Sunday, December 23, 2012

Second Game of 13th Age

A few days ago I played 13th Age for the first time, and everyone liked it so much that they asked me to run it again the next day.  I decided not to rely so fully on improvisation this time, because I think that was really throwing me off in the first session.  That said, I didn't do nearly as much prep as I would have for D&D.  I brainstormed a bit, thinking of a half dozen or so features or events that I wanted to include in the session, and I weaved them in as I deemed appropriate.

Narrative Summary
The first session started out with character creation, and then based on the icon rolls I determined that the party's mission was to travel north to the edge of the Dragon Wood to close a hellhole that was opening there.  They would first need to secure passage through the Undermarch, because they were sort of racing the clock; agents of the Crusader were also looking for this infant hellhole.  By the end of the first session they were in the general vicinity, finding large patches of charred forest.

At the start of this session (I should note that Whisp, the melee Ranger, was absent) the party stumbled upon a Gnome hermit named Nilku.  He asked what they were doing in his home, and when they told him they were informed that the hellhole has moved.  He showed them to its current location, where they battled some knights and a mage.  I had Lan roll his relationship dice with the Crusader (got a 6); he knew that these guys were called the Knights of Night (corny, eh?), and are an extremist branch of the Crusader's forces.  They're the guys he sends on suicide missions, and they gladly take them due to the strength of their convictions.  Always a dangerous mindset.  Anyways, the party killed the "guards" and descended down (though the opening wasn't hot, and didn't quite look like one would imagine a hellhole would).

This dungeon was geologically odd, the floor covered in fresh dirt and the walls an odd mixture of rocks.  Some of the passages "breathed," and some even rotated.  One room had a throne beside a worked stone wall, one of the arm rests containing a "handprint" pattern of gems with the gem for the center "palm" missing.  A room nearby had a row of pillars on either long end, and a solid black wall on the far side that was inscribed with runes.  When the Barbarian tried to approach the far wall he was hit by an "attack" and took a bunch of psychic damage and found it impossible to approach the rune wall.  Later on they found a village of Derro in a large, phosphorescent fungi-lined chamber, and they learned that the Derro monks go to the wall to have visions.  Upon visiting them the party saw that the monks had dried scabs coming from their ears and were so insane that they were unintelligible.  Such is the long term effect of the wall, apparently.

The party battled another group of knights, this time with a mage and a dark cleric for support (THAT was a tough fight!), and later on fought two knights (and an indiscriminately attacking ochre jelly) in a rotating passage.  Just before this fight I had the Drow Ranger roll his relationship dice with the Prince of Shadows, and he rolled a 5 and a 6.  I had his Unique activate (if you remember from the last post, he has been in the middle of enemy encampments without being caught).  He became engulfed in black, misty shadow, and then turned invisible.  He didn't look invisible to himself.  Helped him ambush the knights, though.  It was after this fight that I called it quits since it had gotten pretty late.

Note on Planning
Prepping for this session was a breeze.  I reskinned some monsters and created a few from scratch.  Even creating spellcasters from scratch (using the Wizard and Cleric spell lists) took just a few minutes.  Then I took a 4x6 index card and made a bullet-point list of things I wanted to include.  Some examples from this list:  "insane Derro live there," and "mushroom-choked passage that spins; ochre jelly, duel with knights."  Some of the more detailed areas had a couple of sub-points.  The key here is that I had a clear picture of what I was envisioning in my head, and 13th Age being gridless I simply had to describe it in-game from memory (making some embellishments on the fly) instead of mapping everything out.  For example, the whole Derro monk thing wasn't planned at all; I simply got the idea from what flowed naturally in-play and went with it.  It was very satisfying to see the players becoming just as immersed in this dungeon, if not moreso, than dungeons that I'd created for D&D and actually mapped out.  This just affirmed my growing preference for more rules-light systems.

The Barbarian
The other significant observation was that the Barbarian is a very underwhelming class.  His AC, even while using a shield, is lower than the Ranger's.  His damage output was also significantly lower.  The player was always very reluctant to use Whirlwind Attack, and no wonder!  The defensive penalty involved is too severe a drawback.  Every time he engaged with 2 opponents to attack them both he ended up on the ground shortly thereafter.

Rage doesn't compare favorably to Double Melee (or Ranged) attack, either.  It needs looser restrictions.  Critting roughly 25% of the time sounds nice on paper, sure, but a crit is simply double damage; a Ranger gets the same damage output by landing 2 attacks, and on top of that each of those attacks have their own chance at critting (given the crit-enhancing Ranger talents this will happen pretty frequently).  Yeah, even without a crit Barbarians have a better chance at hitting than a Ranger, but seeing as a natural even roll gives that Ranger an extra swing anyways it might be close to a wash.  The mechanics are close enough, anyways, that I don't think it would be all that unbalanced for a Barbarian to have constant access to Rage.  As it stands they're squishy, deal mediocre damage, and don't offer any tactical utility to make up for those shortcomings.

Yeah, their defenses look better than a Rogue's on paper, but the Rogue gets all kinds of defensive powers and can disengage really easily.  The Rogue has tricks up his sleeve to compensate for numerical disadvantages.  The Barbarian is just disadvantaged, and it doesn't seem like there's much he can do about it.

Anyone else finding this to be the case?  As it stand I simply cannot recommend a Barbarian.

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