Game Review: 13th Age

Once upon a time there was Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. And everybody hated it. I mean EVERYBODY. And because everyone hated it, and whined about it, and bitched about it, other games sprouted up trying to "fix" it. One example is Gamma World, which is a crazy dark kinda awesome but way out there game about a bunch of freaks doing shit. And the other one I've encountered is 13th Age.

My friend A is running this for myself and a few other guys. And yes. I'm going to start mentioning the gender ratio in my games because I feel it's important. But all my games definitely have at least one female. Me. So I've never truly seen an all guys game. I've run for them, and I know the results are rarely what I would call a "good" game. But I'm just bias. This could also just be my experience individually. I don't make claims to say that a group of guys can't have a good game. I've just heard a lot of guys talk about how girls change the dynamic, and for the better.

Right. So on to the game. I'm playing a thief. Her name is Yr, but she goes by Fiona. Or Elona. Whatever is necessary to get around. But Fiona the Bard is her cover. She's really an assassin/spy for the Emperor. My companions are Max, the Paladin, who's the son of the Emperor (and hiding his identity too but he sucks at it), Jason the fighter who hates the dragons because of what happened to his home, Aristophanes the mage with his phoenix parrot (he's my husband... the mage not the bird), and  Tulen the dwarf ranger (who's really a fighter but the class says ranger). All in all, an interesting party.

We all have relationships with big players in the world. It doesn't mean we necessarily know those big parties, like I don't personally know the emperor, but we can use our relationships to affect the game. This is one of the coolest mechanics of the game. The person on the left is the Prince of Shadows. I got to define the Prince in our game. We each got to define one of the people whom we had a relationship with. Mine are the Emperor (positive) and the Prince of Shadows (complicated).

At the beginning of each session, we roll relationship dice. A 5 gets you a "yes, but" type of deal when you call on them for help, and a 6 gives you a for sure success. So we tend to use these on things that are super important or in situations it makes sense. Last game, I called on the 5 I had with the Emperor to get through a blockade on the sea. It also means I need to go "take care of" some guy because it was a five.  This mechanic has a habit of building up tonnes of side quests meaning it gets a little bogged down, like Zelda, but hey, I enjoy it.

Yr the last Son of Ketch
There aren't skills. There are backgrounds. These are broadly specific things that allow you to narrate how you could complete a scene. My backgrounds are court bard, son of ketch (my assassin's guild), and pirate. So when sailing or pirating or doing something on our ship, I tend to roll with pirate to see if I contribute to the scene positively or negatively. You also have one unique thing about you. It doesn't come into play mechanically (that I've seen) but it does totally give you a story hook. I am the Last Son of Ketch, which is to say, I'm the heir to the all female assassin guild called the Sons of Ketch (I made this shit up).

One other mechanic I think that is interesting is the "fail forward" mechanic. So if I fail a roll to figure out something, I still succeed (or don't, whatever makes sense to push the narrative forward) but something happens that pushes the story forward. It reminds me of hard moves from Apocalypse World or the gumshoe mechanic of the narration always going forward. It's a good thing to have. It's not unique to 13th Age, but I think it's important to note because so many people tend to GM in a "fail is a fail" method. I do honestly think everyone should just use this mechanic. Because screw stalling.

Otherwise, the game is well written with obviously more than one narrative voice. It has varied advice on how to run a game, ranging from the standard D&D style crunch to the suggestions on how to make it flow by being less crunchy. I like the back and forth style within the book of talking about this. The art is, of course, fabulous, and the book is worth the money. The playset within, their world, is pretty interesting and engaging. If you've played 4th Ed, it'll be reminiscent. Nevertheless, I find it fairly intuitive and fun. I also have a fabulous GM. I like the game better than 3.5 because of the streamlining and the fail forward. Because, well, you've all seen my dice rolls.

13th Age
Price: ~$40
Players: 4 - 6
Gm Work: A lot. While a world is included, you still need to make the story. You don't need to invent monsters or remember stats, as they provide basic Mook, nonmook, named enemies, etc stats. But... yeah. More than I like. So many rules.
Dice: All of them.
Materials: Character sheets. Documents. Map (if you like). Minis (if you want).
Feel: Epic fantasy, low tech or high tech, grand.
Rating: 3/5 stars. Getting there. But I'm harsh on fantasy.