Why 13th Age


"You guys play D&D?" A friend asked me and another friend. He was new to town, still playing a 4e game online with the group he moved away from, but interested in gathering a new group to play in person.

"I'm in," I said. When I was in middle school, the satanism scare led my parents to forbid D&D. But I loved the art, the imagination, the chance to be with my friends in the kind of stories in the books and movies I loved. I played anyway: a handful of sessions. In high school, another handful of sessions. We spent more time creating characters than playing. I wanted more.

"D&D is out. Pathfinder is in!" said the owner of our local game store, the very next day. My friend and I were convinced. We left with a Pathfinder starter box, and started a campaign. He GMed. I played an elven cleric. It was a blast, except for all the time we wasted looking up rules and modifiers and shuffling 10 pages of character sheets.

"There's gotta be a better way," I thought. I started researching other systems. I discovered Mike Shea. He was running his 13th Age "Moonwreck" campaign and blogging about it. I bought Lazy Dungeon Master and the 13th Age Core Rulebook. I listened to 13th Age co-designer, Rob Heinsoo GM. The 13 True Ways Kickstarter had just concluded: the community was energized. I was hooked.

What I love about 13th Age is the balance of story and math--icons, one unique things, backgrounds, and d20 mechanics with just enough crunch.


What was hard about 13th Age is that it was designed for experienced GMs. When I started GMing 13th Age:

  • I didn't know when a background check should be based on Intelligence vs Wisdom. 
  • I was not ready to improvise (and neither were my players).
  • I didn't know how to use icon relationship dice.

I played through the awkward and relied on Mike Shea, Rob Donahue, Wade Rockett, and the G+ 13th Age Community. It was worth it.

Now the characters built for a 2015 St. Patrick's Day 13th Age one-shot are just about to ascend to 9th level. One of those players is GMing a level-five 13th Age campaign, the first I've ever played in. Running a session is now easier than the logistics of keeping a gaming group going over time--a pretty good gauge of GM competence and confidence.

It's a great way to waste time with your friends. And if I can give anything back to the community or help someone else get into it, that's icing on the cake.

Creating NPCs in 13th Age

I've been playing with ideas for creating NPCs from 13th Age characters' one unique things, backgrounds, and icon relationships.

I created a chart, inspired by the "Icon Relationship Master Chart" on page 36 of the 13th Age Core Rulebook (or pages 13-14 in the SRD version 3.0). It's a nine block grid--heroic, ambiguous, and villanous icons crossed with positive, conflicted, and negative relationships. Each block offers a handful of seeds for growing NPCs, starting with a character's icon relationships. That seed really comes to life when added to character OUTs and backgrounds.

You can download the chart here. Examples are included.

I wonder, what if NPC creation was part of a "Session Zero" or "Character Creation Session"? Players could be involved in the process too. A chart like this could be really useful.

I haven't playtested this, so I'm open to feedback.

Chasm: dwarf underworld city

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A special offer for blog visitors.

Four pages of adventure-inspiring fun!

  • a description of the dwarf underworld city of Chasm
  • reasons your player characters might go there
  • a couple of icon-influenced adventure seeds
  • a few NPC sketches
  • a handful of tavern names
  • options for travel scenes
  • three magical items
  • a wondrous item, and
  • a unique potion.

The true nature of the Chasm adventure(s) is up to you, dear GM, and what suits your campaign. You also get to build your own battles!

The dwarf underworld city of Chasm is compatible with The 13th Age Roleplaying Game and is easily ported to any other fantasy RPG system.