Meet the Party: 13th Age

A scion of a savage marauder who has committed his life to protecting the wilds, walking the boundary between monstrous and civilized. A proud father who leaves his family behind, following his heart and his visions of the Icons. A professional criminal who aspires to work alongside the Prince of Shadows himself, and may have done so already without knowing it. A sorcerer whose heart quite literally belongs to another, wielding magic and words to climb the ranks of a court of the fey. Each Meet the Party article gives you an entire group of ready-to-play adventurers (maybe even some heroes) for your gaming needs for a variety of systems and settings. This time we’re headed to a land of world-shaping Icons, complicated relationships, and unique characters as we Meet the Party for 13th Age from Pelgrane Press!

13th Age is a d20 Open Gaming License fantasy tabletop roleplaying game that will seem very familiar and yet very different to old hands moving over from Dungeons and Dragons. Designed by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, who helped design 3rd and 4th Edition for D&D, 13th Age has a fair number of similarities with its older cousin. The classes have names and basic ideas you’ll recognize easily, monsters you love to hate make their appearance, and a lot of the default world’s flavor will be very comfortable. It’s most important difference, however, is that it stresses a party’s connection to the world and a story-oriented rule focus, while still letting people play using the d20 system that they love so much. Instead of notes scribbled in the margins or on the back of a character sheet character backgrounds, relationships, and plot hooks are built into character creation and often have a mechanical benefit or purpose.

There are a fair number of rules differences (PCs become more effective the longer a fight lasts, leveling up is either story-based and/or done incrementally, etc) that give 13th Age a unique feel that, while still robust, doesn’t seem to get bogged down in minutiae. Some of those differences, particularly those meant to enhance the character’s place in the world and the story, come into play during character creation. Since these little unique properties can mean so much I’m going to do what I’ve done for some other games and insert notes within the first character’s section to help you understand what means what.

Scouran, Half Orc – Level 1 Barbarian

Level is extremely important in 13th Age; while a higher level equals more benefits like most such games, level as a number has several important functions. A character’s level is used to multiply base hit points to determine final hit point total, and is added to every defense as well as attack and spell rolls.

Str: 18 Con: 18 Dex: 14 Int: 8 Wis: 10 Cha: 8

A character’s race gives them a +2 to a single ability score, usually chosen from a pair of options that depend on the race. Every class then also gives a +2 to one of two available ability scores, so long as it doesn’t overlap with the one chosen for race. Aside from that Scouran and our other characters here got their ability scores using the point-buy/array option.

Armor Class (AC): 15

Armor Class is built using the class’s base AC, adding the middle score of Con/Dex/Wis and the character’s level. The ‘middle score’ is whichever of the modifiers falls between the two others; for Scouran, that means Dexterity provides a +2 bonus. Using the middle score like this is meant to spread out the importance among the stats; the creators don’t seem to care much for min-maxing.

Physical Defense (PD): 16

Physical Defense uses the middle score of Str/Con/Dex. Scouran is a good example here, because he has two modifiers from that list that are the same: that means the middle score is whichever bonus is on two or more characteristics. 

Mental Defense (MD): 10

Mental Defense uses the middle score of Int/Wis/Cha.

Hit Points (HP): 36

Recoveries: 8 Recovery Dice: 1d12 + 4

Recoveries are analogous to 4th Edition D&D’s healing surges: most healing, magical or otherwise, requires spending a Recovery to work. This both makes an adventurer’s limit very clear and makes healing without Recoveries somewhat rare and very potent. Recovery Dice are what’s used when healing; the number of dice used is determined by level.

One Unique Thing: “I was sired by the Orc Lord himself.”

Every character in 13th Age has One Unique Thing that makes them stand out in the world. It is a narrative aspect of character creation, rather than a mechanical one, that serves to invest the character in the world. So long as it’s unique and interesting a One Unique Thing can be anything, whether it’s providing the GM with a plot coupon to spend or letting the player shape the world a bit.

Icon Relationships: Orc Lord 1 (Conflicted), High Druid 1 (Positive), Emperor 1 (Negative)

There are 13 Icons in 13th Age, each of which is an NPC of immense power and importance that shapes the world around them. They all have goals, and often have allies and enemies among the other Icons. Each character receives three points that they can distribute among the Icons, establishing relationships that can be good, bad, or unclear. These points turn into d6s that can be rolled to see which Icons are getting involved in the story, who is behind a plot element, or to deal with representatives of an Icon. These NPCs are so big that having any sort of relationship with any of them gives a character a place in the world.

Backgrounds: Tribal Skirmisher +5, Shaman in Training +3

Rather than a long list of skills, 13th Age uses backgrounds. Any given skill roll consists of a relevant ability score modifier and, if possible, a relevant background. Scouran’s ‘Tribal Skirmisher’ might be used for scouting, athletic feats such as running longs distances, or laying in wait, to give some examples. Each character receives 8 points of backgrounds, and can increase a background’s bonus to a maximum of +5. 

Racial Power: Lethal

Class Feature: Barbarian Rage

Powers/Spells: None

Talents: Strongheart, Unstoppable, Whirlwind

Every character receives three Talents from their class at character creation. Some classes gain more Talents as they level up, and some don’t; some Talents can actually be improved via Feats. The purpose of Talents is thus, in part, to determine how the character is going to function.

Feats: Toughness

Equipment: Hide Armor, Greataxe, Javelin x2, Rain Cloak, Water Skin, Simple Clothing

Gear is pretty simple to deal with in 13th Age. A lot of classes are given gear outright, but even then you have a lot of leeway in deciding what and what kind of gear your character possesses. Often the specific choices serve more to tell others something about the character than a mechanical benefit: Scouran would get the same AC from any type of light armor, but choosing Hide Armor puts a certain image in one’s head.

Scouran is a Barbarian of the old school, and his approach to combat is devastatingly simple: 1) hit things until they stop trying to get up and 2) keep standing no matter how hard he gets hit. Toughness increases his already plentiful Hit Points, making him the hardiest member of the party. Strongheart increased his Recovery Dice to a d12, while Unstoppable lets him heal using a Recovery once per battle by striking an enemy. All that burliness means that Scouran will be very willing to use Whirlwind to strike at multiple foes at once, even though it decreases his AC and PD. Lethal allows him to reroll an attack and use the result he prefers. Barbarian Rage actually allows the Barbarian to roll 2d20 and takes the highest for his attack,s and greatly increases his chance for a critical hit.

Saul Hearthguard, Dwarf – Level 1 Cleric

Str: 16 Con: 14 Dex: 8 Int: 10 Wis: 18 Cha: 12

AC: 18

PD: 14

MD: 13

HP: 27

Recoveries: 8 Recovery Dice: 1d8 + 2

One Unique Thing: “I have been receiving visions of the Icons since a young age. They don’t always appear in their present form.”

Icon Relationships: Dwarf King 1 (Positive),  Priestess 1 (Positive), Orc Lord 1 (Negative)

Backgrounds: Multiversal Pantheist 2, Military Chaplain 3,  Family Man 3

Racial Power: That’s Your Best Shot?

Class Feature: Ritual Magic, Bonus Spell: Heal

Powers/Spells: Heal, Shield of Faith, Cure Wounds, Javelin of Faith, Bless

Talents: Domain: Healing, Domain: Protection, Domain: Love

Feats: Domain: Protection (Adventurer)

Equipment: Chain Armor, Shield, Mace, Holy Symbol, Prayer Book, Small Tent,  Standard Traveling Gear, Hooded Lantern with 20 Hours of Oil, Wool Blanket, Letters from Home, Good Clothing, 4 GP

Saul Hearthguard serves the party best by helping others, which can include everyone in the party at once if he wants. His Healing Domain increases the effectiveness of Recovery-based healing like that from Heal and Cure Wounds, while its invocation grants another use of the Heal spell. Bless makes party members more effective, while Shield of Faith protects them from harm; the Protection Domain increases the number of characters these spells can effect, allowing them to cover the entire party. Protection’s Invocation lessens the impact of critical hits against the party, while the Protection Feat lets Saul grant a saving throw along with casting a spell. The Love Domain’s effect is particularly interesting: once per level Saul can generate a 1-point Conflicted relationship with an Icon, which remains until he levels again and a new relationship is generated. Finally, Saul is no slouch in a fight; he’s decent with that mace, and Javelin of Faith gives him solid ranged capability. ‘That’s Your Best Shot?’ allows him to use a Recovery in response to an attack that leave him standing.

Serra Shadowkin, Halfling – Level 1 Rogue

Str: 8 Con: 12 Dex: 18 Int: 10 Wis: 14 Cha: 16

AC: 15 (+2 Against Opportunity Attacks)

PD: 14

MD: 13

HP: 21

Recoveries: 8 Recovery Dice: 1d8 + 1

One Unique Thing: “I stole an amulet from the Archmage but don’t know what it does.”

Icon Relationships: Prince of Shadows 2 (Positive), Archmage 1 (Negative)

Backgrounds: Con Artist +3, Professional Smuggler +3, Thieves Guild Mentor +2, Thief +5

Racial Power: Evasive

Class Features: Momentum, Sneak Attack, Trap Sense

Powers/Spells: Tumbling Strike, Flying Blade, Roll With It, Sure Cut, Thief’s Strike

Talents: Improved Sneak Attack, Swashbuckle, Thievery

Feats: Thievery (Adventurer)

Equipment: Shortsword, Daggers, Leather Armor, Dice, Music Box (stolen), Mysterious Amulet, A set of extremely well-balance ever-so-slightly cheaty dice, Thieves’ Tools, Elven Rope 50 ft., Grappling Hook, Standard Traveling Gear, Pipeweed x5, Iron Crowbar, Good Clothing, 9 GP, 9 SP

Serra  Shadowkin is fast-moving, hard-hitting, and has more tricks up her sleeve than a noble has coin – at least before she gets to them, anyways. She’s so small that she’s a hard target for Opportunity Attacks, and Evasive allows her to force an enemy to reroll an attack against her with a penalty. Momentum generates a resource of the same name that lasts so long as Serra can land hits and avoid them in turn; momentum is then used and sometimes spent to use certain powers. Sneak Attack and Trap Sense are pretty recognizable, with Improved Sneak Attack increasing the damage of the former. Swashbuckle allows Serra to spend momentum to pull off a daring stunt of the player’s devising. Thievery gives her the Thief background at +5, while its Feat grants her the use of Thief’s Strike. Serra’s powers emphasize movement, avoiding danger, maintaining momentum, and picking pockets, all while dealing out impressive amounts of damage.

Lyndis Starborn, Half-Elf – Level 1 Sorcerer

Str: 10 Con: 16 Dex: 12 Int: 12 Wis: 10 Cha: 18

AC: 12

PD: 13

MD: 12

HP: 27

Recoveries: 8 Recovery Dice: 1d6 + 3

One Unique Thing: “I am one of the Elf Queen’s Consorts, and my soul is in her possession.”

Icon Relationships: Elf Queen 2 (Positive), The Three 1 (Conflicted),  Dwarf King 1 (Conflicted)

Backgrounds: Courtier of the Court of Stars 5, Arcane Apprentice 3

Racial Power: Surprising

Class Features: Access to Wizadry, Breath Weapon, Chain, Dancing Lights, Gather Power, Random Energy

Powers/Spells: Lightning Fork, Breath of the White, Chaos Bolt, Resist Energy

Talents: Fey Heritage, Chromatic Destroyer Heritage, Blood Link (Fey Heritage)

Feats: Chaos Bolt (Adventurer)

Equipment: Spear, Light Chainmail Shirt, Standard Traveling Gear, Riding Horse, Expensive Clothing, 5GP

Lyndis Starborn is an opposite to several other members of the party, keeping the range open while Scouran closes in and providing artillery while Saul provides support.  With most of her spells being offensive, Lyndis can use Gather Power for a turn to empower them, gaining an additional benefit in the meanwhile. A number of her abilities can benefit from Surprising, which lets her subtract 1 from her roll; while seemingly an odd choice, many powers in 13th Age include an extra benefit if a roll’s result is even. Chaos Bolt can grant one of Gather Power’s bonus benefit, while Lightning Fork can take advantage of Chain to hit multiple opponents. Her feat gives Chaos Bolt unmatched range at no penalty to its roll. The various Breath Weapon spells, like Breath of the White, are powerful ‘daily’ weapons that can be used multiple times in a single battle with lucky rolls. Not everything in Lyndis’s repertoire is about attacking, however: Resist Energy allows her to protect herself or an ally from a variety of damage types.

Who They Are

Scouran was born on the border between utter wilderness and civilization, the result of a wily druid managing to seduce the Icon known as the Orc Lord in an effort to harness the Icon’s bloodline. Scouran was thus raised by followers of the High Druid, taught to defend the wilderness from the depredations of civilization. The half-orc truly believes in that cause, often praising the High Druid and coming into conflict with followers of The Emperor. However, his connection to the Orc Lord is something he cannot deny, no matter how much he wishes to. Perhaps that connection is what drove him to become an adventurer; not even the loose rules of the druids provided him enough freedom, despite his respect for them.

Saul Hearthguard had already lived a full life before he ever became an adventurer. He had served in the army of the Dwarf King, his own liege, and married and started a family. He was a man of great faith, not tying himself to any one deity; even the Dark Gods, while not precisely worthy of worship, deserved at least cautious respect for their power. Before all that, however, he was gifted with visions of the Icons. The visions sometimes showed past incarnations of the present-day Icons, but it wasn’t until some of the visions became unrecognizable that Saul realized he might be having visions of the future. Driven by his faith, his respect for the Icons (even the ones he dislikes), and his drive to help others, Saul bid his family a temporary goodbye and set out on his first adventure.

Serra Shadowkin gave herself that last name, partially out of ego and partially out of an effort to demand respect. There were few aspects of the criminal world that Serra wasn’t involved in, after all, and every criminal respected the Prince of Shadows. Profit is merely a side-effect and a bonus to Serra, always has been. Her goal is much more lofty: become the Prince’s accomplice or apprentice, and maybe even replace him one day. To that end she and a fellow guild member teamed up to rob a vault belonging to the Archmage himself. The suicidally rash plan was actually a success, and Serra got away with some sort of amulet; her temporary partner vanished in the aftermath, and attempts to locate him netted confusion from her fellow guild members. No one recognized her description of the man, or the name he had provided. Now wondering if maybe the Prince hadn’t joined her on the job, Serra decided to go adventuring in order to pursue her dream full-time. That and figure out what this stupid amulet does.

Lyndis Starborn was born with power raging in her blood, the influence of the terrible dragons known as The Three and the mysterious Elf Queen of the Court of Stars struggling for dominance. Not trusting The Three, Lyndis sought out the Court of Stars, joining the Queen’s retinue and practicing her social and arcane skills. Fewer training grounds are more deadly or as effective than that of the elves, after all. Lyndis’s skill with words and spells soon drew the Elf Queen’s eye, and shortly thereafter gained her access to the Queen’s bedchambers. Such power and privilege comes with a cost of course, and Lyndis’s soul is no longer quite her own. The half-elf has left the Court partially for that reason: if she were to become powerful enough, she might be able to reclaim her soul and a more important place in the Court. Aside from that, it is simply time to put her improved abilities to the proper test.

How They Interact

Scouran likes Saul insofar as the cleric is devoted to helping his fellow beings; while not exactly the same, the druidic way of life stresses an interconnectedness that Scouran feels Saul understands. The dwarf has fought against the forces of Scouran’s father, however, and the barbarian is not quite sure how he feels about that. Serra’s a funny little creature whose values don’t really match up with Scouran’s, aside from a mutual drive to test themselves. Lyndis’s life couldn’t have been more different from the half-orc’s, but for all that he considers them alike in that they’re both torn between worlds in their own way.

Saul is still not quite sure what to make of the half-orc; Scouran is by no means a minion of the Orc Lord, but his heritage is a dangerous one. The dwarf is resolved, however, to judge Scouran by his own deeds alone. Serra is an enjoyable companion to have along the road, although her penchant for crime and mischief can lead to no small amount of trouble. He does what he can to keep the halfling out of the worst of it. Lyndis is an associate of the Elf Queen, whose relationship with the Dwarf King is a sometimes uneasy truce, but the half-elf herself is a pleasant and well-spoken woman to be around.

Serra thinks of Scouran as less of a fellow traveler and more of a custom-made distraction; nobody keeps on eye on the Halfling with a shortsword when the half-orc just cut your ally in half with a greataxe. Although he doesn’t really know how Serra uses him, she makes it a point of professional pride to compensate him for being an arrow magnet. Saul’s a stuffy do-gooder most of the time, but aside from some well-meaning meddling he’s always been nice to Serra. As often as they butt heads, Serra still plans on making sure Saul gets home to his family one day. In another life Lyndis would be another target for Serra’s thieving, but that’s not how it played out. Instead, she’s probably the halfling’s best friend in the party. Doesn’t hurt to have a sweet-talker around, either.

Lyndis, oddly enough, shares Scouran’s view that the two are kindred spirits of a sort. Both have lives that are pulled in different directions, although from her point of view she was at least fully grown before she chose which way her life would go. Saul is a good man, not necessarily something Lyndis knew a lot of in the sometimes deadly court, and she likes the wandering cleric a good deal. Serra’s a nice girl. Thieving, conniving, and often false, but nice. The pair spend a fair amount of time trading stories, Serra of dangerous heists and Lyndis of courtly intrigues. Lyndis always recounts her coin afterwards, though.

The Future

Our band of adventurers have a lot of ties to the world around them. Their backgrounds and their Icon Relationships give each of them a solid footing within the story, and their One Unique Things set them apart. Will Scouran, Saul, Serra, and Lyndis use their ties and their Unique Things to rise to power and fame, or will they be dragged down by them? That’s for you (and your dice) to determine!

Originally posted 1/7/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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