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.


Spontaneous Sorcery in ACKS

In Fight On! #1 there’s a neat little system which provides additional flexibility for Vancian spellcasters.

Basically the idea is that you can cast a watered down version of a prepared spell without losing it. Making someone yawn when you have Sleep prepared, etc.

I dig this.

However, the game I’m running right now is ACKS, which doesn’t actually use Vancian magic. Spellcasters have the same number of spell levels they can cast per day as in classic D&D, but they don’t need to prepare them. To balance this out the number of spells you can know is limited. (You can switch spells in and out of your repertoire so you don’t get stuck with a sucky spell forever, but it takes some time and money.)

So, I’m playing with the idea of allowing spellcasters in ACKS to “leave a spell hanging”, or “partially cast”. The idea is that if you have an unused spell slot left, by reserving it for a specific spell you can access the watered down cantrip version.

Ie. if you have at least one first level spell left for the day and you know Sleep, you can make someone yawn by almost casting Sleep. This reserves that spell slot for Sleep for the rest of the day, but you can make use of the yawn-inducement effect at will until you actually finish casting Sleep.

Some possible cantrips associated with 1st level spells:

  • Sleep: Make someone yawn or feel a bit tired.
  • Magic Missile: Zing someone for 0hp. Elementalists with fiery magic missiles can probably light candles with this.
  • Shield: Protection from rain or wind — about as good as an umbrella.
  • Floating Disk: Hold up a drink or a book.
  • Read languages: Change the apparent language in a book to another, as long as you know both.
  • Charm Person: Politeness grants you a fresh reaction roll.

On Maneuvers

In ACKS most special combat maneuvers incur a -4 to your Attack Throw, which is nice and consistent. I’m not sure the balance of risk and reward is right, though, especially as in some cases the defender gets a saving throw to boot. (I’m not really concerned with realism aspects: as long as something doesn’t strike me as egregiously wrong, it’s fine.)

When would I like to see combat maneuvers?

  • When there are tactical considerations in play: pushing someone into lava, avoiding being pushed into lava, keeping a larger force behind a chokepoint, forcing your way past a chokepoint, gaining high ground for a clear line of fire, etc. I think Force Back, especially if combined with Charge, is reasonably functional for this sort of thing, but I’m less convinced about Overrun.
  • When there are strategic considerations in play: getting to someone before they can pull a lever, capturing someone alive, etc. I think Disarm, Sunder, and non-lethal damage systems are mostly fine for this purpose. Wrestling… maybe.
  • When fighting an opponent with a superior AC, that you have a hard time hitting otherwise. Currently that’s not the way it works — if hitting someone is hard, pulling a maneuver is even harder.
  • When fighting an opponent that you need to take down fast, even if it requires pulling off something incredibly dangerous. Eg. when fighting someone who’s killing one PC per turn. Wrestling might work here as written.
  • Sometimes just for color.

Let’s see what I can cook up.

Closing In. You can use Closing In in lieu of normal Force Back, Overrun or Wrestling rules. When Closing In you suffer a -4 penalty to your AC till your next action. Additionally, you must succeed in an unmodified melee attack throw against your opponent. If they’ve yet to act this round they can attack you as you close in, even if their initiative is lower than yours. A successful attack on their part does normal damage and aborts your attempt to close in. You cannot Close In on someone who has already hit your this round. If you successfully close in, you’ve either overrun your opponent, forced them back, or have them in a wrestling hold. Massive size differences are factored in as penalties or bonuses to your initial attack roll.

Wrestling. In addition to the options listed in the core book, the dominant wrestler can automatically strike the held wrestler with a short weapon such as a dagger.

Opportune Maneuvers. Having thrown a natural 20 on an attack throw, roll a d6 and consult the following chart:

1 Disarm
2 Force Back
3 Knock Down
4 Overrun
5 Sunder
6 Wrestling

You’re presented with an opportune moment for that maneuver, and can choose to perform it instead of doing damage. The required attack throw is already considered to have succeeded, though the opponent is still entitled to save versus paralysis. In case of overrun, if you haven’t yet moved you can move past your opponent and attack another.

MAYBE! This is all untested as of yet. Still:

Opportune Maneuvers seems like a harmless injection of color and variation — I’m pretty confident it’s not a problem.

Allowing stabbity-stabbity with Wrestling suits me fine as well.

In Closing In AC -4 neatly mirrors -4 penalty to attack throw, and makes these maneuvers easier but riskier: currently they just have an opportunity cost. Replacing saving throw with attack throw makes fighters better at resisting this shit than mages, which also seems right.

So in principle I think they should be OK…

Rolling Them Points

In my ACKS game the rule is that you roll for hit points on first level. No kickers, no “max hit die on first level”, no rerolls.

I don’t think playing a 1hp character on first level is that big a deal — quite the opposite, it’s awesome when you survive 1st level. However, there’s a side-effect I’ve experienced as a player that I don’t like at all.

I once played a magic-user who rolled 1 on the 1d4 for first level. That’s 1:4 chance. Then I rolled 1 for second level, for a cumulative chance of 1:16. When third level came up I rolled 1 again, which made for a 1:64 cumulative chance — so even though it sucked, it wasn’t even that unlikely. What really irked me about it was how those rolls carried irrevocably in to the future of the character. “Roll badly, and you’ll suffer for it forever.”

I still like rolling hit points, though.

So, a house rule: when leveling up you can either (1) add 1 HD + CON modifier hit points as usual, or you can (2) reroll all your hit dice, adding your CON modifier for each — and using the new score only if it’s better than the old one.

Using this rule for my magic user I would have rolled 2d4 for second level, which would have made having 2hp on level two a 1:64 chance, and 3d4 for level three would have made ending up with 3hp a cumulative 1:4096 chance. It could still have happened, but with odds like that at least I could have righteously felt snubbed by the gods.

So, there are no guarantees, but if you roll badly you get to reroll that hit die in the future — which biases the results against lowball results.

A big softie I am. Coddle players I do.

20 Questions from Brendan

Brendan of Untimately has a bunch of good questions.

  1. Ability scores generation method?
    3d6 in order, but you get to roll multiple sets. Details here.
  2. How are death and dying handled?
    Using slightly tweaked ACKS Mortal Wounds rules.
  3. What about raising the dead?
    If you belong to the church of the cleric that’s raising you: 500gp. If you’re a stranger it’ll cost more. If your reputation is shitty enough, a whole lot more — or they might just straight up refuse. ACKS Tampering with Mortality rules are in use, so you might not come back quite right.
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?
    As efficiently as possible. Henchmen can be promoted. Strangers can be met on the road. Re-inforcements picked up in town. Meta-game rule is that new characters are accepted initially. If they subsequently make themselves unwelcome, that’s on them.
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
    Individual, but groups of undifferentiated NPCs/monsters might all just get a single roll.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
    1 always fails. 20 always succeeds. If you have Weapon Focus, 20 is double damage. There’s also cleaving — and it doesn’t require a proficiency.
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
    You don’t get a hole in your head. If you don’t wear a helmet as part of an armor that should have one, your AC is one worse.
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
    Yes, unless you have the Precise Shooting proficiency. Details here.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
    You don’t have to run. You can stay to fight and die. It’s up to you.
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
    Strictly. Though ACKS encumbrance rules are fairly lax, really. You count stones: one big item is one stone, six smaller items are one stone, 1000 coins are one stone.
  13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
    XP is given out when you reach safety, so you never gain a level in the middle of action. No training. Spellcasters mostly get spells automatically — at least on lower levels.
  14. What do I get experience for?
    Treasure and monsters. Primarily treasure. Dungeon stocking has 4:1 ratio in gold/monster XP.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
    If you do something that would reveal the trap, you find it. You can also roll.
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
    Henchmen are a big part of the game. Morale and loyalty rules are in use.
  17. How do I identify magic items?
    There are proficiencies that allow that. In town you can show your stuff to a sage. A 9th level mage can research a magic item. There’s also always trial and error.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
    Yes. Even minor potions are pretty expensive, though, and availability is not guaranteed at all.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
    Starting from 5th level. RAW.
  20. What about splitting the party?
    If you want to.