AoG Editor Mike has started up a 13th Age game. AoG columnist Kim is dealing with her impressions , and I thought it’d be a wonderful time to share my thoughts on some big picture gaming stuff, with opinions that might enlighten, anger, or even bore you.
The genre of D&D (yes, it is a genre, it is not Fantasy, it is not Swords and Sorcery, it is D&D) is very firmly rooted in the concept of leveling-up. You start as an inexperienced character, and advance in power and prestige, making the world a better place.
This leveling-up is the most intrinsic part of a D&D game across all iterations.
And, yes, 13th Age is a D&D game, make no mistake.
As I reflect upon our second session, which Kim has detailed her take on here , I wanted to share what I feel are some insights into gaming and leveling-up and D&D in general.
My character (c’mon, it’s a D&D game, it has to include the phrase “my character”) is a monk.
I have run panels on gaming and GMing, and I always encourage folks that less is more. Let the characters develop through play. A character doesn’t need 10 pages of back story, his story is one that is about to be told.
My character was selected by his order to do a job. I have some additional thoughts, but his story is starting with him leaving his monastery and heading out into the Big World to accomplish his goal.
I had some more thoughts about what he was like, but I didn’t necessarily verbalize them.
This article is my reflection on that process, and advice for other gamers and GMs.
Let your character and personality develop through play.
If you have 10 pages of back story, you are focusing on the past.
Focus on the present and the future.
Be surprised by the things your character does.
Old School D&D players will swear by the alignment system. It guides their characters and informs us what we can expect. My character is (imaginary) flesh and blood, he has a moral compass, and he will make choices. And, how many of us, can say that we are the same as when we were in high school, or college. People mellow. People change. Conservatives become liberal. Listening tastes change from Ministry to NPR.
Instead of having your past drive your character and their choices, allow your character to make their own way.
Is it interesting that X happened to your character? Or, is it more interesting when your character responds to something at the table, during the game, in a way that surprises your fellow players, the GM, and yourself.
I had a paladin. He had a daughter. The DM at the time was lamenting the fact that characters never had families. So, I took him up on this “challenge.” Other members of my paladin’s order decided that my daughter was “the one” or some such. They took her from my wife. My wife was upset. This made me upset.
I found my daughter, and took her back, turning my back on the order.
LG on LG violence?!?
This surprised me.
I ran a Star Wars birthday game for a friend. He wanted an alt-reality where Luke joined his father and they united, and thee was all sorts of badness across the universe. And, he wanted to be a dark jedi.
So, it was a dark game.
A game of villains.
Killing those rebel scum.
And then, Luke asked the player, his student, to strike down the weak Lord Vader, so that they might rule together.
And, the player refused.
This wasn’t what his character wanted. He thought he wanted it. I gave him the chance.
And he bowed his head and declined.
And that player surprised himself.
Be in the moment.
In our 13th Age game, there were some orcs. They wanted something. Their army of thousands set up camp outside the town we were in. They were not attacking… yet.
So, while some of my fellow players prepared for war, prepared for a battle we might not win, because these were orcs, and orcs are bad, my character, the monk named Ash, went out to talk to the orcs, accompanied by the tiefling druid.
We had a parlay. I asked what they wanted. They wanted an axe. Ok, what were they willing to give up for the axe? What did we want for the axe? There were some negotiations, communications with the higher-ups (Icons), and it was determined, if we secured the axe, they would deliver the Orc Lord’s head on a platter to the Elf Queen.
This made the Elf Queen happy, as the Orc lord long ago had killed her husband. The Orc Lord didn’t necessarily know this plan, but the orc who orchestrated was seeing a bigger picture.
So, the orcs got the axe named “Elfkiller”, there will be a new Orc Lord, and everyone in the village was safe.
When Ash left the confines of the monastery walls, I had no idea what the world had in store for him. I have a mission. But, along the way, it seems I am going to do some things that surprise me.
Likely, Ash will call himself orc-friend, and this makes the orc-haters mad. But it seemed the honorable thing to do.
Because, maybe we all need to just share a Coke and a smile.
If you are playing (or creating) a game about XP, then your game needs to reflect this.
Awhile back, several of the AoG staffers played some Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.
There were some neat things in this game, but after three or four sessions, Black Panther had leveled-up quite a bit due to the XP system, to the point where has significantly more powerful.
So, what you are telling me is that through the over 1600 appearances T’challa had made in comics up to the point when he was statted up and he was being played in this campaign he had achieved X power level, yet in 3-4 sessions, he was not significantly more powerful? That didn’t work for me.
And Johnny Storm? For the over 4,000 issues he has been in he doesn’t even have a d8 in Combat? I can accept that, however, I cannot accept that after 3-4 sessions, now he does, and ultimately, having even a d8 in MHR makes a significant difference.
MHR needed to figure out what is was about as a game? Was it about XP? If so, what did XP promote? What could one do with XP? I appreciated the Milestones, and what they encouraged, but they didn’t synch with the rest of the system.
D&D is a genre about leveling up.
It’s cool that your character has a backstory. Mechanically, does your backstory make sense? With 4 ranks in a specific background or skill, can you accomplish what your backstory proclaims?
Does your system understand this?
If I am a former soldier, possibly even an officer, in a 5e game, why does a single kobold scare me at 1st level? Or rather, why is a single kobold a threat to me? This doesn’t seem to synch either.
In D&D 1st level characters come to the table full of potential, hopes, and dreams. Likely, they haven’t “done” much, their stories are going to unfold through play.
Is your background, be it 10 pages, or 10 sentences, supported by the game system?
Ash had potential, that is what the monks saw in him.
Since our game is not quite an “open-secrets” table (see the Morley-Wick method of gaming) , I’m not quite ready to reveal what that potential is, but it is there, and the mechanics of the system support it.