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13th Age: Two Hour Demo

We tried the two-hour demo of 13th Age last night. Everybody seemed to have fun. I particularly heard appreciation for the One Unique Thing and Background bits—that they let players specify parts of the setting, and seem to work better than the average of such mechanics. In more detail:


We had four characters, chosen from the plentiful pregens available from Pelgrane and its fans:

  • Trip (Andy), a Dark Elf Wizard. Unique: “The only Dark Elf child of the Elf Queen,” which we decided meant he was the heir if the Court shifted from the High to the Dark elves. His backgrounds made him a Member of the Queen’s Darts 5, a Librarian 2, and a Woodland Protector 1.

  • Tweez (Nick), Marquis of Dumberbridge, Draconic Rogue. Unique: “Hatched from a 5000 year egg stolen from the Priestess’s Temple.” His backgrounds mark him as a Fake Courtier 4, an Underground Survivalist 4, and of course a Thief 5.

  • Meither (Danielle), a Draconic Fighter. Unique: “Born to human parents,” but apparently identical to Tweez. Her backgrounds were Emperor’s Son’s arms-master 4 and Well weathered 4.

  • Frederick (Jesse), a Gnome Bard. Unique: “Read the Book of Forbidden Prophecy and didn’t die of it. Remembers some of it in spurts.” His backgrounds were the somewhat wordy Confessor-Cleric of the Traveling Order 5 and Spoiled daredevil carouser known throughout the Empire 3.

All the players figured out that if they can only use one background per roll, they should have a small number of very broad, very backgrounds. I think they played weirdos specifically because it was a one-night game.

Of the 13 icons, these four characters were only interested in five (\(+\) positive, \(\sim\) conflicted, \(-\) negative):

Icon Trip Tweez Meither Frederick
Priestess \(-1\) \(\sim2\)
Elf Queen \(+3\) \(+1\)
The Three \(+1\) (The Red) \(+1\)
Great Gold Wyrm \(+2\)
Prince of Shadows \(+1\)

This says to me something about a game about the long-lived races, and the politics of Dragons and Elves; human involvement (note no human PCs) is complicated or negative and mostly through agents of the human gods.

What happened

Two characters rolled 6s on their initial Icon Relationship Rolls; they started with magic items. The other two started with random potions. We went with the Gnoll fight, because it was labeled as being hard, and we all think we’re good at these games. The PCs started in two pairs: the Dragon-born were adventuring, and the Elf and Gnome were stalking them. Trip, the “Member of the Queen’s Darts,” telling us that the Darts were a group of the Elf Queen’s deniable assassins, was told that the Diabolist had a chess piece1 moving through this area, and to remove it from the board.

Trip had an elven cloak that helped him hide. Tweez and Meither rolled very well to do so as they approached the gnolls’ campfire. As a result, the gnolls saw a solitary gnome in colorful performers’ garb walk in out of a storm, asking to share their fire. Having read the scenario, their rangers opened fire and the savages raced out to engage him. By the end of the first turn, Frederick was Staggered. Whoops.

The Dragon-born started smacking away with sword and dagger, and the Wizard used some cantrips to good effect—knocking open the gnolls’ chest (accidentally freeing the imp) and using a ghost sound to distract a gnoll into wasting a turn of movement—then blazed away with Color Spray on the turns it was safe to use.

As the two-hour mark ticked over, the last of the gnolls fell—astonishingly good timing, really. Two of the PCs were down by then, so we walked through what the quick-rest and long-rest mechanics would be.

Character by character

When the imp looked like it wanted to escape rather than parley, the Wizard sniped it with an evoked acid arrow—one shot and it fell. In general he seemed to have a lot of flexibility, and while he was constrained (e.g., Color Spray only on even turns), the constraints were predictable and manageable.

The Bard suffered from a terrible typo: the pre-gen sheet said his battle song of blessing was a Standard Action every round. He got bored with it eventually and unloaded a Soundburst that finished off two gnolls. A standard action for a +1 to everyone this round and a +2 to one person next round seemed like a fine way to start a fight—turns out he could have been doing that and throwing knives. Whoops.

The Rogue only got momentum in the last turn of the right. I’m not sure whether he got in a Sneak Attack; I think he was holding back out of a feeling of fragility. But he too had conditional attacks that he could plan around. This is a player who reliably has an amazing line of patter to convince the GM and befuddle NPCs—so it was awfully nice to have a mechanic (Smooth Talk) suggesting he flip a coin to see if it works.

The Fighter’s player may have been a little newer to this, but we were all knocked back a bit to see how many comparisons were required for every attack roll. Did I miss? If so, was it even? Did I hit? Was it even, was it 16+? In all of that, I think Power Attack was lost: just too much going on every turn. I could imagine that smoothing out, but it was a surprising contrast to the momentum and spellcasting mechanics!


The “two hour demo” took 120 minutes to run. Maybe we got lucky, but that feels amazing.

We took pre-gens that didn’t mention any setting, and had characters who felt plugged in with an hour of work—in a way that we usually only see mid-campaign.

Players who’d recently played D&D 4 felt like this was a Fantasy Heartbreaker of 4e. Players who’d lived in 3e and 3.5 for years saw their worst complaints fixed and best features kept. And I—an old Earthdawn GM—feel familiar involvement of story and setting. My hard job now is figuring out whether to use the 13th Age setting as is, or wait for drafts of 13th Age in Glorantha.

  1. Turns out this was an imp in a chest with the gnolls, but I didn’t know that when I said it.↩︎