13th Age RPG The Black Hack

The 13th Hack – Part 1

In my left hand, the 13th Age SRD.  Or rulebook if you’ve got it.  Big, weighty, gorgeous, full-colour, tome of everything you need to run an RPG in the Dragon Empire and beyond.  It’s my go-to game for fantasy gaming.  Or it was…

In my right hand, The Black Hack.  19 pages long, including the obligatory license page.  Simple. Streamlined. Sweet.  Pares everything down to bare bones and makes gaming on the fly an absolute joy.  Grab the dungeon dice or cards, grab an old module that’s been collecting dust on the shelf, convert as you go along.

It seems somehow logical that left and right should meet…

13th Age is, if approached from a certain direction, the ultimate gaming condiment set, full of tasty morsels that can season and spice whatever game you happen to play.  You don’t have to use all the rules, just the bits and pieces you want to.

The Escalation Die

Get the biggest damn D6 you can comfortably lift.  Round 2 of combat, it goes on the table, 1-up.  Given that TBH is a roll-under system, you subtract that from your d20 rolls in combat.  Criticals now occur on 0 or 1.  20 is still a fumble and if you roll your stat bang-on you trigger a GM Intrusion.  (Okay, so I’m stealing that from Monte Cook’s Cypher system games, basically it’s carte blanche for the GM to introduce something into the game – reinforcements for one side or the other, your weapon breaks, something interesting happens.  And it’s got to keep the story moving forward).

Round 3 the Escalation Die shifts to 2.  Criticals now occur on -1, 0 or 1. Fumble on 20, GMI on rolling your stat exactly before modifying.

Round 4… You’re clever, you get the idea.

Go nuts with this.  Base monster powers off the die.  Is it odd?  Is it even?  Can a nasty special monster also use the Escalation die?

Damage on Miss

Simple.  You fail to hit, you deal your level in damage to the creature you were attacking.  Point is, you’re the Big Damn Heroes and you’re there to kick arse and take names.  Even if you can’t write the names down, don’t have a pen, and couldn’t read them even if you did manage to write them down.  Yes, Barbarians, I’m looking at you here.

You can also play with the attack rolls.  Natural Even Hit, Odd Miss, exact hit…  Base powers off and around things like that.  A magical sword that deals double damage if you roll the exact number you need to hit.  A pair of gloves that grants you an extra action if you miss on a natural even roll.  Index cards come in handy, or post-it notes.


An idea I’ve already seen suggested as a skill system option in TBH elsewhere.  Characters in 13th Age don’t have skills, they’ve got Backgrounds.  Maybe you were the Chief Gardener for the Chef of Ulambril.  Roll with Advantage whenever you can blag a use for that Background.  Oh, and you’ve also introduced the Chef of Ulambril into the game world – what made you leave her service, what did she cook, what did you grow? Where or what is Ulambril?  Interesting enrichment to the game world in a single sentence.  Every Background should add almost as much to the game canon as “The Doctor’s Wife” did.


These are the movers and shakers of the world.  Not gods, but rulers of kingdoms, of guilds, the powers behind the throne perhaps.  13th Age gives you 13 laid out and beautifully illustrated, the SRD gives you 13 more.  And you can find more online or make up your own.

Each player gets to have a relationship with 1 icon at 1st level, gaining another relationship every 4 levels – so 1st (1), 5th (2), 9th (3).  Relationships can be Positive – the icon likes you and wishes to help.  Conflicted – the icon is like a cat, it doesn’t really care if you live or die, it may help you, it may wind itself around your legs when you start to walk down the stairs.  Negative – the icon hates you and will do everything in it’s power to ensure you fail.  Wait, that’s more like a cat.

At the beginning of the session, roll a d6 for each relationship.  On a 1, your icon will exert some influence to assist you (positive or conflicted) or hinder you (negative).  On a 6, the opposite happens and you could find yourself working alongside crack troopers of the Skeleton Lord to steal a rare ingredient from the gardens of Ulambril (no, I still don’t know where they are or what’s growing there).

The 13th Age Icon mechanics are different.  Use them if you like.

Next Time on the 13th Hack…

Character classes! Monsters! Powers! Levelling up!



A Very Gaming Christmas

As a family, we love games – especially games we can all play (aged 5+).  Board games, card games, computer games, roleplaying games…  So here’s a quick run-down of the games we played Christmas 2015.  Some we got as presents, some we already had, some we pretty much made up on the spot!


An old family favourite, and an excellent way to kill 10 minutes while you’re waiting for something else.  Even my youngest loves dominoes – and he’s pretty good at it as well.  For the older players, you’ve the strategy of working out how many 5’s have been played and if you can mess up the entire game by playing that 5:1 this way around.  For the youngers, you’re pattern-matching.  Great fun. And there’s nothing like the look of triumph on your youngest’s face as he slams down that last tile in victory.


A great way to teach kids some basic maths – cards add up to more than 21? You’re bust, pay up.  Probability – what’s the odds of drawing the card you need? Seriously? A 10?  Bust.  Pay up.  Strategy – do you stick on 16, hope the bank goes bust? And, ultimately, that the Bank always wins.

We play with a pile of pasta pieces for each player.  It’s always entertaining to see individuals’ piles get smaller and smaller, while the pasta mountain in front of the banker gets bigger and bigger.

Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard

Lots of little pieces, a map of central London, beginner and advanced games, and the ability to victimise one of your family members!  What could possibly go wrong?

This was a game we received this Christmas and broke out to play on Boxing Day.  Put simply, one player takes the role of “Mister X” and has to evade capture by the other players, moving around the map of London in a number of different ways – bus and taxi in the beginner game, tube and ferry are added in the advanced game.  The other players take the role of detectives hunting him down.  Some moves Mister X makes are made invisible to the pursuing detectives, recorded on a little tracker so that the other players can see they’re not making things up.  In the basic game, if the detectives capture Mister X before turn 12, they’ve won.  If Mister X evades them, he’s won.  The furthest any of us made it as a fugitive was turn 11.

The advanced game is a little more complex.  Detectives only have a limited budget of transport tickets to spend, starting points are randomised across the map, Mister X makes most of his moves invisible, only popping up from time to time to blow raspberries at his pursuers, hopefully from a comfortable distance away across the board.  Mister X also has to evade capture for a lot longer – 20-odd turns.  Again, 11 or 12 is about the most any of us have managed.

The detectives work as a team, moving after Mister X has made his move.

I’d definitely recommend this for players of 8 and over.  The game has a maximum of 5 players – 4 hunters and 1 Mister X.  The feeling of persecution you feel when being hunted is really rather unpleasant, but you do find yourself thinking about your strategy for next time long after you’ve finished playing.


Ticket to Ride – Europe

Ticket to RideTicket to Ride is one of the big hitters in the boardgame market.  I’d rank it up there with Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.  We bought 2 copies before Christmas, realised that one of the people we were going to give it to already had it, subbed for a different game and decided to keep it ourselves.

Up to 5 players work to build train routes across Europe to match the tickets they’ve got in their hands.  Tunnels and ferries act to complicate things a little (or they would if we’d played the full tunnel rules).  It can get frustrating at times, when someone else claims a route between 2 cities you need to complete your ticket, but there are usually multiple ways to do any given journey.  There’s a lot of strategy discussed across the internet, but we’re only just getting going.

This one is a bit more taxing for the younger players – I’d say our 8 and 10 year olds struggled to sit through the full length of the game – but a lot of fun.  Like Catan and Carcassonne, lots of expansions are available once you’ve got the base game down pat – map routes for the UK, darkest Africa, and so on, all with their own little tweaks to the main rules.

7/10, probably rising as we play more.

Fate Accelerated – Star Wars

A tabletop roleplaying game.  Largely made up as we went along, using the simple(ish) Fate Accelerated system.  The FAE book doesn’t contain any rules for playing in a particular setting, the Force, droid abilities, and so on, were all made up as we needed them.

Basic premise of the game was that while the battle of Endor was ongoing, another group of Rebel agents were to infiltrate the Imperial shipyards on the ice world of Praxis 7, retrieve the plans for a new secret weapon (the nature of which was never revealed) and then destroy the base on the way out.  Through some clever Jedi mind tricks (and some spectacularly gullible Stormtroopers) the party blagged their way in to the base under the pretext of a surprise Health and Safety inspection, which the party’s R2 unit retroactively added to the base commander’s diary while searching the computer network for the secret weapon plans).  Much fun ensued as it turned out the base commander feared the HSE far more than the Emperor himself.

We played this a few hours after watching The Force Awakens, more on which in a future post.  It was the first time I’ve run FATE as a system, I’ll definitely be going back to it.


The only Playstation gaming I got done at all this Christmas was picking off the odd mission in Destiny.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this game.

I love the graphics, the weaponry, the architecture on Mars and Venus, the varieties of enemies you face.  I love the fact that when you’re killed, the game tells you what got you.

I hate that it’s single-player on the PS4 and that to do any sort of multiplayer you need to shell out more for a PSN subscription.  Okay, so they bundle a month free in with the game but that’s not the point.  Borderlands gives you 2 players on one PS3, 4 players over LAN or WAN.  And there’s all this stuff you can collect – helium coils, spinmetal, spirit blooms, none of which I’ve found any use whatsoever for!  You can’t trade with other players – hell, you can’t actually communicate with other players unless you’re friends with them already.  Judging by what I’ve read online, many other players feel the same way.

I hate that I’ve nearly completed the bulk of the game I can play without a PSN subscription in what feels like a very short amount of time.  End-to-end, probably a couple of days of gameplay.  That’s not great value.  I hate that every time I come back to the game it’s forgotten how much ammo I had for each of the 3 gun categories and set me back to no heavy weapons ammo.

I don’t understand the loot system.  Unlike Borderlands, where every container can be opened and ammo or cash collected, loot drops in Destiny seem seriously infrequent.  I’ve only found a handful of chests in the levels I’ve explored, and they’ve contained this useless crud that only appears to exist to clog up your inventory.  Apparently there are uses for them, but I’ve not discovered them yet.

I hate the fact that, having presented itself as a fairly straightforward first person shooter, the game diverges into a precision-jump platformer in a couple of the missions I’m currently stuck on.  I’ve no idea what the main storyline is, where I am along it.

It doesn’t have the humour of Borderlands, the character progression of Borderlands, the narrative flow of Borderlands…  Let’s face it, it’s no Borderlands.

Would I buy Destiny (I got it bundled with my PS4)?  No, probably not.  Not sure what the replay value is – the races and character classes don’t appear to make a great deal of difference to the gameplay, so it’s not like seeing how the Siren handles compared to the Gunzerker or the Mechromancer.

Oh, and the PS4 has other shortcomings – no Blinkbox movies, no All4 player.  So realistically, when the other PS3 dies, I’ll replace it like for like.

So that’s that!  A decent handful of games played this Christmas, we’ll continue with them as the year goes on.  What did you play?

13th Age

Campaign Planning – 13th Age – Bring on the Elves.

An introduction to  roleplaying games for the uninitiated:  A group of people getting together to tell a story within a world they’ve all agreed on.  It could be one they’ve created themselves, it could be one someone else has created – Tolkein, for example, or Stephen Moffat.  Like all games, there are rules that help the story along by saying what characters in the story can and cannot do, how tough particular challenges are, how big and nasty the monsters are.  One player takes the role of the narrator (or Dungeon Master, Games Master, etc. etc.) and guides the group through the adventure, the other players take the role of the main protagonists in the story.  I can explain further if you like…


Right.  So.  13th Age is a new fantasy roleplaying game from Pelgrane Press.  It’s written by two giants of the roleplaying industry and brings together ideas from years of playing those games, fusing them into a single, wonderful, free-flowing game.  Or it will when it’s published.  At the moment, if you pre-order the game you get access to the “Escalation Edition” of the rules, currently in their 4th incarnation, and you can get on with the adventuring without being encumbered by such things as detailed layout and gorgeous artwork.

Fantasy roleplaying games are numerous – from the grandfather of them all, Dungeons and Dragons, the previously mentioned Castles and Crusades, relative newcomers like The One Ring and Dungeon World.  Each brings something different to the table.  What the current incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons brings is incredible complexity and a reliance on miniatures and battlemats.  What makes 13th Age the game to go to?

  • Icons.  These are the powers of the game world – the Archmage, the Dwarven King Under the Mountain, the High Druid, the Prince of Shadows.  Characters are tied to the Icons by relationships – guaranteed adventure hooks, potentials for help and hindrance.  Take a 3 point negative relationship with The Diabolist and give the GM free reign to make your character’s life “interesting”.
  • The Escalation Die.  Keeping combat interesting, fast and fun.  Find the biggest six-sider you can and start counting up with each round of combat after the first.
  • Backgrounds.  No skills lists to keep track of, just a CV of previous experience.  High Druid’s Ranger 4, for example, or Battle Poet 2…  Any time you can persuade the GM that experience would come in handy, add your rating as a bonus to the dice roll.
  • Flat damage.  A sword will always do x damage (plus bonuses, etc.), a goblin’s bite will always do y damage.  Why is this better?  Well, it’s faster. It keeps things moving. It takes away some of the random crap dice rolls you can get and it means that when you’re down to your last 3 hit points you really don’t want to get bitten – it won’t just be a scratch, it will take your leg off.  And when you get to the higher levels do you really want to spend your time doing the maths having found 15 d10 for fireball damage when you could just slay everything and move on?
  • One Unique Thing.  When creating characters you have to come up with something that’s unique about that character…  This is an excellent opportunity to give your GM some plot ideas.  For example…

Characters were rolled up a couple of weeks ago.  3 players, 1 GM.  2 of the players wanted to play elven rangers, so naturally they’re twins, separated at birth and only recently reunited.  My daughter, playing one of the elves, was reading through the background in the book and declared “I want to be on the run from something.”

A few minutes of bashing this idea around and her character is on the run from the Diabolist because of something she knows.  She doesn’t know what it is she knows, only that the Diabolist mustn’t get her hands on the information.  What she doesn’t know is that one of the other characters is on very friendly terms with the Diabolist…

Last night, the latest Escalation Edition was distributed, expanding sections on spell lists, backgrounds, monsters and more (I haven’t had a chance to go through it yet).

Some of the artwork for the final release has been put up on Pelgrane Press’s website, along with the fully laid out chapter describing the Icons giving a taster of what the book’s going to look like when it hits the shelves early in 2013.  I have a number of Pelgrane’s other games and they have incredibly high production values.

To sum up.  Everything you need to start playing in 1 book, PDF available now. Much good stuff planned for release in 2013.  An open license for the rules system that allows other companies to make compatible product.

Go here:

It’s the first item in the shop.  Just buy it.