13th Age – The Magic Item At The End Of The Book

Been running slow due to work, but let’s see if we can wrap this bad boy up.

Magic items – on the surface, this is a very straightforward chapter. Not that the magic items themselves aren’t interesting (they are, to varying degrees) but structurally they’re very predictable. You have one shot items (potions, oils and runes) and then “real” magic items. There’s some fictional handwaving about “chakras” to basically address that this is ultimately a slot system, familiar to MMO and 4e players everywhere (though in fairness, slots are just an explicit version of implicit rules that have been around forever. A magic item has a bonus based on its tier (usually +1-+3) which usually applies to something based on its slot (Waist increases number of recoveries recoveries, headgear increases mental defense). It will also have some sort of keyworded additional capability (Armor of Stone Flesh applies its bonus to PD, a Bloodthirsty weapon does extra damage after a crit). There are exceptions for things like rings, gloves and miscellaneous items, but that’s the general shape of it.

Structurally, it’s kind of bloodless, but the actual abilities are kind of colorful which offsets that some. But more important than color is the question – given the similarities to 4e, does slot-driven, item-powers model run the same dangers that 4e encountered with magic items effectively being their own minigame and chargen?

Yes and no.

A key premise of magic item sin 13th Age is that they really are magical, rare and special. Most fantasy RPGs say this right before they start handing out enchanted swords n cereal boxes, but we’ll take it on good faith for 13th Age. They try to back it up with a few mechanics – as noted, every magic item has some distinctive power, so there’s no “generic” +2 sword, which is nice. But more importantly, every magic item has a personality in a very literal sense. In the spirit of D&D’s old intelligent swords, every magic item wants something and has some sort of behavior quirk.

This is colorful, but it also plays into the item creep rules. Basically, if you have a number of slotted items[1] equal to your level or less, then you’re fine. Your item quirks might be annoying or RP-hooky, but you’re in control. If you have more items than that (with higher tier items counting extra) then the inmates are running the prison, and you are now getting jerked around by the cacophony of quirks.

I like this model, but with reservations. The idea makes sense – scale magic items with level, so that it’s not really a bookkeeping concern until you’re high enough level that it maybe feels right. Yes, a level 10 character has 10 items to keep track of[2], and that still seems excessive, but I acknowledge it could be worse.

I worry a little more about the enforcement mechanism. There is (as a sidebar notes) a category of player who is going to respond to the idea that too many magic items means they’re obliged to play a lot of crazy random quirks with attention-seeking enthusiasm. The suggested method of dealing with this – letting them die – is probably not as practical as all that. If you don’t have any players who fall into this, then the limiter is probably fine, but if you do, you might want to consider a different set of teeth (like, magic items don’t get along, and it takes a strong personality to keep them in line – if you have too many, you can’t do so, and they bicker and sulk. Once you use an item in a scene, none of your other items work for the duration).

In the end, I dunno – this chapter feels kind of obligatory. 13th Age characters feel powerful and competent in and of themselves, and if there were not d20 trappings to deal with, I might have suggested a more Earthdawn-y system with fewer items that are more important to the character. But if they must do a 3e/4e magic item system, this is a pretty good version of that, alternately detailed and fast and loose in the right places.

Son long as we’re here, let’s wrap up. There’s an adventure which follows, and I’m not going to talk too much about it because I am largely indifferent to adventures in core books. However, I did look through it to see how the encounters were structured.

It is noteworthy how loosely it is constructed, with large elements of the plot able to be swapped out based on which icon the GM wants to hook into. As an extension of this, the adventure is explicitly structured as “one likely path” through the events of the adventure. Effectively it’s composed of a setup, 4 scenes (fight, social, investigate, fight) and an aftermath. The fact that the scenes could be mixed around seems mostly hypothetical (though they can probably be skipped). The setup, however, is an interesting bit since it speaks directly to things to be done with success on relationship rolls.

I am curious as to people’s experience with the adventure, since there seems to be a weird cadence to the climax. It actually has two big fights (and an expectation that characters level up between the two fights, which is nice to see explicitly addressed), but as the situation is described, it seems like the fights would happen in reverse order form how they’re presented. There’s also a little bit of shameless GM force in there, for better or for worse.

The rest of the book is Appendices and indexes. I’ve noted before, but will reiterate – combining the index and the glossary is super clever. There’s also a sub-index of things that relate to the icons, which is something I could see getting some practical use out of when brainstorming on how to handle Icon actions. We get the OGL (though I’m unclear if any new art in 13th Age is itself getting opened up) and wrap up useful reference charts – Icon summaries, conditions, skill check DCs and so on.

It is, I should take this moment to note, a lovely book. It is very clear that a lot of thought and care went into the layout and art direction, and that shines through.

And that’s the book. Stayed tuned tomorrow (I hope) where we see about a bit of wrap up.


  1. I am not 100% clear how things like books and ammunition are treated in this regard. They don’t have slots per se, but they’re not explicitly miscellaneous either. Ammo doesn’t have quirks, but books do.  ↩

  2. It is theoretically possible that someone will carry less than their maximum number of magic items but….I doubt it.  ↩

4 thoughts on “13th Age – The Magic Item At The End Of The Book

  1. Pingback: 13th Age – Conclusion | The Walking Mind

  2. Blue

    One part that I think was telling is that there’s no prices. They literally don’t give you the tools for a “magic item emporium”. If that sounds negative, let me recast it. As a kid playing AD&D (1st ed), the stats write-ups in Deities & Demigods ended up as a challenge. Same thing here. There’s no “magic item economy” in terms of gold.

    On the other hand, besides the supposed random looted magic items, thinks like Icon Relationships can help bring a PC and a right item together. (Though right for whom: the PC, or the icon giving it.)

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  3. RM

    When I ran Blood and Lightning, I actually gave my players the option of deciding which fight to go with first. Avoiding spoilers, if they went for the fight against the big thing first, it would be stunned from certain events and they’d get an advantage in the first round (forget what I was going to give them, might have been a jump on Escalation or some such). Meanwhile, doing the ascending battle first gave them a chance of saving some people. So it was a choice between facing the tougher opponent in an easier way or rushing to try to save some lives while running the risk of a nastier fight later. A little railroady because I know my players like to be the really good guys and save as many people as they can, but it was their choice, not mine (I even had an NPC ally I was semi-running in the campaign at that point–I ran him for RP purposes but players controlled him in battle–and had him gung-ho for taking down the big guy first, and they chose the opposite, which was fun).

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