The next section of 13th Age deals with the mechanics used in running the game. Continuing their trend of innovating within the OGL space, the book goes on to reveal the specifics of how the game works for the GM.
We’ve established the presence of Relationship Dice during character creation, and these dice play a role in ever session in a game of 13th Age. Relationship Dice are rolled in three separate instances:
- At the start of a session
- During dramatic events directly invovling agents of the Icon
- Discovery and Surprise
The means by which this is handled is rolling the dice and checking for any 6’s and 5’s. Each time a 6 comes up, the icon provides an unambigious advantage, a 5 also provides an advantage but one balanced with complications that advance the story.
When Relationship Dice are rolled for Dramatic Events any 5’s or 6’s should always introduce a twist that pushes the story onwards even if complications are involved. There’s a nice note here about how GMs and Players should collaborate to come up with what kind of encounter happens. The trigger here is a dramatically appropriate encounter with an agent or minion of the Icon.
I know this sounds vague, but it does assume that the GM should be able to apply these results in a manner that advances the story for the players. Thankfully the book also includes a rather robust discussion of improvisational techniques to help GMs who aren’t used to it.
Overall, Relationship Dice are an interesting mechanic that serves as a Random Encounter Table for Plot. Roll a 5 or 6, and you encounter a plot hook relating to the Icon(s) that your character is related to as defined by the character creation process.
I think Relationship Dice are a neat mechanic to get GMs into the habit of introducing character-relevant plot hooks in each game, but it is one of the mechanics that could quite easily be taken out. What I mean by this is that the rolling aspect is something that could easily be left to the GMs discretion. As long as a GM has the proper mindset to try and entertain all the players equally, they’ll find ways to implement plot hooks that are relevant not only to the factions that the player character is aligned with, but the relationships that player character has in general.
I guess the closest metaphor I can think of is that the Relationship Dice rolling mechanic is like a set of training wheels for a bike. They’re not bad, but after you’ve gotten the lesson that they’re supposed to teach, you can take them off with zero consequences.
This is where I start getting the impression that 13th Age really makes for an interesting transition game for moving from the traditional d20 gaming style to a more story-heavy one. Likewise, it serves as a happy medium to get story-heavy gamers to play d20 without feeling too constrained.