Escalating Your 13th Age Combats

Escalating Your 13th Age Combats

I’ll admit to being a little spoiled by 4E combat. There was a whole lot of moving and shaking going on with that game and I miss it sometimes. I don’t so much miss counting squares and working out burst/blast templates as I do  stuff like “I push the minotaur away from the wizard” or the hilarity of multiple interconnected flanking placements (sometimes referred to as the Conga Lines of Doom). 13th Age tends to end up doing more “we stand toe and toe and smack each other with swords until someone drops”.  It’s by no means as bad as 3.x and since the fights tend to be mercifully shorter than 3.x or 4E it’s not a big problem, but the tendency to static combat still kinda  irks me from time to time.  If you feel similarly, check out these extra bits I’ve added to my home game:


Stunts are a thing you do during combat to make things more interesting and deal with terrain or corner-case instances.  You define a Stunt as a quick action (like Loquacious Multisyllabic Casting) and attach it to the environment (an object, a space, etc). The Stunt can then be executed (by anyone who can justify it!) like a Flexible Attack on a roll of [16-Escalation] or higher. If the stunt doesn’t require an attack, roll the d20 and compare anyway – it’s like making a save. The stunt remains in play until it is used.

A stunt will generally produce one of the following effects (though additional effects will still be considered):

  • Maximize damage on an attack
  • Add one Background to a single attack roll or one defense against the next attack
  • Create a (save ends) condition – can be mechanical (Dazed, Weakened) or strictly narrative

Some examples of stunts my players have utilized:

  • “Dark Water” – a portal to the Elemental Plane of Water that maximizes the damage of any cold spells
  • “Jailbait” – the target is tangled up in the bars of a prison cell (hampered and stuck, save ends)
  • “Blizzard Breath” – against a yochlol in gaseous form, the target is “condensed” (save ends) effectively negating the yochlol’s gasesous form. This shows off how the DM can do really obnoxious mechanical things with a monster (invisibility, gaseous form, duplication) but the PCs are really only one good roll and an interesting bit of flavor away from negating it. Also it makes up for the lack of dedicated utility spells like Gust of Wind.
  • “Blood Blade” – invoking Tempus (god of War) with a blood-stained weapon turns the blood to acid, maximizing damage (as if it were eating through armor, etc)
  • “Table Flip” – + (relevant Background) to AC against next attack, using the table as a shield.

Obviously it helps a lot if there is a map – or at least a picture – on the table to pull ideas from, but not strictly necessary. Having a moveable trigger number [16 – Escalation] is a little weird but I want Stunts to be easier as the combat progresses. Months of playtesting have yet to yield a noticeable problem though there may be a better way to do it that I just haven’t recognized.


Quinn wrote an excellent post on Achievements and bounties which you can find by clicking here.

Sometimes you get lucky and have a player who likes Achievements for their own sake. Other times, you might need to incentivize Achievements and that’s where 13th Age gets a little bumpy. The base game doesn’t really give a crap about money. You have a table of loot by level and a table of  approximate costs of goods that would give any OSR enthusiast fits of glee, but unless the PCs are really into buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff, you can skip money entirely.

The big thing I do with Achievements in combat is use them to set a ‘first impression’ for magic items. The more of these Achievements you hit, the more attuned you are to the item or the more it just likes you. More Achievements means a stronger or less finnicky item. Conversely, fewer Achievements sets up further story space for gaining that attunement so it’s a benefit either way. I tend to compress the Achievements down to one combat but if you wanted to set a bounty the way Quinn describes it and then tally up the points (or whatever) when the item shows up, that works too.

The Escalation die provides another interesting incentive for Achievements. Play out a combat where the escalation die doesn’t increase on its own but only when an Achievement is attained. It’s not something I’d do often, but making your players fight a little harder for each step of that dramatic turnaround can be pretty darn engaging. Really, unlocking in general is a sturdy way to go with Achievements whether it’s a magic item, a combat bonus, cash, or some other story effect. If the thing that might happen doesn’t make sense as a skill roll or an Icon roll, consider an Achievement or two.

That’s the good news for now.  Catch y’all next time.

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About Ryven Cedrylle

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3 Responses

  1. What about stealing from Marvel and FATE, and allowing Maneuvers to place something akin to Aspects/Distinctions on the scene? You can then later spend one to gain a bonus to an attack.

  2. This is good stuff. One of the things I am missing that I’d like to see is more stunting.

  3. @Andy The difference is pacing. In FATE, I can Maneuver myself a bunch of Aspects, generate a crapton of shift and then take out my opponent in one roll. Similarly in MARVEL I can place Complications, gather Plot Points and then do a super-action to remove my opponent. In 13th Age, that’s a lot more difficult because I can’t build up my damage pool over multiple turns. The opponent has a HP pool I need to grind through. Spending a full turn to set a Maneuver slows things down and does not accomplish the same amount of effect that it does in FATE or MARVEL. (If you think about it, depleting HP is itself a form of maneuver, maneuver, maneuver, finish.) Placing the Stunt (which is still similar to an Aspect or Complication) on the scene as a quick action keeps the game moving at a good clip. Also, triggered effects are the natural language of 13th Age. Players and DMs alike are already looking for them to see awesome stuff happen. When at all possible, use the natural language of your system to add new mechanics easily.