Friday, August 23, 2013

GenCon: You can't spell rock-n-roll without O-R-C

The publication of 13th Age made my GenCon hugely enjoyable. Instead of gradually growing tired and hoarse, I started the show tired (after staying up until 4 am playing Shadowrun: Crossfire the night I arrived, I confess) and gained energy through the rest of the convention, despite sleeping not-so-much.

I think it was Rachel Kahn at the Pelgrane booth who worried that I might be functioning as some type of energy vampire. Which could have been true, but only in a happy-extrovert non-zero-sum good-for-everyone manner. I enjoyed great conversations with fans about 13th Age, a series of wonderful interviews that I expect will be trickling out soon, and challenging/thoughtful GM huddles with the people running 13th Age OP games.

And then there were the two-hour 13th Age demos. I never got away from the Pelgrane booth to see the sessions that were being run as part of our OP, but Steve Dempsey and I ran two-hour demos at the booth, eventually aided by Dave Thompson when the demand for demos grew beyond what we could handle.

The two-hour demo format hands people 2nd level pre-gen characters with ability scores, feats, powers and spells chosen. What's left is the fun stuff: one unique thing, backgrounds, icon relationships. The first hour introduces the players to 13th Age and gets everyone creating their uniques and backgrounds, a process that sometimes starts slow but almost always acquires hilarious or dramatic momentum as people see how they can make up things they are going to enjoy. You can find a version of the demo at if you're interested in using it for a one-shot or pick-up game. (I'm also using the format as a low committment way to play with friends who aren't serious gamers [yet] but want to try an rpg session to see how they like it.)

I give everyone at the table freedom to come up with a character that amuses them. Then I ask enough questions to help the character amuse me. After character creation, it's the GM's job to pause, take stock of the PCs, and quickly figure out a path they might share. The remaining hour of the demo sandwiches combat roll-playing between roleplaying  at the beginning and end. Sessions vary hugely in emotional tone but they all show how a campaign can be built around the interests and icon relationships of the PCs as well as the GM's plans.

Many of the uniques from last year's GenCon made it into the final text of 13th Age. This years games were just as good. I'm going to write them up one-at-a-time, focusing on player creativity and GM tips.

I didn't write down the names of the three players in the Thursday group. The first guy said that his drow sorcerer was actually the spirit of a former sacrifice that had taken over the drow magician who'd bungled this diabolic act. He wanted something impressive for his soul and we settled on a minotaur; lots of roleplaying bravado possible there.

The second unique belonged to Iggy the half-orc barbarian, whose true name was Ignatius and had never really wanted to be a barbarian, he was an athlete and a scholar with highly advanced education who'd been called back to the family business (barbaric tribal warfare) to represent the family's proud martial heritage that couldn't be advanced by mere book-learning.

The third PC was a gnome bard. Frankie the gnome bard. He had invented rock.

That brought the whole scene together. The former-minotaur, Stig, was the screaming drow vocalist, a fury born of diabolism and nature. Iggy was the drummer. Frankie ran the show, lead lute, the creator. The plot turned out to be a bit of an ambush created by treachery. The PCs thought they were on the trail of some killer drums that were being used by orcs to kill guardsmen at a frontier fort. The orcs had some warning of the group's arrival thanks to a treacherous guardsman (Emperor 5, good for me). And the orcs didn't believe that Frankie had created rock. They wanted their music back.

Highlights included the fact that the players started referring to Frankie as 'Gnome Elvis.' I kept asking for the names or melodies of metal songs to accompany spells and character actions but they kept feeding the table what could charitably be called easy-listening, so when the PCs steadily rolled 1's and 2's for their attacks we had an obvious magical rationale. The PCs didn't focus their attacks so the orcs all stayed above staggered too long for comfort, the orcs' improved critical hit range kept coming into play and we eventually got to start testing the death save rules. Things were looking so bad that I explained the 'flee-and-take-a-campaign-loss' rules. If the PCs had fled, everyone would have known they were impostors: "We'd be Milli Vanilli," said Frankie's player. But they stuck together. There was a moment when I thought that one of Frankie's spell names was so metal that I gave him a chance of breaking the orc's drumstick, it just felt right for there to be a chance. I said that if I rolled a 1 or a 2, since the orc was going to try and attack, that it would be pretty bad for me. So of course that was the moment when luck broke for the PCs. They fought through that grim moment when Iggy was down, chased down the last orc, and shone a rainbow in the dark... just in time to look like heroes in front of the Imperial Squad who'd been brought in with a floating icon relation 6 with the Emperor (in case I needed to provide an explanation for the characters fleeing...).

The orc drummer art accompanying this post is another great illo by Rich Longmore from the upcoming 13th Age Bestiary. The real stats for the drummer/screamer would have been over a second level group's capacity to deal, but I riffed a bit on his abilities. Wherever Iggy the academic barbarian is now, he's playing these drums.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dwarven Delve

Half of my Wednesday night 13th Age gaming table is running a Kickstarter for their company’s new Dwarven Delve game for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac.

It’s an underground exploration and combat archeology action game. The dungeon layout is a bit like the mechanics of the Pipe Dream game, you reconfigure the dungeon on the fly, opening up new passages to fat loot and monsters you want to fight *right now* while trying to reroute the real-time charges of monsters you don’t want to have to tangle with. Along the way you develop the abilities of your six dwarven adventurers and dip into a forgotten history that touches on the archetypal tragedy of the dwarves: always digging just a bit too deep for their own good.

Given that the core of the Tinkerhouse team is in my gaming group, I might end up helping with the game if they do really well with the Kickstarter, but my potential self-interest is a lot smaller than my hope for my friends.

In case you’re wondering, the half of our 13th Age table involved in Tinkerhouse is…
… the elf monk who shapes wood and has now turned out to be directly descended from the bloodline of the original Elf King’s royal architects
… the dwarf bard who reads the unique thrum of objects he drums upon and is now learning the battle hymns of an alternate world in which dwarves rule the Empire
… the elf rogue who knows that the Prince of Shadows is not who he claims to be and has now, probably not coincidentally, been taken over by his own shadow, not that the other PCs knew that until this moment

They do good play and they do good work. 

High Icon Relations, Low Comedy

Cal Moore has been doing a bang-up job of editing 13th Age and helping to develop and edit the Bestiary. He’s also running a 13th Age campaign and he sent over a report on a recent game that I thought was worth sharing. Note the cunning use of successful icon relations rolls to provide a flashback that saved the PCs from exposure. Though I suppose they did suffer from ogre-exposure.

Cal’s note….

By the way, tonight's game was good. Party's businessman ranger convinced the others to spend 3200 gp to buy 40 barrels of liquor (rum, dwarven whisky, and shroom juice "room juice.") Packed it on a small ship and traveled to the Port town on river emerging from the High Druid's main forest area. Then proceeded to piss off the owner of the Sapphire, the main town tavern/whore house (based on the Gem from Deadwood), who totally lowballed an offer to them. They spent most of the rest of the time trying to sell the 40 casks in small chunks to the few other tavern owners in town, plus the Imperial praefect (who took a cask of shroom juice for free as his due). They were still about 800gp in the hole when they went off to look into an orc warband who is using extortion on the wood elf settlements upriver to take what they want. While sneaking up on the camp and hiding by a small cliff just below it, an ogre comes to the edge to take a piss and looks down (Stealth Dex rolls, each PC gets a 5 or under, oh oh). The sorcerer uses his 5 and 6 Elf Queen rolls [[icon relationship checks at the start of the session]] to flashback to when a bard back in town gave him a magic gem for a one-time illusion, which he uses to make them look like rocks in the cliff. So the ogre doesn't notice them to the point that he pisses all over them down below. End of session! :) Next week, the sneak attack (and laundry).

Why I love 13th Age. My PCs have never willingly been pissed on before and seen it as a success.