13th Sage: Monsters in the Party

While the 13th Age Bestiary was in playtesting, we heard some fun stories about groups that temporarily allied with monsters and wanted guidelines about how to handle their unlikely allies. Here’s Jonathan’s advice to GMs on handling this unusual situation, along with a paragraph I’ve inserted that addresses healing. –Rob Heinsoo

By Jonathan Tweet

Gnome Riding Dragon13th Age campaigns where diplomacy or skullduggery are options sometimes end up with creatures that start as monsters fighting alongside the party. This can cause some problems if all the new ally’s abilities are handled exactly as they were when the creature was functioning as an enemy of the PCs.

If 13th Age were a simulation, then monsters and characters would be interchangeable objects. You would be expected to treat the monstrous ally as written, so it would act, for example, “the way a naga really would act.” But 13th Age is only partially a simulation, and both PCs and monsters are hand-crafted to fit their distinct roles at the table.

GMs, if a monster joins the party, consider each of its special abilities to see whether that ability makes sense for a creature functioning as a PC. Feel free to interpret special abilities loosely. These monsters aren’t like cards in a collectible card game, where you have to follow the letter of the card text.

The goal is to make these temporary alliances fun rather than weird or exploitative. Given how many surprises can lurk within mechanical combinations the game wasn’t expecting to handle, don’t be shy about changing interpretations on the fly. So long as your intentions are good and the results are amusing, the players should thank you.

Here are some example adjustments.

Powerful monster abilities: Certain per-battle abilities, such as demonic teleportation or trollish regeneration, are abusive if they can be used every five minutes. If they are powerful, they might be too decisive and repetitive as per-encounter powers. In such cases, assign the power a recharge roll. 11+ is usually fair, and it provides variation between battles.

Escalation die interactions: Abilities that reduce the escalation die can be thought of as reducing the enemies’ access to the escalation die, if any. Those abilities should work against dragons, but if the party happens to have a frost giant ally, don’t always penalize them with a slower escalation die. Once, perhaps, for dramatic flavor, but as a rule such abilities are meant to be used when the monster is fighting the PCs, not allied to them.

Flying: A monster’s long-range flying ability may be far more limited than its write-up mentions. It may be limited in how far it can fly in a day or how long it can fly without a quick rest. The monster write-ups describe how well a creature flies in a battle, when its life depends on it.

Monsters that are tougher when hurt: If the PCs end up exploiting a monster’s power by dealing it damage, keeping it staggered, putting minor effects on it, or that sort of thing, the power could probably use a re-interpretation. A “when staggered” power, for example, might be re-imagined as “when staggered, and for up to 5 minutes a day.”

Healing: If the PCs want to use precious healing spells, commands, or potions to keep monstrous allies alive, you should probably let them, at least once per battle. Treat the monster as if it has a single recovery that can be used in each battle, regaining 25% of its starting hit points when it does so.  Heinsoo’s version would have you roll a d4 and multiply the result by 10% to find out the percentage of the monster’s hit points it regains using the recovery, so do whichever you like. If you want the monster to heal a bit between battles, that’s fine, but you probably want it to heal less than the PCs to help the PCs feel special.

Out of combat possibilities: Certain battle abilities might suggest other capacities that the monster could use while exploring or interacting with people. At the GM’s option, for example, a confusion ability could be used to fast-talk someone. Again, even if that ability is an at-will power in battles as a monster, it probably works best if it’s being used on the PC’s side as a power that only has a chance of recharging. Obviously there could be some extremely surprising stories resulting from abilities used by allied monsters, but if they seem like they’re overshadowing the PCs’ abilities, backgrounds, and One Unique Things, then the recharge on the monster’s ability is too low or the ability itself needs to be toned down.


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