Another one of the reasons that 13th Age is a great system for creating epic games is the Escalation Die. This mechanic can serve many purposes, but in the most basic of ways, it’s a boon for the players to make combat faster.
As stated in the core rules, “As the characters fight in a battle, they build up momentum and tactical advantages that help them defeat their opponents. This bonus to attacks that increases as the fight goes on is represented by the escalation die.” (Pg 162 13th Age Core Rulebook). So in essence, every round the Escalation Die goes up. The Escalation Die is a d6 and the first round of initiative, it does not come into play. When the second round of initiative comes, it goes up to 1 so the players gain a +1 to their attack rolls, NOT their damage rolls. Also, sunce it’s a d6, the Escalation Die caps at the 7th round of combat, giving the players a +6 to attack.
So what does this mean? As a player, you are more likely to hit an enemy’s defenses as the battle goes on. Behind the screen, it means your monsters will die faster, especially since monsters don’t use the Escalation Die (usually). There are some pretty sinister monsters that are designed to be somewhat of an unfair fight and use the Escalation Die, such as dragons.
The Escalation Die by itself is a very interesting mechanic that makes combat progress quickly and really accentuates the heroism of the PC’s. This only just scratches the surface of what the Escalation Die can be used for. Use of the Escalation Die should more often than not be reserved for players, in tandem with the rules. However, having a monster that uses it can add a factor of deadlieness to the battle. I usually reserve the use of it by monsters for recurring villains or their most competent minions. Boss fights become more interesting and frightening to the players when they know the enemy uses the Escalation Die.
This mechanic is also put to good use as a bench mark for battle pacing. Is your combat taking longer/shorter than it was supposed to? Maybe make something interesting happen with the next increase of the Escalation Die. Perhaps the enemies get reinforcements (if the combat is too easy) or some of the enemies flee, even (if it’s taking too long, despite the players being competent). It’s a fantastic tool for creating dynamic battles or simply for a newer GM learning how to build encounters.
With this in mind, it almost goes without saying that even experienced GMs can use the Escalation Die to influence the battle. I have used it to make the idea of enemy reinforcements a little more interesting. My players were throwing their weight around because it had been a while since they got a thrashing. At Escalation Die 2, some more powerful enemies came to the aid of the weak enemies, making the fight that the PC’s thought was an easy win a lot more challenging.
To use it in an even more fun way, make a certain Escalation Die number the point where the big, bad guy in the boss fight runs away, despite the tide of the battle. That could spur a chase scene and, if you’re lucky, make your boss a recurring villain. I try to use it as often as I can to make the combat interesting, and not just “I attack this guy, I hit, I do (x) damage.” Keep it fresh and keep it interesting with the Escalation Die!
Stay Metal \m/