13th Age: My First Session

I played 13th Age this weekend in an online game a friend of mine ran. He’s learning the system and, more importantly, working on his pacing in preparation for running games at GenCon.

I’ve played with this DM in the past, so we have a lot of DM-player trust built up, which is very important when branching into something new. I decided to try my hand with a utility wizard, which did not go so very well. My character had all utility spells, no offense. Blur, Charm Person (x2), “Utility Spell,” Counter-Magic, and Shield.

The only times I was hit were for non-AC attacks, so I never got to use shield. I did use Feather Fall when I failed my dex check to cross a bridge. Also used mage hand for moving a rope, light, ghost sound a few times to distract enemies, and charm person. Blur helped save our fighter’s bacon, but in all, it was a rough game.

It was dungeon crawly, and we found the main flaw in 13th Age’s encounter design and wizard spell list. The wizard spell list isn’t really designed for utility mages to be very powerful. Having stuff like “Knock” as a cantrip is useful, until you realize that encounter design leaves non-combat challenges in the hands of the players as “montages.” While that’s great, it does mean that a player who is trying to use their character as someone who overcomes obstacles pretty much has to create the obstacle themselves to be overcome. Which, frankly, they can do alone in a word processing program without a GM.

When the fighting actually started, I’d wanted my combat role to be “walking band-aid.” so gave my character a background in medicine– basically, someone who had helped out in the infirmary a lot. But even though there are mechanics for using a Recovery (like a Second Wind in 4th edition) in combat, and there are plenty of healing powers for divine PCs…. there are no non-magical ways to trigger a Recovery for someone else using skills rather than, say, class abilities. Again, a weakness in the system.

For the first combat, I eventually gave up and said I’d like to “fight in spirit” and basically cheerlead. Gave up all my actions for the rest of the combat and just boosted one of the characters’ AC.

For the remaining combats, the GM was generous and gave me a wand of magic missile, so I plinked at the enemies whenever I couldn’t think of something to do. Which was a lot.

We pushed the boundaries of Ghost Sound so I could fake one of the bad guys out and have them check out a supposed threat elsewhere (he came back to pound on us later in the combat). I used Charm Person to neutralize one of the bad guys, telling him to “stop your ally– he’s hurting my friend!” But otherwise, it was a lot of “pew pew pew.”

In our post-mortem, we agreed that in a long-term campaign, this would be a build that could work, but mainly because the GM and player would be better able to adapt the campaign to this playstyle. In a one-shot, however, it wasn’t super fun to play. I didn’t have a lot of decisions I could make– most of them were “can I trick one of them into doing something? Not likely? Ok, pew pew pew.”

Don’t get me wrong: I did have fun playing and got to RP with some new folks. We just found the weak point in the system. It’s not “weak” in the sense that 13th age is really meant for creative DMs and players to tweak and adapt, but when I think about public gaming and organized play, I realize I’d have to encourage someone to not build this character if they wanted to really have fun.