13th Age: Icon Relationship Roll Frequency

I just (literally a minute ago) realized one of my problems with the Icon Relationship Roll is its frequency.

Given how relatively short our sessions are, and how large a chunk of them has so far been eaten up by fights, the rolls are far too frequent. Three sessions in, the characters just had their first full heal-up; there have been three fights, though depending on how you count them they qualify as 4-6, really. All this has happened within less than 24h of game time.

During that time we’ve rolled Icon Relationships three times. If this frequency continues it means on average 5 Icon “interventions” per fight, and 15 of them per a day of in-game time. The current adventure will probably continue for at least 3 sessions more, which means I can expect a ballpark total of 30 Icon interventions for this single adventure! If all adventures occur at a similar pace, it will also mean that every Icon Relationship the characters have is exceedingly likely to feature in every single adventure.

Uh, yeah, that is wonky. Wonky in many ways. I wonder what frequency Tweet’s and Heinsoos’ games actually have?

I don’t have a solution yet (hey, it’s been now maybe 15 minutes since I realized this issue!), but I’m thinking about it. Some sort of cap seems in order. At most 1 roll per full heal-up? At most 1 roll per day/week/something?

Given the thinking behind my previous attempt to tweak the icon relationship roll rules, have the hunch that I may want to have different caps for different purposes. Maybe instead of splitting the results between boons and complications based on 5s and 6s I should ask for eg. boon rolls per full heal-up and complication rolls per scenario?

That doesn’t sound half bad, actually.

13th Age: Gorram Adventurers #3

Shadows in Eldolan continues; as before, given this is playtest material I’m being intentionally vague.

Last session ended in a cliffhanger, with characters facing a dozen or so enemies.

While waiting for TS and AK to arrive we went through icon relationships for characters of those present, checking if there was a background that explained the nature of the connection, and talking about how the players and I saw the relationships as working. This was really good. In most cases the background was fairly obvious, and but the nature of the individual connections wasn’t always as I had assumed. There was one case were we realized the connection was far from obvious, and had to rethink things a bit.

Not entirely sure if it would have been better to do this during chargen, or if it was actually better to leave it a bit late like this.

Then we talked a bit about Horizon, since all the characters are supposed to be familiar with it, but it hasn’t made an appearance in the game yet. We established a sense of what the city looks from afar, and some history, but then TS and AK arrived and it was time to start the game proper.

I would in many cases have been perfectly willing to start without them, but I had left the game in a cliffhanger with the characters facing a hard fight, and decided to use the time while waiting otherwise — especially since I knew beforehand that they would be late. TPK in session #3 while waiting for reinforcements would have been pretty rough…

At this point I also explained my experimental take on icon relationship rolls.  …and then it was roll initiative!

At first things seemed to be off to a grim start as two of the opponents started manipulating the environment magically, essentially using the room the characters were in as a weapon — but then one accidentally hit the other, and it was downhill from there. Luck of the dice. The characters took out most of the mooks before the poor bastards even managed their first action, and after that it was mopping up, mostly, at least for the first chamber.

In the second chamber evil was afoot, and I asked the players to choose if they would either take a quick rest before attacking the inner sanctum resetting the escalation die to 0, or if that if they managed to penetrate to the next chamber in one round they could keep the current escalation. They elected to press on.

The fight in the second chamber was brief but very hectic! The door area was quickly overcrowded, and it took a few tried before anyone was able to engage the leader inside, trying to interrupt his nefarious plans… which didn’t quite work out. Still, once the dust settled the characters emerged victorious and alive. They had captured one enemy alive, but he later died from his wounds.

Leo also discovered that the belt Ancalimë had used to hang herself earlier is now apparently possessed by the ghost of his father. A magical belt is a nice thing to have… but this one has a personality and an agenda.

Highlights from the fight:

  • Enemy fumbles. Gods. Ouch.
  • Robina opening the fight by nailing two enemies with a single arrow, then subsequently attempting to surf past some enemies on an overturned brazier and …not quite making it.
  • Leo using the chain that was supposed to trap him to swing around the room. Swashbuckling talent is made of awesome. His later attempt to tumble through a mess of people in a doorway was less successful, but also possibly a misruling on my part. Need to think about the nature of engagement a bit more.
  • Lucius’ by turns brutally primitive and madly skillful tactics: at one point he engaged essentially all opponents all by his lonesome, and seemed very happy doing so. :)
  • Ancalimë teleporting in front of the evil leader and using Shocking Grasp to throw him backwards so he wasn’t where he wanted to be. Very stylish, very tactical. Who needs a bloody grid?
  • Eisenzwerg powering through the opposition to reach the big bad, and giving it the big smackdown with a big hammer.

I really really like the way the rules work. There is an awfully nice mix of “dice tell you what happens” and “players tell you what happens” at play here.

This was an awesome fight in many ways, but … it took  too long. (Then again, it was essentially a fight + a double strength fight in a row, so maybe that isn’t too surprising.)

I like to describe what’s happening, the players like to describe what their characters are doing, everyone has fun and laughs: this takes a lot longer than “I attack, 17, 5 damage”.

Everyone is getting proficient with their character abilities, so there was only a tiny bit of “Can I do this?” and “How does this work?”, and I had prepared a bit better so I had less paper to shuffle: I’m pretty sure if we’d run this fight last week it would have taken a lot longer. So progress is good. :)

Still, I do want to speed them up some more yet.

I don’t want to cut down on the awesome or the fun, but I do want to be able to fit more non-combat stuff in a session. Will need to think about this, keeping an eye out on what actually takes most of the time. Maybe it’s just making sure that one turn follows another without delay. Maybe it’s me looking for the right die. (I kept dropping my dice on the floor all the time tonight!)

My OSR influenced inclination would be to just cut everyone’s HP in half… but I’m not sure how well that would go down. :P

Surveying the place after opposition had been removed revealed some clues that the characters decided to follow up next day. There was some debate about weather they should report to the authorities or possibly torch the building (I told them that cities are usually warded quite well, so they’re highly unlikely to burn down more than the single building. Highly unlikely.) In the end they decided to stash all the corposed in the secret basement so innocent bystanders would not stumble across them too easily. They also rescued one prisoner who was still unconscious when they vacated the premises.

There is one complication that is emerging that I’m not entirely happy with: the fiction is forming in a way that bodies just left where they fall are quite likely to rise as undead due to the call of the Lick King. This means that adventurers who care about stuff need to spend time disposing of the bodies of their enemies.

It’s a dose of realism in a way, and not entirely bad, but it is a timing and logistics wrinkle — and I’m not entirely sure what it will do to the tone of the game.

We’ll need to talk about this a bit. I suspect the easiest solution is to say “it’s possible”, but that 99 times out of hundred when a zombie rises “spontaneously” there’s really an active agency behind it: so leaving a battlefield with thousands of dead on it to fester would be a spectacularly bad idea, but a dozen corpses in basement would not be much of an issue.

Next session will probably be next week. Based on the plans I’ve heard the players mention so far the adventure as written is probably about to go offroad — but that’s fine by me. :D

13th Age House Rules: Icon Relationships and Rolls, take 1

I’ve been thinking about how to use the icon relationships over the couple of past days. This is my first attempt at formulating a policy.

1) All icon relationships are tied to backgrounds characters have: for every icon relationship a character has, we’ll mark one or more of the backgrounds as representing that relationship.

This is essentially to just make sure the context of the relationship is known — and to highlight cases when a relationship isn’t represented elsewhere on the sheet. If that’s the case, we’ll add a zero-point background to account for the relationship. The nature of the relationship needs to be talked about a bit. Is the character actively seeking promotion from the icon? Is the character actively supporting the icon? Is there debt either way? Is the relationship through intermediaries or direct? What kind of intermediaries? Etc. This should all be copacetic with the background.

2) Rolling a 6 gives the player (not the character!) a boon they can cash at any time. They can suggest the form the boon takes. Some possibilities: supernatural help, helpful flashback, a single use item they’ve had all this time, information they have access to, a friendly face, etc. The boon must involve the icon in some way. The form the boon actually takes is still up to the GM, though. Alternatively, instead of spending the boon the player can invest it to get in deeper with the icon: this requires a corresponding action by the character, but it can be fairly minor: sending a report of something they’ve discovered to an appropriate agent of the icon, etc. These boons can be saved.

We’ll see show this goes… this is my attempt to separate out the player currency and plot-fodder aspects of the relationship rolls. I think boons can be reasonably potent, but not earthshakingly so: there’s an average 1 per session per two players available, and with 5 players in the table that’s more than 2 boons per session. I’m thinking “a bit less potent than a daily power” might be a good guideline, but given how each use should also be semi-unique, it doesn’t really need to be an exact match. Whatever seems apropos.

3) Rolling a 5 is story fodder for the GM. I will take them an you will know that icon will somehow complicate your life in near future.

Because there’s on average 1 of these per two players as well, I’ll probably sometimes save them up and combine them. If you’ve rolled several 5s for the Elf-Queen but she hasn’t been featured at all — worry.

I’ve now run one session like this. Doing the background connections seemed very worthwhile indeed, and though there wasn’t really a chance for me to spend the 5s yet as most of the session was a long combat, the 6s seemed to work fine, and the players seemed to like them as well.

Happy so far. Time will tell.


Save It

Note to players in my 13th Age campaign: this is just flushing out an old draft I had lying around, nothing directly related to our campaign. Never fear. Much.

Here’s what I think about “Save or Die”.

I think Save or Die has both potential for extreme excitement, and extreme suckage.

It’s exciting while you try to stay safe from having to make the roll at all. It can even be exciting to make the roll.

It sucks when it comes from nowhere. It sucks if you see it coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

I think a lot of the suckage is down to the way the timing works. “Crap, I was bitten! Crap, I’m dead!” There’s no curve to it — the gradient is extremely steep, if not infinite. You don’t even have time to appreciate the inevitability of you doom.

This analysis, no matter how trite it is, suggests a couple of things that can be done without compromising on the excitement while reducing the suckage:

  • Save Or Die should not be a surprise, mostly. An old-school dungeon crawl is largely about treating the dungeon itself as an extremely dangerous opponent: if you don’t know something is safe, you’re better off assuming it’s deadly; and having things which are Save Or Die is a great way to underline that, even if they don’t always carry clear warning labels…
  • Save or Die doesn’t have to be instant. It can be “Save or Die in two days.” It can be “Save or Lose 1d6 hp / round until dead.” It can even include the possibility of treatment in that period, though I would be careful about that: it might easily turn into something the GM is then obliged to provide, in which case leaving Save or Die out of the game entirely is probably a better idea.

Anyways, this is what I thought about this almost two years ago. :)

13th Age: Gorram Adventurers #2

Still keeping this vague, as the Shadows in Eldolan is not out yet, even though the playtest is technically over. Commentary is in blockquotes, while the actual actual play is the main text. Hopefully that’s readable.

One new player joined us: AK.

I expect this to be a semi-regular occurrence as it is my preference to run a fairly open table: I’d rather juggle the story to shuffle characters in and out than wrestle with scheduling too much. My rule of thumb for this game is that I’ll run a game with at least two players, and not more than 5. The players present in the last session have precedence, after that it is first come, first served.

This is why I’m thinking about a metagame rule for session end like I used in Guild of Dungeoneers.

In that game unless everyone present can immediately schedule a new game within two weeks, a session cannot end in a dungeon. If the party is not out of the dungeon by the end of the game a rather cruel Escape From Dungeon roll would take place to determine what happens. The game ran for 10 sessions, not the three recorded here, and I don’t think anyone was ever willing to brave that roll.

For Gorram Adventurers I’m thinking the Flee rule of 13th Age might take the same role: if not in “a safe and location convenient for shuffling characters in and out” (say an inn, or taking a non-detailed overland journey, etc) at the end of a session, either schedule the next game immediately, or Flee to an appropriate location — taking a campaign loss. Less wear and tear on the characters, but more weight on the narrative. I think that might work…

Another rule I have in place in order to make running an open table feasible is that unless you already have a character, or have made one character beforehand, you’re going to use one of the ready mades I’ve built. Later you can adjust it to taste, or make a fresh one, but we’re trying to spend a minimum amount of session time on chargen. The one I make have just One Unique Thing, Icon Relationships, and Backgrounds left empty, and for the first session they can stay empty if filling them up would take too long.

Anyways, back to the table.

AK picked a half-orc paladin I’d built. His OUT is pretty outstanding: “Unknown to myself, I’m the reincarnation of the original Orc Lord.” He’s been raised in obscurity by a paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm, and occasionally has strange dreams of ages past. He believes he carries a taint of evil and must do good to counterbalance that. I love it. :)

Last session had ended up with H’s character Ancalimë being sort-of dead as the result a ritual gone wrong.

While T’s character Leo (who can see dead people) was communing with Ancalimë via an ouija board, he observes that the ghost of his father that seems to reside inside Ancalimë’s lifeless body is getting less ragged as time goes by, and worries greatly.

AK’s half orc Lucius arrives, having been given a magical guide to locate the group by the agent of the archmage on whose behalf the characters are working. Leo and Lucius know each other from way back, and thusly his offer of help is readily accepted.

Ancalimë’s body is bathed in holy water, which appears to banish the ghost of Leo’s father, and allows Ancalimë to settle back inside his apparently dead body. After a brief discussion the adventurer’s decide to continue with their plan to [sensored], because dead or apparently dead doesn’t really make that much of a difference — and if he is truly dead it would be a pity to waste his sacrifice…

Following through with their plan they’re eventually sneaking into a building they believe to be the lair of [sensored]. It is dark inside, but Lucius sees a flash of golden light illuminating on unwholesome form hiding in the shadows.

No-one’s perception roll was sufficient to notice creature waiting in ambush, but Lucius rolled well and had a 6 from the Icon rolls that had not been used yet, so with a little spiritual help from the Great Gold Wyrm the party avoided being blindsided.

I’m definitely not quite comfortable with the Icon roll mechanic yet. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I don’t feel I know what to do with it yet: some of the characters have already accumulated multiple as of yet unused sixes and fives. I have a decent idea of what some of them mean, but as for the rest…

One thing I’m thinking of is that I could hand out tokens representing them to the players, and allow using them as currency. I don’t like it as the default option, but it seems an attractive way to get rid of excessive successes even if it stinks of taking the easy way out.

Need to meditate on this further.

After a pitched battle the characters discover a hidden door to a tunnel that leads to [sensored cliffhanger].

So yeah, the “Flee at end of session if not in a nice place” rule is not in effect yet. …but now that I think of it, it can actually work pretty nicely at the beginning of a session as well. If there is too much change in the group composition between sessions, the game can start by the characters fleeing from danger and re-grouping.

A very fun session, if a short one. We convened at 1930, the game didn’t really start until closer to 2030, and curtain fell a bit after 2300.

I do need to write myself a cheat-sheet for some rules, though. I also need a better combat record sheet. Tracking initiative and HPs on one piece of paper and having the opposition stats on another means constant shuffling back and forth, and either paper getting lost way too often. When running the Guild of Dungeoneers I discovered how much combat is sped up by making sure I’m organized in such a way that even if I lose focus for a second I don’t lose track of what’s happening.

Can’t wait the next session!