Welcome to another edition of P&PTuesTAY! This week, we've got a special treat for you. That’s right – it’s an Old School Dungeon Crawl edition, 13th Age-style!
I was contacted by the DM from the gaming group I first played with, so long ago. He’s a good friend of mine and though we don’t get to game together often, we still keep in touch. We’d been talking for a while about “getting the band back together” and this past weekend, we did just that. We decided to do something we used to do back in the day quite often, especially when trying out new systems. We did a dungeon crawl. For those not familiar, a dungeon crawl is exactly what it sounds like. Get a group of adventurers together, give them minimal reason to be partying together, and send them into a dungeon to either beat it and get rich or die trying. When faced with a new gaming system, it’s a good way to test out mechanics and get people familiar with the ins and outs of the game before diving into a long-term character.
This time, we decided to play 13th Age. It’s a D20 derivative designed by a few of the gentlemen who gave us 3rd and 4th edition D&D, and you can certainly see the influence of ALL editions of D&D on this system. The system was designed with storytelling as the vanguard; A character creation system that puts a focus on making the character you WANT to make, not necessarily the character the game mechanics are pushing you to make. Each character gets One Unique Thing, which sets them apart from every other character in the world and allows the DM to weave that thing into the campaign to drive story. In addition, the world revolves around 13 “Icons” and your character’s relationships with those icons also provides the DM with plenty of possible fodder for world and story building.
I came up with a rogue whose tools and weapons were all magically tattooed on his person, and a Forge-born Sorcerer who was a store display spontaneously made sentient by the sheer amount of magical energy he had absorbed. Our barbarian’s One Unique Thing is that he was a dwarf whose hair was fine strands of metal – he never wore armor because his body hair WAS armor. In hindsight, the One Unique Thing wasn't really used to its potential in our dungeon crawl, but the characters would have been GREAT fun to play in an ongoing campaign.customization.
Our session ran from 12:00PM ET to 11:00PM ET – the first 2 hours were dedicated to character generation and then we dove right into the game. Our party ended up being very combat heavy, with 3 fighters, one cleric, one magic user and one rogue. With the role-playing that was occurring, our group was much more about running into the fray instead of carefully navigating obstacles. That lead to some harried combats, especially after we delved deeper and deeper into the game. 13th Age ran very smoothly – I was the only inexperienced 13th Age player in the group, so even when I needed to look up certain abilities and such, combat flowed well and we never got hung up on any of the dice or ability mechanics.
As we continued through our adventure, some things were striking us as familiar. The mist that constantly surrounded us, the gypsy band, the small village; they all seemed as though we had experienced them long ago. After some time, however, we finally figured it out. Our DM had retrofitted the old AD&D 2nd Edition Ravenloft module to the 13th Age setting! Our dungeon crawl was leading us through Castle Ravenloft, and we would be confronting Lord Strahd von Zarovich! Our little band pushed through skeletons, zombies, wolves and even attempted to map the castle as we progressed.
I attempted to play as sneaky as possible with my rogue, but the barbarian and cleric were very much “smash first – sneak later” types and that pushed the group into rushing headlong into every room, every stairway, every group of enemies. Ghosts that answer a single question each? SMASH THEIR STATUES! Gypsies that offer possible assistance? THREATEN AND INTIMIDATE THEM! Take the road to the Castle or the path under the bridge? MARCH UP AND RING THE FRONT BELL! This no-nonsense, forward moving group had no time for tricks, traps or riddles. If something stood in our way, we BASHED IT. Our little band pushed through skeletons, zombies, wolves and even attempted to map the castle as we progressed, like we used to do before fancy printed map supplements and the wealth of internet-generated content.
After getting slightly lost in the castle (probably due to our sad mapping skills), we finally confronted Lord Strahd. With little banter, our party began to fight him, getting severely spanked out of the gate with some spells we were not anticipating. A third of our party suffered 2nd-degree burns and stab wounds, and then Strahd summoned his zombie army. As we made short work of the minions, he summoned up the big guns: Big Zombie and his brother, GIANT Zombie. Our fighters laid into them, as my construct kept firing Chaos Bolts from his mouth, and raising his forged metal hands to use Burning Hands and Lightning Fork. Finally, Strahd came back to finish us off, and while we were able to defeat him with the cleric’s Holy powers, it was at the cost of our dear metal-haired barbarian friend, who took the full brunt of a Fireball spell. His fine metal hair glowed red hot as his flesh melted and charred to a crisp.
We found ourselves finishing early as we accidentally took a shortcut to Strahd, and we actually missed over 2/3rd of the castle encounters. Our DM give us the story wrap-up and we counted up our found wealth in our newly-acquired Castle. Thus ended the old-school dungeon crawl, and we called it a night. Overall, I would say that 13th Age is a system that definitely warrants more play, and that the old-school dungeon crawl was just as much fun as I remember it being when I was 15.
Have any of you had any experience with 13th Age, or memories of dungeon crawls past and present? Feel free to comment below, and we’ll see you next time for P&PTuesTAY!
For more information on 13th Age and Ravenloft:
Pelgrane Press, LTD: Publishers of 13th Age
Vault of the 13th Age: The leading 13th Age forums and user-generated content database
Ravenloft: The Wiki entry for the setting
Fraternity of Shadows: The premier Ravenloft content repository