Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Icons in Action (1)

My 13th Age campaign based on the Dungeon World Front "The Great Wyrm Axtalrath" is still going strong.  I believe we're something like 4 sessions in; I just haven't been in the mood to write session summaries.  Instead of doing so, I think I'd rather use my own play experience to highlight the narrative mechanics of 13th Age.  Hopefully this will be a regular series (hence the parenthetical "1" in the title) which explores not only how Icon rolls are being used in my games, but One Unique Things (OUTs), and potentially Backgrounds as well. 

Icon Rolls
I've admittedly struggled the most with how to best implement Icon Rolls, to the point where for the first session I didn't use them much at all, and didn't even really think about them.  They occasionally even stressed me out a little bit, but after last session they finally "clicked." 

I won't go into every example I've had so far, but I will go over many to get started.  First of all, until tonight I've exclusively been using the "roll all of your Relationships at the beginning of the session" method.  A few weeks ago it occurred to me that while I was using the rolls as plot element generators, I wasn't being at all transparent with my players about what their rolls were doing.  So I sent them a message via our campaign's group on Facebook explaining how I'd used each roll for that session.

Each player got a magic item, and each one was the result of an icon roll.  None of these items were loot; they were gifted to the PCs by NPCs.  The Paladin was gathering information on the Dragon Cultists in town, and instead of having him roll a "Streetwise" type skill check I simply spent a result of 5 that had been rolled for The Three.  After publicly expressing interest in the Cult, I later had some undercover cultists pass him a coin later on the street.  The complication was that the etchings on the coin needed to be interpreted, and a correct interpretation revealed the location and time of their next meeting.  Well, the players didn't readily interpret it, but the Fighter took it to an acquaintance at the temple to see if the head priest had any insight.  I spent a roll of 6 for the Priestess and had him guess the exact right answer they needed, explaining his thoughts on the different marks.

When I needed a random quest for the PCs to go on, I used a roll of 5 to have Derro show up in the mining town of Rockbreak (soon to be under siege by the fire-elemental-esque Magmin) hoping to find someone to retrieve a drill for them (which the Magmin could use to wreak havoc on the town).  Cool, this drill ended up driving tonight's session and veering the campaign in a new direction.

The PCs ended up using the drill to get back to the surface of a sea-cave dungeon, unfortunately in an area where a small army of Magmin were camped out.  The clearly-magical drill melted rock that it touched, but it still made a lot of noise when it surfaced.  Fortunately, I had a result of 6 for the Emperor that I needed spent, so I had the Magmin be out on their pumice rafts to destroy an Imperial yacht that appeared offshore.  Perfect time for a clean escape (I had vague plans for if the PCs decided to search for survivors, but they headed directly north with the drill instead). 

At this point I should mention that after my initial Facebook message explaining my Icon Roll decisions to the group, I added that they too were encouraged to "spend" rolls to gain narrative advantages of their choosing.  In tonight's session the Fighter lamented that he didn't have an active result for the Great Gold Wyrm to aid him in pursuing a problematic assassin who has been harassing the party, so I let him roll (unfortunately he rolled a 4, but I'm sure that just means the inevitable is delayed). 

Finally, what I was most pleased with was that the party decided to cut through the Lizardfolk occupied swamps to shortcut their journey, and the Paladin (with the "Ambassador" background) asked how the game handled languages and what the Lizardfolk might speak.  I told him "I'll tell you what, if you want to spend that result of 6 for The Three, I'll say that your character can speak the language of the Lizardfolk."  He accepted, and I'm sure that little fact will have an impact for sessions to come.

I said earlier that Icon Rolls finally "clicked" for me recently.  I think this was largely a combination of reminding my players that they could spend results, and me mentally comparing the mechanic to Destiny Points in Star Wars:  Edge of the Empire.  I had a player make an awesome use of a Destiny Point to introduce a narrative fact in our last session, and it hit me that Relationship Dice were 13 Age's version of that.  I think that's the strength of pre-rolling each relationship at the beginning of the session, actually.  It's great if the players know their narrative currency, and can simply say "this works" because of a prior roll.  It's less awkward than rolling RD on the spot and possibly (most likely) not rolling a 5 or 6.  I find the idea very empowering from both a player perspective as well as the GM's, and it's not often that a mechanic can pull that off.

So far I've really only made use of this once, in tonight's session.  The Cleric has a mish-mash suit of armor containing random metals because metal sometimes speaks to him (when that happens he usually incorporates it into his gear).  I had the drill say to him "I have a mission, and it's not with the Derro."  Cool stuff!  The PCs have successfully completed their mission, and now they needed to decide whether to make good on their assignment or to comply with the drill's wishes.  It's always fun when party members disagree with what the best course of action is, but then compromise.

It's no secret that I LOVE the Background system.  It's so intuitive that I don't anticipate there being much to say about it most of the time.  I am finding the Cleric's "wanderer" Background a little awkward, though.  It's so easy to justify most any skill check with "I've done/seen/learned about this on my travels" and I'm finding it tough to draw the line regarding what's acceptable or not.  It's not that the player is arguing its applicability with me; most of this is on my part!  I think in the future I might have players refine very generic backgrounds like that quite a bit more. 

Bonus Section:  Rituals!
Our group saw its first use of Ritual Magic today!  In transporting the drill across the swamps the Cleric decided to enhance its wheels with the Shield of Faith spell.  This was to effectively turn it into an "all terrain" drill to speed up travel, but when an unlucky D% roll determined the Cleric (who was pushing the drill) as the target of a kobold trap (two trees were blasted and felled his way), I got the idea that while the Cleric deftly dodged out of the way but the trees landed on the drill.  It sank in the mud a bit, but was unharmed thanks to the protection of the Ritual (normally its wooden wheels would have shattered). 

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