Thanks for sticking with me so far! We’ve looked at what 13th Age is and what it isn’t, but now we should look at some patterns for hacking the game.
Quick note: I only hack games that I like. I hack a game not to express dissatisfaction or to one-up the designers. I hack games because I like to, and I like to peer deep into games I enjoy. So if you interpret these hacks as denoting a lack in 13th Age instead of a love for 13th Age, let me officially sad panda face you right now.
I love 13th Age and I hope these patterns help you do the things you want to with the game.
Everybody else, you good? Great!
Backgrounds as Fiction Anchors
You can see in negative backgrounds and ephemera that backgrounds can anchor states of fiction to your character. Backgrounds can model injury, emotional state, wealth, experience, memories…the list goes on and on. If there is anything in your setting or story that you feel is important enough to call out, using a background is a great start.
What you want to from there is figure out what the duration and rules of use for the background is. As my general rule, a basic, by-the-rules background is part of the character. It’s something not easily changed. Other backgrounds should use their dynamics and duration to show their relationship to the character. An injury lasts until it heals (maybe you lose a point a day), and can hamper you on any physical roll. Wealth might last until you spend it.
The last use of backgrounds is an improvisational placeholder. Is cool and completely unexpected stuff happening? Do you want to mark it as important mechanically somehow without spending a lot of time making rules? Make it a background and move on.
The Escalation Die is a Timer
The threaten mechanic that Yenee of the Waves uses takes advantage of the fact that the Escalation die makes a great timer. You can use the escalation die to stage different events. 13th Age doesn’t give you tactical movement but it does give you a timer that you can play with great overall battle effects. You can stage a fight in a burning building that does increasing fire damage each round based on the escalation score. You can simulate a fight aboard a ship that’s taking canon fire, having cannon fire effects on odd numbered rounds.
The Escalation die is perfect for hanging events off of, so do that!
Leap into Fiction
Remember when I was talking about the owlbear and how great it was? What made it great was off of one strike it makes a leap directly into the fiction of the game. 13th Age doesn’t model what it means to lose an arm, and it doesn’t try to. So the owlbear yanks off your arm on a critical and then runs off. Holy crap! Are you going to get it back? Are you passing out? What’s happening?
The owlbear is mechanically super-simple, but offers this potentially thrilling and game-changing event that is only modelled in the story. It’s up to the table to figure out what’s going on and that is awesome.
Yenee’s threaten command has a leap into fiction at the end of it. Each of her threats is more or less a normal monster until it’s timer is up, and then it gets to run away and mess up your town! On a more extreme level we have Hynd, who gives players and GMs a very interesting way to reveal secrets of the setting.
Relationships of All Sorts
Who doesn’t like Icons? Who doesn’t like having relationships with important characters in the setting? One thing I’ve not seen hacked quite enough is the relationship die (I’ll uh, change that shortly, just wait). Let’s assume that icons are the most important relationship in terms of your setting. What are lesser relationships that are lower in scope?
I think it’s a mistake to make a lot of different Icons or other relationships at the same “power-level” or scale as Icons. I think additional relationships should be more specific in scale and effect. You could have a relationship with an Icon and a Mentor. You could have a relationship with a Faction. You could have a relationship with your own Shadow.
Each of these relationships could use a d6 (I would do this for a number of reasons which I might explain in another post). What you change is how you use it. Icons always have an influence on the setting and can be used to make dramatic changes or to help get adventurers unstuck. Your relationships should do smaller things. Maybe your Mentor lets you have a +D6 to a die roll in specific situations. Your Faction might let you get access to certain resources. The GM might call for a Shadow roll at times to determine what part of your psyche reacts to a situation.
There are many important relationships a character can have. You don’t want to overwhelm characters (I wouldn’t use more than 1 extra relationship with an Icon if I used any in a game), but you can add extra detail and interest to your game with it.
Do you have any interesting hacks or patterns that you use for 13th Age? Now would be the time to share.