[Let’s Study: 13th Age] Part 3 – Character Creation

Posted: September 17, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games
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Hello everyone, today we’re going to try to put together a character for 13th Age. We’ll go through it step-by-step with the occasional side commentary on each of the sections.

Those familiar with d20 games will probably find this to be easy to follow along, so here’s the checklist of Character Creation for 13th Age:

  • Gamemaster input
  • Determine Race
  • Determine Class
  • Generate abilities
  • Calculate combat Stats
  • Define your One Unique Thing
  • Define Icon Relationships
  • Spend Background Points
  • Pick 1st level feat
  • Specify Gear

GM Input:

Gamemaster input, in a nutshell is the simple task of talking to the GM before making a character. It’s common sense in most groups, but it does merit some form of mention. I’ve been in some groups where players will just slap together a character then expect the GM to force fit it into a campaign, resulting in the all-too-common square peg, round hole issue.

Considering that this is an experiment, I don’t really have a GM to talk to with regards to what works in their campaign. Let’s just try to stick to something interesting for now.


13th Age has the following races available to choose from: Human, Dwarf, Dark Elf (drow), High Elf, Wood Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Halfling and Half-orc.

These are pretty standard for the OGL d20 crowd, but I’m certain that the races in 13th Age operate differently from the ones people are probably familiar with. Rather than go through all the Races, let’s just pick one for the purpose of this article.

I’ve always been a fan of Gnomes so let’s try that. Flipping through to the section on the book detailing races we get the following information:

+2 to Dex or Int, and the Small quality, which grants a +2 AC bonus against opportunity attacks. I also get two Racial powers: Confounding which allows me to daze a target once per battle if I roll a natural 16 or higher on an attack roll, and Minor Illusions, which allows the character to create a strong smell or sound nearby as a standard, at-will action.

So far, so good. Gnomes stick to their tiny trickster archetype and retain some tricks that make them annoying in combat.

Oh, as a side note, there’s a bit of information here on Nonstandard Races. This writeup encourages players to try coming up with unique stories by coming up with custom races. Of course, the caveat is that these have to be approved by a GM, and the book goes on to say that the pitch is more likely to be approved if the new racial choice lines up with currently existing rules.

In my gaming group, we call this practice “Reskinning” and tend to apply it to pretty much anything. I’ve had L5R games where players are allowed to take schools from another clan and use it after reskinning it to fit their Clan. Again, it’s not new per se, but it does merit a mention for those who might not have come upon the idea before.

Come to think of it, I could reskin my Gnome to be some sort of Anime-inspired Kitsune foxgirl…

So let’s go with that, simply because I can.




Determine Class:

The next step in creating a character is determining a Class for it. 13th Age gives a respectable spread of Classes, including the Barbarian, Ranger, Paladin, Fighter, Cleric, Sorcerer, Rogue, Bard and Wizard. No Monk or Druid on the list so far. Each one has their fair share of detail, and I might consider dissecting each one in a future series, but for this particular article let’s pick one and roll with that.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s go with the Ranger Class.

This gives my character a +2 to Strength, Dexterity or Wisdom as long as it isn’t the same ability increased by your Racial Bonus.

The Class writeup also has a few suggestions for concept and Icons to align with, I’ll save that decision for later though.

Along with the bonuses, there’s also the Gear that the Ranger starts with, which includes Light Armor, a Melee Weapon or two, a Ranged weapon or two and other mundane gear appropriate to their concept and backgrounds. Rangers may start with either 25 gold, or 1d6 x 10 gp depending on their attitude towards money.

The traditional OGL d20 two-weapon fighting for Rangers shows up here as well, with a smattering of weapons that are thematically appropriate to the Ranger.

Basic Melee and Ranged Attacks are described in a fashion that I can only describe as 4e-ish. It’s succinct and useful so there’s nothing to complain about but it did trigger memories of 4e for some reason.

I also get to choose three abilities for my Ranger. I’m not sure I want an animal companion (or pet) so I’ll go with

  • Tracker
  • Animal Companion (counts as 2 picks)

Since we’re on the reskinning gig anyway, I’ll push the envelope and say that my Animal Companion is actually my Animal FORM. So rather than attacking / moving twice, I’ll just shift back and forth from Fox form and Kitsune as a free action between turns. I lose the “Extra” actions that Rangers normally have but I don’t really mind.

Generate Abilities:

There we go, Generate abilities. No wonder this all seemed to be referring to things I don’t have yet.

Generation of Abilities is done by either the usual random attribute method of rolling for stats, or Point Buy. I’m personally in favor of the Point Buy method, and the book gets plus points for having sample point buy arrays to pick from.

I’ve always been somewhat partial to a more moderate spread of stats so I’ll go for:

Str 10 (+0)
Con 12 (+1)
Dex 16 (+3)
Int 16 (+3) +racial bonus
Wis 14 (+2) +class bonus
Cha 10 (+0)

Going back to the calculations that were mentioned earlier, my Gnome Ranger has the following:

24 HP
1 adventurer feat
3 Class Talents

Initiative is +4
AC: 16
Physical Defense: 13
Mental Defense: 13
Recoveries: 8
Recovery Dice: (1d8 x Level)+1
Backgrounds: 8 points, max 5 in any one background
Icon Relationships: 3 points
Talents: 3
Feats: 1 per level

The One Unique Thing

Taking a step back away from the usual number crunching of character generation, this is the point where the player comes up with the One Unique Thing. “Uniques” are little details that come with the character concept that make a character just that bit more special to the world. These don’t have mechanical effects, but add to the fluff of the character.

It’s an interesting mechanic that represent a step that I feel many gaming groups actually implement but haven’t really given a name for. It’s inclusion in the rules is a significant one, as it forces more mechanical players to stop and think a bit for how to make their character more interesting than just a bunch of numbers.

The book pays a lot of detail on the One Unique Thing, noting that it should serve as a plot hook as well as fluff that could be a springboard for character centric stories.

For my character, I figure that I can continue my Kitsune theme by saying:

“I am a kitsune trapped in the 13th Age world after the Archmage miscast something that caused a paradox that shunted me from my home dimension to this one.”

It has absolutely no mechanical bearing. I’m a reskinned gnome running about in a western fantasy world with a grudge against the Archmage that threw me here. It gives me some sort of direction, and that’s never a bad thing.

Icon Relationships

Starting characters start with 3 points to distribute to Icon Relationships. The number of point spent on an Icon measures the overall usefulness to a character as it describes the influence a character has on that Icon.

Given that I have three points, I figure I’ll spend 2 points on a Conflicted relationship with the Archmage and 1 for a Negative relationship on the Diabolist. Both are magic-oriented and might find it interesting that I’m a dimension hopping invader from another world that isn’t a demon. The Archmage knows that I’m a paradox manifestation and considers me a mistake but knows it’s not my fault. The Diabolist wants to study the circumstances of my summoning to use to their advantage.


In place of skills, 13th Age uses Backgrounds, which are player-defined descriptors that are rolled in the same manner as skills to perform tasks. By letting the Player define it, there’s a gray fuzzy area that describes their competence in a range of things. As with most things in 13th Age, the GM and player have to come to an agreement as to the coverage of their backgrounds.

I think I’ll spend it my 8 points on:

Wily Fox-Spirit +4
Savage survivor +4


As with most OGL games Feats still exist in 13th Age. There’s a large list of interesting feats which are divided between Adventurer, Champion and Epic Tier feats. For the purpose of this character, we’ll be picking from the Adventurer Tier.

Given her concept as a dimensional accident, I’ve chosen Linguist as her feat to simulate her attempt to figure out the new world she’s in.

So at this point I have a functional 1st level character in the form of a dimensional-magic-freak-accident anime kitsune fox-girl who can shapeshift and just wants to go home. Sure I’ve reskinned the heck out of the race and class, but I think that’s what the authors had in mind anyway.

Character Generation isn’t easier than most OGL d20 games, but the addition of One Unique Thing, Backgrounds and Icon Relationships in the character generation rules, and specific paragraphs allowing for customization are useful for groups who prefer to play according to Rules as Written.

Most groups don’t usually throw a fit when a player wants to try and skew towards uniqueness even if not explicitly covered by the rules. But for those people who are used to the mindset of “If it’s not in the rules, it’s not allowed” then 13th Age fixes that issue very well.

In many ways, I feel that 13th Age helps bridge the gap between more rules-y groups with more story-oriented gameplay in a fashion that works best with their mindset. Nothing here is particularly new, but that is a secondary consideration to the idea that the rules work well.

  1. As a regular Game Master for 13th Age, I heartily approve of your character! 😀 Having said that, I do have to mention a couple of things:
    * I think the reason why the melee/ranged attacks triggered off a nostalgia for D&D 4E for you would be the simplification that D&D 4E did with the Basic Attack Bonus (BAB) or To Hit Armor Class Zero (THAC0) of virtually every edition of D&D: as you level up, you gain a bonus to hit. Whereas D&D 4E gave you a bonus of half of your level, 13th Age gives you a bonus equal to your level.

    Personally I like it because you don’t have to worry anymore about monsters out-scaling you or having to take game elements that make up for the system’s math, (feats, magic items), not to mention it keeps the rules simple enough.

    * While the book does explicitly state that there shouldn’t be any mechanical benefits to Unique Things, there will (and should) always be rulings regarding how your Unique Thing impacts not only your character, but also the world; there’s even mention that if you really want a mechanical benefit, the GM can allow you to give up a class talent slot and homebrew an ability exclusively for your character.

    Let’s take your character for example: because you’re a kitsune who is stuck in the Dragon Empire’s 13th Age because of a miscast ritual, various situations and events in the world that are not found in the book, with questions like, “why is the Archmage casting rituals that pull people and spirits from other dimensions?”, “what caused the ritual’s magic to be miscast?” and “is there a way for you to get back, and if so, have you had any leads so far on what could be done to get you home?” I’m even tempted to ask things like, “has anything happened to you as part of the miscast?”, because there’s a possibility that your Tracking class talent might be reflavored or mechanically altered as a result of the miscast’s effect on you or your abilities.

    In my mind, I’m already thinking that the Archmage might be looking for something across worlds, leading him to focus on casting ritual upon ritual that would open up worlds as he searches madly for whatever he seeks. Considering how ritual magic works in the world, perhaps the miscasting was the first sign that the Archmage’s casting of the same ritual over and over again has caused the world to gain resistance to it, which means you’ll have to find other ways to get home. Perhaps the Archmage has gone mad and is now casting so many portals opening to other worlds that the 13th Age would end not in plagues or in the death of an Icon, but with reality torn asunder. Instant campaign created!

    All this from a supposedly flavor-only unique thing.

    [ Speaking of which, the Tracking class talent grants you a bonus background I believe, which means you’re as much as 5 points short on your character backgrounds. ]

    * Regarding Feats, the Generic Feats list is actually quite small, with the table of feats being a generic reference in case you want to see all the feats in one place; Each class talent, each race has the details of each feat related to it neatly grouped with the talent/feat they’re related to.

    Here’s a bit of a trivia: early on in the playtest there were considerations for giving *all* feats the same treatment that generic feats got, in that feats would have their own names etc. However, playtesters enjoyed renaming feats in ways that were thematically appropriate to their characters’ backgrounds and unique things, so the devs decided to simply leave the feats unnamed.

    Another trivia, this time on character backgrounds (mentioned in the book, but I might as well bring it to bear): originally character background points depended on what class you picked, with Rogues and Bards getting more background points than most, and Fighters getting the least number of background points. However, there was a suggested houserule in the early iterations of the system that gave everyone 8 background points across the board. The OVERWHELMING support for this suggested houserule was more than enough to make the devs reconsider their original stance — which they admitted was primarily nostalgia-fueled — and now you have 8 background points as the norm and the class-based background points as optional… although as you may have noticed, some classes get talents that grant bonus background points to them, so there’ll still be characters with more backgrounds than others.

    * Speaking of backgrounds, the “gray fuzzy area that describes their competence” that “GM and player have to come to an agreement as to the coverage”, it’s not just there to provide mechanical bonuses when convenient and/or appropriate, but to also help flesh out your character in greater detail. Let’s go again with your character as an example:
    – As a “Wily Fox-Spirit”, what sort of areas did you linger in? What did you normally do as a fox spirit?
    – As a “Savage survivor”, what were the circumstances that led you to being a savage survivor? Were you alone in this endeavor, or did you have any companions? If you were a soloist, what sort of environments were you surviving in? If you had companions, how were they related to you, and are there any of your companions still living to this day?

    And the storytelling and background-building doesn’t end there, as each time the player rolls something and wants to add their background bonus, they have to explain how their character’s background is related to the action they’re taking. Perhaps a savage survivor in the mountains is just as capable at climbing walls as a savage survivor in the forests because the former regularly climbs steep cliffs in search of food, while the latter regularly climbs trees as they prepare to ambush prey below.

    There was an article released in Pelgrane Press’ webzine on backgrounds that could possibly cover *all* situations, and while it’s still up to the GM to allow or disallow such backgrounds, the general reception apparently is the same as with Unique Things: sure you can have something more powerful than normal, but expect that there’d be a significant cost for doing so.

  2. […] [Let's Study: 13th Age] Part 3 – Character Creation (philgamer.wordpress.com) […]

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