13th Age at Norwescon 36 – Jon Spengler Reports

Jon Spengler of Dorkadia volunteered to run 13th Age at Norwescon in Seattle, and posted about the experience on his blog. He’s kindly given us permission to share his article here.

If you’re interested in running 13th Age at a con or at your local game store, we’d love to know! Contact me at wade.rockett@fireopalmedia.com

13th Age banners at Norwescon

I was introduced to 13th Age through a demo run at PAX Prime 2012. The demo was so unique and so fun that I preordered the game immediately after PAX. It was the hands-on experience that made me fall in love with the game. When I was asked by Wade Rockett to run a few demo games at Norwescon 36 this past weekend I jumped at the opportunity!

The Material

The convention material for 13th Age is perfectly crafted to show off the strengths of the system. (And it’s publicly available.) It’s a simple two hour structure: in the first hour the players at the table pick from a selection of pregenerated characters and brainstorm their one unique thing, icon relationships, and backgrounds. The second hour is an improv adventure born from those unique things that features a single combat encounter.

The demo is truly bare bones, little more than guidelines for adventure improv and a few sets of monsters to throw at the heroes. But because the meat of the demo is character creation, the players start the game engaged, leaning forward, and invested. In fact, the demo consists almost solely of what makes 13th Age so different from other “d20 rolling games”: the mechanics that give narrative voice to the players. Players of more traditional games start out wary of such mechanics, but by the end everyone is pitching ideas on why exactly “thick headed” is just about the best damn background for a barbarian ever. (It bashes down doors AND helps in social situations!) The improv, player-centric nature of the demo material is brilliant.

I also created PC and monster tokens for the demo using 1-1/2 inch rubber grippies made to protect hardwood floors from furniture. I’m going to make a post about these before long, they were easy to make and really work well for GMs like me that have to pack everything they need in a bag before they head out to game.

The Experience

The demo I ran was a hoot. All five of my players were engaging with the mechanics, laughing, and buying into the narrative mechanics. I did forget to have the players roll their icon relationships (which I’m kicking myself for) but ultimately it didn’t get in the way. One of the players was a friend of mine that had only tangentially been introduced to roleplaying games. I’m happy to say that she enjoyed herself.

The one unique things were exactly the sort of gonzo flavor that 13th Age revels in that other games would shy from. We had a bard that could sing the dead awake, a paladin that received visions, a half-elf half-dwarf, a barbarian cursed with eternal rage, and a sorcerer that punched the god of honor and lightning, receiving some of its power. That was a fun one to workshop out! There was very little story game experience in the group but it only took the gentlest of nudges to get every single person exploiting the hell out of the creative power they were given. It was really great to see the trepidation melt away as the players took the reigns and ran with the system.

The combat was fast and furious, most of the players immediately grasped their class powers in a matter of a single round of combat. The cleric buffed, the barbarian smashed, paladin smote with impunity. Huge success.

The Conclusion

I had a great time running the demo and hanging out with the 13th Age crew. I know that all five of the players at my table enjoyed the freedom of the character creation and enjoyed the combat. I had more than one person walk away with their character sheet in their pocket, which is exactly what I did when I left my demo at PAX 2012 and preordered the game. The demo was a success; my only true regret is not being able to run a second game due to time constraints!

In case you haven’t gotten the message yet, you should all really check out 13th Age.

I have to add a special shout out to Ash Law. She was so busy coordinating the demos and gathering players that it seems like I only got to speak with her for a few minutes. But in the small amount of time I watched her run her demo I realized she was one of the most charismatic, energetic, and creative GMs I’ve ever seen in action. Just reading her comments on the 13th Age G+ community shows her passion for the hobby and her complete understanding of the dynamics of roleplaying. I’m going to try to take some of that magic I saw and apply it at my table.

Buy 13th Age at the Pelgrane Shop to start playing now! 

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