Another one of those rules in 13th Age that are easily glanced over is the Fight in Spirit rule. I’ve never seen this one anywhere else so I’ll jump the gun and say that it’s another unique rule that makes this game system shine. If I’m wrong, yell at me, please. Anyhow, this rule helps cement that whole “narrative is more important than rules” type mentality that his game seems to carry. Thankfully, this solves a problem that I find in a lot of RPG’s: it gives you something to do in a combat situation when you are otherwise incapacitated.
In other words, the ruling is that you can help your party by handing out bonuses if you are unconscious, simply not present (i.e split party), or paralyzed (like turned into stone or something). This helps you from twiddling your thumbs when you’re removed from the fight and helps keep you engaged in the game and story. Narratively, you would explain how your relationship with the character that’s taking action applies a bonus that you’re fishing for. As in traditional fashion, it’s all negotiated with the GM. It’s fun, collaborative and helps build the relationship of the party further. Insert a long player monologue and it could create a really fun and emotional moment! Some GM’s for this game might be skeptical about giving out bonuses just because someone got knocked unconscious or the basilisk turned them into stone. After all, player characters are very powerful without help in this system. The important thing to note is that you really have to be out of the fight. This means you can’t be making death saves, or any saves against conditions like stuck or petrification (last gasp saves).
I let the Fight in Spirit rule come into play usually during the big, important fights. If the dice simply aren’t in the players’ favor during a fight they picked with the local goblins, well, sorry guys but you either have to run or get a whoopin’! I think that this rule would be pretty cool in a 5e game as well, giving advantage on an attack roll or something. Somebody who plays 5e more than me, try it out at let me know how it goes!
The instances this rule shows up are few and far between, make no mistake. When they do, however, it is definitely nice to have something to fall back on to prevent players from being less immersed in the game (and bored out of their skull). Especially as a GM who doesn’t kill characters that often, it rarely comes up. Probably the most interesting and fun way to incorporate this rule into a game immediately is simply separating the party in an unknown area.
The party is traveling through a dungeon and there’s a cave in, splitting the party in half. On one side, the PC’s are attacked by something, on the other side, the PC’s have to find a way around back into the previous room. Giving the players the illusion that this is possible before the fight ends one way or another would be the real art here. It creates a sense of tension and desperation, especially if you make the enemies on the other side appear bigger and badder than they are. Tension is a GM’s best friend and can create a really memorable situation. Letting the separated PC’s fight in spirit, whether knowingly or not, makes that situation emotional, where it might have not been otherwise.
Hiding the fact that they are fighting in spirit would be the tough part. I’d approach it as follows: “As you’re racing down a seemingly endless labyrinth of corridors to find your way back to your friends, you’re filled with thoughts of some experiences you’ve shared. What are those?” then the player would answer and I would apply a random bonus to the other character described. This would work great if they aren’t right after one another in the initiative order. It would appear like a seemingly random bonus, especially if I ask the fighting character the same question before giving the bonus. On the flip side, this does bring up the problem of repeatedly making a character perform a skill check that you know they are going to fail. That would make the non-fighting players rather frustrated at their inability to do something. For some players, the narrative might be good distraction from that but for others, perhaps not so much. Knowing your table is the golden rule with that situation, methinks.
Anyways, I hope this sparked some creativity in you! Fight in spirit and inspire your players!
Stay Metal \m/