than just a mobile bandaid box. All that being said, here is a secret. Come closer. Are you ready for this?

You don’t need one. That is right, you really do not NEED a cleric in 13th Age. I know what you are thinking. Iconic, I come to you for Epic Tier advice on 13th Age, and this seems like a quick way to turn my game into a 0-level funnel. But wait, hear us out. There are plenty of options for your groups if you want to leave the cleric behind in Santa Cora praying to the Priestess.

 

Option 1 – Other Choices

Dust off some of those classes from 13 True Ways! 13th Age is rife with alternative choices for healers besides the Cleric. Bards can heal. Commanders can heal. Druids can heal. That is not counting the fact other classes have spot healing (the Necromancer & Paladin come to mind) and that all characters can heal as an action at least once a fight. If you are going to adventure without a cleric, try to plan ahead and include some of these other classes. Additionally, give the group extra potions as a way for them to deal with their healing needs.

Option 2 – Go Mythic

13th Age Glorantha has less available healing classes than core 13th Age. To counter that, they include the Battle Healing rule (page 64). Steal this for your core 13th Age game to help offset the lack of power healing. Let everyone have the ability to trigger someone else’s recovery, possibly even before they hit 0 HP. An encouraging word, a slap upside the head, or a kick in the rear is all it could take to get someone back into the fight. Remember, hit points are an abstraction of luck, endurance, fighting spirit, and toughness. Theme Battle Healing however you like, but this option opens up a lot more flexibility in the party where healing is concerned.

Option 3 – Fudge the Rules

If nothing else feels like it works, you can make a couple of simple rules changes to increase the available healing. Perhaps you make drinking/administering a potion a quick action? You know your players already wish that was the case already. You could make the first use of Rally (each battle, each heal up) a quick action for characters, representing that first rush of adrenaline when the character realizes how dire the straights are. Or perhaps it goes to a quick action after the Escalation Die reaches 4, representing the surge of confidence as the party knows the battle is turning in their favor. Play around with these ideas to find a good feel for your table.

 

Last Words

Anyway you look at it, 13th Age provides a lot of options for non-standard party make-ups. As a GM, I would caution to you start off a bit friendlier than you normally would with a party like this. Use basic build math and no nastier specials, at least until you get used to the party dynamics. It gives your players time to figure out the ebb and flow of combat sans clerics.

Players, if you are going to play without a cleric remember that you need to be more on top of your own healing; instead of just yelling ‘cleric!!’ when your HP gets low. Keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the fight to figure out when to heal and when to flee. Keep these tips in mind and you should be able to survive without a cleric.

 

Are you playing in a group without a Cleric? Want to try out some of these ideas? Drop us a line and let us know how it goes.

Written by JM

Fear in 13th Age

As GMs and as players, we want to immerse ourselves into the story that’s being told. Many games ask the GM to craft an elaborate world for the PCs to learn about. While the imagination can certainly take hold while describing that world, one of the best ways to get a player invested in it is to get their emotions invested. As a GM, you can’t expect your players to fall in love with all the NPCs you portray or want to prove their loyalty to the guild you’ve slaved over creating. But you could probably get them to fear the monsters they encounter. Yes, describing the demon in all its slavering glory could get the players trembling, but 13th Age has a mechanic built in to create fear within the character. This fear effect seems simple enough, but it comes with dire consequences.

Fear, at its very basic mechanic, forces the PC to be dazed and prevents them from using the escalation die. While not obviously dire, when the PCs are facing a Large Red Dragon with an AC of 25, (who does get to use that escalation die) the bonus from the escalation die goes a long way to helping the party land a hit. If the fighter has a -4 penalty due to being dazed and cannot use the escalation die from being afraid, the player is going experience some frustration as well as fear for their character’s life.

Typical monsters who have this effect are demons, devils, dragons, and really nasty minotaurs. Usually these monsters are the bigger, badder, out-to-wreck-the-party monsters. They will have a fear aura, which is based on the amount of hit points the character has. For example, a large red dragon is a level 10 monster. Any enemy engaged with this monster who has less than 72 hit points will succumb to fear. This penalty is intense as between the -4 Attack and lack of Escalation Die bonus, it’s doubling down on the PCs’ ability to fight the monster.

Players have a couple of different avenues for combating fear. The paladin class has a talent called Fearless, which allows them to be immune to fear. It has a few other sweet perks such as actually giving the player a bonus against enemies who have that fear aura and abilities. An Occultist can also choose a talent that has a feat which negates fear, but because that’s a champion feat; it’ll take some time to get that ability. Since all of the characters probably won’t be Paladins or Occultists that take those Talents, the other way to beat that fear aura is to either remove themselves from being engaged with that particular monster or to heal themselves above the fear threshold. There are very few monsters who allow the PCs to roll saving throws and shake off that fear.

As you run your next 13th Age game, we at Iconic hope that you will consider how to use this fear mechanic to further invest the players into the game, and we look forward to hearing your creative uses of it. Is there a room in the castle that has a fear threshold? Or will the characters inch closer to the unseen monster who lurks, waiting to devour all will and bravery? Would you let your players roll a wisdom check to see if they can withstand the horror?

Written by Becca