Tag Archives: 13th age

Tear down the wall!

Last January I published my Adventure Environment for 13th Age. https://rpgtreehouse.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/knee-deep.pdf . It was a great experience, and now the game itself is out there’s been nearly 1000 downloads, which I find both amazing and humbling. With that anniversary looming, I think it’s time for the second installment, this time set in the Champion tier.

My first thoughts are to write up another mini sandbox, this time on the coast of the Iron Sea. If you don’t know the setting, in this world, the sea is alive, angry, and wants to destroy the Dragon Empire. Well, sort of. Essentially it gives us a chance to reenact Godzilla in a fantasy setting. Typically of 13th Age, this write up is no more than a couple of paragraphs, which is more than enough of a springboard. Any more than that and I’d start to feel painted into a corner.

I love brutal frontiers and sieges. There’s loads of precedents too, from the Wall in George RR Martins Song of ice and Fire, to the Wall in Legend of the Five Rings where the Crab Clan hold back the Shadowlands. Then there’s all the great sieges from the genre verse, like David Gemmells Legend, or Warhammers Storm of Chaos with Middenheim. It’s all grist to the mill and I’ll be looking to pay homage to some of these in the book.

I’m also going to play with the formatting a bit. I want this to be a book that’s as useful as it’s enjoyable, which is easier said than done. The choice of 13th Age as a system throws up a few issues too, so I want to make this flexible enough to accommodate backgrounds, icons and OUTs without either being too prescriptive or too vague. Right now I’m thinking of multiple options in the text for plots, people and places which the GM will pick from as they go. It will give it replay value too, although it is essentially tripling the amount of cool ideas I need to come up with!

This is super early days, so I’ll write up notes as I go. I’ll also ask around for some brainstorming and idea bouncing, so be ready for that. Excited.

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Oh Pelgrane, Pelgrane, Pelgrane…

You’ve cost me a pretty penny today. Not only is the current Bag of Holding deal filled with the only Pelgrane stuff I don’t already have (technically no longer true)…

…but now I have the pre order in for the 13th Age Bestiary, so have the playtest squealing and kicking in my iPad right now.


The latest Next package isn’t going to get a look in is it?


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The Knee Deep 500

Really gratified (and somewhat surprised) to see that my Adventure Environment for 13th Age has been downloaded nearly 600 times since release early this year. Given that I got it out there six months before the game itself became publicly available, I’m kind of expecting it to keep going now a wider audience is there.

Obligatory link. https://rpgtreehouse.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/knee-deep.pdf

Now, it is free, and under the fair use/fan policy I’m going to keep it that way, but I wonder how many I would have shifted if I had charged for it? My guess is that I’d lose 80% of that number if I’d charged even a pound. On a Pay What You Want basis? Who knows.

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I wrote a supplement

Inspired by 13th Age.

It’s an adventure supplement, and I’ve written it to be inspirational and a fun read. You could easily adapt it to your favourite fantasy setting or system.

What do you think?



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Up to our necks

I’ve very kindly been given permission by the good people at Pelgrane Press to publish my setting book for 13th Age. Just have to finish it now.

One of the things I simply must do is find a snappy pitch for it, because right now it goes a little like this:

It’s a setting book really, as well as a supplement. It’s got scads of adventure hooks as well as some that are fully realised. It’s got locations, items and creatures too. It’s written in a certain style that is designed to be vague, yet inspirational, yet compelling. It’s tricky to describe. It’s set in a swamp, the Knee Deep, but none of the stuff in it is totally dependent on marshes. You could pick it up and drop it into a desert without much trouble. It uses the idea of icons to generate agendas and plots, so depending on your group you’ll get a different experience each time. It’s got stacks of homages in it too, mostly to other gaming stuff. It’s got art, which I also did. And it’s free. At the moment I’m calling it “up to our necks in the Knee Deep” but that might change into something like Mire Miscellanae. I dunno.

See? It needs to be a one or two liner.

Anyhow, it’s well on its way to being done, so here’s a preview of a small chapter.

Things you might experience in the Knee Deep when it’s not important:


  • A plop in the water, like a rock, or a body
    Repetitive slosh, slosh, slosh, like an oar in the water
    The quork of a raven
    The brush of a hunting owl
    A sharp crack, like a branch, or a bone
    A sucking sound
    The scream of a trapped animal
    The lowing of an ox
    A bell tolling
    Ugly rumours, unsubstantiated
    Utter silence
    The buzzing of flies
  • Sights

  • Pale sunlight
    Rolling clouds of fog
    Moss shrouded branches
    Clouds of tiny insects
    Stream of bubbles in the water
    Snares, pots, and animal traps
    A wake
    A single footprint, filling with water
    A smashed potion bottle
    Dead fish, floating
    Fungal bloom
    A gibbous moon
    Mozart records, copies of the Crabapple Cove Courier & the Boston Glove, letters from ‘Peg’.
  • Feelings

  • A sudden chill
    A cool breath of air
    Trickling sweat
    Stinging insects
    Oppressive heat
    Clinging humidity
    Swollen toes
    Clammy skin
    Hacking cough
    A presence
    Is that… a leech?
    Cobwebs on your face
  • Scents

  • Woodsmoke
    Each other
    Rotten flowers
    Carrion stench
    Marsh gas
    Spore burst
    Peaty mush
    Dead leaves
    Stagnant water
    Bitter almond
  • Fauna

  • Eels, roiling
    Pigs, snuffling
    Scavenger birds, feeding
    Oxen, grazing
    Birds, wading
    Dragonfly, darting
    Flying ants, swarming
    Turtles, chewing
    Toads and frogs, croaking and hopping
    Rats, squeaking
    Bats, flitting
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    Porting 13th Age icons into your game

    One of the many cool things about 13th Age is the modularity. Some of the mechanics are very suited for ripping out and layering onto your own game. Prompted by a recent comment, here’s some ideas for using the Icon rules.

    They work like this. There are a bunch of movers and shakers in the 13A world, called icons, which the PCs can have relationships with. They can call on those relationships in game to have certain effects. Mechanically it’s super easy. You roll a D6 for each point in the relationship you have (usually between 1 and 3). For every 6 you roll you get a benefit. For every 5 you roll, you still get the benefit but with a twist.

    What’s so good about this is they way it makes the setting interact with the scenario. We’ve all got huge 300+ page world books full of cool things, but so often it all sits in the background and rarely has an impact on the adventure at hand.

    So imagine some popular settings out there and what would happen by introducing this simple Icon mechanic.

    White Wolf games. Every single one is all about factions, and yet the games tend towards the personal with all the really good backstory staying firmly behind the scenes. You could simply allocate the factions to the Icon roles, or actually get personal and take an important NPC from each and have them take a more direct role.

    Deadlands. The Deadlands universe is soaked through with meta plot. The Icons would pretty much write themselves. This is also a great example of how this mechanic would overlay any rules set without spoiling the flow. They are important roles, so why not use an in game unique mechanic?

    Eberron. I’ve written about this before, but it’s a classic example of a game with too much background for any one campaign. Is it a Cold War game, espionage, pulp adventure, or a mix of all the above? If you work through the Icons you and your group want in the campaign, probably during group chargen, then not only will your campaign have some agreed structure, but a mechanical consequence too.

    Runequest. Cults. Job done.

    Shadowrun. Corps.

    Etc etc.

    An important note, this rule does not mean the game is any less about the PCs. This doesn’t give the NPCs the run of the campaign. It simply allows for the setting to join in the groups activities. The chances are that the PCs wouldn’t even directly interact with an Icon, let alone kill one (leave that til late in the campaign). More likely it will be a question of flu keys, minions, key advisors or just resources.

    What game do you play that could use these?



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    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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    Monster stat blocks in 13th Age

    I was fiddling around with the stat blocks for orcs in 13th Age. I was trying to shrink them down to the bare minimum needed for reference in my adventure notes. I got them down to this:

    Orc Warrior (1 troop) Init +3, AC 16, PD 14, MD 10, Greataxe +6, 1d10 (crit 17+ until wounded), HP 30

    Orc Berserker (2 troop) Init +5, AC 17, PD 15, MD 14, Greataxe +7 2d6 (crit 17+ until wounded), HP 36
    Unstoppable: When this berserker is reduced to 0 hp, it does not automatically drop. Instead it rolls a d20: if it rolls higher than its negative hp it stays on its feet fighting. The next damage dealt to it, no matter how small, will kill it.

    Orc Shaman (2 troop) Init +5, AC 18, PD12, MD 16, Battle Curse vs. 1d3 nearby targets, +6 vs. MD, 1d10 psychic damage and target can only use a basic attack on its next attack OR Spear +6, 2d6 (crit 17+ until wounded) HP 42

    Orc Rager (7 mook troop) Init +12, AC 22, PD 20, MD 16, Greataxe +12, 16 dam, HP 27
    Dying strike: When an orc rager dies, it gets one last attack.

    Great Fang Cadre (10 mook) Init +13, AC 26, PD 23, MD 17, Double Ax +15, 25 dam (Natural 11+: Strike one more time), Big, black, creaking bow + 15 v PD, 37 dam, HP 50
    Advanced ability, Whatever nasty special power (or appendage) that you need the great fang lord to have. It’s eaten something special and mutated.

    I couldn’t bring myself to shrink the italicised parts too much. Apart from that these look pretty useful, almost as old school as the old TSR modules.

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    Why I put down money for 13th Age

    Because of this:

    “Occasionally, living dungeons roar up from the deeps; if they’re not killed off, they eventually erupt onto the surface.”

    And that’s also why I will be doubling down and pledging to the upcoming Kickstarter for the first expansion, as explained by Rob Heinsoo here in this RPGnet interview


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