Designing Extended Challenges: The Core Rules

In this link, or below the “read more” tag, are the rules for running 13th Age Extended Challenges

Which means I’m finally done!

Or, perhaps not.

These rules only really cover running the challenges – great if you have an adventure module in hand that uses them, but given as we haven’t released any of those yet not all that useful.

So the new goal is that next week I’ll provide a set of guidelines for building Extended Challenges suitable to your party’s level – along with some examples.

After you read the rules below let me know what you’d like to see in the encounter building guidelines: and what you think the rules have missed!

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Designing 13th Age Extended Challenges 4 – Non-binary Stakes

First in sequence – Second – Third

First, a note: In discussion after last week’s post the feeling was mixed, but overall it seemed that the advice was to provide both versions – complexity with Aid Another actions and risky checks; alongside a slimmed-down version – which honestly isn’t actually more work in this case, because it saves me the difficult job of deciding which is superior!

So, item 4 on my original list of targets: non-binary stakes. I’m leaning a bit into step 5, fitting the game, too because ultimately I don’t think that the issue of non-binary stakes can be properly addressed outside of the mechanics of the game in which this Extended Challenge system is to be implemented.

Most, though not all, systems have resources that can be lost (such as hitpoints and spells) or penalties that can be gained (such as wounds and fatigue). These are fertile ground for costly successes.

With 13th Age there are three main internal resources that we can look at when it comes to the PCs: hitpoints and recoveries; daily abilities; and icon dice. I’m going to start at the end:

  • Icon Dice: These elements allow players to influence the narrative of the game. They generally aren’t given specific mechanical weight, but there’s a strong argument for the sort of narrative change they offer granting a success – our group often uses them in both combat and extended challenges for rerolls.
  • Limited-use Abilities: Spells, prayers, songs, whatever form they may take plenty of classes have abilities that can only be used once per full rest. Taking as a given that even a multi-day extended challenge won’t allow for full rests 1) expending these abilities also seems like the sort of thing that could bring about an automatic success – or potentially allow the opportunity for a double-success.
    Of course most such limited-use abilities are very combat-oriented – but encouraging players to use them creatively can be great fun. Rather than summoning his ancestors to help him battle a great foe, the Barbarian summons them to help dig a deep pit – and has to use a charisma roll to persuade them that this is a suitable task for them to give their all.
  • Hitpoints/Recoveries: A lot of extended challenges include a natural element of danger, risk to life and limb. Which means that a common consequence for failing at something risky, or for taking too long, should be the loss of health – represented in 13th Age by both Hitpoints and Recoveries.
    Which to use depends on the timescale of the challenge, and its nature. If short rests are going to be easy to obtain due to the timescale of the challenge, allowing the heroes to spend their recoveries to regain lost hitpoints, it’s generally best to just skip the middle step. But if they’re not, if the extended challenge is taking place on a timescale of minutes, or even seconds, rather than hours or days, attacking hitpoints can increase the urgency of the situation 2)Parties with a healer – which is to say, most parties – will be able to dodge this question most of the time by expending healing powers. That’s great, because it lets the healer do their thing. – and present a challenging choice of whether to spend an action on recovering hitpoints rather than progressing towards the goal, a choice that’s built into combat.

That’s a good number of factors that can make one victory feel pyrrhic while another feels glorious, but that’s only the start – only the internal factors.

External aspects that can vary between outcomes are also quite numerous, and vary in the level of mechanical weight they carry

  • Making Future Encounters Harder: Extended challenges are often found at the beginning or middle of an adventure, rather than at the end, and one easy way to provide consequences is to have combat encounters that follow be more difficult the longer they take to complete (and/or the more risky tasks they fail) – for instance an extended challenge to sneak into a castle vault might be followed by fighting your way out with your treasure.
    If you’ve taken too long and made too much noise you’ll be faced with extra guards on the way out, as the alert level has been raised.
  • Different Levels of Reward: Our Half-orc Artificier and his allies have finished at the ball, and they’ve garnered some support. But how much? It could be a few healing potions for the brave adventurers, a magical heirloom, or a whole detachment of elven scouts to aid the party (perhaps represented as a set of icon die to be spent at appropriate junctures)
    In that case I feel like it would be a round-limited extended challenge, with the reward value depending on the number of successes achieved within the duration of the ball – but in other cases you might need X successes, with each round taken reducing the reward.
  • Impacts on the Fiction: This one is a bit of a catch-all, and yet it’s easily forgotten. Yes I’m building a mechanical system here, but that doesn’t mean there has to be a mechanical outcome – the glory of RPGs comes from blending game elements with roleplaying and storytelling – instead the outcome could be something that only impacts the characters emotionally 3)Admittedly, some systems do give such impacts mechanical weight – but 13th age and the F20 family in general don’t.and/or affects the world as a whole; such as the loss of a village to the invading army before the Elven Courts can be persuaded to rally their defences; or the death of one of the hostages that the heroes were seeking to save.

So with all those options in hand, what stakes would you set for your challenges?

1) The abilities may be called “dailies” but extended challenges, and wilderness adventures in general, work a lot better if full rests are required to be more restful than what you’ll get while camping, and taking guard shifts, for 6-8 hours during a full march.
2) Parties with a healer – which is to say, most parties – will be able to dodge this question most of the time by expending healing powers. That’s great, because it lets the healer do their thing.
3) Admittedly, some systems do give such impacts mechanical weight – but 13th age and the F20 family in general don’t.