I felt the Sorcerer was a great addition to the D&D Canon in 3e (much the way I feel about the Warlord in 4e). It quickly expanded beyond the core idea into incorporating things like draconic or Fae bloodlines, and I was cool with that as an option. Sorcerer became a nice catchall for a being of power, with the source of that power being a matter of fiction and perhaps a small amount of mechanics.
The 13th Age Sorcerer walks an interesting line with this. In fiction, their power is explicitly tied to an Icon, with the default assumption seeming to be that it’s tied to the the draconic icons by default. The core of this is the breath weapon, one of the class’s several features, so we’ll get to that in a minute.
The class features are Access to wizardry (so the sorcery can use wizard spells of the next step down in lieu of one of their own), Breath weapon (complicated), Chain (if you hit someone with a spell that has the “chain” keyword, on an even roll you can chain the attack onto another target, and keep going as long as you can), Dancing Lights (Dramatic lighting), Gather Power (spend an action to charge up and your next spell is doubly potent, with a randomly generated extra effect) and Random Energy (elemental effects are randomly determined by d4).
Breath weapon is not an ability in and of itself. Rather, it is the rules surrounding casting breath weapon spells that basically boil down to the fact that 25% of the time, using a breath weapon spell doesn’t use up the spell. There are complexities surrounding multiple breath weapons and such, but that’s it. There’s also an important qualifier that a breath weapon need not literally be a breath weapon, which is nice for folks who aren’t interested in the draconic angle.
Ok, admittedly, that’s a lot of stuff, and it has a pretty clear theme of randomness. If the dice get hot for a sorcerer, she’s going to be insanely fierce, but if they run cold, it could really suck. They call out in a sidebar that players with bad dice karma might want to look elsewhere, and I can’t really fault that advice. As much as I might not be a fan of high randomness in character effectiveness, I recognize that the gambling element can make it really fun.
The class talents are kind of interesting. Most of them are “Arcane Heritages” which reflect which icon your power comes from/resonates with/is in some way connected. The existing options are the Archmage, the Three, the Elf Queen, the Diabolist, the Gold Wyrm or the Lich King (and if you want to really double down on one of these, there’s a “Blood Link” talent that gives you an extra relationship point with that icon). Interestingly, these are not mutually exclusive, which suggests all kinds of fun things.
Those heritages are the bulk of talents. The other two get you a familiar and make you better are spellslinging in melee, and since you start with 3 talents, you’re pretty much obliged to get at least one heritage. Obviously, they’re kind of a big deal for a Sorcerer.
Mechanically, they’re ok, though the Lich King feats are fun, and eventually involve removing exactly the body parts you might expect. But story wise? I love these. They’re a great example of the potency of the Icons as the tentpoles of setting design and their immediacy to the players. What’s more, the ability to mix and match almost demands interesting stories. Diabolist + Great Gold Wyrm? Destined to decide the fate of the rift to the Abyss. Great Gold Wyrm + The Three? Draconic Champion. Archmage + Lich King? Obviously the next Generation’s magical icon, with a voice on each shoulder. Elf Queen + The Three? Speaker for The Green.
And because of the potency of the One Unique Thing, these ideas are entirely doable in scope of the game. Really, the Sorcerer is the first point where a lot of these ideas that I’ve known are great in 13th Age really come to the surface to dance.
The actual spells are pretty straightforward. They’re largely either at-will minor attacks, or once-per-day-with-possible-recharge big whammies. It is a little interesting to see which spells have miss effects an which don’t – most of the daily spells have miss effects, but the At Wills are more mixed. There are a few utility spells, but nothing to exciting, at least until you get to the high levels. Some of these get kind of fun (like stealing allies powers or getting random demonic boons) and some are kind of “holy Crap”, such as the level 9 “Silver Flame” spell which lets you turn your connection to the Archmage directly into arcane ass kicking.
It’s worth noting that Sorcerers don’t have ritual magic, which we’ll get to later, but it’s not something you really miss if you like the style of the Sorcerer (which is basically to blow the crap out of stuff). My sole complaint is that it’s a tricky class to port to another setting since a lot of material will have to be transposed or replaced, but that’s not too much of a price.
Ok, and now for the big one. The Wizard. People have been speaking about this class in hushed tones, like some great beast just past the horizon, so I admit I’m a little nervous. But let’s see what we find.
The wizard opens interestingly. The color of magic (har har) is cut from classic D&D cloth, with spells that are written down into books, studied and memorized. However, there are explicitly no limits on this in order to avoid bookkeeping hassles. I’m sympathetic to this, but it only works to a certain point – hopefully any future supplements that add more spells will include some manner of check on this. There’s also a note that Wizard effects don’t add their stat to damage. This is interesting, and I suppose it suggests a certain amount of flavor (The spell matters, not the caster) but it’s odd.
The Wizard’s class features don’t seem to daunting, but let’s look through them.
Cantrips – Ok, yes, there’s a lot of fiddly effects, but at this point we all recognize what is an effectively streamlining of the old idea of 0 level spells.
Cyclic Spells – Some spells have a “cyclic” keyword and it means that they’re encounter powers if the escalation die is 0 or odd, and at will if it’s even. That’s definitely a little wonky, and like the fighter’s ability, I don’t 100% visualize the logic, but ok.
Otherworld Advantage – In the otherworld (which is not, as you might think, the astral plane or anything, but is apparently actually the sky above the clouds, thank you index) daily spells gain recharge 16+ (meaning they recharge on a 16+ at the end of a fight).
Ritual Magic – They get ritual magic. THis is a big deal, but we’ll deal with it later in the book.
Ok, so far so good. I expect the pain is coming in the talents, so I’m going to also hit those one by one. This is the wizard. We can’t be too careful.
Abjuration – Get an Ac bonus when you cast a daily spell. Well, ok.
Cantrip Mastery – You’re awesome at Cantrips. Cool.
Evocation – Once per battle, you can maximize a spell, though you have to do this before you roll.
High Arcana – You can double-select a spell, so you can have 2 fireballs. Curiously, if this talent didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have thought that would be a problem, but there it is.
Counter-Magic Once per battle, you can make an attack to cancel a spell as someone casts it.
Vance’s Polysyllabic Verbalizations – This sounds ominous, but is actually simple. First, rename all your spells with properly Vancian names (so your Fireball might become Alucard’s Most Efficacious Vermin Removal. You can even give the same spell multiple names if you like. When you cast the spell, it takes a little bit longer (as you must incant the name) but the GM is encouraged to interpret the spell in a more interesting and colorful way, one which may grant you some extra advantage. Your sleep, er, sorry, Resplendent Repose of Many Colored Dreams spell might literally wrap targets up in blankets and tuck them in. There is no obligation that these outcomes be consistent, only that they be interesting.
This one is very clearly going to weird out some players, either because they’re not used to this kind of flexibility, or because they’re not used to the GM being so critical to the improvisation process. But for players in sync with the GM, this could be a BLAST.
*Wizard’s Familiar – Yep, it gets you a familiar. Pick a critter, it gets some abilities. Easy peasy.
So far so good. Now we get to the actual spells, and we hit a weird divide: the Utility Spell. This is an idea that could probably be presented more clearly (probably as a spell) but it’s straightforward enough. Imagine the “Utility Spell” to be a wildcard spell. You can memorize it at any level (like any other level 1 spell) and when you cast it, you may choose an effect from a list which includes things like disguise self, feather fall, message and so on, limited by what level you cast it at.
While conceptually awkward, this is very practical. Most of the utility spells are of the “just in case” variety. Spells like Feather Fall which, in normal D&D, might not see use for dozens of adventures, can tie up a spell slot because you want to have it on hand when you really need it. Remember how 3e introduced the idea of Clerics being able to rotate in healing spells so they didn’t have to memorize them? This serves a similar purpose for a certain category of wizard spells.
The rest of the spells seem very straightforward and largely familiar. This is mostly the Magic User’s greatest hits.
Which brings us to the end, and I gotta say – I know the wizard is officially the most complicated class, but man, the Bard was much wonkier from my perspective. But I will concede that the Wizard has some problems with presentation that make things a little bit tougher than they need to be. it also helps that we sorted out the whole issue of spell memorization back with the Cleric. So, maybe, if I was coming in blind, the Wizard would be worse, but I doubt it.
And holy crud. Finally done classes.
- It also really strongly reminds me of the 4e Sorcerer in terms of randomness. ↩
- The issue also exists for Clerics, but that’s always been a bit more wibbly wobbly in fiction. What worries me, though, is that it also impacts ritual magic for both of these classes. It may be a spurious concern – there’s nothing keeping rituals from being tied to Macguffins to keep this in check, but it’s on my mind. ↩
- As in Jack Vance, spiritual father of the D&D magic system. If you have not read any of his stuff, then your life could be greatly improved by doing so! ↩
- In retrospect, the reason that there is not a “utility spell” with multiple effects (over and above the oddness of it) is probably tied to multiclassing and similar rules. A talent that lets you use a Wizard spell should not let you get the full flexibility of the wizard’s capability with utility spells, and should instead allow a single spell. However, that also reveals how I would rephrase the ability as follows
Utility Flexibility – As a free action, the wizard may replace any memorized spell with the “Utility” keyword with another spell with another utility spell of the same or lower level. So, instead of memorizing a pseudo-spell, they prep a spell as normal (ideally the highest level on they can) and just swap out on the fly ↩
RE: your point 4, I wondered about whether taking a talent that lets you pick a wizard spell (Bard for example) would let you take the utility spell. I asked on twitter, and the @13thAge account said that Rob Heinsoo had okay’ed it. See: https://twitter.com/13thAge/status/372424842660048896
Huh. I read the comment as suggesting that the bard can take *a* utility spell, which is as I would expect. Dunno.
But that *does* illustrate (again) that this particular idea could be articulated much more clearly. If they want the Multipurpose utility spell ability available via multiclassing, then it would be just as easy to create the utility spell and list is possible effects.
The email conversation that led to my reply:
Wade: From Twitter, addressed to @13thAge: “Can the Bard’s Jack of Spell talent be used to jack the wizard’s utility spell?” As the bard talent and the wizard’s utility spell slot are written, it looks as if the answer is yes — the bard can jack spells in the wizard’s spell list, and the utility spell slot is in the wizard’s spell list (it’s not a talent.) But I wanted to check on the intent of this one before answering.
Cal Moore: I’ll let Rob say for sure, but the rules say it’s a Wizard spell (it’s in their spell list) and not a talent, so it should be jackable. It seems fine to me to let the bard feather fall or levitate. The more non-combat types of options available to the classes the better.
Rob Heinsoo: Yes, I think it’s great, and tell him that when the bard jacks the utility spell from the wizard, the bard can now sing proudly of their magical jackknife.
Yep, definitely clearer. If only the text was similarly clear. 🙂
Yeah, the distinction between talents/features/spells can be difficult to grasp. For me, that particular example was very straightforward in the text but hard to accept because it’s so surprising. (The bard can do ALL those things? Wow.)
Actually, I don’t mind the range of capability – it’s a layout thing. “Utility” is described as a spell, but it’s the actual effects which are written up as spells. THe text suggests that there is such as thing as a generic utility spell, but the presentation suggests otherwise.
May seem like a niggling detail, but the role of layout in conveying information is a very big deal (especially for issues like this)
To me it was perfectly clear. It starts off with a paragraph that Utility Spell is a spell, they were just putting it first because of it’s usage. In normal spell progression – spelled out at the beginning of the class chapter – each unique effect ADDS. So they needed to call out that one casting wasn’t FeatherFallDisguiseSelfHoldPortalLevitate… all at the same time, but rather any one. Plus most non-combat usages are done with ritual spells, so this was an horse of another color worthy of calling out.
Thanks for that Wade. I agree with Rob D, the text in the book could be a little clearer
So I’m typically a GM in most games, and as of such, I tend to just skim character creation chapters. I usually pack pre-gens with my games for new players, and put the responsibility of learning the process on the player if they want to create a character from scratch.
What’s interesting to me about 13th Age, though, as you pointed out, is that a lot of basic mechanics are baked in to the class descriptions. Now I haven’t finished the book so maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like if you want to learn how magic works, you have to read the magic-using classes, instead of going to a “magic” chapter.
I found this REALLY confusing in my skim of the class chapter. When I got to the wizard, the text was throwing a lot of terms and what-not around that made it sound like I should already know what’s going on…but not reading the Cleric, Bard, or Sorceror classes, I had little clue. It all makes sense now (especially after your excellent analysis), but what do you make of this concept, this “rules inside the class descriptions” idea? This isn’t something I have ever seen before. Have you? Is it the design choice you would make?
Yes, this is VERY much the case. A lot of the player abilities (the Vancian one, for example) really are largely GM material.
The thing is, I like the idea of rules within the class. If I never want to play a fighter, then it’s cool if I don’t need to spend time learning a lot of fighter specific rules. But if I’m going to do that, I must do two things.
1) Make the rules genuinely self contained. If the fighter rules are going to be used for Rangers or monsters, then putting them in the fighter is a bad match.
2) Make the outputs easy to understand. This is important for GMs – You don’t necessarily need to know the ins and out of the choices the player needs to make, you just need to know the outcome.
I think 13th Age ends up tripping over this definition, and even ends up making its own life more complicated. THe best example of this is the use of keywords.
“Flexible” is a keyword on a power that means you trigger it after a roll. it’s a general rules.
“Chaining” is also a keyword, but it’s in the Sorcerer class abilities rather than the general rules.
Now, the reason for this is multiple classes use flexible attacks, but only Sorcerers chain. And that’s ok for now, but gets very awkward when you add 6 more classes and wouldn’t it be cool if one of them has a chaining attack?
That’s an example of what I consider a poor use of putting the rules in the class.
The sorcerer also provides some great examples of putting the rules in the class. When the Sorcerer casts a spell, there are lots of rolls and choices to make, but all the GM needs to know is the result. That’s nice and self contained.
So, bottom line, I’m ok with the idea, but not necessarily this implementation.
One Unique Thing: Failed Wizard who has memorized a spell that if cast couple potentially destroy the world.
Of course Rincewind is most likely a Rogue with the right backgrounds and a high connection to the Archmage/Unseen University.
The Wizard is officially the most complicated class if you opt into the weirder talents – without those, “it’s no more complicated than the Sorcerer”, leaving Rogue and Bard as usually the most complicated classes.
I think that’s a very interesting choice, and I admire their moxie in making the Bard, of all things, their most complex class. Its like, did you think the Bard was underpowered before? Well, get a load of the 13th Age Bard!
Well, this has been a depressing read for the anal retentive side of my brain. 🙂
Heh, couple of nitpicks in an excellent article.
* Gather Power gives the extra effect on the turn you gather power, not when casting.
* Breath Weapon is reusable in any round you make the roll in the same combat, but is then expended.
* Wizards get “Overworld Advantage”, which is a lot clearer that it has to do with the Overworld then “Otherworld Advantage”. On the other hand, they didn’t explain what the Overworld was by that point in the book so it’s an easy eye-trick to miss.