Saturday, February 28, 2015

13th Age and Fate Mash-up

    Well, we played another game of 13th Age with some more friends, and this time we added some elements from the Fate RPG as well.  I was quite happy with the results, so I thought I'd present here what we did.

     First off, why change 13th Age?  I have to admit that after years of playing Pathfinder I loved 13th Age as a simpler, more focused version of a d20 game.  However, while it adds a lot of D&D concepts, I think it also carries some D&D baggage and makes some less than optimal additions.  The first thing I wanted to change was the Background system.
    For anyone who might not know 13th Age, the Background part of a character is basically the character's skills.  Each character has 8 points to distribute among as many backgrounds as they want.  Each background is a title or sentence that describes what the character knows how to do.  For example, you might have the background of "Inner Sea Pirate" or "Assassin of the Black Hand."  The idea is to add some more character and details by describing instead of choosing from a dry list of skills.
    The problem I have with the system is that while it is nicely descriptive it leaves too much wiggle room.  You and the GM need to be exactly on the same page for what kinds of tasks fall under your background and which ones don't.  Also, the system is pretty broad, so it is possible to make a background that applies to a very broad group of situations, or one that is very limited.  With no objective standards it can be hard to know when to, or when not to, use a background.  It can become a "one size fits all" system.  That I don't like because I think it limits the group dynamics, in the party I like it when some people are experts at a task, and others are trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation.
    My solution was to incorporate a concept from Fate, or rather a Fate variant, the Pathfinder Fate Accelerated.  Basically, you split "skills" into 2 parts- I call them Expertise and Approach.
    Expertise covers what sorts of things you know how to do, there are 5 total: Fighting, Exploring, Investigating, Working and Talking.  Fighting has to do with what Pathfinder called "Combat Maneuvers"; overrun, bull rush, trip, feint, disarm, grappling and that sort of stuff.  Exploring covers anything that deals with moving through the environment, survival, navigation, stealth, and even dealing with locks and traps.  Investigating deals with knowing and discovering facts, basically a way for me the GM to give the Player some extra information.  Working is making and creating things, craft and perform and even games/sports, as well as some odd things like healing (working with other people's bodies) and sleight of hand (working with your own body).  Lastly there is Talking, which deals with interacting with other sentient creatures.
    Expertise is only one half of the equation though, the other half is Approach.  Approach covers how you go about doing things, and there are 6 total: Forceful, Quick, Clever, Cautious, Flashy, and Sneaky.  So Talking + Forceful = Intimidation, while Talking + Quick = "fast-talking" or distracting someone with words.  Exploring + Quick = moving fast, while Exploring + Cautious = covering your tracks so you can't be tracked.  There are no hard and fast rules, you have to assess each situation and think of what combination makes the most sense.  In the one adventure I ran with the system though, it was not too hard to come up with a combination or two on the spot.
    The final part of the system is the same 13th Age stuff that I didn't change.  You always add the most relevant attribute modifier and your level to a d20 roll for a total.  There are only 3 DCs to aim for, Easy, Moderate and Hard, which change depending on your level.  For levels 1 through 4 (called the "Adventurer Tier") the DCs are 15, 20 and 25.  Each Expertise and Approach defaults to 0 and can go up to 3 (you divide 8 points total any way you want among them all).
    What I like about the system is that it is flexible, each element covers a fairly broad category of actions or outcomes, so you have structure but not a straightjacket.  Also, it helps to distinguish characters a bit more, the high Talking character does most of the interrogating and such - but since you can always add an Approach, it's still possible to succeed at something that is not your main focus (my goal was to do Elliot from Leverage, he is the Hitter (Fighting and Forceful) but can still talk to people, he just does it forcefully).  And even if 2 or more characters had the same Expertise, the different Approaches let them feel more distinct from each other.
    It's kind of an odd system, but it seemed to work well.

    The last thing I did for my mash-up was to add Aspects.  In Fate an Aspect is a sentence describing some part of your character that is both good and bad.  So "World-Renowned Outlaw" could be an aspect, or "Wizard Private Eye," or even "Sucker For A Pretty Face."  This is similar to the One Unique Thing that exists in 13th Age but where your One Unique is meant to be storytelling-based, and what could literally make you unique from everyone on the planet, Aspects give actual mechanical benefits and are internal to the character.  With Aspects you also get Fate Points.  I started everybody with 2.  When you "compel" an Aspect, or use it as a reason to fail at something and get yourself in trouble, you gain a Fate Point.  You can also spend a Fate Point on an action related to one of your Aspects to get a +5 bonus to the action (the whole action, so attack and damage or the whole turn increase to AC for example).  That's a pretty darn big bonus.  You can only spend one Fate Point on one action, and you can spend them before or after you roll (I wanted to be flexible).  Players did not have to use their Aspects or Fate Points, some pretty much ignored them.  Also I only had them come up with 5 Aspects, if I remember correctly Fate uses between 7 to 10.
    If you want to know more about Aspects, they are a pretty big topic, try this link on "Writing Good Aspects" by Robert Hanz.

    The game we ran was the Shadows of Eldolan adventure for 13th Age, and as a quick side note it was well written and everybody liked it.  Two players had played 13th Age before, and Three had not - nobody had played Fate before (including me, I just liked the concepts).  Everyone seemed to pick up the system easily, for being new to it.  Overall I was happy, and I am still tinkering with some more changes I'd like to make to 13th Age (though, I'm getting close to re-writing the whole game at this point, I have a bad habit of doing that).
    I have also been making character sheets for 13th Age and the 13th Age/Fate hybrid.  Here is a link to the general sheet that I have on my Google Drive, and the Adobe Illustrator source file.  These sheets are based on the most excellent work done by Dyslexic Studeos.  Those were the best Pathfinder sheets I had ever found, so I used them as my base.

13th Age / Fate Generic Character Sheet  and Adobe Illustrator Source File

    Anyways, not sure if any other 13th Age players out there might find this useful (or consider it sacrilege), but there it is.  I'll post my more regular 13th Age character sheets sometime soon, but I need to merge some files together (I've done too many variants and I'm getting confused myself).   Also, I used a custom system for equipment which I may describe if anybody's interested.  Hope some of this is useful, as always you can leave a comment below.