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Saturday, 15 May 2021

An Onslaught of Options

One of the great features—amongst many—of 13th Age is how it handles characters, making each Player Character unique, emphasising narrative gameplay elements, and upping the action. Published by Pelgrane Press, a wide range of character Classes were presented in both 13th Age and 13 True Ways, but one of the aspects of 13th Age is that Player Characters can only advance to Tenth Level. What this means is that campaigns are relatively short and new campaigns can be begun relatively easily and relatively regularly, so having a wider range in terms of character choice is always useful. Now whilst presenting new Player Character Classes has not been the focus of titles from Pelgrane Press, it does mean that there is scope for other publishers to provide a Game Master and her players with such options. This is exactly what Kinoko Games has done with Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, which added the monstrous Abomination, the destiny-shaping Fateweaver, the mind-bending Psion, the berserking Savage, the dashing Swordmage and the dark-souled Warlock to 13th Age.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, the second supplement from Kinoko Games also expands the number of options available in 
13th Age. However, unlike Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, it does not add any new Classes. Instead, it goes back to the fifteen Classes presented in 13th Age and 13 True Ways—the Barbarian, Bard, Chaos Mage, Cleric, Commander, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Necromancer, Occultist, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard—and adds to them, sending each of the Classes in new directions. Essentially each comes with a host of new Talents and Class-specific features, but that is not all to be found in the pages of Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths. The supplement also includes new rules variants, new Races, and a whole new starting point for any 13th Age campaign, all of which will work with 13th Age, 13 True Ways, Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, and of course, Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths starts with a host of new rules, clarifications, and variants. The new rules include Advantage and Disadvantage, exploding dice (rolling and adding again when the highest number on a die is rolled), and increasing or decreasing dice step-by-step, and to be honest, none of these rules are new if you are aware of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the Old School Renaissance in general. However, they are new to 13th Age and the new Class options in 
Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths makes use of them. The variant rules provide an alternative means of players rolling the abilities for their characters, suggests granting a single ability increase at every Level rather increases to three every few Levels, using Icon relationships as a bonus in skill checks, and amusingly, ‘The Plushie Rule’, in which a player who brings a stuffed toy to the table to represent his character’s familiar, receives a bonus from the Class’ usual list. Lastly, ‘Taking Risks’ allows a player to double down after failing a roll. Instead of opting to accept the consequences of the failed roll, but still succeed and thus ‘Fail Forward’, a player can ‘Take a Risk’. If he succeeds, then there are no consequences, but if he fails the roll, the consequences are bad—bad! This might be Lasting Pain which causes disadvantage on all Saving Throws; a Hand Injury, which causes disadvantage on all Melee and Ranged attacks; and so on… For the most part, this means that ‘Taking a Risk’ is a more personal option for a player and his character and a player can avoid the party-affecting consequences of the usual Fail Forward option.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths provides thirteen new Races—Elemental Souls, Half-Ogres, Leomars, Nyama, Orcs, Pixies, Ratkin, Shadowborn, Star Children, and the Vorhai. Elemental Souls are the descendants of followers of the Four Elemental Lords who were defeated by chromatic dragons in a past Age and infused their remaining power into them so there are Elemental Souls of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. Half-Ogres are simply Brutal and can attack at Disadvantage to inflict double damage; the feline and proud Leomar have a greater resistance to fear; Nyama are shapeshifters, able to change into wild animals; Orcs are full-blood Orcs, dangerous because they have a greater chance of inflicting a critical strike, at least initially in a battle; and Pixies can fly, their weapons do poison damage, and they can shrink any one normal-sized object down to Pixie-size. Ratkin are rodent-like humanoids, known for their love of family, and their Stench which is strong enough to daze anyone nearby; the Shadowborn are humanoids native to the Underworld, able to slip into the shadows to escape a fight; a Star Child has come down from the stars and is simply blessed, able to freely choose a single at-will spell to cast, typically once per day; and the Vorhai or Greyskin are a race of magically created warriors from a past Age, who possess a single Adventurer-Tier Talent from the Fighter Class. Not all of these new Races are going to interest a Game Master or her players, but they do lend themselves to some interesting possibilities. How about an all Orc, Half-Orc, and Half-Ogre campaign built around serving the Orc Lord? Or an Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, and Pixie focused campaign built around the Elf Queen or the High Druid? That said, simply throwing these thirteen into the mix with those from 13th Age and 13 True Ways is likely to dilute their abilities and those of the other Races. Perhaps it might be better to mix and match, build a campaign around them, and so on?

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths also provides rules for mixed Race Player Characters and a selections of new Feats—both General and Racial. The former include ‘Bribery’, ‘Heirloom’, and ‘Icon Lore’, whilst the latter include ‘Ancient Grudges’ for the Dwarf, ‘Human Ingenuity’ for the Human, and ‘Pixie Dust’ for the Pixie. There are a lot of feats here and certainly the Racial feats could have been listed by Race rather than alphabetically, as they would have been easier to choose from. The bulk of Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths though, is devoted to the new Talents and features for the original fifteen Classes. Each one comes with some suggestions as to the play style that each new set of Class options offers. For example, ‘Bouncer’ provides a Barbarian brawler with a series of wrestling moves, Bulwark enables him to fight with a shield and sword like a Viking or Saxon warrior, ‘Giant Blood’ lets him be a classic two-handed sword wielding barbarian, whilst ‘Primal War Dance’ turns his battle rage into a defensive dance and ‘Raging Storm’ unleashes lightning damage upon an opponent with every melee attack! For the Cleric, there are over thirty new Domains, from ‘Air/Storm/Thunder’, ‘Animal/Beast’, and ‘Archery/Hunting’ to ‘War/Leadership’, ‘Water/Sea/River’, and ‘Winter/Ice’, each with accompanying Feats and spells, whilst the Druid undergoes a revision. It takes the six Druid Talents from 13 True Ways and replaces them with circles—Circles of Decay, the Fang, Feysong, the Land, Life, the Moon, and War—each of which has its own Talents, spells, powers, or flexible attacks. For example, the Blighted Stench Talent means that the Druid is followed everywhere by the smell of decay, and is granted a bonus Necromancer spell and the Blighted Stench spell, which inflicts poison damage on two nearby enemies. Combine this with other Talents like ‘Festering Maggot Aspect’ or ‘Life Leech’, and spells such as Summon Giant Bug or Creeping Thorn Ivy, and what you have is whole new way of playing the Druid Class, one that is just a little weird and definitely creepy, almost a Class unto itself—and that is just one of the six circles, each of which different in character and tone. This revision of the Druid is possibly one of the more complex options in Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, but nevertheless, delightfully thematic.

The Fighter has always been a Class to make interesting, and whilst far from uninteresting in 
13th Age, in Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths the Class has even more options to make it interesting and flavoursome. ‘Air of Authority’, for example, enables a Fighter to hush a room or a mob, ‘Lock & Load’ turns a Fighter into a fast shot with a crossbow, and ‘Ultimate Combat Reflexes’ enables a Fighter to act any time in a round! The Class is accompanied by a list of new Manoeuvres, like ‘Get a Read’ which grants the Fighter’s player a question about his opponent and ‘Staredown’ which sends the Fighter into the face-off with an opponent, which either can lose. Similarly, the Necromancer is given a host of Talents and spells, such as ‘Bloodseeker’ which turns the Necromancer’s origins into vampiric, and enables him to detect heartbeats of the living, heal by drinking a cup of blood, and empower his next spell with double damage, whilst his ‘Disgusting Display of Depravity’ Talent can strike fear into his opponents! Perhaps the most fun spell will be Zombombie, which summons a zombie which can detonate with a putrid explosion! Elsewhere the Chaos Mage gets entertainingly silly spells such as Frogsplosion, which creates two exploding frogs, and Princessification, which turns a target into an Elven princess, whilst the Wizard goes back to the classic version of the Class with its magic and its many, many spells being built around the eight schools of magic—Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation. However, there are only spells for seven of the schools, Necromancy being the province of the Lich King and a whole other Class. Every Class has options upon options, multiple ways to play them like this.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths presents the ‘Novice Tier’. This is a means of exploring the Player Characters’ adventures before their careers really begin, essentially taking them from Level Zero through the three mini-steps of the ‘Novice Tier’ up to First Level, and covering everything from Backgrounds and One Unique Thing to Levelling Up and Encounter Design for Novice Characters. The latter feels somewhat short, and it would be nice to see some adventures written for this mini-Level. Lastly, the new magical items consist of new musical instruments for the Bard, and does include some silly items like the Battle Didgeridoo and Lightning Kazoo.

Physically, Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths is tidily presented. The book is decently written, but the artwork does vary in quality. Much of the artwork is decent, but the black and white artwork is rarely as good. Some of the colour artwork does veer slightly towards the ‘Chainmail Bikini’ school of art, but only a few pieces.

13th Age is a roleplaying game with plenty of options in terms of character choices, and that only grows with the addition of 13 True Ways. Essentially, thirteen different Classes, each with direct ways to play them. Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, the previous supplement from Kinoko Games, only added to that with six new Classes. Which of course, is no bad thing, because having options—and having more options—is always good. Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths is a whole book of new options, one that returns back to the official character Classes. With just ten Levels of play in 13th Age, the choices in the core rules and 13 True Ways may not necessarily stand up to too much repeat play, but a supplement like Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, incredibly rich in character options, provides the means to invigorate an existing campaign or build a new one.

1 comment:

  1. What a stunningly beautiful cover...for a book I'll never buy and a game I'll never play.

    It IS gorgeous. She sheer amount of passion and talent on display in the production of these game books is awe inspiring. I wish I had some of that artistic ability.