13th Age – PRR, as it were

Ok, the Paladin may actually be a short entry. Like the Barbarian, this is a super straightforward class to play as it has no powers or spells, only talents. Admittedly, some of the talents are really pseudo-powers, but I’m getting used to that at this point. There’s some nice treatment on the handling of alignment, calling out that Paladin’s tend towards law and good, but that’s not a shackle – there’s even a talent specifically for people playing evil Paladins. I actually wished they’d expanded more on this, since as written the Paladin really works as a warrior of an ideal, whatever that ideal might be, but that’s not a complaint so much as a wish for more. Practically, Paladins are more constrained by their armor selection (go heavy or go home) than their alignment.

Interestingly, there’s only one class feature, Smite Evil (which is notably very fuzzy in its definition of evil). I call this interesting because I think of this as a less iconic ability than Laying on Hands (which is available as a talent). It was probably the right choice – making a talent lets a paladin choose if he wants to put on the healer hat rather than have it expected of him – but it caught my eye.

The talents are all pretty straightforward, and include a heal, clerical spellcasting and a taunt, which covers the required bases. I think my only concern is that there are only 8[1] of them and the Paladin (eventually) gets 5 of them. That’s not a great ratio for diversity, but I suspect it’s also something which can be opened up with further material and hacks.

Chewing on it a bit, I like the open-ended paladin, but it loses something in translation. I wish there was something to give mechanical teeth to the idea that whatever ideal you serve, you really need to stick with it, since that sort of self-imposed limitation is one of the things that makes paladin’s interesting (though the righteous and evil path talents do lean that way)[2]. That said, if you call it something other than a paladin and treat it as sort of a flexible champion of [insert cause here] then it probably holds up.

Rangers are also pretty simple (finding it curious that the fighter is more complicated than the Barbarian, Ranger or Paladin – that’s an inversion) as they also have no powers. Notably they also have no class features, just talents. I was surprised that tracking was not a class feature (since that seems like it should be universal) but figured that maybe it was left out since it’s appropriate to a background. I was wrong. There is a tracking feature and it’s…ok. You get a free background of tracker at +5, and a kind of odd stunt, but compared to the other talents it seems to fall a little short.

I’ve got no testing data to back this up, but I’m not sure why it’s not a Feature. This stands out in contrast to the Paladin who is structurally identical to the Ranger (same number of talents, no powers) but who also has a feature and better AC. Maybe the ranger talents are supposed to be just better enough to make up that gap, but I’m skeptical.

Other features cover classic ranger abilities like favored enemies, spell casting, animal companions and two weapon fighting, though I use “traditional” most loosely on that last[3]. My only real disappointment is that the ranger’s archery talent is way crappier than the fighter’s archery talent.

Notably, this also includes the animal companion rules, which are fairly straightforward. Your companion is one level lower than you, which provides baseline stats, which are modified based on the type of animal (Eagles do less damage, Snakes can inflict poison and so on). There are feats for improving your companion, and all in all it seems like a fairly substantial subsystem with a fairly substantial cost and a fairly substantial reward. If you want to be a beastmaster, it’s got you covered, for at least one big critter (and there’s another feature that can get you a small creature using the wizard’s familiar rules, if you really want)

This run of simplicity breaks with the Rogue, whose powers make her look comparable to the fighter at first glance, but who may actually be a little more involved. The first tip is in the Features – the rogue has 3 class features. Two are as expected – sneak attack and trap detection. No shock there. The third is an idea called “momentum”. It’s not a power, but a state: a rogue gains momentum when he hits someone, and loses it when he’s hit. Many rogue powers only work when the rogue has momentum. Some cost momentum to use, others do not.

This looks really interesting on paper, and I’ll be curious to see it in action. It’s a nicely generalized “setup” mechanic, and you usually only see those in magic systems (summon power), but tying it to action can really drive play in a fight, as you have to take into account whether the choice you make will help you get or maintain momentum.[4]

The talents are interesting, in a mixed sense. A lot of them are straightforward – swap INT for CHA for some powers, Be more brutal in combat and so on, but a couple of them stood out as oddballs.

There is a Thievery talent which is very similar to the Ranger one – you get a “Thief” background at +5 (but no extra bonus, aside from the opportunity to buy feats). I admit I’m not sure why this is a talent and Trap Sense is a feature. It feels like the iron fist of the dungeon at work.

Improved Sneak Attack is something I never like seeing because in every game I’ve seen, it’s basically mandatory, since sneak attack damage is so essential to the overall combat effectiveness of the rogue. This does not seem to break the trend.

The “Smooth Talk” talent is fascinating, and I think people will love or hate it. It hangs a lantern on one of the worst abuses of social play and runs with it. Basically, once per day, if you (the player) can persuade the GM (the person) with your line of bullshit, then you have a 50/50 chance of establishing a temporary relationship with an Icon (which cascades into influencing the situation in play). Historically, player persuasiveness trumping mechanics is something of a bugbear in social interaction design, but explicitly creating a mechanical space for that persuasiveness is….kind of neat. I totally want to see it in action more, esp. because I suspect its value varies from table to table.

Similarly, the “Swashbuckle” talent kind of cuts both ways. It lets you expend momentum to narrate doing something awesome, dramatic and swashbuckly. But my instinctive reaction is “Wait, so I can’t do that normally?” The authors are aware of this, and address it a little, asserting that the talent means you often succeed automatically where others might need to make a difficult skill roll. That feels like half an answer to me, especially because most swashbuckling stuff is a more colorful path to the same end, so the interaction with dice is not always clear. But for a table that does not feel it has the freedom to do these kinds of things, the explicit invitation offered by the talent is pretty cool. So, like Smooth Talk, I’m not sure that works equally well at every table.

The actual powers themselves are pretty straightforward, with the only real potential confusion coming if you haven’t fully grokked momentum. They reinforce the basic idea of the rogue as a fast moving, mobile fighter with the potential to get off more attacks. They do an interesting job of keeping the effects interesting (and balanced by the need for momentum) so there’s no automatic decision to drop all low level powers in favor of high level ones.

Ok, 3 down, 2 to go. I’ve been warned that the last, the Wizard, is even more complicated than the Bard, so this should be a fun ride.

  1. 2 of them are mutually exclusive, and one can be taken multiple times, so the ratio is a little less straightforward than 8:5.  ↩
  2. The hack I’d do? Relationship based talents. That is, talents demanding a relationship with a certain Icon. Want to be a Dragon Knight and buy the Draconic Fury talent? Have to have a relationship with the Wyrm or the Three. Easy peasy.  ↩
  3. Seriously, it made me crazy when rangers became two weapon dudes because of Drizzt. Yes, there are some other examples (but I can cite many more examples of why rangers should be awesome with the bow, and they’re not) but really, it’s Drizzt, who uses two weapons because he’s a Drow. I accept that it is now baked into D&D canon, but still, rage!  ↩
  4. I’ve fiddled with some Fate hacks that work like this, so I have a bias in favor of the idea.  ↩

16 thoughts on “13th Age – PRR, as it were

  1. Cam Banks

    I’ve seen many people try to justify the two-weapon fighting for rangers. It’s useful on hindsight, but the truth is, the Drizzt justification is entirely the reason. Some people have even tried to point me to Unearthed Arcana or something like that, saying “look rangers got it there for the first time” but this is false. In 1st edition AD&D, rangers were of the Robin Hood, Aragorn, and Jack the Giant Killer stripe. None of them were whirlwind bladesmen.

  2. hvg3

    I do fear that the paladin and ranger suffer from their lack of customisation. Whilst the barbarian has his rage, these two lack that overly fun “special” mechanic to keep the class interesting (and I’m yet to see if the barbarian’s rage can even make up for the lack of powers). Still, I do like that they worked a lot of different favoured enemy type options in there, and allow you to pick and choose items from the ranger make up. The idea of paladin talents based on icons is very interesting, too!

  3. Joe

    The fact that the Paladin can adopt multiple Cleric domains and spells using his talents opens them up to a wealth of options if the player desires. Especially since each domain beings with it a pair of abilities, and most cleric spells have two effects. It’s a simple base with a good variety of more complex options, which is what I love to see.

    In some ways the Ranger is the same, although their role does not appear as versatile as the Paladin. The class has at least that one very big option for added complexity – do you take the Animal Companion or not? Perhaps the right Cleric spell (and I’d have to assume once the Druid is released, the Ranger will get to pick from those too – if not, an easy hack) can add more variety to the Ranger’s play.

    Regardless, I really like the 13th Age solution for 4e’s problematic Twin Strike.

  4. Andy

    Thoughts on the Rogue, since it’s sorta my “first love” of 13th Age (yeah, first class I ever played, at 10th level…somehow I managed to pull it all together, and it was great 😀 ).

    I dunno if you have a way to track Momentum yet, but I used a faceup/facedown Ace of Spades to track whether I had Momentum or had spent it.

    I don’t have the book on me at the moment, but doesn’t the Thievery talent open up Thief’s Strike as a free power? I think it really pays off in the Epic tier, where you can take that feat to steal the unstealable. I mean–that was just fun in my experience.

    I think the Swashbuckle feat, though it’s not strongly spelled out, is supposed to let you achieve more effects than you’d usually be able to do with an improvised stunt. They compare it in some ways to the ability of a caster to achieve some effects, so I think it’s probably an enabler to achieve a bigger effect than normal.

    Oh, and a bit of interesting extrapolation I made up about the Paladin: they have free access to Smite Evil, which they can use on anyone. Basically, this is supposed to be their “super-authorized weapon”, sorta like how in Dogs in the Vineyard, every Dog has their gun. They have a License to Smite, but that also means they need to be responsible with it. I could see a Paladin being reprimanded by authorities of their faith for recklessly using their Smite (as I imagine it might be hard to conceal that you used it on someone; it just has that aura of divine smackdown all over it), or eventually put on trial for abusing their power. That could be a fun story seed if the paladin player’s onboard with it.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Thievery does open up the thief strike thing with a Feat, which is pretty badass I admit, but still leaves me wondering why it’s less central than traps (I would probably let a rogue swap the two for free).

      And, yeah, I think that’s the *intent* of the Swashbuckle talent, but such things are always tricky. It’s existing (arguably) introduces a ceiling on improv for non-swashbucklers, or could be taken that way. Put another way, If I took that feature, I would probably feel ripped off if other players got to narrate cool actions, and that’s just a bad arrangement.

      1. Blue

        I would think that Trap Detection is a feature is because of it’s limited scope of utility. It’s a bit like in D&D 3.5 spending skill ranks on swim or balance. You’re spending a character resource, but it’ll probably come up a lot less then Spot or other high-use skill. If a character had to spend a talent to get Trap Detections, the DM is either obligated to weave in enough traps to make it as useful as sneak attack, or leave the player feeling they made a poor choice.

        This way, they’ve all got something cool they can pull out when a trap comes up, with less feel to balance and justify it against the other talents.

  5. Melody Haren Anderson

    I just wanted to make a quick mention that Rogues have two powers that are official, but not in the book (they decided level 7 needed another two after the fact). You can find them at http://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=11480 (I added them to my pdf with a highlight then text box for the highlight).

  6. A Watson

    Personally I love the two big bonus background talents for the Rogue and Ranger. Background points are a scarce resource and they don’t go up as you level. Giving you an extra 5 points lets you use the rest for whatever you want without having to worry about being good at what your class is “supposed” to do.

      1. hvg3

        My guess is that a lot of people think “Rogue…*insert some stealthy, thievery background*’, and likewise for the ranger. That is, lots will already have the backgrounds covered, and might find it more challenging to work out fitting, interesting backgrounds with their extra points. This way, the player has the choice whether to choose something else, and have the offered ‘extra’ be rolled into their starting 8 points, or to go big and stylish and spread out 13 points.

        1. Rob Donoghue Post author

          Huh, that’s a really interesting take on it. The idea that players will take those backgrounds anyway has an interesting impact in that it also implicitly supports the d20 idea of rogues and rangers being the skill classes (since this way they’ll have more to spread around).

          I could totally get behind that, but with one tweak – the one drawback to the class feature talents is that they’re kind of boring. if I drop 5 points on a theif-y background on myown, it’s going to be something more robust, like “Guild-Taker or Axis” or some such. With that in mind, I’d allow those 5 points of their or ranger to be tweaked to something a little more interesting, and at that point I’d go with it.

          1. hvg3

            Indeed – I think the rules said as much, too. Not much point working out cool and interesting backgrounds, and then being stuck with “tracker”, right? 🙂

            In my demo game, the ranger renamed his “tracker” as “Scout of the Burning Woods Militia”. The rogue kept his “thievery”, but I think that’s because he only had the pregen sheet, and didn’t realise he could have renamed it.

          2. Melody Haren Anderson

            A friend who wrote up a thief for the icon ring contest used her “Thievery” talent background as… what was it… Exiled Thieves Guild Master +5. I mean they even say to name it something COOL, I think… that’s just a placeholder name.

  7. Ian O'Rourke

    I find it frustrating that Thievery isn’t a class feature. The talent is cool, without a doubt, but cool to the point of being mandatory almost.

    The Rogue has a lot of cool talents so making a key ‘do your shit’ sort of thing one of those key picks is very annoying:)


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