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Thursday, November 21, 2013

#13thAge is Awesome! Plus my #Ravnica #dndnext character in 13th Age

With this very self-explanatory title, I basically gave you my personal review of Heinsoo and Tweet's great "advanced D&D vision" that is 13th Age.

Two things in particular blew my mind, and they're the elements that are advanced in the field of story-telling devices that the game offers to both players and GMs.
Backgrounds and Icons.

Backgrounds: as they should have always been.

It's hard for me to describe how this non-mechanic is mechanically awesome..! Basically you have Background points to distribute... In backgrounds you totally make up. In descriptive ways. They substitute skills, they include skills, and at the same time have nothing to do with skills.

If I choose, like in the case of Solanyt, my Ravnica character that I still haven't played yet (boo...), "Dimir Guild-Infiltrator" as a background, and give 4 points to it, I'll add +4 to all the checks on which such a background should have a  significant positive influence: in skill terms things such as Bluff, Stealth, Knowledge (Dimir), and so on.
The maximum limit of +5 on any given background is interesting because it basically forces the character to have some story-depth: you can't have been only one thing all your life.

So notice the incredible elegance that such a system offers to describe my character: 8 points split equally on basically his formal and hidden identities/jobs: Simic Crypsis Agent and Dimir Guild-Infiltrator. There will be a lot of overlap between the two, but at the same time, I know that everything he may try in his roguish business has the same bonus added to. It's one of those game mechanics that is so simple and useful you think "why the hell didn't I think of it before?". Big congrats to Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, who by the way are somewhat akin to Elder Gods of D&D design, so it shouldn't surprise they came up with quality stuff.

Icons: story elements given form.

The Archmage, the Diabolist, the Emperor, the Crusader. These powers/NPCs are not different from similar equivalents of basically any fantasy setting and game. But just as with the backgrounds, associating some numbers to them, and dice, makes for a totally new gaming experience.

You are favored by the Archmage, but the Diabolist hates you with a passion? One die of positive relationship with the former, two dice of negative relationship with the latter. And rolling these dice, the GM can always know in crucial moments what kind of help or hindering, enemies or allies you're gonna have. And no, there are no fixed tables that associate dice results to unique effects. It's just a matter of combining how positive or negative relationships (or "conflicted", something ambiguous in-between) combine with the dice results, which can basically only say if something happens or not and if yes, how big/important it is.

Is it clear enough how such a system is basically tailor-made to role-play in Ravnica?? Substitute the 13th Age icons with the guilds themselves, or if wanting to stay true to the source sytsem, to the guilds' leaders. My dear Solanyt would have 1 die of positive relationship with Zegana, 1 with Lazav and maybe a negative one with Isperia. Or if going into a bit more detail, and dividing each guild into two or three icons, Solanyt would actually have a conflicted relationship with Zegana (due to his secret but not as covert relationship with the Dimir), a positive one with the (invented) leader of the Crypsis clade of the Simic, Laykan Vigeamack, and then a positive one with Lazav himself to represent the whole Dimir (or maybe not...)

It's a powerful system. Some classes and feats can also give you additional dice of relationships with icons, and with a reason (such as when a Sorcerer actually draws power from an Icon), so the positive relationship with the Dimir or Crypsis Clade of Simic could stem directly from Solanyt's class or backgrounds, leaving another slot to describe a negative relationship with an opposing guild, such as Boros or Azorius. And having so many different relationships, but not a focus on one would actually make Solanyt's life a bit neglected by both his guilds, which is actually the case..! Now that's a mechanic supporting story: it even helps define the story before it's even being understood completely by who actually makes it..!

The rest of the mechanics.

Even if the classes themselves look quite advanced compared to the current state of D&D Next, and follow design philosophies that I LOVE (no single class uses the system of another class, so playing each class is truly different and requires different levels of system mastery), not having multiclass rules (yet) still puts 13th Age classes in a realm that I'd define "not fully representative" of characters. It's good to play stereotypes, not so much to play the exact character you have in mind. For example, Solanyt is not a stereotypical Rogue. It uses the Assassin subclass, which would be still describable by the 13th Age Rogue, but uses a big hafted weapon, something done by a feat that the designers take the time to describe as something intended for Fighters and Paladins. Plus, there is basically no way to get a spell or two without being in the right class (no "multiclass feats"), so it becomes tricky. If I had to really make Solanyt using these classes, I would have to make up my mind between such different choices as Rogue, Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, or even Sorcerer. Which means no one really nails it, and without a multiclass system, it becomes a problem. Fortunately, the up-coming expansion for the game will not only bring multiclassing, but new classes as well including my beloved Monk!

Coming Next...

I can't wait to use the Icons system to better describe the Ages of my World of Cthon cosmology-setting, so stay tuned! :)