Next, 13th Age and me

Things are in flux right now. My 4e campaign has been on hiatus over the summer due to real life commitments, though I’m certain it will be back soon. While that’s (not) been happening I’ve been happily devouring the Next playtest packages (two, as of time of typing) and the 13th Age escalation edition playtest. Of course, I’ve been mulling my own commando game at the same time.

There’s no shortage of opinions on Next, and I really can’t bring myself to do a blow by blow on it myself. Similarly with 13th Age. But I do want to pull out a few initial thoughts about the different approaches each game is currently taking, and what that might mean to my own efforts.

Next has surprised me. There’s a lot to like. I’ve played a session with the first packet and done group chargen with the second. It delivers some interesting characters without taking too long. The four pillars of race, class, background and specialty are fun. What’s incredible is how much impact this simple classification has. There’s almost nothing in this that we don’t already have in 3 and 4e already. It’s basically skills and feats in pre chosen packages. Yet, it feels fresh, and creative. Maybe it’s in the traits element of the background, all of which make the DM in me want to write it into the very next adventure. But there’s no mechanics in that part, so I could weld it straight into my extant game. Maybe I will.

That’s not quite the surprise though. What’s astonished me is just how little of the game WotC have actually gotten done by this point. I know Monte jumped ship, but only a couple of days prior to the release of package one. That leaves Messrs Schwalb and Cordell from the original three. Their FB updates lead me to believe they’re rarely in the same room as each other, and when they are it’s not at WotC HQ. it seems like a strictly part time gig, and a short handed one at that. There’s lots of other stuff going on around the game itself, the art, the blogs, the articles, but that seems to have eaten into the actual design time.

Compare with 13th Age. Written by two main designers, Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, who won’t have done this as their full time rent paying gig. The playtest word doc is at 300 pages plus. It’s got tonnes of art ready. It’s got the first expansion up on Kickstarter already. It’s been and is being playtested. We have a release date, sorta. As a game it has it’s issues sure, and large lacuna yet to be firmed up. Again, the majority of the new innovations are mechanically light and could be added to my 4e game with little effort or issue. But it has a confidence about it that I don’t see in Next.

Now, a lot of this is down to the differences between WotC and Pelgrane Press, and the vastly different sets of expectations from the gaming community. WotC is having to wrangle a huge fanbase with highly developed senses of entitlement. Pelgrane, on the other hand, can include lines like

The druid class will not be appearing in this book. We’ve attempted some ambitious stunts to make the druid fun and different. The stunts are too ambitious to be properly finished in the time we have. We’ll have to make the druid available some other way when we’ve had time to get the design right.

And have the fans just go “that’s cool. Let us know when it’s ready”. Can you imagine the response if WotC tried that?

Next has a cool core. It has very cool aspirations. I want it to succeed. But it’s early stumbles are so face palmingly foolish, and so easily avoidable that I can’t help but worry. And while I worry, here’s 13th Age, nearly done, just as full of cool and I can keep all my 4e goodness on hand.

Mike Mearls, I’m a fan, I’m patient, and will remain so. There’s room in my life for all kinds of D&D, I’d love for Next to take a big chunk of it. You need to get a move on.

What does this mean for my own game? Well, it raised a smile to see some of the ideas I’ve had crop up in Next. They’re not that original, so I’m not being arrogant here. I like the four pillared approach. Commando currently has three, based around the play expectations. That seems to be a path I will continue down. I love the way flavour has been packed into the two playtests, whether in the equipment lists, or the talents or wherever. I want to get that into Commando.

There’s specific rules that I love, like Icons in 13A, though I don’t know how to work them in. The escalation dice I can absolutely use though.

In summary, I wanted to wait to see what Next would offer me, as a D&D fan and as a nascent designer. It’s too early to tell, and I don’t think it should be. Then 13th Age came along. It’s inspirational and very steal able. I also want to play it and run it immediately, and it’s pretty much ready to let me.

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3 responses to “Next, 13th Age and me

  1. Richard

    Interested to see where your thoughts go on 13th Age and Next. With Pathfinder being as popular as it is I can see both of these struggling to gain a market share, or in Next’s case RE-gaining its share. 13th age appears to be tied to a setting which gives it a definition that Next lacks and it also has the advantage of a canny company behind it which you alluded to above. I find the concept behind Next laudable as I think we all like various bits of the different editions, but can they be made to interact in a workable way, in effect, squaring the circle.

    Looking forward to further comment.

  2. I sorta figured out how to make Icons work in campaigns outside of 13th Age’s structure, might as well share it here:

    Try looking for the most influential organizations or kingdoms within your campaign, and see who is the leader of said organization, someone who is probably very unreachable for most folk but who is certainly iconic for said organization or kingdom, although in this case you’re looking more for positions rather than specific persons. Real life examples would be the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and the President (of the United States of America). Campaign-specific examples might include the Sorcerer-Kings from Dark Sun, the Keeper of the Flame from Eberron, or maybe even Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: New Jedi Order.

    Regardless of what the Icons in your campaign would be, the more important part is integrating the PCs into your campaign, and this is where the Icon Relationship dice come in, as the players are given incentives for providing connections (no matter how distant) that allow them to be much better integrated into the world.

    • Absolutely. I’d given it plenty of thought in Eberron terms myself. There’s obviously more than one way to do it, and I think it depends on what scale you want your campaign set at. At the big end, you could have the icons be nations. Slightly smaller and you get the big NPCs as you say. But then there’s the tiny scale. What would it be like if you used the icon rules for factions, movers and shakers just in a single location, like say Sharn?

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