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!


13th Age FAE

13th Age of Fate Accelerated – Part 1

Before we begin, for those who don’t know, a role-playing game (or RPG) is a way to tell stories as a group – one person sets the scene, the rest have characters described in terms of their attributes, skills, abilities and powers.  One might play a fighter, wielding a magic sword to take down hordes of goblins.  One might play a powerful wizard, hurling fireballs into the fray.  Success and failure is determined by a collection of unusual-shaped dice and how high (or low) you roll.  The grandfather of them all is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), due for an upgrade this July.  However, in the decades since it was released, it has seen hundreds of alternatives hit the shelves…

In my left hand I hold 13th Age.  A beautiful, letter-sized hardback.  Bound, colour-illustrated throughout, it contains the rules and game world for Pelgrane Press’s flagship fantasy roleplaying game.  It’s roots are firmly in D&D – characters are described in terms of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, etc., and have lists of talents, feats, powers, and so on.

13th Age has a number of tweaks that update D&D, streamlining things and involving players and their characters in creating the fine details of the game world.  Many of these elements are modular in nature and can be lifted wholesale and applied to whatever game you’re playing.  It’s also one of the best written RPG books I’ve had the pleasure to read, the conversational tone and frequent interjections by one or other of the developers in sidebars providing examples of how they do things.

I’ve blogged about 13th Age here before:

Problem with 13th Age is it hasn’t moved very far from it’s roots in D&D – 6 attributes, lists of talents and feats, much flicking around in the rulebook when creating characters for the first few times

Fate Accelerated

In my right hand I hold Fate Accelerated Edition.  My right hand has the far easier job.  FAE is A5 or thereabouts, 48 pages long including index and character sheet and, on the virtual scales of balance, you’d need about 200 copies of FAE to balance 1 of 13th Age.  It’s lightweight, story-driven gaming.  Characters are described in terms not of Strength, Dexterity and the like but CarefulCleverFlashyForcefulQuick and Sneaky.  Instantly, on seeing the character sheet, you’ve got a much better idea of what sort of a character this is.  You also have Aspects – puncy sentences that describe the sort of character you’re playing.  “Hard-drinking Dwarf thug from the mines of M’Zark“, would be a decent “High concept” Aspect.  It nicely describes, in a nutshell, what sort of character this is.

For picking up a game quickly and diving in, you don’t get a lot faster than FAE these days.  You used to – the system from the old West End Games’ Ghostbusters International was even simpler and faster than this!

What you don’t get with FAE is a world to play in.   And that’s where 13th Age comes in.  You also need special dice with +, – and blank sides to roll.  But then you need the whole range of dice for 13th Age.  Chances are, as a gamer, you’ve already got both.

By taking elements of both games – the lightning-fast character creation and rule-set of FAE coupled with the world-embedding tweaks of 13th Age (and the general setting itself) you’ve got a near-perfect combination of simple rules and great world.

13th Age FAE

But I’m not quite finished yet.  Bits of Dungeon World appeal to me – playbooks for the characters that stop you having to reference the rulebook so often (not that that’s a big deal with FAE), the way it describes campaigns and gets you to think things through…  Z6 will feed into this little project as well.

That’s the problem with RPGs.  Once you start tweaking it’s very hard to stop.

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.