[Let’s Study: 13th Age] Part 4 – Combat Mechanics

Posted: September 18, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games
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Hey there, today’s article takes a peek at the combat mechanics for 13th Age. We won’t be going through all the rules in this section, but we will be discussing the ones that make 13th Age stand out in my mind: Escalation Die, Positioning and Fighting in Spirit.

Escalation Die

13th Age introduces an Escalation Die mechanics to combat rules. Meant to simulate the momentum of a fight, the escalation die isn’t actually rolled but the face value of the die is used as a bonus to all attack rolls by PCs.

On each round of combat starting from the second, the Escalation Die bonus steps up. This means that on the second round of combat, all PCs gain a +1 bonus, the third gives them a +2, all the way until a maximum of +6 on the seventh round of combat.

Aside from the bonus to attack rolls, the Escalation Die also counts as a trigger to certain powers that are enabled as soon as the Escalation Die is at a specific number.

One caveat is that the Escalation Die keeps ticking only if the player characters are acting to further the fight. As soon as they start to waver or avoid conflict in the battle, the Escalation die resets to zero.

I have to admit that while it does the Escalation Die adds one more step to combat, the bonuses it conveys to players makes it float up to the top of their minds. Everyone loves a bonus to attack rolls, and the chances of players forgetting this is slim to nil.

I do like the idea of a counter to enable certain attacks. It simulates a dramatic trope of people spending time on less powerful attacks before breaking out the big guns later on in the fight.


13th Age also assumes that combat doesn’t require a grid. Instead, the game relies on relative positioning rather than precise measures. Ranges are set in zones of Nearby and Far Away, with characters being in a state of being Engaged or unengaged.

It’s a quick and dirty system that still allows for accounting of when opportunity attacks happen, and if a character has to get past another character in order to reach a given target. Very clean, and useful in translating OGL d20 games to a more narrative form of combat.

Fighting in Spirit

Another interesting mechanic introduced in the 13th Age combat rules is the Fighting in Spirit mechanic, which allows absent (or incapacitated) player characters to still influence a fight. By narrating how their character is “fighting in spirit” alongside her allies, they boost the morale of their fellows and bestow a bonus to their party mates. There are limits applied to make sure that nobody abuses the mechanic but it does help.

It’s a neat rule that helps in keeping involved and gives people whose characters have been taken out of the fight a chance to still contribute in a meaningful fashion.

All three tweaks to the standard OGL formula are well thought out and work very well with regards to shifting the traditional experience away from square grids to a more narrative implementation. The addition of the Escalation Die and Fighting in Spirit rules also make sure that there’s little in the way of downtime as combat passes faster with less whiffing the longer the fight gets, while players who have characters who are out of the fight can still do something keeping them engaged rather than flipping through a book while waiting for the combat to end.

At this point I can see why a lot of people are saying that there’s a lot of things that can be taken from 13th Age and applied elsewhere. Even those who don’t plan to run the game can learn a thing or two from mechanics like these that encourage story and narrative in the thick of battle.


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