Monday, July 8, 2013

KantCon 2013

In the past couple of years, I have had mixed success with Kansas City's RPG convention KantCon.  Most of these problems revolved around the fact that a) I went on Friday, b) I didn't pre-register for games, c) I brought my kids.  Last Friday I only did a) and b), since the kids are visiting grandparents right now.  I also needed to be back by the evening, so I was really only able to participate in a morning and afternoon session.

Thankfully this year I managed to get into a game in both sessions, including one I really wanted to play, namely 13th Age.  13th Age is a fantasy RPG derived from D&D by Pelgrane Press.  It's got some big names behind it and a lot of publicity and support on the interwebs, and despite the fact that I own a dozen fantasy heartbreakers already, I was interested in giving it a try.

I'm particularly grateful that I was given a seat at the table, given that I was the ninth person to show up for the game.  With that many players and just a two-hour time window (more on that later), the game was really more of a rules demo that an adventure, but I wasn't complaining since I really wanted to get a feel for the rules more than anything else.  Without getting too much into the details of the two encounters, let me instead share my impressions of the game.

It's a lightweight version of 4E.  There are re-named encounter powers and daily powers, but they aren't the overblown superheroics of the fourth edition.  It's more like "Cleave," which allows to hit a second target after killing the first (that's once per battle for a 2nd level fighter).  My fighter only had a handful of these abilities and they all fit onto a single page character sheet, so for someone who was dealing with the six-page character sheets of 4E this feels pretty light.  OSR people may disagree.

Backgrounds.  This is 13 Age's big gimmick.  First, you conceive of one thing that makes your PC unique and sets it apart from all other half-elf fighters.  This unique quality can not create an imbalance for the game, it's more a "hook" for players to visualize their PC.  Then, instead of skills there are backgrounds which are rankings in a profession like "pirate" or "carnival acrobat" or "soldier" that are then used to adjudicate what would be generally considered skill issues.  Each profession represents a block of non-defined abstract abilities which the player asserts and the GM agrees applies to the situation.  So if you're "librarian 3" you get to add 3 points when you're doing things like researching a topic or dealing with a mentally ill homeless person (did that happen in fantasy times, or just now?)  I could see some player abuse as some people might be particularly useful or broad professions (e.g. "ninja" or "spy") that could encompass a lot of useful activities.  As always that mostly involves a GM being able to say "no."
Finally, there's the relationships that PC's have with the various thirteen for-lack-of-a-better-word "superpowers" in the campaign.  These are the big, heavy hitters--some good, some bad, some neutral--with which PC's can have either positive, negative, or conflicted relationships.  Not a big factor in a demo game but certain fodder for a longer campaign.

Abstracted movement.  Now this hits the sweet spot for me for several reasons.  I really didn't like the "am I six square or seven squares away from the orc" element of 4E, I thought it dragged the game down and that highly structured tactical movement became the cornerstone of most gameplay.  In addition, I like to build modular dungeons out of Hirst Arts blocks and trying to make one that had an exact grid that could be used in gameplay was restrictive and difficult.  Having movement be reduced down to vague range brackets would be liberated from a creative standpoint.

So all told, I was pretty taken with the game.  It's enough like 4E to appeal to my group, with the things I dislike about 4E sanded off.  I may consider this game as the replacement when I'm done with MHR.

My second game was really more of a miniatures game based on the movie Aliens.  You can see loads of pics of the action over at my wargaming blog here.


  1. I think you meant you did have mixed success? Sounds like a better experience this year, too bad I had to work. I like the sound of the backgrounds, a nice alternative to the bloated skill list.