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Sunday 3 March 2019

Dungeons & Dragons & Glorantha?

It would be trite to describe 13th Age Glorantha as Dungeons & Dragons does Glorantha, but for all that, there is some truth to such a description. Published by Chaosium, Inc. following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it uses Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age to bring the best elements of both Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition and Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition to 13th Age Glorantha and then tunes them to fit the setting and empower both the mechanical and narrative elements of the rules. From 13th Age comes mechanics which make each character an individual, not say unique, whilst Glorantha provides the means and reasons to interact with the world. Although the world of Glorantha is not new, it is new to 13th Age and similar mechanics, just as they are new to Glorantha. The result is something unique, but not without its issues because of it.

The most obvious issue with 
13th Age Glorantha is the degree of buy-in. Not only will a playing group need a copy of 13th Age Glorantha, but also a copy of 13th Age, for 13th Age Glorantha is not a standalone product. Further, both 13 True Ways and The 13th Age Bestiary are likely to prove useful too. If a group knows nothing about Glorantha, then The Glorantha Sourcebook—funded by the same Kickstarter as 13th Age Glorantha—is all but a necessity, for 13th Age Glorantha is not a standalone rulebook in terms of mechanics or setting. The buy-in also differs depending upon if the players are coming to 13th Age Glorantha as Gloranthaphiles, fans of the late Greg Stafford’s setting of Glorantha, or if they are coming to 13th Age Glorantha as fans of 13th Age or similar Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games. The Gloranthaphiles will be dealing with a set of mechanics that are vastly different to those seen in either RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha or HeroQuest Glorantha, whereas the 13th Age devotees will be coming to the complexities of a setting like Glorantha.

The other difference between 
13th Age Glorantha and other Glorantha-set roleplaying games like RuneQuest and HeroQuest, is the default campaign setting. This is ‘Chaos Rising’, in which the magical energies unleashed by the Hero Wars at the end of the Third Age and beginning of the Fourth Age, rending at the fabric of the world and allowing Chaos to seep in… Much like the Dragon Empire of 13th Age, this is a time of great upheaval and it up to the player characters to take care of the crisis upon crisis that has befallen Glorantha. The setting is still Dragon Pass, one that is wracked by war and tumult in the wake of efforts to drive the invading Lunar Empire out of Sartar. The player characters are on the verge of becoming heroes, all but Rune Masters and Rune Priests at campaign’s start, the equivalent of First Level in Dungeons & Dragons, but far more capable and powerful than starting characters in either 13th Age or RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

To a Gloranthaphile, a 
13th Age Glorantha character will look like a Dungeons & Dragons character. He will have the same attributes, Armour Class rather than armour values, general Hit Points rather than hit locations, but because the characters in 13th Age are different to those of Dungeons & Dragons, so too are those of 13th Age Glorantha. What marks a 13th Age character out as different are the Icons, the Backgrounds, and the One Unique Thing. In the Dragon Empire of 13th Age, a character has a relation with two or more Icons, the thirteen great figures of the age like the Archmage, the Crusader, the Diabolist, the Dwarf King, the Elf Queen, the Emperor, the Great Gold Wyrm, the High Druid, the Lich King, the Orc Lord, the Priestess, the Prince of Shadows, and the Three—the latter being ancient evil Dragons. A character can interact with them as much as they can have an influence upon the scenario being played. Backgrounds represent a character’s skills, training, and experiences, for example, Woodsman +2 could be explained as the character having grown up in the woods and knowing to track, survive, and move in the forests. The One Unique Thing represents the one fact or feature that separates a character from any other, for example, “I am the true wielder of the Cleaver of Doom and my last blow with it will end the Thirteenth Age.”

13th Age Glorantha a character does not have Icons, Backgrounds, and a One Unique Thing, but Runes, Backgrounds, and a One Unique Thing. So a character’s One Unique Thing might be ‘I was destined for greatness, but failed and have been reincarnated as a Humakti Duck to avenge my death’ or ‘Since that day I got lost in the caves, I have born the Dragonewt Rune, but I do not know why.’ His Backgrounds might be Yinkini Hunter +4, Ex-Slave +2, or Voice of Orlanth +1. Runes are where 13th Age Glorantha gets slightly more complex. The Runes connect the characters to the universe, to the gods that embody them, and to the cults that worship the gods, and in game, they enable a character to engage with the world in fantastic ways, all dependant upon the type of Rune, whether that is to overcome a challenge, add an element to the story, and so on. 13th Age Glorantha goes into some detail as to the nature of each of the Runes and how they can be brought into play, giving suggestions and examples as to possible Backgrounds and Gods for each Rune, as well as examples of how each might be narrated to bring it into play. Even when a player narrates the use of a Rune, there is still the chance of a complication arising which fits the Rune being narrated.

Runes also play an active role in a character’s life, with one Rune playing a significant role from one day to the next. This is determined randomly, a process known as ‘attuning’, and half the time it will be one of the Runes a character already has, half the time it will be determined by the roll of a twenty-sided die. The result of this die roll can simply mean that the character is attuned to another Rune; to a Rune opposed to one of the character’s Runes—for example, Life versus Death, Truth versus Illusion, which can complicate the narration of either Rune; to a Rune a character already has, in which it becomes empowered and when used will grant a character a HeroQuest Gift; and lastly, to the Chaos Rune, which can have story consequences, but primarily makes any battles with Chaos all that more difficult.

One important aspect of Rune use is that they are included for narrative effect only and cannot be used in combat. This is not as bad as it sounds, since all of a character’s Feats, talents, and abilities are drawn from his Runes anyway. Another important aspect of the Runes in 13th Age Glorantha is that there are some limitations in what the Runes a player can select. Most obviously, the Fate, Infinity, Law, Luck, Magic, Mastery, and Unlife/Undead Runes are all the province of NPCs only, but whilst a player is free to select any of the other Runes, some are not supported in 13th Age Glorantha. Neither are some of their associated gods. So although a player character can have the Fire/Sky Rune, none of the Fire/Sky pantheon—Yelm, Yelmalio, Elmal, and so on—are supported. Further, whilst the focus of 13th Age is on the Air and Earth pantheons, some gods are ignored, notably Chalana Arroy, Issaries, and Lankhor Mhy. To be fair, it would be a challenge to fit the possible abilities of those cults into 13th Age Glorantha with its focus on action.

Every player character begins play with three Runes—two come from the primary god that the character worships, the other is more personal. So a Yinkin or Odalya worshipper might choose the Air, Movement, and Beast Runes, the Beast Rune being his personal Rune; a Humakt worshipper would have the Death and Truth Runes, and then perhaps the Air Rune to reflect Humakt being part of the Air pantheon, or alternatively, the Humakt worshipper might have seen too much death and so has Life Rune as his personal Rune; and an Ernalda Earth Priestess would have the Earth, Harmony, and Life Runes, but could stress which was her personal Rune. Choice of Runes also influence, if not determine which of the gods that a character worships.

Character creation begins with a player making a choice of Runes, associated god and Class, and then deciding on the character’s Backgrounds and One Unique Thing. Three Races are available to choose from—Ducks and Uz, but most commonly, Humans. The first two have their own racial powers, but Humans have a Culture to choose from, either Esrolian, Heortling, Praxian, or Tarshite. Attributes are then rolled for or assigned according to a standard array and then the player selects the various options he wants for his character.
13th Age Glorantha presents a total of thirteen Classes. Five are entirely new—Berserker, Earth Priestess, Hell Mother, Humakti, and Trickster; five are transformation Classes, based on an existing 13th Age Class—Orlanthi Rebel, Rebel, Storm Voice, Troll Warrior, and Wind Lord. The other are either variants or Class updates like the Monk. (An appendix also covers alternative Classes, including those from 13th Age, Fire/Sky devotees, and Lunar devotees.) Now as much as the concept of Classes are anathema to the play of RuneQuest and Glorantha—indeed RuneQuest was one of the first roleplaying games to eschew Classes—it cannot be emphasised enough that all of the Classes in 13th Age Glorantha are deeply evocative of Glorantha.

So in order of complexity, the Orlanthi Warrior is like the Barbarian of 
13th Age, inspired by the stormy spirit of Orlanth rather than rage; the Troll Warrior is similar, but his Hit Points grow from battle to battle and he builds himself into a frenzy; and Humakti are highly disciplined swordmasters sworn to destroy the undead. The Rebel is the nearest that 13th Age Glorantha has to a Rogue or Thief Class, but is much more of a sneaky, swashbuckling, charismatic warrior, one who can still get into places where he should not be; the Berserker consists of two subtypes, one of the Orlanthi pantheon, the other of the Darkness pantheon; and the Zorak Zorani Berserker is a hate-driven Troll warrior who can summon a Troll skeleton companion. The Wind Lord is a fighter who harnesses Orlanth’s power of storm and movement; the Storm Voice is akin the Sorcerer, but who uses Gather Storm rather than Gather Power to fuel its abilities; and the Storm Bull berserker is a Chaos-hating warrior with ‘berserker die’ powers which slot into the Class’ berserker die (which replaces the Escalation die). The Monk is a shield-wielding warrior from the Square Round Monastery in Nochet; the Trickster brings pratfalls to the battlefield, spreading the bad luck as much as the good luck; the Earth Priestess is a summoner of earth spirits to fight for her, who also hands out different favours according to the Class of the recipient and casts spells that control the battlefield; and the Hell Mother is a Troll summoner of unpredictable monsters and effects.

Some of these Classes are specific in terms Race, Runes, and gender. So only a female Troll can be a Hell Mother, for example. Others not so, so that a worshipper of Barntar, Odalya, Vinga, or Yinkin could be Orlanthi Warriors, Berserkers, or even Wind Lords, all dependent upon the combination of Runes a character possesses. Our sample character is a Rebel devoted to Orlanth Adventurous, a noble prince known for his courtesy and singing voice, who was forced to flee the Lunars during an uprising and lead a guerilla war against them. This has led him to take drastic actions and he has a terrible secret. In truth he was always a sly one, quite prepared to use underhanded means to get what he wants.

Name: Broyan Blacksong
Race: Human God: Orlanth Adventurous
Level & Class: Rebel (Level 1)
Cultural Trait or Racial Power: Heortling Cultural Trait.

Strength 13 (+1) Constitution 12 (+1) Dexterity 19 (+4)
Intelligence 10 (+0) Wisdom 15 (+2) Charisma 15 (+2)

Armour Class: 15 Physical Defence: 14 Mental Defence: 13
Initiative: +5 Hit Points: 21
Recoveries: 8 Recovery Roll: 1d8+1

Melee attack +5, Dagger (1d8/1d6 Miss)
Ranged +5, Javelin (1d6/Level Miss)

One Unique Thing
I killed my father for allying with the Lunars, but I will not kill my mother for the same crime.

Runes: Air, Movement, Darkness (Personal)

Guerrilla Fighter +2, Ex-Skald +2, Princely Manners +2, Secrets & Lies +2, Clan Exile +5

Class Features, Powers, & Spells
Opening Strike
Consistent Trouble
Flashy Blade

Kennings & Killings

Adventurer Feat: Call on a Rune to use the Transgress talent and if the story you tell using the rune impresses the GM, you can reuse Transgress later in the day.
Adventurer Feat: When you use Bravado, gain Momentum if you don’t already have it.

Leather Armour
Sharp knives (1d8)
Javelins × 4 (1d6)

Mechanically, like 
13th Age13th Age Glorantha is a d20 System roleplaying game, and so whilst it uses some elements of 13th Age, such as the Backgrounds, the One Unique Thing, powers and spells that are either used ‘at-will’, ‘per battle’, or ‘daily’, and the Escalation Die, which grants a bonus to the player characters when in battle and which rises from round to round, it adds elements of its own. Most notably, the Runes and the ability to narrate them as already mentioned and the daily need to attune them, but also changes to healing because there is no Cleric Class and the Earth Priestess does not do that (and woe betide anyone who lets the Humkati or Zorak Zorani Berserker attempt to heal them), being able to and narrating heroically coming back from the dead, notes on magical items (generally rare and the subject of heroquests rather than just being loot), and so on. In fact, there is very little emphasis on loot and treasure in 13th Age Glorantha, but then when the characters are as powerful as they are, do they really need a +2 sword? Overall, there are lots of little changes, but nothing really all that intrusive.

13th Age Glorantha lists all of the creatures suitable from 13th Age, the 13th Age Bestiary, and 13 True Ways, its main focus in terms of enemies and threats are on creatures from the world of Glorantha. From Orlanthi Bandit, Orlanthi Outlaw, and Orlanthi Bandit Leader under Air to Newtling Juvenile and Newtling Grownup under Water, the various entries are organised according to the rune they are associated with. The range of creatures offered runs from the mundane, such as Baboons, bugs, and spiders, to the weird and the bizarre, like the Thanatari Cultists who use severed heads to store their powers; the Walktapus, octopus-headed humanoids who can spray poisons and gases; and the Puppeteer Troupes who perform rather than fight and are probably getting the player characters to perform and they do not even know it. Understandably given the default ‘Chaos Rising’ campaign set-up in 13th Age Glorantha, there an emphasis upon creatures associated with the Chaos Rune in its bestiary, including a table of extra features to further add to their chaos. One notable feature of the Chaos related creatures is their ability to steal the Escalation Die and use it themselves, which can just exacerbate the challenge they present to the player characters.
13th Age Glorantha does not offer a great deal of information about Glorantha as a whole. That task is left to The Glorantha Sourcebook, but 13th Age Glorantha does offer information specific to its default ‘Chaos Rising’ campaign. There are feats which tie the characters further into the world as they adventure and rise in Level. These are Aspirational Feats and are either Ancestor Feats which indicate that a character is a descendant of one of the gods or Sartar Magical Union Feats, related to the alliance of cults which came together at the start of the Hero Wars to fight the Lunar Empire. Both types begin play dormant in a character, but certain situations may trigger their activation. There is an overview of what Dragon Pass and Sartar looks like in the wake of the Hero Wars, and a description of its major locations, again thematically Rune by Rune rather than alphabetically.

The organising of both the enemies and the geography thematically—Rune by Rune—supports an important aspect of adventuring in 
13th Age Glorantha, that of Heroquesting. Heroquests are excursions onto the Hero Plane and back into God Time to recreate and reinforce the myths and legends of the gods and great heroes. These myths are known and recounted again and again, some specific to certain cults, some not, and many of them contradict each other. So when a party of characters goes on a Hero Quest they will know what to expect. Except not. Not in the ‘Chaos Rising’ campaign, for just as Chaos has seeped into the world following the Hero Wars, it has also seeped onto the Hero Plane where it disrupts individual Hero Quests. Now as much as the adventurers are reinforcing the myths, now they are repairing them.

Advice is given for the Game Master to build her own heroquests, how to score them to measure how well a group of heroquesting adventurers have done, and what rewards they might earn in doing so. Numerous example heroquests are given, some complete, some partial, but all come with engaging sections of myth with which to introduce them. In addition, 
13th Age Glorantha comes with a series of adventures which showcase the different types of scenarios, including heroquests. The first, ‘The Horn of Snakepipe Hollow’ is a fairly simple heroquest to enforce a local myth, whereas the second, ‘Duck Point Venture’ is more of an open sandbox. The events of the first two scenarios culminate in ‘The Epic of Gagix Two-Barb’, whilst they get truly epic in the fourth, ‘Against the Crimson Bat’, in which the adventurers get to quest on a mind bogglingly location which is too good to divulge. Lastly, ‘Ascending with the Eleven Lights’ provides an extended encounter which provides a contrast to previous scenarios in being non-combat focused and the traditional view of Orlanth.

13th Age Glorantha is a hefty sourcebook, profusely illustrated in a range of styles. Much of the artwork will be familiar from previous releases for Glorantha, but there is much that is also new. In places, the tone of supplement is conversational, but that makes the book highly digestible. The book could be slightly better organised—the section on ‘Running Glorantha’ feels out of place between the chapters on ‘Creating Characters’ and ‘Character Classes’—but the book includes a good index, so finding particular content is not too difficult.
13th Age Glorantha has a number of problems and they all stem from the creation and play of its characters and the complexity involved in both. First, there is the matter of creating a character, which involves a player having to make a lot of choices in terms of Feats, talents, and abilities in order to get their character to work. There is an intricacy to the design of all of the character Classes in 13th Age Glorantha each with multiple moving parts. Second, it is not a quick process, so that it is not one that can be done easily at the table. Third, learning how each of these moving parts works is a challenge in itself, for every character Class plays differently. So for example, the Zorak Zorani Berserker, when berserk, his player has to roll his own die at the beginning of each round to determine his troll’s attack bonus that round instead of using the Escalation Die like everyone else; the Rebel uses Momentum—much like the Thief Class from 13th Age—to power many of its Class abilities and so a player needs to handle the flow of Momentum from turn to turn; and the Storm Voice is constantly gathering storm to power his spells. Now it should be no surprise that this is an aspect of 13th Age also, but just as 13th Age Glorantha escalates the powers and abilities of each Class in comparison to those 13th Age, it also escalates the complexity and the differences.

The complexity and the differences between the Classes leads to a fourth problem—noting it down. With multiple Feats, talents, and abilities to his character, a player needs to know how they work from his character sheet. The 
13th Age Glorantha is all but blank and it is not enough to record just the names of the various Feats, talents, and abilities. A player needs to have the information at his fingertips, not be referencing the rulebook all of the time, and this is a lot of information to write out. Now when creating characters, the solution for our gaming group was to copy and paste the relevant sections out of the 13th Age Glorantha book onto a character sheet of our own design. With all of the given information, the simplest of the characters—for example, the Humakti—takes up a mere two pages, but the most complex—for example, the Earth Priestess—takes up a whole five pages! What this suggests perhaps is that what would be useful for 13th Age Glorantha is a set of predesigned characters which a group could download and modify with relatively little difficulty.

Now to be fair, the designers of 
13th Age Glorantha do acknowledge the complexity of the characters Classes they have created. Indeed, they rate each of the thirteen Classes according to their ease of play, from Orlanthi Warrior, Troll Warrior, and Humakti to Trickster, Earth Priestess, and Hell Mother. It also means that a playing group can tailor the Classes to not just what type of character a player wants to play, but also how complex a character he wants to play. In some ways the less complex Classes can be seen as an easier path into the setting of Glorantha, whilst the more complex provide a richer flavour. Nevertheless, all of the character Classes are highly evocative of Glorantha as well as providing enjoyable playing experiences.

Another issue is that 
13th Age Glorantha may be too focused on Dragon Pass and the aftermath of the Hero Wars and so may not support every player or Game Master’s specific interests in Glorantha, whether that is geographical or in terms of playing options. Understandably, 13th Age Glorantha cannot support or cover every aspect of the setting, but that means that there is room for further support and content. For example, a 13th Age Glorantha campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble would make for an interesting sandbox style campaign.

So where does 
13th Age Glorantha sit in regard to HeroQuest and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha? Well, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is simulationist in terms of its play whereas HeroQuest is narrative. With a strong emphasis placed on the use of Runes to tell and influence the non-combat scenes of an adventure, 13th Age Glorantha has a strong narrative element. Yet the equally as strong emphasis on combat and battles in terms of both play and mechanics, means that 13th Age Glorantha also a strong simulationist element. Much of this comes from 13th Age anyway, like the assigning of weapons and armour to a character based not on the equipment’s empirical stats, but on how good their chosen Class would be with them, but again, 13th Age Glorantha ups the power of them, for example, the greater capabilities of the Runes. What this means is that 13th Age Glorantha actually sits somewhere between HeroQuest and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, although arguably it mechanics are more complex than either.13th Age Glorantha is a perfect example of YGMY—‘Your Glorantha May Vary’. It may not be how you envision Glorantha, but nonetheless, it is an example of Glorantha, one that is post-Hero Wars, near apocalyptic, and verging on the Lovecraftian in the way that Chaos is seeping into the world and rending at its fabric. It presents a time in which there is need for very great heroes and supports that need with a version of 13th Age whose characters are heroic from the very First Level. Although 13th Age Glorantha brings a greater mechanical heft to Glorantha than other roleplaying games set in that world, the mechanics both support and evoke the world rather than get in the way of it. The result is that 13th Age Gloranthaa is a well-designed combination of mechanics and setting which provides a truly majestic treatment of gaming in Glorantha.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review.

    To minimise buy-in, a lot of the 13th Age and 13 True Ways material can be found legally and freely online at https://www.13thagesrd.com