13A 13th Age Discussion: A Love Letter to The Best Parts of D&D
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    13th Age Discussion: A Love Letter to The Best Parts of D&D

    Finally, the NDA on the game I've been playtesting has been lifted and the evangelizing can begin.

    Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo are two D&D designers who are working on their own independent fantasy game in the d20 tradition. What sets this game apart is what sets Heinsoo and Tweet apart - in addition to D&D, Heinsoo was co-editor of Feng Shui, and Tweet has lent his talents to Over the Edge and Ars Magica. These are non-D&D RPGs and, sadly, don't get a tenth of the audience D&D gets, even though they deserve it.

    It's the world beyond D&D that Heinsoo and Tweet are bringing into 13th Age, which has been featured on the front page a couple of times - but thanks to the NDA it's been playtested under, not a lot of details have slipped out. The NDA has been lifted, however, and the game goes on pre-order soon - so now is as good a time as any to start talking about it.

    So - what IS 13th Age? Here's what it is not:

    - It is not a retroclone. The goal of a retroclone is to evoke the feeling of a particular RPG from Way Back When. My experiences with 13th Age do not evoke this feeling - the game is far less based around what RPG.net calls the murderhobo lifestyle of homeless superhumans poking around in dungeons, beating up the people living there, and taking all their things.

    It's a far more story-based game, lending itself just as well to intrigues in a world where an Empire grows stout and its enemies and allies grow wary. This is not to say that there aren't things to kill, or a robust combat system to do it with - but 13th Age has many robust out-of-combat systems that you'll be using on those days when there just isn't a hobgoblin in sight.

    - It is not a Fantasy Heartbreaker. The definition of a fantasy heartbreaker is a game clearly written by someone who's never played anything besides D&D, and it shows; the game they come up with is D&D with one or two great ideas, and those great ideas cause the heartbreak because they're in a system that is too much like other systems to get a fair chance.

    13th Age is not a heartbreaker. All throughout the system, references to D&D abound - and so do references to FATE, Burning Wheel, 7th Sea, Ars Magica, Over the Edge, Feng Shui and the like. 13th Age draws upon this knowledge and casts an eye towards how D&D might serve its goal through alternate ends. It's so stuffed with great ideas it may as well be called "Every d20 Rule You Didn't Know You Always Wanted."

    - It's not the 4E version of Pathfinder. There are a few commonalities with 4th Edition - healing surges, six ability scores, eight classes based around D&D classics, feats, and the like. But 13th Age is less interested in giving you a version of a game you already own, tweaked slightly, and more interested in pushing the design space of D&D into new territory.

    Combat can be on a grid, but by default is gridless. Each class has unique approaches, with only some following the AWED paradigm. There is a built-in mechanic that is specifically meant to discourage long combats. Skills are designed to bring out aspects of your character's life at the same time that they either succeed at a task, or fail in an interesting way. 13th Age doesn't play like a game I already own, but like a game I want to own.

    So having gone into what 13th Age isn't, what is 13th Age? Well, as Tweet and Heinsoo described it, it's a love letter to D&D.

    It's a love letter in that it recalls all the best parts of the object of affection, while ignoring or forgiving all of its shortcomings and flaws. Included in the letter is the time you clawed your way out of a sure defeat, of the time you undid the diabolical schemes of the King of All Liches, that moment of quiet joy when the imaginary person on the piece of paper did something you never expected them to do.

    Not included is that time you argued over whether or not you'd packed enough rope. (13th Age doesn't have a Fantasy Accountant subgame - you're presumed to be equipped for the job if you know it's coming.) It doesn't include that time you rolled poorly on a skill check and the game ground to a halt as the GM slowly realized that now you have no way forward. (13th Age skill checks always "fail forward" - if you flub the roll, you still advance, you'll just have some... complications.) It especially doesn't include that time you all argued what the One True Edition is, which is one of 13th Age's biggest draws for me.

    D&D has a long and rich history, but that history has a downside - in that there are certain expectations its players have, and they cry foul when those expectations are not met. It's expected that wizards cast spells this way, or that the game be primarily geared towards the dungeon crawl, that we need to keep alignment around even though the first thing done by everyone I know is to pretend it isn't there. All these things are part of the 'brand,' and deviation from the brand is looked upon with suspicion. But deviation encourages innovation, and therefore, it's tough for D&D to truly innovate and still be D&D.

    But 13th Age doesn't have this problem. It can stake out any territory it wants. Tweet and Heinsoo can make the game uniquely their own, playing up whatever aspects of D&D they wish to while quietly ignoring the parts that don't work for them. Yet the game has enough familiarity that I'd gotten people interested in it that normally turn their nose up when I wave around my copy of Strands of FATE.

    That, more than anything, excites me. It certainly excites me more than going back to the Keep of the Borderlands again.
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    Last edited by Morrus; Tuesday, 12th June, 2012 at 05:37 PM.

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