My quest continues to re-vamp 13th Age. The Shapeshifting Talent house rule needs some setup though. I loved how 13th Age simplified the D20/Pathfinder mechanics, and introduced some new role-playing elements; but it felt like too much of the role-playing stuff was structureless "just make it up" like the one unique thing and background systems. So I decided to incorporate some the the concepts and mechanics from Fate Accelerated, replacing skills with Expertises and Approaches that were dynamically combined to make a "skill check." The Expertises were just broad areas of what the player knew how to do- Fighting, Exploring, Investigating, Working and Talking. The Approaches were how that character went about doing the action, which determined the possibly consequences and complications.
There are 6 Approaches, in basically 3 opposing pairs, and I re-named them recently: Forceful and Clever, Quick and Deliberate, Noticeable and Sneaky.
- Forceful is the most direct, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead way of tackling a problem. It is a power attack in a fight, or an intimidate check when talking, it's crafting like a blacksmith- with direct and raw strength, climbing a mountain or a brute-force denial of service attack or password hack.
- Clever is approaching a problem from a different angle, finding a solution "outside the box." It's using the environment against an opponent in a fight, finding a hidden door or path or trap, putting together seemingly unrelated clues, inventing or improving a device or tricking someone into saying more than they meant to.
- Quick is all about speed, moving around problems to get to the end. It's a flurry of blows, parkour-ing through the city, running a massive database search, jury-rigging something to keep operating for a few more minutes or running a quick con on the door guard to get inside (knowing that soon he'll realize he was fooled).
- Deliberate is about caution, minimizing the risks or failure. It's aiming carefully so you don't shoot your ally who is engaged with the monster, planning the safest route, searching a room with a magnifying glass to find every possible clue, repairing something (or someone), or slowly building rapport with someone.
- Noticeable is for when you want to be seen, when you're projecting your real self. It might mean shouting at the monster to attract its attention (so it goes after you instead of your squishy friend), leaving a trail or signaling for help when you're lost in the wilderness, organizing a manhunt or asking for the public's help, marketing and packaging your new widget or sharing your own painful experiences to convince someone else to change their ways.
- Sneaky is when you want someone to see something other than the real you. A feint in combat (or false opening), hiding your tracks, surveillance, hidden compartments or disguise and acting.
So, that was just to lay the groundwork for actually talking about Shapeshifting. In 13th Age the Talent to Shapeshift is broken into two parts, Scout (or non-combat) and Combat forms. Scout form is a small animal, something not an effective combatant like a bird or squirrel. Combat form is big and scary like a bear or wolf. By default you can transform into one type an unlimited number of times and the other a limited number of times per day. This is okay as far as an ability goes, but seemed a little flat to me.
When I think of shapeshifting, the first thing that comes to mind is the danger of losing oneself in the mind of the animal you transformed into. I like the stories where shapeshifting isn't just a generic change of shape, but also a change of nature - you are no longer yourself, now you have this animal spirit/nature that is going to color all your thinking. This animal nature can make you much better at some things and the animal form can give you some extra abilities - but always at the cost of some of your humanity.
So, in this revamp we introduce the Shapeshift Die. I don't know why I have loved the idea of the Escalation Die so much, but I find myself incorporating something like it into all my ability revamps - including this one. The Shapeshift Die is a d6 that does not start in play. When the character chooses to shapeshift, they have to choose a number to set the Shapeshift die at, from 1 to 6 - and they have to choose one Approach that represent the type of animal they are shapeshifting into. So a bear or wolf might be Forceful, while an owl could be Clever, a bird Quick, a housecat Sneaky. The Shapeshift Die represents the degree of the shift; I have an idea to link different animal abilities (like Scent or Claws or Pounce from Pathfinder) to each number on the Shapeshift Die, but that's still a work in progress. The Shapeshift Die is also added to all rolls using the Approach chosen - but it is subtracted from all other Approaches. This represents how the animal nature is coloring/strengthening or interfering with the human nature. When the character shapeshifts back into their human/normal form - they lose all animal abilities and lower the Shapeshift Die by one, but keep it's modifier to the Approaches; even after leaving the animal form, an echo of it is still going to linger. The Shapeshift Die lowers by one on each short rest, and resets to zero on every full rest. If the character shapeshifts again, while the Die is 1 or higher, they have to set the Shapeshift Die at least 1 point higher than it currently is at. For example: Bob turns into a lion to survive a fight, and sets the Shapeshift Die to 4. After the fight it drops to 3. He manages to take a short rest which drops it to 2. But he's been stuck in the wilderness, so he wants to shift into something that will help him survive. His new form has to be set to 3 or higher - even if it is the same approach/form he previously used. This is because the new form (or re-attuning an old form) has to overcome the human nature and any traces of animal nature.
Now, eventually I want to use the Approaches in combat for all characters, in which case the Shapeshift Die will help in or out of combat. For now though, each Approach needs some sort of combat ability:
Forceful- add 2 x Shapeshift Die to your damage
Clever- add the Shapeshift Die to hit
Quick- add the Shapeshift Die to your Armor Class
Deliberate- add 3 x Shapeshift Die temporary hit points
Noticeable- all enemies engaged with you take the Shapeshift Die as a penalty to hit anyone other than you
Sneaky- increase your crit range by the Shapeshift Die
Another thing is that 13 True Ways has an option to buy Shapeshifting for 1 Talent or 2 Talents. The 1 Talent version can only shift into one type while the 2 Talent version can shift into anything. I'm not sure how much I like this - not many Class Talents have 1 and 2 cost versions, and I hate making specialized mechanics. But, you could keep the same system - a 2 Talent ability can shift into anything in or out of combat. A 1 Talent ability has to choose: either it can only shift in (or out) of combat into any Approach, or it can only shift into 3 or the 6 Approaches combat or not. Either way should limit it's usefulness enough without making the ability useless.
This is still very much a work in progress, like all of these house rules have been. I feel the need to say that I do like 13th Age, it's a good game - it's just not as good of a game as I think it can be, especially when combined with the more narrative, role-playing focus of Fate.