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First Time 13th Age

Last night I ran my first game of 13th Age. Kate bought me the Escalation Edition for my birthday last year so I’ve been reading the various iterations of the game off and on until the publication of the final PDF and hardback edition recently, but I’d never played or run it. Having just finished a long 4e adventure in the Parsantium campaign, it seemed a good time to run a one-off 13th Age game to see how it played.

To keep things simple, I decided to run Blood and Lightning, the adventure from the rulebook, and to let the PCs choose from the 2nd level pregen PCs on the Pelgrane website a couple of weeks before the game. I sent them some information through about the icons, one unique things and backgrounds so they could customise their characters. At the start of last night’s session, further tweaks were made before we got into the game.

The PCs were

Doc Doone, dwarf cleric, who had served the Lich King as undead before being brought back to life. Thrown out of the dwarven hold for studying the undead.

Dare Adornis, dark elf sorcerer & stage magician, once a favourite pet of the Diabolist, now estranged.

Starbright, wood elf ranger, brought up by servants of the Priestess after surviving a massacre as a child before returning to the woods. Able to speak to woodland animals.

Sir Pelham de Grenville, human paladin, born of a virgin, aristocratic witch-finder and servant of the Crusader.

As you can see, the players came up with some interesting characters and I was able to weave these elements into the story, using the icon relationship dice to determine some of the details of the adventure. Fortunately I’ve a fair bit of experience of winging it while DMing so found this pretty easy to do.

WARNING: Spoilers for Blood & Lightning follow

Boltstrike Pillar, the setting of the adventure was under the control of the High Druid (who Starbright has a positive relationship with) and Dare Adornis was given a magical symbol by the Archmage to take to the tower to exchange for the sword Glaezentorg the Bloody. Doc Doone and Sir Pelham were eager to come along when they heard that goblins in the service of the Lich King had been seen in the area. Rumours of an impending attack by the Three were also rife.

We leapt quickly into the action with a battle with said sinister goblins en route to Boltstrike Pillar – they were led by a shaman with a skull tattooed on his face and many of them had withered or mummified limbs. We used minis and WotC poster maps and tiles for the encounters, but ignored the grid – minis look cool, I have a lot of them and they help with positioning. Combat felt fast and fun after five years of playing and DMing 4e with everyone’s turn coming round quickly, and it was liberating not to be counting squares for movement. Interception was cool too – I put the goblin shaman at the back on a ridge, defended by his grunts and scum (mooks) and these guys blocked the PCs when they tried to attack the spellcaster. Adornis’ burning hands blasted a couple of mooks, before damaging another one some distance away – we decided the wind had carried the flames in his direction. One of the goblins came back as a zombie when killed by Starbright, only to be finished off a second time.

After the battle one of the goblins was found to be wearing a magical helm bearing the mark of the Crusader (5 rolled for that icon in the relationship rolls). Sir Pelham claimed this and seemed to enjoy the item wanting him to sing rousing hymns as he went into battle. Doc Doone tried to see if any of the goblins’ withered limbs could be salvaged for his research, and Starbright spoke to a squirrel, learning that more goblins and “bigger ones” were in the area.

At Boltstrike Pillar, the PCs met Torrent, the female captain of the guard, and her lieutenant, Sun. After some patronising remarks by the sexist Sir Pelham, the PCs agreed to go to the ruins of Greenstand and attack the hobgoblins and goblins there, triggering the magical booby traps planted by the High Druid’s shamans. They were given a couple of magic items and some healing potions to help them on their quest. When they arrived at the ruins, though, it was clear that something else had dealt with the humanoids first. Two goblins fled in panic towards the PCs, only to be stopped by the party. They killed one, then interrogated the other and learned that a “hooded man” was responsible for their withered limbs and that a dragon and lizardmen had attacked. Sir Pelham then lopped off the poor thing’s “unnatural” leg and he died from shock after Adornis attempted to cauterise the wound with burning hands.

At Greenstand there were dead goblinoids everywhere slain by fire, lightning and primitive lizard man spears, and there were several dragon footprints After blundering into an untriggered booby trap the PCs decided to hurry back to Boltstrike Pillar – lightning coming from that direction made them realise the tower was now under attack.

At the base of the tower, a large but crippled blue dragon blocked their way. After it breathed lightning on the party, Sir Pelham challenged it to single combat while the other PCs attacked from range. Doone’s javelin of faith finished it off after arrows from Starbright, Adornis’ breath of the white dragon and the paladin’s sword had wounded it.


The PCs rushed into the tower through the broken door and up the stairs to the top. As they neared the top floor two lizardmen blocked their way. Once these had been dealt with, Sir Pelham ran onto the roof top where the traitorous Sun was performing a magic ritual in the name of the Three, brandishing Glaezentorg above his head. Two more lizardmen were with him, and Torrent and several shaman lay tied up and unconscious on the stone floor.

The PCs concentrated their attacks on Sun who was soon reduced to 0 hp by a lightning spell from Adornis. This triggered a transformation – the traitor turned into a large dragon-man mutant with vicious claws and fangs able to use his dragonblood to ignore Doone’s first crushing swing with his hammer of faith. Surrounded by the PCs, the dragon-thing tried to escape as his hit points dwindled, but he couldn’t disengage. The dwarf finished him off with his hammer and the other PCs killed the lizardmen.

The PCs healed themselves and then freed Torrent and the shamans. As a reward for their efforts, they were allowed to keep the magical items they’d been loaned.

We all really enjoyed the game. The icon relationships, uniques and backgrounds helped define each character, and the way the game and the adventure are set up mean these come into play much more readily than they would in a regular D&D game. Combat was fast and fun – I'd really hoped it would be and it was. I've been playing a fair bit of D&D Next in the last 18 months, and 13th Age's rules system compares very favourably. It's a great rules set for those people that like some of 4e's innovations but don't like the time it takes to play out an encounter, and encourages cool character concepts and roleplaying.

I’d like to run 13th Age again but I’m not sure I have time to write adventures for it on top of the Parsantium adventure I’m meant to be writing for our ongoing campaign. If there are any adventures out there online, I’d love to hear about them! I'll be keeping an eye out for Shards of the Broken Sky too.

I also plan to come up with my own icons for Parsantium as I think it would be great fun to run an adventure set in the city using 13th Age.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 4th, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you had a really good time. I think I could hear the cheers from here.
Aug. 4th, 2013 01:51 pm (UTC)
Sorry Steve, will try and keep the noise down next time ;)
Aug. 4th, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC)
Wow Rich, splendid write up, sounds like it was a lot of fun. I have to say that if I wasn't so invested in D&D next I'd be tempted to play this. However how much conversion would one need to do, to adopt this to older or existing modules, say paizo or WOTC or even TSR? I've been toying with the idea of buying these rules in some form, as they sound great. Nice to hear how an actual play test went. Out of interest, was there anything you found difficult or didn't like. I've always struggled with being winging it - I think its a confidence thing. So never sure how well I'd do? Some of the innovations in this game, make me also think about what is lacking? You'd already mentioned scenarios, was there anything in the rules that came up that was confusing, difficult or just didn't make sense?

Aug. 4th, 2013 01:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks Dave! With the caveat that I've only run one session and read the rulebook, I would say I prefer 13th Age to D&D Next as it currently stands. I'm not sure that's a fair comparison though, as Next isn't finished and 13th Age is, at least as far as the core rules go. It feels like a nice blend of the best of 3.x and 4e with cool indie game stuff thrown in.

I would recommend buying the core book to any D&D gamer, as many of its interesting concepts such as the icons, one unique thing, backgrounds and rules like fleeing can be used in other versions of the game.

There wasn't anything we didn't like but we haven't completely got the hang of the rules yet. As with all D&D variants, it's getting used to the things that have changed that's hard. For example, dazed means -4 on attacks, not losing an action, and ongoing damage stacks and is applied at the end of your turn just before you save.

The main thing the players queried was around icons vs gods. In many D&D games, the gods are important, particularly to clerics and paladins, and in 13th Age the icons are front and centre.

The book is great because it's got character classes, races, combat rules, monsters, magic items, a setting and an adventure in it but I am eagerly awaiting 13 True Ways which is a book filled with more classes, monsters and setting stuff, and the Bestiary which has more monsters in (obv). So nothing lacking really but it would be great to have more options and adventures are always good, even if (like me) you mine them from ideas rather than running as written.
Aug. 4th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
Forgot to say - on the winging it thing, you can get the players to roll their icon relationship dice at the end of the session so you have a heads up for the next one. I might do that as although I am comfortable with winging it, I am a better DM when I do decent prep.
Aug. 4th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
Brilliant thanks mate.
Andy Way
Aug. 5th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed this session, it was great fun. And it's only having read the write-up that I realise just how much we managed to get done - and that was even after I turned up late!

I think that we found the system easy to pick up, although we've played all versions of D&D from AD&D onwards, which probably helped. The strangest thing was the sheer speed of play compared to 4E. In 4th Edition we'd have got as far as walking towards the blue dragon but deciding to call it a night because we'd never get through an encounter with a solo in the time remaining.

Haven't played enough D&D Next to have a preference, but the point that one system is still unfinished would make it an unfair comparison in the first place. I thought the character generation rules were definitely the highlight and are certainly worth adapting for other games. The flexible combination of icon relationships, one unique thing and the need to assign points to backgrounds that the player invents (witch-finding!) gave really interesting characters with lots of potential without the danger of having overly complicated back stories.

Not sure I entirely agree about its combination of 3.x and 4E. I think the current incarnation of D&D Next actually pulls in the 4E powers rather better. I found the paladin was using melee basic in almost every attack, far more than my D&D Next basic fighter does in combats. The good thing about D&D Next is that it seems to manage it without every class becoming homogeneous.

But would highly recommend people give 13th Age a whizz. I'm also really quite sad that Sir Pelham was a one-time play, I had great fun with him. Although I know that not everyone felt the same... Mind you, maybe I shouldn't have enjoyed playing such an unpleasant individual quite so much.
Aug. 5th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
Sir Pelham was great! I was looking forward to more battles of the sexes in future – hope we do get the chance to play them again.
Aug. 5th, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
Glad you both enjoyed it!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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