Artwork credit to Aaron McConnell, image from 13 True Ways
Charge three squares in a straight line to get an attack bonus! Nope, not this time. 13th Age has changed the way I view movement, relativity and positioning in tabletop games, and for the better. These guys employ completely abstract positioning. That’s right, no squares or feet to count, just complete common sense cooperation between the player and GM. In basic terms you are one of three things with an object: far away, nearby or engaged. This structure alone makes for a very interesting positioning/movement dynamic, all bells and whistles aside.
Alas, I am a creature of habit and still use miniatures. For more than one reason, really. I like miniatures because it helps keep things straight in people’s heads. I frown upon it, but it seems like the popular thing to do when it’s not your turn is to look at your phone/tablet/laptop. Using minis allows the player to jump back in to the fray of the game and see exactly what happened in the remainder of the round. Of course, I don’t encourage this behavior as discussed here, but you can’t exactly control everyone. Now my Tuesday group is in the employ of a little more rigid system of this abstract movement scale. The general consensus is that around six squares within a mini is nearby and if your mini is adjacent to another unless moving past, you’re engaged.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not a huge fan of it. Everyone else seems to like it, so I just suck it up and play the game because I love the group and the story. But that said, it still feels too much like 4e or something using that mindset. To me: If you melee attack it, you’re engaged. Recently I tried a new approach to the abstract positioning system and it actually worked rather nicely. Instead of using minis and tabletop aids, all we did was use our imagination. It was a little clumsy, but I feel like it gave everybody’s imagination a well needed workout. The reason why I gave it a shot was I wanted to see if it made more sense to run 13th Age like this at Gen Con 2016 but also to encourage players to describe their actions, since having miniatures makes the whole thing a little more visual than imaginative. On the second front, I failed, but as far as running it this way at the con, I’m still undecided.
Tangent aside, the relativity structure of this game makes for some cool powers like the Rogue’s Swashbuckle and the Fighter’s Skilled Intercept. The powers take the rules of movement and engagement and bend them a little to allow characters to be more badass. While on the topic, the engagement rules are also quite interesting. When you melee or are meleed, you are engaged. That means you are stuck to the enemy until you roll a successful disengage check or kill them. The other option is to simply move away but suffer an opportunity attack. Simple and effective structure like this makes for some fast paced combat.
However, this leads to the question of what would be considered nearby or far away since there’s no squares. My simple and honest answer; I make it up. Common sense combined with what’s on the table (or being presented to the imagination) makes it manageable. More often than not, the players and I work together on a case by case basis to determine what’s nearby and what’s far away. If there’s a disagreement, we simply go with the majority rule. Of course, if I think the players are trying to abuse my leniency to get an edge, invoking the GM veto power feels oh so sweet. There’s also no rules for difficult terrain in 13th Age.
It may be a strange argument, but this fact is actually one of the reasons why I like the system so much. Most tables handle difficult terrain a little differently in games regardless of what the rules say. Giving the entire interpretation up to the players/GM is a good move, because we’re just going to mold the rule to our liking anyway. The basic rule of intercepting is also a nice touch to the game. If an enemy is moving past you to get to an ally and you are not engaged (free), you can step in the way, engage yourself with the enemy and take their attack. Brilliant! This is the stuff of heroes, folks! The Fighter’s Skilled Intercept takes the concept to a whole new level, thus cementing the class as my favorite fighter iteration ever.
So at its core, what does the 13th Age rules of movement provide? Play loose, play fast, be a hero. Love it.
Stay Metal \m/