4th Age

21 Dec

Phew. Six months! Things have been happening, just not on this page. New job, a few projects on the side, all that. I think it’s safe to say I’m not much of a blogger by nature. But let’s close out the year with one more bit of tinkering, still 13th Age-related… yet different.

It’s been about a year of play with 13th Age, and so far people are enjoying it. There’s huge amounts of love for the Backgrounds, one unique things, escalation die, mook rules and relationship dice. The downside, though it’s not a huge one, is that the classes and the combat system aren’t quite as toothsome as the D&D 4th edition games we were previously playing. This is not a universal problem. A couple of players do like the slimmed-down rules. But, well, some of the classes in 13th Age aren’t scratching the itch. For instance, the wife rather enjoys the monk (which is a great class), but finds her ranger mechanically dull. This can be a problem if you have players who like more complicated combat and class mechanics but who also like martial archetypes more than spellcasters. And yes… I have players like that.

At this point, a person asks himself “So… how do I transplant the portable stuff from 13th Age into 4e?” I know this because the 13th Age designers encourage that process right in the core. It could be a fairly simple process, but I expect a few quirks to arise. So let’s set out a plan!

Things I Love Best In 13th Age:

  • Leveling System
  • One Unique Things
  • Backgrounds
  • Stat bonuses
  • Relationship points
  • Mooks
  • Monks & Druids

Seems simple enough. With one giant glaring exception, one rather large glaring exception, and some stuff that might have hidden difficulties. So, let’s look at the plan.

Leveling System:

I’ll just get it out of the way: Can’t import the “10 levels, not 30” rule without designing an entirely different game. Which is tragic, because I really love the tighter focus and have never used epic levels in 4e anyway. I’d rather run three 10-level campaigns than one 30-level one. That said, I wasn’t using XP last time I ran 4e anyway. The incremental advances are a possible thing to unpack, if we design specific hybrid character sheets, but I did get the complaint that after three or four incremental advances, getting an actual level felt more like just filling in the rest of the bookkeeping rather than a new height. Not sure on this one.

One Unique Things:

Completely narrative, easy to retain, therefore will retain. We were pretty much doing this anyway, if the “escaped my abductors in the Shadow World”/”devil who escaped Hell”/”rebuilding my tribe” characters we were playing are any indication.


This is also a no-brainer. Moving to more abstract skillsets means no more formal skill challenges that require specific skills for success. However, the big question is whether to allow the granular 13th Age-style +1 to +5 range, or to say “you get X Backgrounds at +5” to serve the existing 4e difficulty charts. I’m leaning toward rewriting the difficulty charts and allowing granular ranges. The 4e approach definitely rewarded skill training, but it discouraged players from trying to roll if they didn’t have that +5.

Not having formal skills will require judgment calls for taking skill powers, skills as prerequisites for paragon paths, and corner cases like whether or not Beguiling Tongue works with “Disreputable Barrister.” Some feats will have to be rewritten, and multiclass feats will probably grant an additional 2 Background points in something appropriate for the class in question and how the player picked it up. All of this seems delightful to me.

Stat Bonuses:

I absolutely want to say “you get one +2 from your class and one from your race.” The bonus you get from your class can come from any of the recommended attributes in a class writeup. It should honestly be so intuitive I don’t need to write down specifics: you’re a tiefling monk and you want to take +2 Dex from your race and +2 Wisdom from your class? Sure, fine, whatever.

Relationship Points:

Pretty much entirely narrative. A good way to orchestrate alternate rewards like boons and special maneuvers, to boot. Not much to say here, other than defining a set of icons for any one campaign is clearly much more work than using the mechanics.


Ah, here’s a problem to be solved. I prefer the mook approach to 4e’s minions because damage rolls matter. This is going to be about testing the right amount of hit points, though; 4e characters don’t throw out the ever-escalating dice pools of damage as they level. It also means that all the 4e powers that do minimal damage (like your attribute modifier) as a rider aren’t automatic minion-killers. I suspect this would be something that would just need to be tested in play. And it’s fun to test things with limitless reserves of mooks, anyway.

Monks & Druids: 

This is just wishful thinking. While we prefer many of the 4e classes to their 13th Age counterparts, I personally think the monk and druid are exceptions. The combo system of the monk reminds me of Street Fighter in all the best ways, and the druid is amazingly customizable with a lot of archetypes covered. But I’m not going to try to build a 30-level class to recapture either one.

So that covers the initial path of thinking. Next up, I need to tinker with the math a little; get those difficulties and mook HP totals into some first draft format. We’ll see if this “best of both worlds” approach works… but it might work for us.

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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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