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Minireview: 13th Age

13th Age is an interesting beast. It’s a D&D/d20 variant, intended to fix many of 3rd edition’s faults and merge the D&D-ish fantasy with more modern rpg techniques. By and large it succeeds, though I find it hard to say anything definitive about it without some playtesting (which I haven’t done, to date). In a way it can be thought of as D&D 3.75, going off in a totally different direction than 4e did – though it must be noted that this game is not in any way an official version of D&D and has no ties with TSR. It just encapsulates the way the writers (Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet) want to run their D&D-style games.

Though there are still classes and levels, there’s a lot of new stuff here. The rules are quite lightweight in general, and contain many innovations intended to streamline and accelerate game play. An “Escalation Die” makes sure combats do not run on forever, the “One Unique Thing” rule and the Icon relationships (more on which later) give a bit more depth even to “generic” characters, Backgrounds integrate character capabilities with their past history, and there is a definite push towards the GM generating his/her own unique monsters instead of just picking from a “monster manual”.

The “Icons” are an interesting facet. While normal D&D is quite generic, 13th Age assumes play in its own, specific game world (the Dragon Empire). This can of course be modified, but the base game assumes a default game world. In this world, a number of (very) powerful entities/individuals exist and direct the flow of events and history, and all PCs may decide to either ally with or oppose a number of these Icons. This can have mechanical effects within the game, but is mostly a tool to help GM plan game session themes. The game comes with a default set of Icons, but these can of course be modified.

Based on a read-through, it’s a very interesting game, with lots of cool “indie-style” tweaks to the old d20-based “dungeon crawl” concept. I’m not quite sure I “got” all the details of what makes the rules system tick, I’d really need some gaming with the system to figure it out properly. At the time of this writing, if I were to run a D&D-style game it’d be a tough choice between this and D&D 5e.

The book itself is well-written, clearly organized and has very nice art, no complaints there (either).

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