Save Versus

RPG observations, wisdom and tools from an early adopter

Month: September, 2013

Looking back on 4E


I’m fairly certain I’ve played my last instance of 4th edition.  I ran a campaign for a year of 6 players, during which they eventually reached 14th level.  I also played in about a half dozen (give or take) Encounters seasons, so I feel I experienced the majority of what 4E had to offer.  Having come from a background of mainly 1st and 2nd Edition, I was pretty shocked at how much had changed from the early days.   It took some adjustment to be sure.  There was plenty about 4th edition that I liked.  The amount of choices available to the player each round for one thing was great.  Fighter types had options beyond simply swinging their weapon.  Now you had lists of potential moves to choose from and each provided different benefits.  I enjoyed the variety immensely.  Caster types were not as squishy, although I missed the traditional list of spells from the earlier editions.  At-wills were great too, especially for casters.

I probably should mention that I missed 3rd Edition completely.  It came out when I was starting a family and my game time dissolved away into nothing.  To fill the gaming void, I immersed myself in MMOs mainly, up until 2012 and hence, missed out on a fair share of the RPG evolutionary process after the early years.  Edition wars didn’t make my radar until I got back into the hobby and I don’t think I missed anything to be truthful.  All of my old gaming crew had moved away or I had lost touch with them but thankfully I discovered Encounters and now my dice and I are happy once more.

4th Edition’s heavy reliance on minis was fun and I did enjoy the tactical feel of combat.  However, the role-playing aspect of the hobby seemed to be forgotten.  I felt a bit out-dated playing this new version of D&D, like I had awoken from a 15 year slumber and the whole world had changed, while I was stuck in the past; a relic.  I had become “that guy” who continually was spouting about how “things used to be”.  Still, I adapted and after two months of just playing, I began what would become a weekly campaign.  The PCs felt like superheroes to me as they continually survived through everything I threw at them.  I would read back through my notes of my old 2nd Edition campaign and its number of PC deaths mocked me and at the same time made me question my own ability to DM years ago.  I always felt fair then, and truly, the story was the thing for me; not building a body count.  Still, if I was able to get a PC to make a death save in my current campaign I felt like that was an accomplishment.

4E had its share of things I didn’t care for either.  Healing surges, action points, the “requirement” of an online account to create a character, min-maxer players, backstabbing without actually being in back of the target, combats taking over an hour to complete, no classic spells, drow that no longer avoided daylight, costliness of minis, poorly written modules, no more Greyhawk and a general lack of character or feel in its campaign settings.

Over time, it became clear to me that 4th edition more of a super heroic combat simulator (and a fun one) than what I remembered D&D to be.  I became jaded and when personal life changes intervened, the campaign was put to rest.  Now, I look for what will be my next system.  13th Age is one system I’m currently running and I’m playing in a Pathfinder and Castles & Crusades campaigns as well.  4th edition though seems to have breathed its last for me.  Like all things, it had its moments.

First 13th Age Session


After a month of prep and conversion work I ran my first 13th Age session last night.  I had made up some pre-gens to save time; a Tiefling Rogue, Dragonic Barbarian and Human Wizard.  The players are all seasoned veterans of 4E, and Pathfinder so the amount of time spent explaining the differences was minimal, allowing us to dive right into things.  I easily converted Paizo’s: “Shadow in the Sky” adventure path to the 13th Age rules set with minimal fiddling.  I won’t go into details about the content but the module has proven to be an easy conversion with just enough combat and roleplaying for a group testing out how a new system works.

Some observations from my side of the screen have to include combat.  I didn’t alter the number of potential foes the PCs could face for this first foray into 13th Age, despite there only being 3 PCs and no dedicated healer.  The first combat went great with 2 Thugs, a wizard and rogue type npcs initially facing only the rogue and the barbarian, (the wizard was blinded and helpless for 4 rounds).  The two of them held their own against a superior force until the wizard on his first round of combat, blasted the NPC wizard with a Ray of Frost.  He had evoked it and was quite thrilled with being able to unleash such a massive amount of damage.  The rogue and barbarian both had to rally once but all in all there was just enough pressure put on the PCs to make the first fight memorable.

I played without a map, but used minis to track who was fighting who and basic positioning while describing the setting as written.  It worked out just fine and not having to track movement and all that it entails is a big time saver.  It brought me back to my glory days of 2E and theater of the mind combat.  One of my players suggested using a bullseye-like target system to track positioning, with the center being engaged and each ring after a different range.  I have toyed with a similar idea for WFRP 3E as well, but never utilized it, as it is not fully effective with multiple foes and PCs.

The use of backgrounds surprisingly took some getting used to for some of the players.  I personally think it’s a brilliantly simple way of working out skill checks, and I think they will get a hang of it in no time.  There was quite a bit of exploration, searching and interaction with NPCS to allow for a wide range of potential skill challenges.  I went with the “fail-forward” philosophy as much as possible, and while it forces the DM to sometimes have to think super quick about a result, it moves the story along at a better pace.

A complaint I have right off as a DM is that tracking my dice rolls is not that simple.  Specifically, noting even and odd results that have to carry over to the next round.  I found it difficult to track if an NPC had rolled even the round prior in order to get a benefit the following round and will have to make better notations next time.  I know when I make creatures for this system I won’t be creating anything with that type of mechanic.  I didn’t like it at all. Clunky as heck.

In conclusion, it was a success.  The players and I had fun. The system played well and my conversion and balancing did too.  I’m looking forward to continuing the adventure path and seeing how 13th Age plays over the course of this module.

Swarm of Bats – 13th Age

bat_swarm_270x310 Bat Swarm

A swarming tide of wings, claws and teeth surrounds you, hungry for blood.

For all swarms

All swarms have the following two abilities.

Writhing mass: The swarm is immune to opportunity attacks.                     Pesky vermin: The swarm only takes 1d3 damage from melee and ranged attacks.

2nd level spoiler (Beast)                                                                       Initiative: +7                                                                                   Vulnerability: fire                                                                                               HP: 50 AC: 16 PD: 16 MD: 12

Blinding frenzy: When an enemy starts its turn engaged with or becomes engaged with the swarm they become hampered.                           Swooping assault: On its turn, the bat swarm inflicts 2d4+2 damage to any enemy it is engaged with.

Swarms – 13th Age

Cockroach Swarm     


Your gorge rises unbidden as a hungry, crawling mass seeps inexorably towards you.

For all swarms                                                                                                                                                                                                                              All swarms have the following two abilities.

Writhing mass: The swarm is immune to opportunity attacks.                       Pesky vermin: The swarm only takes 1d3 damage from melee and ranged attacks.

2nd level wrecker (Beast)                                                                     Initiative: +6                                                                                   Vulnerability: fire                                                                                               HP: 60 AC: 16 PD: 16 MD: 12

Crawling death – When an enemy starts its turn engaged with or becomes engaged with the swarm they will take 3d4 damage.                                    Strip to the bone: When the cockroach swarm becomes staggered as a free action its crawling death ability activates against any enemy it is currently engaged with.

Condition Markers for 13th Age

Condition Markers for 13th Age

Playing 4E required immense amounts of condition tracking.  13th Age has it’s share of the same.  I laminated these and use them to track conditions.

Hag – 13th Age

ImageHag – 13th Age

Twisted beyond recognition from long years devoted to the dark arts; hags haunt the untrod places of the wild, bending lesser beings to their will through fear and beguilement.

6th level spoiler (Aberration)

Initiative: +10                                                                                                 HP: 140  AC: 21  PD: 17  MD: 21

Tainted claws +9 vs. AC – 12 damage                                                       Natural 16+: The target is also weakened (-4 attack and defenses)

C: Intimidating Command +11 vs. MD (1d3 random nearby enemies)  The target gains the fear condition (normal save ends, 11+)                        Natural 16+: The target gains the fear condition (hard save ends, 16+).

R: Hypnotic whispers +11 vs. MD (1 nearby or far away enemy) – The target falls unconscious (hard save ends, 16+; it also ends if the target takes 10+ damage).                                                                                               Miss: The target is dazed until the end of the hag’s next turn.

Whirling wrath: When the hag becomes staggered, as a free action it may immediately make 2 tainted claw attacks against any nearby enemies.

Forgotten Inspirations – Dreadstar


Nostalgia bites me in the ass quite frequently.  I’m not sure what made me think of Dreadstar, but no matter, I did and now I’m talking about it.  Way back in 1980 in Epic Magazine, The Metamorphosis Odyssey by Jim Starlin was published.   An epic sci-fi saga which culminates in the destruction of the Milky Way galaxy. The story continued into the One-Shot graphic novel Dreadstar and finally the comic series of the same name.  Dreadstar followed the exploits of Vanth Dreadstar; the sole survivor of the Milky Way galaxy’s destruction, Syzygy Darkolock; a powerful sorceror, Willow; a telepath, Oedi; a cat-like rogue and Skeevo; your basic interstellar pirate.

While perhaps not breaking new ground with the familiar tropes of all-powerful galactic-spanning empires, imposing villains and desperate rebellion, Dreadstar nevertheless held my rapt attention during most of its print run.  Unfortunately, it’s not readily available to the masses now and it therefore in my mind is a Forgotten Inspiration.  Adapting the opening lines from a certain movie, I can only say, “Much that once was is lost; for few now live who remember it.”

d30 Challenge – Favorite Game World


Fine. I had to comment on this one.

Greyhawk is my favorite setting with Al-Qadim taking up second place.

The first campaign I ever ran was based in Greyhawk.  You never forget your first.  The players quested across nearly the entire continent and one of them even came to rule one of the small Ulek states.  Near the end of the campaign I worked the Al-Qadim setting into it for a change of scenery.  That was a great one too.

Here’s to hoping my next world; Primeval Thule, resonates as strongly as these two classics.

Ring of Selfishness – Cursed Item – 13th Age


It’s not even worth a second glance, but once you place this ring upon your finger, you wouldn’t take it off for anything.

This dull, unassuming ring provides its wearer with a +1 benefit to the escalation die. However, the wearer’s allies receive a -1 penalty to the escalation die.

Once this ring is put on, it cannot be removed.  How it can be removed is something the GM can decide.

House Rule – Stances – 13th Age

I have been an admirer of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition since its release back in 2009.  However, I never actually had an opportunity to play it to my everlasting regret.  A glaring lack of an audience being the main factor but other things (personal) contributed to my inability to get anything going for this system.  I love the Warhammer setting and hopefully will game there someday with a 4th edition that appeals to a wider audience.

Since 2009 I’ve played D&D 4e, Pathfinder and Castles & Crusades, but now with the release of 13th Age I’m ready to start over with a new system.  As with every system I’ve ever played, house-rules are something I love to implement or experiment with.  I’ve already outlined on this blog, a Stress & Insanity system that I plan on working into my next 13th Age campaign.  I based this house-rule on Warhammer’s rules for the same.  The opportunities for role-playing one of these conditions can provide are fantastic.

Another rule that Warhammer has that I like is that of stances.  Briefly, in WFRP3e, stances are defined as “Reckless”, “Neutral” and “Conservative”.  A PC will favor one or the other based on their class.  A reckless stance provides more opportunities for a big payoff but also a greater chance of being on the receiving end of some misfortune.  A conservative stance naturally is a safer approach of low-risk, low-reward.

I have been tinkering with adding a similar type of approach to 13th Age’s combat.  13th Age’s combat is elegant in its simplicity so one must be careful in my opinion of layering on too much.  I think this house-rule meets that criteria of simplicity.

House Rule – Stances

Stances are declared at the start of your round and cannot be changed until your next round.

During combat a PC may declare a “stance” of either Neutral, Defensive or Aggressive each round.

Neutral provides no bonuses or negatives to your attacks or defenses.

Declaring an Aggressive stance provides a +2 to attack and damage rolls but a -2 to your defenses.

Declaring a Defensive stance provides a +2 to your defenses but you may not inflict crits, move or take a quick action..