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.

1 comment:

  1. That was my group. I'm Mark, I played Stig the newly-elven sorceress. Steve (Iggy), Percy (Freddie) and I all had a really great experience and I can't wait to bring 13th Age to the rest of our group. It was probably the best game we played during all of GenCon, so thanks again!