The Sage Welcomes You

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thoughts on 13th Age: Running My First Session

This is my second post regarding Pelgrane Press and FIre Opal Media's 13th Age based on the first sit down session my RPG group, and I played together.  The first session summary is here.

So this blog post is more about the impressions and ideas I had while running my first d20 session in a very, very long time.

Out of the gate, I have to say that the game ran really smoothly.  I had one moment of being at a loss when I could not remember the target number for my Wyvern to try to disengage, but my players forgave me looking one thing up.  Aside from that, it was really easy to run.  It did help that I had done a lot of prep with cheat sheets, etc. for everyone ahead of time.

We had previously spent a session creating characters and back story (you can read about it here), and between the time of that first session and the first session of play, I did try to do a lot of preparation.  13th Age does definitely lend itself to some very easy improvisational play, but I wanted to have some things at my fingertips and not have to have any pause or interruption of play while I looked things up.  I had options which allowed me to flow seemlessly into different possible scenarios (so, for example, I had created a number of options for encounters, at a couple of different levels of difficulty, just so I would have them in my back pocket). 

I also prepared some goodies for myself and the players in the form of visual aids and manipulables.  The game was starting out with the characters being given a mission based on their ties to the Priestess and the Elf Queen.  I came up with a thumbnail of information for the representatives of each Icon and illustrated each NPC with some cool art from the web.  I also prepared a batch of magic items in a format modeled on the sheet that is up at the 13th Age resources page that was made to go with their 2-hour demo.  I found the format to be easy to adapt.  Then I took it further!

On top of just the flavor text and description of each item, I also added some art in the background (and learned a new skill with Microsoft Word 2010).  I also added an Icon relationship for the items (which made sense for me, since I knew already what Icons were in play).  On top of that, I cut out each little card and laminated the whole bunch (thanks to the foresight of my beautiful and talented wife owning a laminator).  After reading about and listening to a number of actual play sessions with 13th Age, it was clear to me that a pretty common way to build ties between characters and their Icons, as well as to use positive Icon rolls was to award some magic item goodies to aid in quests and missions.  So, I was ready with fun items which doubled as little props when we did Icon rolls.

So, the first thing we did was to make Icon roles, and then I had to interpret them.  We had some feast and famen issues.  A couple people got a number of positive rolls, and others had none.  Still, everyone was cool with it.  Some characters got special items (and in some case complicating secret orders) in accordance with their rolls.  Others will have to wait.

There are still a number of unused Icon rolls waiting for the right moment later in the adventure.

Also, I rolled an additional Icon influence as a wild card (I did this with a d12 and a Fudge d6 (+, blank, and -) and I subtracted or added from the d12 roll thus getting pontential range of 0 to 13.  I decided 0 and 13 would both mean the Prince of Shadows, and otherwise assigned numbers to each of the other Icons.  I have no idea how that may have skewed the math, but in any case, I rolled the High Druid.  This gave me some pointers that I will be keeping in mind throughout the adventure.

One of the first things it did for me was to help me decide on what "random" encounter on the way to the adventure we would have to test drive the combat system.  Looking over my monsters, I decided the most primal and wild one that I had, that would potentailly be relatable to the High Druid was the Wyvern I had prepared.  This was at the outer limit of the kind of monster a first level party could take on.  On the other hand, there was only going to be one of them, and in fairly favorable terrain from the players point of view (since they could all attack with melee or missile weapons or spells without getting in each other's way).

I held Mr. Wyvern aside for an opportune moment, and have also been thinking about other ways to show the interest of the High Druid in the outcome of the adventure.

I should say again, I am running an old AD&D module from Dragon Magazine #78.  It provided a sturdy framework for me to reskin it as a 13th Age adventure.  So far it has been working very well because of how easy 13th Age is to put together monsters, traps and challenges that are both fun and challeging without going off the deep end on the player characters.

In preparing to start off on their adventure, the player characters definitely capitalized on their backgrounds tro gather information.  In fact, several characters just had outstanding moments in getting things to prepare for their trip and things that they might find.  If they can critical that much in combat, they may make short work of the opposition in this adventure.

Once they finally set forth, I moved things along until I brought out the Wyvern to attack.  The sentries did an exceptionally good job in alerting to the Wyvern, so I did not get any kind of real benefit for the poor beast trying to glide in silently.

The combat was fun and went well.  It concluded in round 4, so we got to see the escalation die climb and add in effect, and most everyone got a moment to shine in the fight.  I had a phenomenal evening as far as roilling monster initiative (I rolled a 20 for the Wyvern, and addint its bonus, it was at 28).  I had a terrible night for doing anything else with my monsters.  The Wyvern hit once, would have hit again, but got zaped with an illusion die from the Gnome Cleric, and once it was clear that the meal was fighting back too much, the Wyvern could not save to disengage, well, to save its life.  Although it would have been fun to put a little more fear into the players, all in all, the test of how combat ran went very well, very smoothly, and I think we pretty much had everyone at the table thinking about what different options they had and what their powers and talents could do.

Except the Bard.  Granted, his player is about 10, and although he picked a super complex class with lots of powers, he didn't use any of them, and instead just hit the Wyvern with his sword (scoring at least one critical hit).  I'll work with him next session to get him more used to the awesome stuff his character can do with songs, spells and war cries.  For this session, he was having fun, and that worked.

We had good roll playing moments and good tactical thoughts as the adventure unfolded, and I won't go blow by blow on that, since I already wrote up the session.  One thing that I did in managing the "failing forward" was that we had a missed roll when trying to come up with some important information.  There are a number of ways to handle this, but my "on the fly" was "I'll gladly give you this information now, in return for something bad cropping up later."  Now, I did not make this explicit, and I think we are still finding our table play style.  It would probably help buy in if I did make things more explicit, but we are still finding our way on that. 

As far as party actions, the great thing was that the group was totally able to avoid the linear appporach to problem solving, especially when they reached the "dungeon" site (a old ruined fortress with dungeons beneath).  Yes, there was a passageway in and an Ogre guarding the front, but they managed to get a map to the layout and they scaled the wall at a different point.  The only thing that tripped them up there was that I had the "bad thing" hit them as they were exploring the wall.  I did not hose them completely arbitrarily, but I gave their scout, Zara the Rogue, some very hard saves to make, and she did not make all of them, thus alerting the occupant of the room whose roof them were going to go over, as to what was happening.  On the whole, I am okay with the outcome because while it puts the party in danger, it also keeps the pace of the game and ramps up the tension and excitement without arbitrarily harming or killing any party members.  We'll see how it plays out.

So, now we are really going to have a run through with the combat system.  While the party can only see one Orc right now, they are about to find out just how many monsters there are waiting for them.

We closed the session just before the clash really got cooking because we were running up against our late limit because parents and kids gotta sleep.

As far as after action, I had a chance to think about how I had structured the encounters in the fortress, pretty much following the pattern of the original AD&D module.  Having played a first session allowed me to go back and fine tune things a bit to make things work in a way that I think will flow more smoothly and be more fun.  We'll see when we play in a little over a week.  The game, however, gives me a lot of confidence in how I am preparing things.

I have also prepared a few more fun handouts and developed some more fun things for the dungeon levels below.

I think one of the things I have leared with the flexibility of 13th Age is that keeping things static is neither necessary nor, often, desireable.  Tell a good story, let everyone have fun, challenge the player characters, but play (as they say in Dungeon World, which has also been influencing me)) to find out what happens.  Fine tuning along the way and on the fly feels very natural now.  And having the tools like the Icons, Backgrounds and One Unique Things are really helping me fit the individual adventure events into a much larger, and I think much cooler, framework for the future.

I am really loving the game, and I can't wait to see where it takes all of us in the future.