13th Age – C and F

The Cleric was a class that I was very curious to see unfold. The nature of the setting seems to minimize the role of Gods in favor of Icons. In fact, the only mention of gods is in the general sense that the Priestess and the Crusader both have connections to vaguely defined divinities.

The cleric seems to follow this model by leaving the general idea of what being a cleric is up to the player. Want to invent a god? Do it? Want to just sort of generically worship “The Gods”? Go right ahead. The authors suggest a very loose hand with pantheons.

I admit I’m not 100% sure I’m excited by this. I like the player authorship component, but I regret the absence of any real social component. It’s a small complaint though, since a player can pretty freely introduced more elements of organized religion via backgrounds or uniques.

The class feature that all clerics get is the ability to heal – twice per battle allows an ally to spend a recovery, very much in the mode of 4e. This is pretty much a concession to the realities of d20 – clerics are expected to heal, and making healing demand any kind of tradeoff can be cruel.

The three class talents take the form of domains, a familiar enough concept, and their abstraction allows for several talents to have different explanations. For example, the talent which allows striking back when an ally gets hit is considered appropriate to the domain of Justice or Vengeance. While this is a bit of sleight of hand to squeeze in more domains, it’s eminently practical, so i can’t fault it.

Structurally, the talents are composed of an effect and an invocation. The effect is usually passive, but some are reactive or are effectively mini-powers. The invocation is effectively a daily power. Notably, the feats seem to improve the effects, not the invocations, though it’s not immediately clear why that is the case.

I think my favorite is the Illusion/Trickery effect – you roll a d20 at the beginning of the fight, and at some point you hand that to someone else (friend or foe) who was just about to roll. Colorful, flexible, a little unpredictable, and mechanically neat.

In lieu of powers, clerics get spells. Technically we already saw spells with the Bard, but that was mixed in with a bunch of other stuff, so it was hard to get a sense of what spellcasting is supposed to look like. Now’s our chance.

The first and potentially weirdest thing is that the spell progression is hollow. We’ve touched on this before, but it’s interesting to see it in practice – see, 13th Age has spell levels, (1st. 3rd. 5th, 7th and 9th – sync them up with the levels they’re acquired, I suppose) . At level 1, the cleric has 4 level 1 spells. At level 2, she has 5 level 1 spells. But at level 3, she only has 2 first level spells, but she now has 3 level 3 spells. By the time she turns level 5, she will no longer have any level 1 spells.

As someone used to classic d20 spell progression, this is crazypants banana town, but the logic becomes more apparent as you look at the actual spell entries – they actually contain multiple versions of themselves.

That sounds weird, but bear with me. The level 1 spell, grants someone[1] an AC bonus. Easy enough. The 3rd level version of the spell expands the bonus to Physical defense as well as AC. At level 5 it improves the bonus when the target is staggered (whatever that is[2]). At level 7 it also improves mental defense. At level 9, the bonus is improved.

What’s important to note is that this is not a progression – these are effectively 5 different spells. They’re written in a compact way which can lead to a bit of confusion (especially for damage spells – they don’t necessarily have a smooth progression, largely because hit points don’t have a smooth progression). At level 3, more spells show up, and the only difference is that they don’t have level 1 versions.

As noted, this is strange, but I kind of dig it. One big part of this is that it limits the number of spells that a character knows to something between 4 and 9. That greatly simplifies bookkeeping while still allowing for a very wide range of spell choices. There are only 19 spell entries, but in practice, there are 69 clerical spells.[3]

However, as I read this, I have no idea how I’m supposed to use these spells. The spells are actually written like powers, including frequency (daily, at-will or Per battle) so you can figure out how to use a particular spell based on its entry, but what I am not finding is whether or not spells can be swapped out. Clearly they change at level up, but are they then locked in? Are they prayed for on a daily basis? The index fails me. In the absence of any information it seems that they’re locked in, but if so, it seems disingenuous to call them spells rather than powers.

I’m confident that I’m missing something, but I’ve been looking in all manner of odd corners of the book to no avail.

EDIT: I have been informed on Google+ that according to the designers, spells can be re-jiggered when you take a full heal up (basically a long rest).  I re-checked the text under the full heal up rules to see if there’s any mention of this, but there is not.  I fully accept that the correction is accurate, but this is a really glaring example of the text falling short of the quality of the game.  That is not something that should be in errata. 

Further Edit: Hat tip to Ralph Mazza who found the appropriate passage. It’s in the opener of the class chapter (page 76 for those who care) in a section title “Shifting choices as you adventure”.  I’d say it’s a little obscure, but I withdraw most of the criticism and place it on myself for the failure to catch that passage. 

The Fighter looks to be a little bit less of a headache – more complicated than the Barbarian, but still pretty straightforward. The class features improve recovery and give the fighter a taunt ability that makes it hard for enemies to disengage. At some point this became as mandatory as cleric healing, but I’m less copacetic about it. It’s a kludge, and the fact that it’s a kludge that MMO’s have elevated to high art does not reduce that fact. But people dig it, I guess, so I’ll roll with it, but meh. Also, get off my lawn

The fighter class talents are largely what you would expect in a post 3e world, something made pretty clear by the first one being “Cleave”. Once again, a lot of them are effectively powers (once per battle do something cool) and I admit that this blurring is starting to get to me. I sort of get why it’s there – some talents are passive effects and some are pseudo-powers, so the goal is uniform presentation, but I admit I kind of dread tracking that on a character sheet.

That said, some of the talents are pretty cool. Deadeye Archer is fairly badass, and Counter-Attack is interesting. It’s the first effect I’ve noticed where the even-odd state of the escalation die matters rather than its value, which is definitely a little hard to wrap my head around. The idea that the effect isn’t useful at, say, escalation 5 is counterintuitive.

(if you’re confused at what I mean by escalation, that is intentional, because the book hasn’t explained it yet either)

The fighter is also where another mechanic that’s shown up quietly gets brought into the highlight – Miss Damage. In 13th Age, attacks almost always do damage, even on a miss. Miss damage is reduced (usually just equal to character level) but still non-zero. This is a nice trick to keep attacks from feeling wasted, and the fighter in particular has a number of effects that improve miss damage, which seems to make him a reliable damage outputter, which seems right.

This idea is reinforced by the structure of the fighter powers (called “Maneuvers”), the bulk of which are “flexible attacks”, which is to say, they’re effects you trigger after the die is rolled[4] based on the value showing on the die. For example, for a fighter with Heavy Blows, a miss that shows an even number on the die will do extra miss damage.

I mentioned the flexible attacks before because the Bard also has some, but i really want to look at it here because they seem to be the fighter’s bread and butter. I had to go check ahead in the book to consult the rules, where I discovered they can’t be used for opportunity attacks (which seems kind of lame) and you can only use one per attack (which seems totally reasonable).

The net result is that the fighter is going to have a menu of options to consult after the die has been rolled, pretty much every time he attacks. That’s an odd cadence, and I suspect it’s going to be a little bit awkward until the fighter player gets familiar enough with his own triggers to know them by heart. This probably won’t take long, since the number of maneuvers starts at 3 and caps at 8 – like cleric spells, the list of stuff to keep in mind stays reasonably short.

I’m a little torn on missile support for the fighter. There are clearly some cool things if you want to be a missile guy, but the maneuver selection skews heavily towards melee. This is almost certainly working as intended, but I just look a little sad because the archery stuff is cool enough that I want more of it.

One oddity – The fighter section has a very striking image of a victorious gladiator type standing over his fallen foes with a sword in each hand. This is interesting because there’s no fighter talent for dual wielding, so I wondered how that was done. Index took me to the two weapon rules, which are fine, and which said some classes have talents that expand those rules, and so I guess they meant “rangers” (screw you, Drizzt). It’s not a bad thing, but it definitely seems like an odd gap.

And, well, crud. Looks like another 2 class day. More tomorrow.

  1. One nice mechanical bit – most cleric spells can either be cast on multiple targets for minor effect or on a single target for greater effect. For example, Shield of faith gives 1 target +2 AC, or 3 targets +1 AC.  ↩
  2. Checked the glossary. Basically means the same as bloodied (under 50% hit points) but since bloodied isn’t in the OGL, they needed a different term.  ↩
  3. And as a callout, Resurrection is interesting, with a steadily escalating cost that is tied to the number of times the spell has been cast, in addition to the number of times the target has been resurrected. It’s a nice balance between keeping resurrection as an option for high level play while including a check to keep it from upending the setting.  ↩
  4. It is not clear in the rules whether this is before or after a hit is declared, but some other statements about transparency of information seem to strongly imply that it’s after the hit is declared.  ↩

23 thoughts on “13th Age – C and F

  1. Paul Weimer (@princejvstin)

    I do think in a setting without defined deities, and where they take a backseat to the Icons, the cleric does feel–off somehow. I don’t know.

    If I was GMing the game again (the first time I did, the PCs had no clerics), I’d probably set some boundaries and ideas for a pantheon, or work with the player hand in glove to do so. I think the game is suggesting that deities are important only if the game table wants them to be important. (say, if the Priestess is an important icon in the game)

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      One of the things the Cleric suggests is that you really could play the game in such a way that characters are not “a cleric” but “THE Cleric”. As with so many things, the similar vibe to Dungeon World kind of shows through there.

      As I think about it, I think it’s also complicated by the lack of another healing class. Clerics are still semi-mandatory, so you’re going to have to do *something* to make yours fit. Not impossible, certainly, but probably something meriting a little discussion.

      1. Joel

        While we haven’t gotten to the combat/healing/recovery chapter, is it possible that the game has enough “everyone can heal” mechanics (like Second Wind in 4e) that the cleric’s healing is a bonus, not required per se?

        1. Rob Donoghue Post author

          There is an element of that, and my sense so far is that it’s roughly akin to 4e, but my experience with 4e was that this gave clerics more leeway, but did not completely remove the need for a healer.

          1. WolfSamurai

            Generally, you don’t have to have a cleric, but it’s nice. I’ll point out that the Bard has some party healing as well as the usual Paladin healing options (which potentially increases if they take the talent that allows for casting some Cleric spells). Some classes have self-healing options too (like the Barbarian). The cleric does the healing more consistently and better than other classes, but you can make a reasonable argument that you can get by without one.

          2. Rob Donoghue Post author

            I’ll buy that, but it’s still hard to get past the psychological barrier of “we need a Cleric!”

  2. Joe

    I think of all the classes the fighter disappointed me most. As you noticed, the ranged manoeuvres peter out rather quickly. Design or not, it makes the archery stuff an optional extra rather than a real focus.

    And there could be other talent options too – it would have been nice to see support for brawling/grappling and dual-wielding. Maybe these will be approached in expansions later.

    Worst of all, there is even a half-page of blank space at the end of the fighter section that is just begging for another 2-3 manoeuvres!

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      The upside is that the fighter seems like the most easily hacked of classes. I am totally inclined to add an “opportunist” talent that lets you use maneuvers with opportunity attacks.

  3. Steve Dempsey

    I’ve been playing a cleric in our game. I had a +5 Librarian background and my one unique thing was that my god, Mordak, possessed me when I read a book. I chose War, Illusion and Knowledge as domains. The GM decided that I’d been possessed by Knowledge, the other two domains being imprisoned elsewhere.

    I’ve hardly done any healing at all, perhaps twice in 4 levels, but one thing which really must be taken into account with Clerics and Wizards is the ritual rules. We’ve made some very good use of these, raising up an illusory undead army to help hold a town from an army of kobolds or undoing a curse.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Yeah, I’m holding off til I get to that section, but the Ritual rules are really very badass.

      (And your cleric sounds awesome)

  4. Michael Bowman

    Information about swapping out spells (and other class features) is at the beginning of the Classes chapter, on p. 76.

  5. Hollis

    For flexible attacks, you’re entitled to know if you’ve hit or not. Some of them trigger on hits or misses, like”Natural even hit” and such.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Yah, I ended up inferring that from the descriptions of maneuvers and the general GM advice on transparency, I just couldn’t find it in the actual flexible attacks section.

  6. Staffan

    The thing I like about flexible attacks is that they model… I guess you could call it opportunism. The problem with giving cool abilities to fighters has generally been that they either become so good that you always use them, or they’re so bad that you never use them, or you have to put some arbitrary 1/day or 1/encounter limit on them. For example, witness the trip monster in 3.5e – he’ll always use a spiked chain to trip a foe, get a free attack in with Improved Trip, and then get another free attack when the opponent tries to stand up. In 4e, the fighter would instead probably have some encounter power that dealt 2W damage and made the opponent prone, but once you used it you couldn’t use it again, perhaps because the opponent had wised up to your tricks.

    But with flexible attacks, you get a feeling that this turn, your got an opening to bash the foe with your shield (because you rolled a natural even roll), but the next you had the chance to stab him somewhere it really hurts (Precision attack on a natural 16+). Sometimes you might get both openings (a roll of 16, 18, or 20), but you can only take advantage of one.

    That said, I think it would be nice to have some maneuvers using other triggers than “even roll” or “16+”. Having some maneuvers trigger on different rolls (e.g. “odd roll”) would expand the fighter’s option a bit, and encourage them to choose maneuvers with different triggers.

  7. TorgHacker

    This quote surprised me: “Checked the glossary. Basically means the same as bloodied (under 50% hit points) but since bloodied isn’t in the OGL, they needed a different term”

    I was under the impression that rules cannot be covered by copyright, and unless bloodied was trademarked by WotC, I don’t see what would have prevented them from using it. Unless there’s something in the OGL that forced them to do so? Which to me seems backwards since wasn’t part of the OGL (or maybe it was the d20 license) that you couldn’t redefine certain terms (ie if bloodied was in the OGL, you couldn’t actually change it?).

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Bloodied is in the GSL (the 4e license) and the terms of the GSL require that you effectively abandon the OGL (which is why we started a new company to do 4e stuff).

      Practically, they could have probably used the term and defended it (though it’s specific enough terminology that I wouldn’t be entirely confident of that), but a successful defense is not worth the cost, so it’s easier to just be cautious and pick a new term.

  8. Matt Troedson

    Back to spell progression, is the idea that a spellcaster will always want to take the highest level version of that spell?

      1. Matt Troedson

        That’s what I was thinking as well. It makes sense, but I needed to be clear for when my D20 experienced player approaches me with brow furrowed. 😉

  9. ASH LAW

    2 weapon fighting. If you have a weapon in your off hand and miss and the miss roll is a 2 you get to re-roll the attack with the off-hand weapon. As a miss generally* works out to 10 or less this is a 10% chance of a follow-up attack on a miss.

    Not only is it easy to remember (2 hand full, roll a 2, use 2nd weapon) but this also maps nicely to hacks for characters with more than two hands.

    * In general. Some monsters are tougher or weaker, the escalation die changes things up as fights progress, etc. As a guestimate I’d call it a 10% chance to follow up a missed attack with an off-hand attack.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Indeed, and I do like the 2 weapon fighting rules very much. Was more curious that none of the fighter talents used them.

  10. Pingback: Combat in 13th Age | The Walking Mind

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