by Delos

13th Age is Pretty Freaking Sweet

I have what I like to call GM ADD. I like to switch from game system to game system often. Much to the chagrin of my players I have a hard time staying on one system for very long. On the plus side this causes me to seek out and read more systems. So without further ado I present my thoughts on 13th Age.

This gem of a game was made by some of the masterminds behind 3rd and 4th edition D&D. This systems took a lot of the things that worked really well from both systems and then cut off the fat and added a healthy seasoning of story mechanics that are both simple and elegant. The game plays out like most d20 systems, where you roll a d20, add modifiers, and bigger numbers are better. The races and classes you’d expect are all there (sans the druid and monk, but they are coming out in the next book, the play test material looks promising). There are a few notable differences between 3rd/4th and 13th. Races in 13th are much simpler. You get a +2 to one of 2 stats and one racial ability. This makes it much easier to make any race with any class. 4th did this too but race played a bigger role in 4th than in 13th. Here it’s just the number bonus and a small mechanical trick you have. Classes harken back to 3rd with different classes being more complicated than others. Barbarians and Rangers are the easiest to play while Wizards and Sorcerers are the most complicated. 4th tried to make all the classes the same in terms of complexity, but in doing so the classes all felt the same after a while. Not so in 13th. Barbarians just pimp out their basic attacks while wizards have more options than they know what to shake a stick at (I’m too ill at the moment to check and see if that sentence made any sense).

Balance issues between classes are minor compared to 3rd. In 3rd the first few levels were ruled by the fighters and barbarians. In late game they couldn’t compete with the spell casters who were nearing god like power. In 4th we learned that the casters and hitters could be balanced in terms of combat effectiveness, but once again we ran into that homogenization of the classes. All classes scaled together in terms of moves. Since 13th doesn’t have the same structure per class, this wasn’t going to work. Their fix is that weapon damage scales with level. This does lend itself to number bloat for the sake of having bigger numbers, but let’s face it. If our numbers never went up we wouldn’t get that feeling of growth. The bloat in this game is there, but on a much more manageable level. I prefer games that have more horizontal progress vs vertical but for some reason the number bloat in 13th feels ok. This is probably due to my growing up with 3rd and being use to silly bug numbers.

I made mention in previous articles about some ideas that I’ve implemented from 13th Age’s pages (hey that rhymed). This game is great for story driven mechanics. First off is the One Unique Thing (OUT). Every PC has an OUT. The only real rules on these, to limit munchkining, is that the OUT can not have an obvious or direct combat application. It needs to be about story and not numbers. In my game I’m currently running we have “Heir to an Assassin’s Guild”, “Clockwork Leg”, “Only Bearded Elf”, and “Shackled Slave to the Elven God of Chaos and War”. These get brought up whenever it makes sense. No rolls are needed, unless they are doing something that might be a little too helpful (like the clockwork leg being used to get unstuck, then I let him have a free save against being stuck). It helps to have these because then the PCs are really unique and not just another human fighter, dwarven cleric, etc.

The second big story mechanic they put in are Icons. These are the 13 biggest NPCs in the game. All of them are at demi-god level power and have many people/creatures/zombies and resources at their disposal. The default icons work for any setting, but you could always switch them up to fit an oddball setting. The PCs need to define their relationships with these icons and then apply a number (1-3) on how important/big  this relationship is. At the start of every session and sometimes during the session the GM will call for an icon roll. PCs make these rolls and which ever rolls come up 5 or 6 on a d6, those icons will come into play somehow during the game. It most likely will be indirectly, like a messenger delivering aid on behalf of the icon or a magic item that has a history with a certain icon. It’s a fun and easy way to help the PCs become connected to the bigger world and not be totally isolated.

The last thing 13th does that is really different from most d20s is backgrounds. Instead of having a set list of skills the players come up with different backgrounds that sum up their character. So someone may have “Best Rooftop Runner in Skullport +3” as a background. Whenever anything comes up about balance, Skullport, or roofs they get to add +3 to that roll. It works a lot like FATEs aspects except you don’t have to spend a resource to fuel them. They are always available. I love this way of doing skills because it takes very little time and adds so much more to a character compared to +3 Balance, +3 Knowledge (Local), and +3 Knowledge (Roofs).

You can find most of the mechanics for this game at, though let me tell you something. The core book was a lot of fun to read. Yes the SRD has everything, but the core book has a lot of heart and humor in it. You are basically getting two great opinions on everything and when these guys don’t agree on something they let you know and tell you a couple of different ways to handle situations. If you are considering of playing this game please go buy the book. The humor alone is worth it.

I’m going to be digging deeper into this system as summer comes. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

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