31 May 2015

13th Age Session One: Ambushed by Wolves and Slaying Blood Cultists

I played my first session of 13th Age today. As is becoming a sort of standard, it was only 3 hours long [1] but it had some good action.

We were using my old campaign setting, which reduced my workload a little but maybe not as much as I thought. It's all in broad strokes, so they had plenty of room to create new lore, but it also meant that most of the FantasyCraft centered work that I did was unusable. I don't mind; FC wants you to spend a lot of time making sure that all of the thousand options they present is part of your world, and it felt nice not having to deal with it.

The players introduced themselves:
  • Frenk, the halfling barbarian. His entire character sheet is in caps and mostly misspelled, and he has a deep hatred for elves despite not being entirely clear on what they are. He wields a greatsword that is nearly the size of his body, and alternates between oblivious and completely focused. Very mercurial but easy-going.
  • Max Edge, a human ranger who's been cursed to drink elf blood (and only elf blood). He hates elves with a passion (one of his backgrounds is Elf Exterminator) and he spends most of his time talking about how he plans to exterminate all elves. Everybody thinks he's a psychopath and he doesn't mind. He's handy with a bow and completely ruthless.
  • Quillos, a wood elf monk. He impatiently tried to live a pastoral wood elf life and got fed up with it, instead preferring to learn a sword-centric martial art in a secluded monastery where he could get some respect. He was too hedonistic to get far, and left the monastery to participate in the Amsu night life. One particularly lively orgy left him sobering up in front of the Merchant King, who wanted to hear his brilliant plan to exploit the elves, which he is trying to do despite being a little in over his head.
  • Sullen, the human Necromancer. A cosmic accident flung him outside of reality itself, where he spend a timeless moment observing the cycles of Life and Death. He seeks to avoid this cycle completely, and has delved deep into the necromantic arts. Strangely reassuring, though he never means it that way, and stubborn in his knowledge.

They are working for Hudread the Conqueror for their own reasons: Frenk and Max out of vengeance against elves, Quillos to try and insinuate himself into the cogs of power, and Sullen merely because mercenary work means coin, and coin means access to the materials he will ultimately need. They were given a mission by Hudread's lieutenant Arild [2]- retrieve the Blade of Enfron before it is delivered to their enemies.

Turns out, the Protector is giving the High Druid a mighty artifact to help the High Druid defend against Hudread. This is unacceptable- the artifact would do more good to the elves in the hands of Hudread, so they are going to rectify the situation.

They camped out in the shell of Hudread's keep and were awoken [3] by the sounds of an Elven taskmaster shouting and kicking his drudges to work. Might as well set off, they decide. Max fortifies himself with some elf blood and they set off. Frenk has some background as a Tribesman, so he leads the way, tracking the party directly into a Druidic ambush. They battle; the wolves are savage and the Druid is attacking with grasping vines that daze the party, but they ultimately succumb. Frenk and Quillon, as close combatants took some serious damage but have plenty of recoveries so no harm done, ultimately. Combat is fluid and interesting; the monk is shifting through his forms, and the barbarian is nice and simple. Building Rage means that missing provides damage when you eventually do hit, but it's a "daily" [4] so I'm unsure if its use was wise. The flaming skeleton does a bit of work, and Sullen actually manages to do the last bit of damage on every enemy except a single wolf.

They do win out, though, and so they're off again. Frenk manages to track the elfspoor to a deep brook. I decide that he loses the way, though, because I feel like traveling through Druid-infested land should be a little dangerous. Max attempts to seek out the elves using his Elf Exterminator and discovers Quillon! Surprise! Quillon, for his part, attempts to use his monastic knowledge to remember if, perhaps, he has seen this on a map or learned anything useful about the Druids. He fails, so we decide he was too poor of a student to have remembered anything useful.

Sullen, on the other hand, manages to remember a bit of Necromantic lore he's read once, and directs the party to a nearby death shrine the druids have built. Inside, they hear chanting voices and Max discerns that they are speaking Elvish. ELVISH??!?! He goes down the root-stairs and sees five cloaked figures arranged around a skull that sits on top of a deep red cloth covered table. He shouts "We're coming to your grove!" and blasts one with an arrow. He then retreats up the stairs and waits.

A tense moment passes. He peeks around the corner and BOOM! An eight foot tall former cultist is in his face, muscles exploding out of his shredded robe, eyes turned to black. The clear leader of the small cult raised his head and revealed a hideous decaying face, eyes ringed with fire. [5] The battle began!

Mad stepped back and fired an arrow into the monster's meat, dealing only miss damage- then he took an arcane curse to the chest. Frenk stepped up to the monster and swung for a pittance. Quillon launched past the monster (whoops) and into the cultists, who panicked and tried to stab the monk, to no avail. He took a foot to the face, though. Sullen's skeleton slipped past the brute and slaughtered a cultist. The monsters were no match for the heroes in the end, although Quillon ended the battle with a scant handful of health, and Sullen had to use one of his mightier spells to dispatch the Cult Leader.

They manage to spare a single cultist goon and calm him down enough to encourage him to spill his beans. He does, and is even willing to tell them that the Sword is on its way to the High Druid instead of being in his sanctum

All in all: Not a bad way to learn a system. I like not having to draw things to 5' grids, and I like how easy movement is. Disengage / intercept means that position sort of matters without having to bog anything down; the real question is "Can you get out of this guy's sword range" and "can you stop the baddie from reaching your back line?" AC was high all around, which was a pain, but I suppose it is also largely due to having to readjust expectations from the way FC worked. I'll work on making battles more "cinematic," and less common than in FC, which has its own sort of expectations about how battles work and who is in them.

I had a good time and I look forwards to next week. I gave them two incremental advances because I'm a nice guy, and I want to have everybody leveling a bit faster than "normal" in my game. One of my players only has a short time to enjoy the game, and that means that I've got to try and squeeze a little bit of extra content in here, if I can.

[1] One of my players started going to church again on Sundays a month or two back; I like the guy and this is the best time slot for everybody, so we just sort of deal with short sessions.

[2] She's a Dragon Priest, which I've decided means that she's a religious Sorcerer in game terms. I doubt that it'll ever come up, but you never know.

[3] Sullen, technically, doesn't sleep, so he occupies himself during the night by keeping some Necromantic rites. I plan on using this information in the future, in some fashion.

[4] In 13th Age, every 4th battle provides you the opportunity to rest. Resting before then incurs a "campaign loss," which is a nice way to provide some immediate forwards pressure straight from the game book. A lot of people don't like tracking rations or torches and so run into this problem where they don't understand that the 15 minute adventuring day has been a solved problem since the 70s. I do like tracking them but I can understand where the game is coming from, and I appreciate them making explicit the link between dawdling and losing some of what you want.

[5] I actually didn't have this encounter planned, because I looked at the next encounter and thought it looked stupid. So technically the giant dude was a Bugbear, the main cultist was a Goblin Shaman, and the goons were Kobold Grand Wizards. Worked out ok enough, despite my multiple tactical mistakes. Note to self: When using a caster, make sure he can actually get behind some goons, and make sure that there are enough goons that they all don't get engaged. A single large defender is not enough to protect anybody- once you're engaged, you cannot intercept anything until you're free again, and staying free from the players is a losing proposition.

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