The town where I went to high school had what we called “summer people.” Now, if I was a more indie or arty game designer, “summer people” would be some cool fae like race, and my game would be about telling cool stories about these fae. But no, “summer people” were simply folks who came to our tiny town and summered there.
13th Age (published by Pelgrane Press) is a D&D like game written by the lead designers of 3rd and 4th Edition (“Designer Powers Activate!”). Long ago, several of the Acts of Geeks folks did a play-test of 13th Age, and in true college essay fashion compared and contrasted it with their play-test of D&D Next. We all loved 13th Age, and felt very meh about D&D Next. This was in the Spring of 2013.
I went to GenCon in 2013 and stopped by the 13th Age booth hoping that maybe they would have some new product. We were all eager to play more. They were really nice and when I told them of our play-test they gave me a fancy escalation die. In that time, I have been an unofficial member of the 13th Age Street Team. I have communicated with all my D&D/ Pathfinder friends, whose tastes run the gamut from Basic D&D to 4th Edition. “You should check this game out, it has the best elements from all the versions of D&D that you love, is very narrative and crunchy enough, the Icons are really cool, combats are fun and exciting. We had two paladins in our party, one was a ninja-paladin, and they were both totally different.”
And…can you hear that? Crickets. No one was particularly interested. The original 13th Age supplement Kickstarter made over $70,000, which is not insignificant. Well, maybe in today’s age of Potato Salad it is. Now, over a year later, Pelgrane Press has released one 13th Age product. The core book. The 5th Edition of D&D just released and already there’s a free pdf and the boxed set. At GenCon they will be releasing the Players Handbook, followed closely by the Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide. And these same friends, who spurned my Amway-like advances are all abuzz, even though many of them felt similarly about the Next Playtest.
What happened? 1) 13th Age was one book. It has monsters, and is indeed a complete game, but for D&D fans, some stuff was missing: multiclassing, more monsters, more magic items, other races and classes. 2) Layout. It is beautiful book, but with all my experience with the game as a GM, I never had to make a character. When I have sat down and fiddled around, there was a lot of flipping around, and some confusion. It was not poorly laid out by any means, but it also was not a mean, lean, character generation machine. Some parts could have been more intuitive. 3) Support. I only have experience with my FLGS, but was 13th Age available in other stores? Were these friends of mine unable to find a copy, is that why they spurned my non-pyramid scheme suggestions? And over a year later, there is still just the one book. Now, I am well aware that some games require only one book, but if you’re trying to offer an alternative to D&D some very specific beats must be hit.
Back in high school, there was this very cute girl, a summer girl. My friends and I got to know her. Being young and doofy, I asked her if she wanted to see a movie, because that is what we did in the summer. Sure, I mean, a date would have been great, but, I wasn’t thinking along those lines, more, “hey, this is what we do, if you want to do something.” Imagine my surprise when she held my hand during the movie. In today’s age of Facebook, I have yet to find her and reconnect with her. Several years after that summer of holding hands and French-kissing, I cleaned her swimming pool every week, or rather the swimming pool at the house where she was living, and always hoped I’d catch a glimpse of her. But it was not to be. 13th Age, I still do love you. I want to love you. Sure, I’m a gamer, and no doubt I will be swept up into hysteria of the D&D PHB release at GenCon this year and will buy a copy, but I want it to be you 13th Age.