Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Better Barbarian

I finally got a chance to run 13th Age, and after 2 sessions my group's Barbarian is very underwhelmed by the class.  After some discussion from the community in both the Google+ group, and the Pelgrane Press Forums, I think that the problem is some combination of player perception, partly a suboptimal build, and partly weaknesses inherent with the class. 

Briefly, the Barbarian functions best as a crit-fisher thanks to how Rage works, and getting to frequently double your damage will double the value of a large damage die.  Using a shield (like my player is), will probably handicap a Barbarian in the long run.  Their base AC is simply going to be low, and rather than letting players scramble to get it as high as possible I'd rather see Barbarians have other defensive capabilities to make up for it.  Rogues have low AC as well, but they are great at disengaging to avoid getting hit in the first place, and they get powers that reduce damage (usually when they have momentum).  That feels right for the Rogue, who was always a skirmisher.  What feels right for the Barbarian?  Taking those hits and shrugging them off.  In other words, tools that augment their HP.  Just look at the Orc Berserker - it's a monster with a similar fighting style, and the one trait they used to distinguish it was a temporary HP (THP) mechanic.

The other issue with the class, in my opinion, is that Rage simply isn't available enough.  Rage doesn't increase a Barbarian's performance enough past a multi-attacking Ranger or a damage-centric Fighter or Rogue to justify only getting it one battle per day with just a single recharge roll (and a hard one, at that). 

Here are the changes and additions that I'm going to use in my games.  After a few sessions I'll report back and possibly make tweaks depending on how it plays out.  My goal is the change the mechanics as little as possible while still giving the Barbarian a much-needed boost.

Barbarian Rage
The recharge rule from Escalation Edition v.6 reads as follows:  "Recharge 16+:  After a battle in which you Rage, roll a d20 and add your Constitution modifier; on a 16+ you can use Barbarian Rage again later in the day.

Change this rule to the following:  "Recharge 16+:  After each battle when your Rage is expended, roll a d20 and add your Constitution modifier; on a 16+ you can use Barbarian Rage again later in the day."

Interestingly, this rules change is consistent with the general rules for rechargeable powers in the glossary; prior to this Barbarian Rage worked differently from the other rechargeable powers in that only one recharge roll was allowed.

Assuming a +3 Con mod at level 1, a Barbarian would need to roll a natural 13+ to recharge Rage.  So they'd get it in 1 battle out of 4, and have a 40% chance at getting to use it in a second battle using the original EE6 rule.  With this house rule, it would benefit a Barbarian to use Rage for his first battle of the day, and then for each battle thereafter he would have a 40% chance of having Rage available. 

New Talent - Berserk Vitality
Whenever you hit with an attack while Raging you gain temporary hit points equal to your level + your Con modifier (your level + 2x Con mod in Champion tier; level + 3x Con mod in Epic).

Adventurer Feat: Add 1d4 to the THP gained (2d4 Champion, 3d4 Epic).
Champion Feat:  You also gain THP as soon as you go into your Rage.
Epic Feat:  Once per battle when an attack depletes you of THP you can heal using a recovery as a free action.

In D&D Barbarians had high HP.  In 3rd edition they were the only class that got a d12 hit die, and in 4th edition they were a striker with the HP of a defender.  I was, quite frankly, pretty shocked when I saw that the Barbarian got the same base HP as a Ranger, Bard, and Cleric in 13th Age.  The only hint of the class's legacy of sturdiness was that their recovery die is a d10 (with an option to increase it to a d12 via a talent), unlike the other classes with a base HP of 7, which use a d8 recovery die.  I don't think this is sufficient to make up for the fact that they're a frontliner with a base AC of 12.  Only the Rogue and Bard have comparable base AC, and the Rogue comes chock full of defensive tricks while the Bard is only partially a melee class.  Granted the Barbarian does have access to Unstoppable, which is a great self-healing talent, but there's still room to expand the concept.

In D&D 3.5 a Barbarian temporarily increased his Con score when he entered a Rage, which resulted in an increase in HP.  He also got damage reduction at mid to high levels.  In D&D 4E Barbarians get a class-based AC bonus, and certain builds got THP for killing enemies (while all Barbarians have access to various powers that grant THP).  The precedent is certainly there, and there's a lot to be said for the aesthetics of the mechanic.  This is a guy who is so tough he can wade into battle without much armor, opening himself up with his wild fighting style, but making light of those attacks made against him.  Indeed, it is the very act of damaging an opponent that gives him the vitality to shrug off hits.  Again, THP is the one mechanic that lets orc berserkers stand out.  Should the PC version of the "berserker warrior" be able to do the same?

Monday, 17 December 2012


Here I present some optional homebrew rules for using hirelings in 13th Age.  This could certainly use some refinement, as it hasn't been playtested yet.  Comments and criticisms are welcome, especially from those who use hirelings in their own games!

A hireling's wages are paid in gold pieces per full heal up (or adventuring day), and is based on the hireling's level and adventuring role.  Use adventuring day to calculate wages during long periods without encounters, such as when traveling long distances.  While the specific price (as well as hireling availability) will vary based on location, local economy, and how dangerous the job is, GMs should consider using the following baselines.  Alternatively, some hirelings might demand a share of any profits (up to an equal share, in the case of Burglars and Warriors), possibly in addition to an initial fee paid up front.  Occasionally, the party may gain the benefit of free hirelings for successful Icon Relationship rolls.

Level     gp/FHU
1              5
2              6
3              8

Level     gp/FHU
1              20
2              24
3              34
4              42

Level     gp/FHU
1              50
2              62
3              85
4              105

Mercenary Warriors:
Level     gp/FHU
1              80
2              100
3              140
4              165

On the Subject of Pricing
Porters cost roughly 5% of the recommended maximum gp per character per full heal up.  Guides cost 20%, Burglars 50%, and Mercenary Warriors 80%.  The simple fact is, having another body in the party can be extremely useful, especially in the case of warriors (who can handle themselves relatively well in a fight) and burglars (who can increase the party's profits and reduce the dangers from traps).  In order to balance their presence, the PCs should be giving up a significant amount of potions, oils, and runes that they would otherwise spend their money on. 

While hirelings can be extremely useful, the party should take care to treat them well.  If word gets out that those hired by the PCs usually don't return, it's unlikely that they'll be able to find anyone willing to adventure with them, even for massively inflated prices.  On the other hand, if hirelings return to their home towns the wealthier for it, the party will probably enjoy the good will of the locals (and they'll likely be regarded as heroes if they actively protect their hirelings from danger).

Rumor has it that more competent hirelings can be found in Drakkenhall, but most civilized folk elsewhere in the Empire view those who hire them with some suspicion.

Hirelings can access recoveries in much the same way that PCs can, except that they are limited to only 1 Rally per combat.

Level 0 Mook, Initiative +1
Improvised or Basic Weapon +4 - 3 damage
HP 5, AC 14, PD 13, MD 12
Recoveries none

Level 2 Mook, Initiative +4
Improvised or Basic Weapon +6 - 5 damage
HP 9, AC 17, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries none

Level 1 Troop, Initiative +4
One-Handed Sword (or similar) +6 - 5 damage
Show Them The Way! - Engaged Allies ignore Disengage penalties for multiple enemies.
HP 27, AC 16, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries 4 - d6
Local Knowledge - Once per session the party can invoke the Guide's knowledge to learn something useful about the surroundings (location of an important feature, a correct path, peculiar local customs, etc.).  Roll 1d6.  1 - the Guide is misinformed, to the party's detriment.  2-4 the party learns something useful, but it costs them a setback or resources.  5-6 the party gains information without much (if any) cost.

Level 3 Troop, Initiative +6
One-Handed Sword (or similar) +8 - 10 damage
Show Them The Way! - Engaged Allies ignore Disengage penalties for multiple enemies.
HP 45, AC 18, PD 17, MD 15
Recoveries 4 - d6
Local Knowledge - Once per session the party can invoke the Guide's knowledge to learn something useful about the surroundings (location of an important feature, a correct path, peculiar local customs, etc.).  Roll 1d6.  1 - the Guide is misinformed, to the party's detriment.  2-4 the party learns something useful, but it costs them a setback or resources.  5-6 the party gains information without much (if any) cost.

Level 1 Troop, Initiative +7
Dagger or Short Sword +6 - 5 damage
Backstab - Burglars have a crit range of 18+ if they're ganging up or if the target is unaware of them.
HP 27, AC 16, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries 4 - d6
Trap Sense:  If a trap's attack that targets the burglar is a natural odd roll, the burglar can force the trap to reroll the attack once.
Burglar Background:  The burglar can roll burglary-related skill checks (1d20+8)

Level 2 Troop, Initiative +8
Dagger or Short Sword +7 - 7 damage
Backstab - Burglars have a crit range of 18+ if they're ganging up or if the target is unaware of them.
HP 36, AC 17, PD 16, MD 14
Recoveries 4 - d6
Trap Sense:  If a trap's attack that targets the burglar is a natural odd roll, the burglar can force the trap to reroll the attack once.
Burglar Background:  The burglar can roll burglary-related skill checks (1d20+9)

Mercenary Warriors
Level 1 Troop, Initiative +4
One-Handed Martial Weapon +6 - 6 damage
Miss - 1 damage
Javelin +6 - 5 damage
HP 27, AC 17, PD 15, MD 11
Recoveries 6 - d8

Level 3 Troop, Initiative +6
One-Handed Martial Weapon +8 - 11 damage
Miss - 3 damage
Javelin +8 - 9 damage
HP 45, AC 19, PD 17, MD 13
Recoveries 6 - d8

Originally posted at The Chamber of Mazarbul.

Pregenerated Character for First Level: The Hell-Touched Warrior

You were a simple soldier. You went where your commanders told you, fought who you were told to fight, and prided yourself on being a good soldier. You didn't make much, but you made a living. When your liege dispatched your platoon to the village of Karthold three years ago to put down a peasant rebellion led by some cultists, you assumed that the worst you'd have to look out for was some idiot shitfarmer with a pitchfork and more courage than sense.

You were wrong. The Cruel Lady was there, attended by creatures from the nether-realm--creatures she'd summoned by sacrificing the farmers and families of Karthold. They killed all 19 of your companions and, before finishing you off, drug you to her. Rather than kill you, she smiled - and reached into your chest and stole your heart. Then she left.

Something changed inside you that day. You began having difficulty caring: about others, about causes. It's wrong to say that you don't think like you used to--rather, it's just that you only notice that you have emotions when you stop and think about it. Trouble seems to follow you wherever you go.

What happened to your heart? What did the Cruel Lady want with it? And where is she now?

Monster Ability Checks in 13th Age

One of the first things I noticed about monsters in 13th Age (which is still available for preorder as far as I know, but there are something like less than 20 Escalation Edition orders left) is that the monster stat blocks, while wonderfully simple (a GM's dream come true!) lacks any reference to a monster's attribute scores.  What happens when it makes sense in the fiction for a character to make an opposed Dex, Str, etc. check against a monster?

Rolling against the DC for your environment is perhaps the simplest solution, but there's something about opposed rolls that really captures the feel of "this guy vs. that guy."  Besides, what about opposing the Int of a really dumb ogre, or the Str of a tiny kobold?  The normal DCs might be a bit too high for that (though opposing the ogre's Str or the kobold's Dex could easily work by boosting the DC to the hard value for the environment).  Perhaps it's an aesthetic thing, but I'd really prefer that the numbers come from the monster than the environment.  And it's not that complicated to derive these scores.

For Str, Dex, Con checks, roll 1d20+(PD-10)
For Int, Wis, Cha checks, roll 1d20+(MD-10)

Optional Modifiers
Depending on which attribute your modified defense is standing in for, feel free to apply a +4 or -4 bonus/penalty (if it's worth adjusting the effect should be big enough to be noticeable, so just stick with +/- 4).  For example, a kobold is agile but small and fragile, so a Dex check modifier might be [PD-10+4], whereas a Str check modifier might be [PD-10-4], or you might simply not apply the penalty.  The goal here is simplicity, since attribute checks probably won't come up too often for monsters.

Why This Works
Think about how a player's MD/PD are determined.  You use the base value for your class (10-12, which once the 10 is subtracted out will correspond to a 0 to +2 "background" point value).  Then you add the median of your 3 relevant ability scores, and of course your level gets added as well.  Monster PD/MD is quite a bit simpler to determine (one only has to look at the chart), but the numbers are fairly consistent with what you might expect compared with the method used for PCs.

So in summary, PD/MD is essentially 10+[better/lesser bonus]+[attribute]+[level]

Similarly, a skill checks boils down to 1d20+[background]+[attribute]+[level]

All you really have to do is substitute a d20 roll for 10 (which itself is a substitute for an assumed average d20 roll; think of it as turning an opposed attack vs defense roll into a single roll (attack) compared against a target number).  The better/lesser bonus baked into the defense numbers is roughly comparable to the bonus a PC might get from a background (even if not exactly, it's not worth further complicating matters since this proposed system has the benefit of simplicity).  Attribute modifier and level are already both accounted for.  Finally, the optional modifier allows a GM to very easily tweak the numbers on-the-fly when the final results don't quite match up with expectations.

Now let's apply this to a monster from EE6 - the Kobold Hero.  His bonus for opposed Str/Con/Dex would be +6, while Int/Wis/Cha would be +2.

So what kind of challenge is this little kobold supposed to present to a party of heroes?  The agility of kobolds is pretty well-established, so he should be pretty comparable to a 2nd level Rogue.  The Rogue would get a +6 (assuming an 18 Dex) even without any backgrounds, which he would probably have if a Dex check is involved.  Depending on the reason for the roll, that +4 optional bonus might be worth applying.  After all, Kobolds are already Evasive and good with traps, so they deserve a boost when it comes to tasks that require quick reflexes or when dealing with traps.

On the other hand, kobolds are known to be pretty weak, relying on overwhelming numbers and craftiness instead of physical strength.  Plus they're small, probably even smaller than Halfling PCs.  A +6 for opposed Str checks doesn't seem quite right, so we'll apply that -4 penalty without much hesitation.

The mental attributes probably aren't worth messing around with too much, but I'd definitely apply the +4 bonus if the roll involved traps or dirty tricks of some kind, and I might apply a +4 bonus to Cha rolls when dealing with kobolds (since the kobold hero is a leader), but a -4 bonus when dealing with almost everyone else (since few folk like kobolds).

This system has the advantages of using the monster's own existing statistics for opposed rolls without crowding up the stat block with ability scores, as well as being extremely simple to apply.  As a GM you're doing 2 things:  subtracting 10 from either PD or MD, and then tweaking that result with a +/- 4 to ensure the end result is consistent with expectations.

How I love transparent math.

Originally posted on my own blog, The Chamber of Mazarbul

Author Introduction
Seeing as this is my first post here, I should probably use it to introduce myself.   My name is Brian, and I've mostly been doing seasonal work, broadly in the field of ecology, since completing my degree in biology from a small liberal arts college.  I have a lot of hobbies and interests, including science, backpacking, birding, craft beer, and of course tabletop RPGs (among other things).  I tend to get mildly obsessed with the things that interest me, and this has often opened even more doors, such as learning to sew my own backpacking gear and thinking about game design of systems that I haven't even played.

On the topic of gaming, I started in high school with the third edition of D&D.  I continued on with 3.5, and for the longest time my lack of exposure maintained my assumption that 3.x was just the way that tabletop RPGs worked.  4E opened my eyes into a whole new world of possibilities, and eventually I strayed beyond the realm of D&D altogether.  Which brings us to 13th Age.  The attitude espoused by Jonathan and Rob that the game should suit the group, and elements from different sources should be incorporated, is exactly what I love about tabletop RPGs (and something that few designers put such a big emphasis on).  The more you read, and the more familiar you are with alternative systems, the stronger your game will probably be.  You begin to understand that there are different ways of doing things, which will have different effects on style, aesthetics, etc., and the intent of the rules will become more clear.  13th Age seems to embrace that concept more than most (designer sidebars explaining why certain things are the way they are), and I think that this blog will continue in that tradition.  That's my goal, at least.  I love explaining why I did things a certain way, and I'd love to hear comments on how things can be improved and tweaked! 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Pregenerated Character for First Level: The Engineer

You were once the Dwarf King's most trusted confidante. You helped craft the Obsidian Gates of Underhome, the last line of defense between the known world and the creatures outside reality. Your inventions made the lives of every dwarf beneath the mountain better and safer.

Too bad your penchant for getting blind stinking drunk (or, as you insist, "imbibing holy water such that your every waking moment would be a sacrament to the Forger") cost you your job, your home, and your beard. The Dwarf King himself cut your beard from your face and cast you out of Underhome "Until such a time as you could redeem yourself and prove your worth once more to the Dwarven people".

What did you do to get thrown out? What will you do to get back home?

Pregenerated Character for First Level: The Wronged Woman

You had everything: fame, respect, fortune, the love of the people. Then some bastard slit your throat, and you died choking on your own blood. You awoke, some days later, in the court of the Elf Queen. The Elf Queen smiled and told you that she had patched up your corpse with starshine and sorrow, that she reached into the heavens and pulled your soul back into your body.

She has given you back your life, and demands three favors in exchange for this, which she will call in whenever the fancy strikes her. Her first favor is simple: find the bastard who slit your throat, and kill him.

Welcome to 13th Age Homebrews

This blog is dedicated to collecting and collating the things players and gamemasters of Pelgrane Press's new roleplaying game 13th Age have created for their games.

1st level pregenerated characters, magical items, monstrous adversaries, GM documents (such as charts and whatnot) can all find a home here. My goal is to make this blog open to the "maker" community of 13th Age - any "maker" who'd like to become a co-author and share their stuff can leave a comment on a post requesting co-author privileges for this blog and I will add them as soon as I can. The goal here isn't to design a sourcebook or sell anything - we're just sharing stuff with other players that we think is cool. Stuff posted here is owned by the creators - not this blog - and that's why we can share it.

My one request is that the following "guidelines" be followed: this isn't a collection of editorials about 13th Age or a new front in edition warring. Keep posts focused on things that people can actually use in their games.

And, I guess since I'm the admin here I need to introduce myself. I'd love it if other, future authors would do the same once they join!

My name is Neal Hebert, a freelance RPG editor and designer, who is currently working on his Ph.D. in Theatre History and Historiography. I teach at Louisiana State University in the Theatre and Philosophy Departments. Prior RPG credits include work for Wolfgang Baur's Kobold Quarterly (RIP) and various Open Design rulebooks. Prior academic credits include publications in Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom (edited by Jon Cogburn and Mark Silcox) and a chapter of Oxford University Press's forthcoming Handbook on Dance and Theatre. I'm currently GMing 1 and a half 13th Age campaigns and playing in another.