After a couple months away, Jonathan recently returned to our 13th Age table playing a halfling sorcerer named Samlael. Well, the halfling is sort of half of the character. Samlael's One Unique Thing is that he learned sorcery from his familiar, a small green snake named Winder. Winder does all the talking for Samlael, who only speaks in his normal halfling voice when he is casting spells. In other words, Jonathan has stepped out from his usual pattern of playing small spellcasters with funny voices. This time he's got a small spellcaster whose familiar has a funny voice. You play what you love.
All the other PCs knew Samlael back when he was a skilled courier in the Elf Queen's service, back before he met Winder and learned magic. Samlael's reintroduction to the PCs was one, no, two of the freakier roleplaying sessions I've GMed. Not because of anything I set up. Just because of Jonathan's absolutely faithful maintenance of Winder's creepy snake voice, speaking of Samlael in the third person: "He's really happy to see you guys too," Jonathan hissed while Samlael bounced up and down gleefully and gave his old wood elf comrades big knee-hugs. The combination of apparently normal halfling personality and creepy snake intonation was a freaky gift that kept on freaking.
So much so that before the next session, Jonathan took the time to clarify that although he was weirding the table out with his roleplay, the key to the story was that Samlael and Winder are not scaring everyone in the world. They have so much charisma and magical mojo that people just go along with the arrangement, it seems unique-interesting instead of unique-freaky. We've gotten better at playing it this way, so much so that while the wood elf PCs are busy putting their kingdom together, Samlael has wound up presenting himself as an Agent of Distinction (Jonathan's wonderful choice of official title) and the main spokesperson for the ever-so-busy elves.
So that's the story side. On the mechanical side, Jonathan has written this this guest blog on sorcerer mechanics as they relate to the history of DnD spellcasting.
My 13th Age sorcerer casts empowered spells, which are a new way to embody the original approach to spellcasting. In D&D in 1974, a magic-user’s spells were special. They were more powerful than a fighting-man’s attacks, but the magic-user cast fewer spells than the fighter made sword attacks. This original formulation—spellcasters with one-use spells and fighters with infinite-use attacks—survived all the way through 3rd Edition and on into Pathfinder. The problem is that high-level spellcasters not only get more spells but the average power level of their spells also goes up, creating a multiplier effect. High-level spellcasters deal more damage than the fighter, round after round after round. Fourth Edition solved this problem by normalizing all the classes, so that they all have comparable access to limited-use, high-power attacks. For the first time ever, D&D classes were really balanced, but they were also too similar to each other. The dichotomy from 1974 was gone. Fighters had limited-use, high-power attacks just like the wizards did. Magic wasn’t special any more. Rob and I brought this dichotomy back in 13th Age, where spellcasters have more limited-use, high-power attacks than fighters do. If we did our work right, the classes are still balanced even though their power profiles are different. The sorcerer in particular embodies this dichotomy with its “Gather Power” class feature. A sorcerer can spend one turn “powering up,” and then cast a double-strength spell next turn. It means that my sorcerer casts two or three bigs spells per battle, while the ranger makes five to ten attacks in the same number of rounds. The classes are balanced, but magic is still special.