So, in 13th Age, each race (Human, Dwarf, Dark Elf, High Elf, Wood Elf, Gnome, Half elf, Half orc & Halfling) has two associated stats (for Dwarves, it’s constitution and wisdom, for example) and you get to add a +2 to one of those stats. It’s a nice gimmick, but the chart of races reveals that you get some weird clustering that kind of breaks down as follows
|Stat||Number of Races*|
*- Humans not counted in this, since one of their racial abilities is that they can pick any stat.
This feels like a much more legacy distribution than I expect it’s intended to be. Classically, A stat bonus in strength is so potent that it’s to be avoided, and only given to otherwise problematic races, like half-orcs. Between the changes to combat, the 3-stat defense model and the class-granted stat bonus, it feels like this should be is less of a concern than it used to be.
Of course, this is a very familiar distribution, so perhaps that accounts for it. As has been noted various times, the game goes out of its way to stay familiar to d20 players.
Mechanically, the races are pretty lightweight. They have the stat modifiers and one unique racial power and one unique feat which improves that power. The mechanics don’t always make sense at this point in the readthrough – this is the first time that reader is going to find mention of the escalation die, so feats which interact with it don’t make a lot of sense. Once you understand it, they come together just fine, but it’s another case where the structure of the text gets in the way of the content.
These racial powers are the first window into how 13th age will be handling powers. Most of them are “Once per battle”, structurally similar to 4e’s encounter powers , with an exception for the wood elves who have a kind of fiddly ability to gain some extra actions over the course of a fight, and gnomes who have a minor illusion ability at will.
Beyond the mechanics, you get some color and description abotu the race in question. These are a little thin, with the exception of the elves, since the three elf races (dark, high and wood) are combined into one supersized entry.
The core races are all pretty much as you would expect, and steps have been taken to reinforce certain tropes (humans are super generalists, elves can buy a feat to make them better with swords) but not necessarily others (no intrinsic dual-wielding for dark elves or missile bonuses for halflings).
Most curious? No infravision. Not even mentioned in passing. Now, I’m totally good with this, but I can absolutely see it being a matter of some contention at particular tables.
There are also 4 “optional” races as well, differentiated mostly by having smaller descriptions and being called optional. They are Aasimar, Dragonborn, Warforged (sorry, “forgeborn”, yay copyright) and Tieflings. Interestingly, the Tiefling and Aasimar writeups are sparse enough that they could easily be interpreted as their 2e/3e versions or their 4e version as desired. I am reasonably sure this is not a coincidence.
It’s a solid enough section, though it leans heavily on familiarity with D&D tropes to save itself reams of explanation. And it paves the way for the longest chapter in the book: Classes.
- I stopped to look this up when I hit this point, in case I had missed some earlier reference to the escalation die. it took a little bit of work to find the index, since there’s a lot of back matter in the book, but once I did, I found something very clever – the index is also the glossary, so the “Escalation die” entry had a page reference but also had a few sentences of explanation. I had not seen that done before, and it was pretty neat. ↩
- The text actually avoids this issue with the half elf, whose ability can let him subtract 1 from the natural result of a roll. Without context, that seems like a nonsensical ability, but there’s a sidebar that basically says “Yes, we know this seems weird, but when you see how powers work, it will totally make sense. (And for the curious, it’s because some effects might trigger on an even or odd number – being abel to subtract 1 lets the half-elf change their even/odd outcome after the fact, which can be handy) ↩
- The optional races totally change the stat skew, with 3 of them offering strength as a stat bonus option. This kind of reinforces my sense that the main distro is more about tradition than anything else. ↩