Saturday, August 15, 2015

Firefly Redux

The title of this post might not make much sense since I haven't really posted about the Firefly RPG before.  Well, that's not because I haven't played it, I just never got around to posting about it.  Sometimes it sucks being really busy because there's always something you don't have time for.  I have a lot of hobbies so there's already too much competition there, and when it comes to RPGs I'd rather my blog suffer as opposed to my play time or GM prep time.

But I digress.  I first ran a couple of Firefly sessions when the book first came out.  I'm just now getting to running a second mini-campaign.  One of my players recently posted about it here.  We actually talked about the very topic of his post after playing through our second session (after finishing up "Thieves in Heaven" from Things Don't Go Smooth).  It was a really interesting discussion, so I figured I'd throw in my two cents regarding that topic, and some other general thoughts.

A huge thing that Firefly players should keep in mind is that Complications shouldn't be scary.  The characters don't want to deal with Complications, but the players should have fun with them.  Complications are a major design goal of the system, which is meant to emulate an episode of the TV show.  Shit goes wrong from the crew of Serenity all the time, and that's part of what makes it interesting to watch.

When you think about it, it's really not all that different from most RPGs.  On the one hand players generally try to avoid bad stuff happening to their character, but on the other hand the game would be really boring if nothing bad ever happened.  Firefly is just really up front about it, and gives players a lot of narrative control outside of simply roleplaying their character.  It's a trend in modern RPGs to give players more narrative power, but it isn't always so blatant.

A Firefly player shouldn't think of Plot Points as having net zero effect when you earn one to roll a jinx just to have to spend one to later to step it down when the GM rolls an Opportunity.  A player will earn a Plot Point for every Complication the GM buys, but shouldn't feel the need to buy every Opportunity that the GM rolls.  The game has more drama if some of those Complications stick around, but that's not to say that Opportunities are useless, either.  They should be bought when there's a Complication with a high die value that risks forcing a PC to be Taken Out, or when the Complication is especially tough to deal with (whether it affects a lot of actions, has the potential to stick around, or will require a Recovery Roll using a skill nobody is great at).

In other words, with regard to rolling 1's the PCs should be getting a net positive amount of Plot Points.  Characters are hindered in some way now with the possibility of being more awesome in the future.  It's up to the player to decide when the best time for their character to shine is, making concessions to earn Plot Points which they can use at critical moments.  Big Damn Heroes will stumble and fall, but they'll get back up, too.

The same principle applies to Distinctions as well.  The Plot Point economy assumes you'll step your Distinctions down to a d4 to earn Plot Points early on in the episode when the stakes are lower, so you'll have a big pool of them to work with when the stakes are higher.

That said, I understand where my player is coming from regarding Complications being generated by "positive dice."  It's a little jarring in particular because we play a lot of FFG's Star Wars, where Threat and Despair (the best analogue to Firefly's Complications) are possible results on the negative dice.  But in Firefly it makes a little less sense to do things that way.  You could theoretically house rule that Complications are generated when the opposing dice pool rolls 1's, but that makes even less sense to me personally.  First of all, they're often opposed rolls so why should things get tougher for you when your enemy rolls especially low?  Second, it creates a disconnect when you want the GM to roll low, but not too low.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the way GM dice pools are built the PCs often have the advantage of a bigger dice pool.  In that way Complications are an interesting pacing tool because a bigger dice pool means players will have a greater chance of success (in other words, it's less challenging).  But if you're awesome at something you generally want to showcase that by overcoming more challenging obstacles.  Complications let that happen naturally, without the GM having to tinker with the difficulty of NPCs and scenarios.  Later on you're going to have to face a bigger GM dice pool, and in some cases it might make narrative sense that showing off your prowess might attract more trouble than you'd have otherwise.  What's a better story, shooting the bandit trying to get away with your hard earned cash, or limping forward on your sprained ankle, coughing as you try to see through the cloud of steam you just vented out when you shot that pipe, and still managing to make the shot?  And even if you don't buy the argument that more drama and challenge makes for a better game (maybe you're a power gamer?), there's still the fact that from a pure mechanical standpoint rolling 1's is good for your Plot Point economy.  Most players should find Plot Points more valuable than Complications are detrimental, so increasing your chances of rolling a 1 (by virtue of a larger dice pool) can be thought of as a good thing.

Maybe Obi Wan was right about that "certain point of view" crap.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Roll Under/Over Micro Systems

We recently had a session where one player didn't show up for an Edge of the Empire game, and the previous session had ended on an important scene right before a combat encounter.  So the GM surprised us by showing up, tossing some gum on the table, and announcing that we'd be playing a quick one-shot of a game called All Outta Bubblegum (a quick search couldn't locate the rules, but follow the link to a relevant blog post).  This turned out to only last about an hour and a half, leaving us time to test out another simple game I'd been interested in, Lasers and Feelings.

Both of these are extremely simple RPG systems less than a page in length.  Both have a binary mechanic where you roll a single die and in certain situations you want to roll over a certain number, whereas in others you want to roll under.  In All Outta Bubblegum that number changes over the course of the session creating an interesting pacing mechanism.  In Lasers and Feelings it stays the same, defining your main "stat."

All Outta Bubblegum starts you with 8 pieces of gum and you roll under (on a d10) to do something mundane, roll over to do something kickass.  You can spend a piece of gum for an autosuccess.  Once you're out of gum you can only succeed at kickass tasks.  Check out the blog post linked above for the nuance this provides.  We didn't really see that in play, but we did emphasize the resource-management aspect of it, and the game did tend toward an arc that made it easier and easier to be kickass.  There was an interesting meta-game wherein you try to make sure you have some pieces of gum left at the end just in case, but you still want it to be relatively easy to kickass.  It creates a tension unique to this system, and it was an interesting change of pace.  If you're intrigued, I'd suggest playing it as a beer-and-pretzels game.  Yeah, I know I didn't link the rules, but based on my experience that blog post is really all you need to play.  There's also an episode of the One Shot Podcast (episodes 20-21) that inspired my GM to choose this system (I also listen to this podcast, but I haven't personally listened to that episode).

Lasers and Feelings has one mechanical stat for each PC, which is their number.  The number ranges from 2-5, with 2 being slanted heavily towards "Feelings" and 5 being slanted heavily towards "Lasers."  3 and 4 are for more balanced PCs.  Basically, if an action falls under the broad category of Feelings then you want to roll over your number on a d6.  If Lasers is more appropriate to the action, you want to roll under your number.  You can get more dice by being prepared, being an expert, or having someone assist you.  If your exact number is rolled then you have Laser-Feelings, which doesn't count as a success but does allow you to ask a question about the situation to gain some more insight.  Since you'll often be rolling multiple dice you can also get multiple successes (1 success has complications, 2 is great, and 3 is a critical success).  For our session we played a Futurama game, where I played Professor Farnsworth (number 5), and the other two PCs were Dr. Zoidberg (number 3) and Fry (number 2).  The system supported that setting thematically, and resulted in a lot of slapstick, ridiculous humor.  We ended up shrinking Fry down to enter the bottom end of Kiff's digestive tract where he battled worms who were trying to mind control Kiff into destroying the Professor's latest doomsday device, destroying the quantum tunnel in the process.

Whereas All Outta Bubblegum's core mechanic created an interesting pacing and resource management meta-game, Lasers and Feelings offers a really simple but surprisingly flexible party-game that self-generates character development, more strongly emphasizing the "roll-playing" part of a Roll Playing Game.  All in all, both were interesting experiences.

In the back of my mind I'm often thinking about what would be a good RPG to play while backpacking (I have yet to actually play an RPG while backpacking, but it's still something I'd like to have in my back pocket).  Either of these would make strong candidates, and seem far more practical than any other alternative I've thought of so far.  Especially Lasers and Feelings, considering those mini D6s that are pretty easy to find, and weigh almost nothing...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Brief Update

Yes, it's been a good long while since I've posted anything.  No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.  I haven't stopped playing/running tabletop RPGs either.  In fact, with 3 weekly games and an online PbP, I'd say I'm still going pretty strong.  But this combined with a more time-intensive job and various other hobbies means that the one aspect of gaming I've had to cut down on is writing about it and reading about it.  I really should try to at least get some short posts in every now and then, though.

I've been playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire a LOT lately.  I'm running a game that will probably start winding down here soon (most of the players have long since maxed out their build concepts), but despite the larger-than-I-prefer party it has a good outer rim feel to it.  It seems like every time the PCs make some progress some complications sends them off on a new adventure.  But it's getting time that I bring home their personal arcs and let them retire on some moisture farm on Tatooine.  They probably won't do that.  Tatooine hasn't been kind to them.  Kinder than Nar Shaddaa, though.

I've been having an absolute blast as a player in another Edge game playing a Gand findsman.  He hasn't acquired enough notoriety to earn the use of his real name, so like any humble Gand he refers to himself as Gand, in the third person.  But when two Gands talk to each other they can of course tell the difference between these (proper?) nouns.  Playing a subtle, non-Jedi Force Sensitive has been a lot of fun.  Gand has Foresee and Enhance, the two force powers that I see findsmen using to augment their bounty hunting ability (I'm staying away from Seek until Force and Destiny is officially released; of course this campaign will have ended by then).  This campaign has developed its own brand of slapstick humor as well, and hilarity ensued when two of the regular players couldn't make it to several sessions in a row, and we took a third on temporarily.  This turned the party into this:  Gand (Bounty Hunter: Survivalist, Force Sensitive Exile), Khan (Sullustan Bounty Hunter: Gadgeteer), and newcomer Mara (Bounty Hunter: Assassin).  And those sessions mostly entailed buying pants, bribing police chiefs with nerf steaks, and getting the autograph of Jorje Lu'cas, producer of the Star Wars holiday special (the reel was destroyed by Khan, but fortunately Gand has a pirated copy on his ship....which was stolen by his rival, whose kids were just murdered in the custody of an NPC companion of Gand's....Gand doesn't think he'll ever see his favorite movie again).   Go figure.

Finally, I just finished running my Saturday group through Tales from Wilderland, the first adventure compilation for The One Ring.  This system didn't click with my other group, but these guys had a great time with it.  I started them off with Kinstrife and Dark Tidings (I wasn't sure if it would be a two-shot test of the system or if we'd play longer, and that was my favorite adventure just from reading it).  Then we went back to Of Leaves and Stewed Hobbit, we skipped Don't Leave the Path (we were already on this side of Mirkwood) and Those Who Tarry No Longer (it's an interesting story but I'm skeptical of how it would play), and played the remaining adventures pretty much in order.  And the PCs (just three of them) survived (although poor Peter Lochlan, formerly bland Hobbit, went back to the Shire with four permanent shadow points and flaws).

The One Ring was the first non-D&D system I introduced to my gaming circle, and I suppose I didn't have enough experience with a variety of systems to make it work really well the first time several years ago.  The one group still doesn't like it despite being weaned off of Pathfinder by this point, but I'm glad I got this opportunity to actually run it well for a group of fairly new, narrative-focused gamers.  I was quite pleased with how the system ran when it was run and played well, and hopefully we'll play it again in the future.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Epic Tier 13th Age

This past week my Tuesday group finished our 1-10th level campaign of 13th Age.  I've talked about this before, but for this campaign we rotated GMs every adventure (3-4 sessions) and allowed a roster of multiple characters per player, choosing PCs at the beginning of each adventure.  Our goals for this campaign were threefold: 1) to give more of our group a feel for GMing 13th Age, 2) to play around with different combinations of characters (particularly the new stuff in 13 True Ways), and 3) to see how Epic Tier plays out.

For what it's worth, I've never liked Epic Tier in D&D.  In 3rd and 4th Edition once a character got into the teens, which wasn't even Epic Tier yet, things got too complicated and/or balance suffered.  On paper 13th Age seems like it might avoid the worst of this.  Most notably, balance suffers a LOT less than in D&D, but it still wasn't perfect.

The 13th Age encounter building chart is a nifty thing, though it does have its quirks.  It didn't take me long to realize that "fair fights" weren't particularly dangerous.  Last year in my campaign that ran from 1st to 5th level I got into the habit of starting with double-strength encounters, but I'd go up to triple-strength and the PCs managed to win those.  "Fair" fights would end up being handily dispatched before the Escalation Die even hit 3.

But a strange thing happened as we started gaining levels.  The encounter building chart says that in Champion Tier a "fair" fight is an equal number of normal monsters of character level +1 (instead of character level).  In epic, this becomes character level +2.  Odd, to be sure, but certainly this accounts for the fact that while PC numbers and monster numbers keep pace, PCs get more toys with more synergy, which give them an edge.  Except that's not quite how I've found things to work.  A lot of higher level monsters ALSO get improved nastier abilities, and it's explicitly stated that the encounter-building math only takes into account raw numbers and NOT special abilities.  It's what makes a 4th level dragon better than a 4th level hobgoblin.

Using the Champion tier guidelines as-is, I noticed things getting a lot tougher.  My double-strength fights, which were baseline in adventurer tier, really put the party through the ringer.  Encounters of 1.5 strength were more reasonable.  Then came Epic.  One of the first Epic encounters that I put the PCs up against was a pair of leveled-up Frost Giants from the Bestiary (all damage was scaled exactly using the monster's percent damage compared with the baseline stat chart).  It was a "fair" fight exactly, and less than what I'd planned on having them face (they bypassed a lot of potential enemies and didn't raise any alarms).  Within one round the wizard was dead.  The (optimized, animal companion) ranger didn't last much longer.  That's half the party down, and only the chaos mage's Unsummoning spell allowed the rest to actually win.  I was pretty shocked, to say the least.

I talked this over with the group and we agreed that whoever was GMing would use the Adventurer-tier challenge levels from the chart.  That is to say, a "fair" fight at 9th level would be a number of normal 9th level enemies equal to the PCs, instead of 11th level monsters.  For the most part things worked pretty much as they had in Adventurer tier.  The "fair" fights usually weren't too much of a problem, but double-strength encounters were pretty challenging.  Anything over that was potentially campaign-loss-worthy.

In other words, the Epic tier math still works great from a balance standpoint; it's just the encounter building guidelines that are off.  And I can live with that.

That said, I still don't like Epic tier.  Number inflation is a huge problem for me (I've written about this from a GM's perspective before), with the disclaimer that most of my group doesn't have a problem with it.  Everyone's turns simply take a lot longer to resolve, with the end result being fights that last about as long as they did in 4E.  No, really, we've had 2 hour long fights in 13th Age, and a lot of the PCs are playing "simple" classes.

I'll use my own archer ranger as an example.  Her baseline attack damage with double ranged attack is 10d6+18.  I've simplified it further to 4d10+39 (ever since Champion tier I've been rolling 4 dice at even levels, 5 at odd levels).  There's more than a trivial pause to add everything up, especially when damage starts to get added from improvisational stunts, crits, or other PC abilities, not to mention the fact that most of the time she gets a 2nd attack off.  It simply takes longer than adding 2d6+4.  I can do that almost instantaneously, and then add some narrative description to boot.

Worse is that almost everyone else in my group refuses to use dice conventions.  They'd rather roll 10 (or more, for certain abilities and spells) dice and that takes even longer to add up.  That might be a problem specific to my group, but it's still something that kills Epic for me.

In some ways I'd rather run a campaign from 1st to 5th level, awarding incremental advances every OTHER session and having it run the same amount of real time.  But on the other hand, I really like a lot of the higher-level abilities that PCs get without being an unbalanced mess.  Characters have enough options to feel like they can deal with almost anything, but the choice-paralysis and never-ending interrupts and minor actions of 4E are nowhere in sight.  I suppose it's fair to say that I have a conflicted relationship with Epic level 13th Age.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Plot Points" in 13th Age

Wow, this may have been my longest hiatus from writing in this blog.  Not much to say about that other than I've been busy, and that's included doing a whole lot of gaming.  Gaming to the point where I'm not in the mood to think about it at my leisure.  I suspect that as long as I keep up with all of my weekly games my posting rate will probably remain sparse, alas.

My Saturday group has been playing through the D&D 5e beginner box, and we've actually been having a blast so far.  While the point of this post isn't to review 5e, I mention it because of the Inspiration mechanic, which we're quite fond of.  Half of this group hasn't played 13th Age yet, and that's what we're going to be playing next.  While considering character options I couldn't help but think how much I'd miss Inspiration, and then the gears started turning about how I might be able to implement it in 13th Age without introducing 5e's Traits (which are largely redundant with Backgrounds, OUT, and Icons).

Ultimately Inspiration is a narrative carrot that serves the same purpose as Fate Points, or Plot Points in Cortex+.  While I get why Inspiration isn't cumulative, I think everyone in the group agreed that we prefer being able to bank 'points.'  The question still remains of how to earn those points, though.  I'm getting close to running Firefly with the Tuesday group, and I think Cortex+ really nailed it with Plot Points.  In that game characters have three Distinctions which can have up to 3 triggers.  Think of Distinctions like Aspects in Fate, or Traits in 5e.  It's a narrative phrase or concept that can either work to your benefit or detriment.  Whenever you roll a dice pool and a Distinction would be a boon for the action you can add a d8 to the pool.  The first trigger for all distinctions (which starts automatically unlocked) is that if the Distinction hinders you, you add a d4 to the pool instead of a d8, and you earn a Plot Point.  It's important to note that rolling a 1 has detrimental consequences in this game, and that d4 is going to make that really likely to occur.  That's why it gets added to your pool (possibly helping you a little) instead of the opposing pool.

This provides for interesting, dramatic stories because the player is self-handicapping their character with certain rolls in order to bank a benefit for later.  A character needs flaws in order to be interesting, and this mechanic provides a narrative incentive for players to play up their characters' flaws.  I think that it simply works better than the 5e and Fate versions (at least on paper).

So here's how I'd make it work in 13th Age.  Any time a Background would be a disadvantage for a given action, the player can opt to apply its negative value to the roll as a penalty.  Doing so grants the player a plot point, which can be spent later to re-roll any d20 roll.  Optionally if your OUT would be a hindrance you can take a -4 penalty in order to earn a plot point.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

13th Age Options: The Rogue

I've always really liked Rogues, and so it's a bit odd that it's one of the 13th Age classes I have the least experience with.  I've had three different players play one for just one (or a few) session(s) each, and two of them were dissatisfied.  Granted one of those players had a string of terrible dice luck for the few session he played (he went through multiple combats without hitting a single time), but that only highlighted one of the issues with the Rogue.  The other big three popular damage-dealing classes at my table who target AC (which is higher than PD/MD commonly targeted by spellcasters) all have ways to increase accuracy: the Barbarian rolls 2d20s while raging, the Ranger typically has either double attack and/or an animal companion, and the (shifter) Druid re-rolls the first missed beast form attack (and can also have an animal companion).  I'm not sure if I'd necessarily call the Monk a raw damage class, but even if you threw him in there Flurry grants more attacks and some of the Forms offer multi-attacks (or attacks at increased accuracy).  The Rogue, which was probably the most accurate of the weapon classes in 4E, depends on a single d20 roll.  The meager tricks able to ameliorate this either require a staggered enemy (Murderous with a feat, or Deadly Thrust), momentum (Sure Cut) which requires you to have hit already in the first place, or being engaged with more than one enemy (Slick Feint).  So a power that allows re-rolls was a priority for me to design.  

The even bigger glaring hole in the class as-written is more thematic than mechanical - the popular "sniper Rogue" is unsupported.  If the 13th Age designers set out to make a dashing melee swashbuckler they succeeded, but a lot of players expect Rogues to be pretty good at range as well, or at least have the option to go that route.  Thus the majority of this article supports that build.  

Finally, I thought a feat to enhance Swashbuckle was appropriate.  Despite being extremely cool, my players and I consider it the weakest of the improvisational talents since it not only requires momentum, but requires you to spend it.  We've found momentum to be extremely valuable in play, and sometimes tough to gain.  The costs associated with Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations, Tracker, Cackling Soliloquist, and Improbable Stunt are not as severe, and the one with the steepest limitation (Tracker) comes with a hefty background bonus to make up for it.  Swashbuckle can use some love.  My player who adored Improbable Stunt on his playtest Monk specifically avoided Swashbuckle because of its cost, despite liking the concept.


Swashbuckle Adventurer Feat: When you use Swashbuckle roll a normal save.  If you succeed you regain momentum after completing the stunt*.

*Now that I'm re-reading the talent, it's unclear whether the suggested attack you make as part of the stunt can regain momentum if it hits.  I had initially thought no since it's part of the same action, but if you interpret it differently then this feat isn't really needed.  The more I'm thinking about it the more I like that interpretation of Swashbuckle, though, since it puts it at much more even footing with the others.  I'll leave the feat up nevertheless for instructive purposes.  


New Rogue Talent

Sniper: You can now deal sneak attack damage with ranged attacks, provided you are hidden from the target.  To become hidden you need appropriate cover or concealment and you need to succeed at a skill check based on the environment (normal for low light and/or lots of hiding places, hard or even very hard for brightly lit areas with sparse cover).  Make this check as part of your move action.  When you attack from hidden, whether you hit or miss, you give away your position.
Adventurer: Once per battle you can use sneak attack without being hidden provided the target is engaged with one of your allies.
Champion: Once per battle you can attempt to hide using a quick action.  
Epic: Once per battle when you crit with a ranged attack it deals triple damage instead of double damage.


3rd Level Rogue Powers

Distracting Shot
Ranged attack
at-will
Target: one enemy engaged with an ally
Attack: Dexterity + level vs AC
Hit: WEAPON + Dexterity damage, and if your natural attack roll was even the target is Dazed.
Miss: damage equal to your level.

Covering Fire
Ranged Attack
at-will
Target: one enemy engaged with an ally
Attack: Dexterity + level vs AC
Hit: WEAPON + Dexterity damage and an engaged ally can either immediately pop free as a free action or gain a +2 bonus to their next melee attack against the target.
Miss: damage equal to your level.


5th Level Rogue Powers

Snap Shot
Momentum Power
At-will (once per round)
Interrupt action; you must spend your momentum
Trigger: an enemy moves to engage you in melee
Effect: make a basic ranged attack against the triggering enemy.  The attack deals half damage if it hits.
Special: you can't gain momentum from hitting with Snap Shot.
Champion: if the attack hits the triggering enemy is also Dazed.
Epic: The Snap Shot attack deals full damage.

I'm Quicker Than You
Momentum Power
at-will
Trigger: you miss with an attack
Effect: spend your momentum to re-roll the attack, but without sneak attack damage even if you qualified for it with the original attack.
Champion: you get your sneak attack damage with the re-rolled attack.
Epic: If the re-rolled attack was a natural even hit, regain momentum.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

13th Age Options: The Druid

It's been a while since I've written a 13th Age Options article (or, uh, posted much in general), so I thought I'd kick off the 13 True Ways classes with the Druid.  Not surprising since it's one of my favorite fantasy classes, especially the shapeshifter archetype.  Back in my initial review of 13 True Ways I hinted that I'd be doing an in-depth breakdown of the Druid class.  This is not that article, because quite frankly the class is complicated enough that I don't yet feel that I've fully digested everything yet.  This is despite playing a Druid in one of my current games.  In brief though, the sense that I've gotten from that experience so far (at least for the build I'm using, which is Shifter Adept and Terrain Caster Initiate) is that the Druid looks slightly weak on paper but in practice seems to perform about average.  I've got to watch my recoveries a bit more than most, but overall I feel pretty competent.

Shifter is interesting because it allows you to take the chassis of a spellcaster (no joke; instead of having decent defenses, HP, and recoveries like the Cleric, the Druid is at Wizard/Sorcerer level) and turn it into a melee fighter.  The only intrinsic bonus you get is the fact that Beast Form Attack offers really great damage per round (DPR).  So you're basically a glass cannon, particularly at low levels.  But that's where Aspects come in.  Aspects are limited-use (recharge for Adepts) and give you various mechanical bonuses while in beast form to model the differences between various animal forms.  Bear form makes you tougher and lets you mow through mooks, leopard form makes you quick and opportunistic, etc.  The key is that almost every form provides access to a stackable bonus to AC and PD (and sometimes MD).  Pop one aspect and now you've at least got Bard/Rogue level AC.  Take the feat(s) that let you stack aspects and you can even be somewhat tanky with the right ones.  While this was my hunch upon reading them, play experience has confirmed that a defense bonus is pretty much a necessity when designing Aspects.  Anything you transform into should have baseline toughness better than a spellcaster.

The existing Aspects are all really cool.  There were a couple that I initially considered underpowered and didn't think I'd take, but on a whim I used them with my character and found them to be really fun.  There's a nice mix of standard beasts like bears, tigers, and wolverines as well as more magical stuff like giant mantises, owlbears, and behemoths.  The one glaring hole is the lack of the obvious Wolf Aspect, and mechanically there's a paucity of control and mobility.  Basically, the published Aspects are very focused on boosting raw damage, durability, or both.  I figured I'd fix that by making Wolf Aspect more control-heavy (as well as making natural odd rolls a little more exciting).  It naturally rewards "pack tactics" as well.  I imagine it would be quite fun to combine with Animal Companion Initiate (sidebar: while Shifter Adept is really cool, I'm convinced that Shifter Initiate is the weakest of the initiate options, to the point where it's probably not worth taking).  As a counterpoint to Wolf Aspect I've added another magical beast, the Blink Dog (mostly because they're underrated).  This one's very focused on both mobility and defenses, making it the ideal "striker" Aspect.  It'll be quite effective at getting behind enemy lines to the priority target(s) and dealing with them.  It can also zip around the battlefield giving it a similar feel to a Monk or Rogue (or a 4E Predator Druid).

Aside from the new Aspects I also felt the need to add a general feat for boosting AC in beast form.  This will reduce the guilt for not choosing the Warrior Druid talent just to keep up with melee defenses, and it will give Shifters an easier time at low levels when they only have a couple of Aspects.  It should also let players feel like they don't have to pick up the more defensive Aspects just to keep up, missing out on offensive Aspects that they might rather take.  It might verge onto "must have" territory just a little bit, but the published Shifter feats aren't really very high-impact at low levels anyways because you'll need to stretch few Aspects out over a full day instead of stacking them.  If you're spending two Talents on Shifter, you should have some decent low-level feat choices.  Balance-wise, it's functionally identical to the Warrior Druid adventurer feat except that it only applies in beast form (as opposed to always), so I certainly wouldn't call it "overpowered."

After analyzing the Druid a bit more in-depth, comparing it to other classes, and some discussion online I've decided that a "Natural Armor" feat isn't quite what the class needs.  In fact, I think a reversion to the playtest Druid's base defensive stats is in order.  Thus, I've decided on the following suggested house rule to bring the 13th Age Druid up to consistency with tradition as a physically tougher spellcaster, if not one that's armored as well as a Cleric.

House Rule Revisions to Base Class

Revised Druid Armor Table

Type        Base AC        Attack Penalty
None            10                       -
Light            12*                     -
Heavy          14                     -2
Shield          +1                     -2*

Revised Druid Hit Points

Change from 6 + Con mod to 7 + Con mod.

Revisions to Warrior Druid

Your AC in light armor is 14 instead of 12 like most other Druids.
Your base hit points are 8 + Con mod instead of 7 + Con mod.


New Shifter Aspects


Wolf Aspect
Initiate Effect: Gain a +2 bonus to PD.  If the target is engaged with one of your allies, your natural odd beast form attacks deal an extra die of damage.
Adept Effect: As initiate effect, plus you can choose to make the target of your natural odd beast form attacks Vulnerable or Hampered.  Also, the bonus to PD applies to AC as well.

A: Allies gain a +2 bonus to melee attacks against enemies engaged with you that you hit on your previous turn.
C: Once per battle you can make the target of a natural even beast form attack Vulnerable or Hampered.
E:  Until the first time it recharges each day, Wolf Aspect is Recharge 11+ for Adepts instead of Recharge 16+.  



Blink Dog Aspect
Initiate Effect: Gain a +5 bonus to Disengage checks and when you hit with a natural 18+ the target is Dazed until the end of your next turn.
Adept Effect:  Gain a +2 bonus to AC and PD and once per battle you can teleport anywhere nearby as a free action.  

A: Gain a +2 bonus to beast form attack if you moved to engage the target this turn.  
C: Once per battle roll a save when you're hit with an attack.  On a success you take only half damage.
E: Until the first time it recharges each day, Blink Dog Aspect is Recharge 11+ for Adepts instead of Recharge 16+.



Natural Armor
Adventurer Feat: While in Beast Form you gain a +2 bonus to your AC.