Monday, August 19, 2013

13th Age Mechanics in Pathfinder

Well, I did something I never thought I would do again - I started playing in a Pathfinder game.  Largely because one of the players from my 13th Age campaign is GMing it, and he's incorporating some 13th Age mechanics into the game, outlined below.

  • Icons.  The published list is used as a base, though several of them have been changed to some degree or another.  Also, there's only 10 or 11 of them.  Icon relationships in the party include the High Druid, the General (sort of a combination of the Emperor and the Crusader, but not evil), the Prince of Shadows, the Archmage, the Great Gold Wyrm, and The Holy Mother (a slightly modified Priestess).  
  • One Unique Thing.  This is used as-is, though some of the players have elected to keep theirs a secret.  My character's OUT is "stolen" from Angel (The Buffy spinoff), as he can read someone's destiny when they sing (like Lorne, though the character is human, and even though he's a Bard he doesn't sing himself).  Interesting, one of the other players completely independently said that his character's OUT is that he knows that his fate is death, but doesn't yet know how he'll die.
  • The Escalation Die is in, but the GM is capping it at 4 to keep the bonuses from getting out of hand (not sure how long fights will last; many of the PCs are more social/exploration oriented as opposed to strong combatants).  
  • Backgrounds, much to my dismay, are NOT in.  Yep, still have to deal with that long, fiddly skill list (one of the things I like least about Pathfinder).  Oh well, I'll live.
  • The GM has let me swap out Bardic Performance (like I said, my Bard doesn't sing) for the Storyteller talent from 13th Age.  It's already come into play beautifully.  As we were searching through the house of a murder (and theft, but at that point does it really matter?) victim my Bard mentioned that the Rogue really looked like he knew his stuff when it comes to breaking and entering, and asked if he recognized any patterns or anything about the way the place was searched (only very specific things were stolen).  The Rogue got to re-roll his story-guide relationship with the Prince of Shadows, and got a 6!  So we got some info, confirming the killer as belonging to his old guild.
While the fiddly bits and rules look-ups are still annoying, I've built my character to mostly avoid a lot of that stuff.  Case in point, before I thought of swapping in Storyteller, I'd flat-out stated that I was going to ignore Bardic Performance because it was too much bookkeeping and too convoluted.  The OUTs are already making for an interesting group, and the increased narrative focus is just generally making the system more tolerable.  These 13th Age mechanics mesh well with Pathfinder, despite the two systems sharing COMPLETELY different philosophies.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it all progresses.

On a related note, this week I'm wrapping up my current 13th Age campaign.  I've been driving the plot to its conclusion for the last few sessions more quickly than I'd initially intended, with a ton of cool ideas still floating around in my head.  But I'm itching to try Edge of the Empire, and so is the rest of the group, and I'm also a bit burnt out on GMing (this Pathfinder campaign aside, I haven't played a PC for about a year and a half).  It's been going 8 months strong, but I look forward to the next game when everyone has a better idea of what to expect from the character classes (for example, my Paladin player hates his class).

Expect me to focus a bit more on Star Wars and a bit less on 13th Age coming up soon, but I'm sure I'll get another 13th Age game up and running after 13 True Ways is released.


  1. Interesting. I've never played Pathfinder, having shied away from it due to the types of mechanics you mentioned. I'd successfully incorporated 13th Age mechanics into my 4E campaign for months, before that campaign ended, and I started a true 13th Age campaign, but would have never thought to try that with Pathfinder.

    Do you find that these rules are impacting the "power level" of the game? The overall feeling?

    On a related topic, have you looked at the Mythic Adventures rules, yet? Is your group using them? I was wondering if they would make a Pathfinder game feel a bit more like 13th Age, at least in terms of how heroic/cinematic the characters are.

    As always, thanks for the thoughtful write-up!

    1. No, we haven't (and aren't) using Mythic Adventures. Honestly, I couldn't really tell you whether the rules are impacting the power level, having only played Pathfinder VERY briefly in recent years. Though I played a lot of 3.5 before that, it's been a loooong time.

      The Icons and OUT have definitely impacted the feel of the game. I don't think that those players in the PF game that aren't in the 13th Age group have played anything other than 3.5/PF. It took a good deal of explaining for the concept of narrative mechanics to really "click" with them, but they've still by no means mastered them. The OUTs are all working out well, but I think Icon rolls mystify them a bit. In the last session a TON of 5's and 6's got rolled (every PC in the 6 person party got at least one result, many got 2). The GM opened them up to suggestions, but even after having just seen me use an Icon roll to get access to a town's archives, they were still saying they don't really know what types of suggestions to make.

      Unfortunately, the last session was really discouraging overall. We spent probably around an hour of real-time at the market doing not much (I bought some potions, was done in a couple of minutes, but the amount of haggling by two of the players, despite the fact that it didn't affect the game at all, was astounding. One player ended up not even buying anything, and the other, while shopping around for a better price, came to the conclusion that there wasn't one). On top of that, skeletons illustrated SEVERAL fiddly rules that get in the way of the game. The skill-optimized Halfling Rogue dealt zero damage on a max damage roll with a piercing weapon, and moreover the skeletons were inexplicably immune to cold and critical hits as well. The rotten icing on the death-cake was that when the Druid used a spell to turn one of the skeletons into a zombie so that our slashing weapons could do something, the Rogue learned that his short sword didn't deal slashing damage (piercing instead). An example of the mechanics being completely at odds with the fiction (especially since daggers apparently can deal slashing or piercing damage).

      A lot of this group seem very into the fiddly bits, poring over their books (or PDFs) most of the time they're at the table, and constantly looking up rules just to make sure everything gets adjudicated "right." But EVERYONE was annoyed with that skeleton fight.

      So I guess the short answer is, despite a halfway promising start I'm starting to get more discouraged. Granted there was also a lot of off-topic chatter that slowed us down, but the amount of time spent on rules-lookups, character "planning" (fiddling is more like it), and the dearth of Icon use despite lots of good rolls, leaves me REALLY pessimistic about the whole experiment.

    2. Ouch. Sorry to hear about your frustration level. I know what it's like to be a GM most of the time, and to want to switch from time to time and experience a game as a player. It's sometimes a real challenge to hold my tongue when a group is plagued with problems like these. Hope it ends up being worth it.

  2. How did the use of Icons ultimately work out in PF rules? I was considering adopting a version of it, and wanted a opinion on it. It seemed like one of the most central changes you guys experimented with.

  3. It was pretty hit or miss (mostly miss), but this was mostly because the GM isn't all that comfortable utilizing Icon rolls even when he's running 13th Age (which he admittedly hasn't done that much). He just gets overwhelmed by all of the rolls and ends up having us roll every 2-3 sessions because that's the rate at which he uses them. Which is interesting, because as a 13th Age player he's had some really creative uses of his OWN Icon rolls.

    The other major hindrance was that in our 6 person party, 3 of the players have never played 13th Age. They never really got a handle on how Icons work from the player side of things, and I think it was made worse by the fact that we weren't rolling every session and so fewer Icon results in general were being utilized. Two of said players are actually the type that tend not to be terribly engaged at the table (one falls asleep half the time and the other plays Hearthstone on his computer pretty much every week for the whole session).

    Honestly, that whole campaign had more than its fair share of problems, most of them with the group as much as the overly-crunchy rules. Things like boring fights that last a whole session (I calculated the average round length at TWENTY SIX minutes one night) were bad, but the lack of engagement and a LOT of party infighting were worse. Honestly, looking back at it this game was probably the most dysfunctional game to be lucky enough to last to its conclusion (just over a year), and sometimes I can't believe that I actually stuck with it to the end. Though there were several sessions that I missed just because I didn't feel like dealing with it.

    So yeah, I'd consider the whole experiment a failure, but more due to "bad data" as opposed to an unsound concept. I don't see any reason why Icons couldn't work in a Pathfinder game with a GM adept at running both systems and engaged players.

    Oh, and for the record the OUT's mostly worked out really well (everyone's got at least a little bit of spotlight time). It's certainly a more intuitive concept than Icons for someone unfamiliar with 13th Age. Likewise the Escalation Die worked really well (and contrary to the original post, the GM ended up not capping the ED at 4). The only slight tweak we had to make was that the ED applied to save DCs for spellcasters, as that was the only way that they could benefit.