Novice tier characters (level zero)

Written by Martin K.

These are the playtest draft rules for novice tier (level zero) characters, which I plan to put in the next expansion book. You can find pregenerated characters for these rules here: http://13thage.org/index.php/pre-gens/690-novice-tier-pregenerated-pcs


Standard first-level characters in 13th Age are already experienced adventurers, who are capable in their craft and ready to perform heroic deeds. That works well if the GM plans to throw them right into the big league. However, for some campaigns, GMs may want to play out the early years of the player characters, before they were fully formed and powerful, to allow the player to get a feeling for the PC first. This can be done in either short scenes to illustrate their backgrounds, or entire origin stories.

The rules in this chapter add a new tier to 13th Age, novice tier, which takes place before the adventurer tier that characters start at in the Core Book.

Novice tier is also a useful option when introducing 13th Age to new players, especially if this is their first time playing any tabletop RPG. In a game with many novice players, it is recommended to start the PCs at first level of novice tier (N1), where they have the basics that define their class and some toys to have fun with, but fewer moving parts that would create complexity.

Novice Tier

In novice tier, there are three novice levels, from zero (N0) to two (N2).

At novice level zero (N0), a character is in their teenage years, and they haven’t completed their training. Maybe they are still studying under an old wizard, where their days are filled with cleaning the lab and poring over books, and they have yet to cast their first real spell. Maybe they are just farm boys or farm girls who were handed a sword by a mysterious stranger. N0 characters only have their backgrounds, one unique thing, and their smarts to fall back on, and none of the abilities that would be granted by a class.

The step to level N1 is where the Wizard becomes a Wizard, the Fighter a Fighter and so on. The stats such as hit points and defenses are now determined by your chosen class. You gain your armor and weapon proficiencies as well as the class features. Choose your first talent, and you gain your first spells, maneuvers and powers  (if your class has them).

Level N2 grants you the second talent and a few more spells and powers. From there, you advance to first (adventurer tier) level.

 

Novice level character stats

Novice Level N0 N1 N2
Class chosen No Yes Yes
Ability score reduction -1 -1 -1
Ability bonus Race only Race + Class Race + Class
Level bonus 0 0 0
Background points 4 6 7
One Unique Thing Optional Yes Yes
Physical Defense 10 + middle mod of Str/Con/Dex + Level by class by class
Mental Defense 10 + middle mod of Int/Wis/Cha + Level by class by class
Hit points 5 + CON mod (class + CON mod) x 1.5 (class + CON mod) x2
Recovery dice 1d4 + Con mod by class by class
Recoveries 2 4 (*) 6 (*)
Icon relationships None 1 2
Class features None All (by class) All (by class)
Talents None 1 2
Feats None None None
Magic items 0 0 0

(*) Fighters gain a bonus recovery thanks to their Extra Tough class feature.

 

Choosing a Class

At novice level zero, PCs have not chosen a class yet. You receive no ability score bonus from a class, and don't consult a class table for any of your stats.

Choose a class when you advance to level N1.

Ability Scores

Create ability scores as you would for an adventurer tier first level character in your campaign, such as the standard 28 point buy, and then reduce all scores by 1 (the score itself, not the modifier).

At level N0, add a +2 ability score bonus for your race. When you advance to level N1, add the +2 ability score bonus for your class.

When the PC advances to the first level of adventurer tier, increase all stats by 1 to bring them back to standard level.

Level bonus

Novice level characters are treated as level 0 (zero) for everything that is calculated using level modifiers, such as attack rolls, defenses and skill checks. Any miss damage that is equal to your level is also zero.

The exception to this rule are weapon damage and recoveries. You get one WEAPON die and one recovery die.

Backgrounds

Level N0 characters have 4 background points. At level N1, increase to 6, and at level N2 to 7.

One Unique Thing

If the player already has a great idea for the One Unique Thing of their character, they can choose it immediately when creating a novice character.

If not, it’s also fine to leave the OUT open, and come up with it spontaneously during play. Novice tier flashback stories are a great way to flesh out One Unique Things like “the only bard to bring the Diabolist to tears”. Just be prepared to reinterpret or even rewrite the OUT if required. Maybe those tears were meant to be tears of regret instead of tears of laughter. Maybe you OUT will become a tale of failure, but what can be a better driver for the narrative than a story of redemption?

Hit Points

Zero level novice characters start with 5 base hp, to which they add their Constitution modifier, and no multiplier. At level N1, the base hp are replaced by the class base hp, and you get a 1.5 multiplier. At level N2, increase the multiplier to 2.

Recoveries

At level N0, PCs start with 2 recoveries and a 1d4 + CON recovery roll. Gain two recoveries when you level up, amd replace the d4 with the recovery die from your class.

Icon Relationships

The icons only start paying attention from novice level N1, when the PC gains their first icon relationship point. Of course, a PC can have ties to an icon from the very start, the bond just isn’t reflected in a point yet. Gain a second point at level N2.

Class Features

Novice characters gain all class features of their chosen class at second novice level.

Talents

When you choose your class at level N1, also gain one talent. You gain a second talent at third novice level.

Feats

Novice level characters don’t get feats.

The only exception is the human bonus feat. As a human, you can choose a general feat at level N0. You can retrain it to a feat related to your class later, when you gain a level.

Magic Items

Novice level characters can use magic items, but they are always subject to an item’s quirks.

Weapon and Armor Proficiencies

As a zero level novice, you haven’t received much weapon or armor training yet. You can use small weapons like daggers and staffs without penalties, but you take an attack penalty with any other weapon. Light and heavy armors also incur a penalty. See the table below for details.

When you advance to level N1, switch the weapon and armor proficiencies to those of your chosen class. Note that this can actually increase a penalty in some cases.

Zero Level Armor

Armor Type Base AC Atk Penalty
None 10
Light 11 -1
Heavy 12 –2
Shield +1 -1

Zero Level Melee Weapons

Weapon type One-Handed Two-Handed
Small 1d4 dagger 1d6 club, staff
Light or Simple 1d6 (-1 atk) hand-axe, club 1d8 (-1 atk) spear
Heavy or Martial 1d8 (-2 atk) longsword, battleaxe 1d10 (-2 atk) greatsword, greataxe

Zero Level Ranged Weapons

Weapon type Thrown Crossbow Bow
Small 1d4 dagger 1d4 hand crossbow 1d4 sling
Light or Simple 1d6 (-1 atk) javelin, axe, spear 1d6 (–1 atk) light crossbow 1d6 (-1 atk) shortbow
Heavy or Martial 1d8 (–2 atk) heavy crossbow 1d8 (-2 atk) longbow

 

Spells, Maneuvers and Powers

See the table below for the number of spells, maneuvers, battlecries, powers etc. you get at novice levels N1 and N2. Spells / powers gained are level 1.

 

Novice level class progression

Novice Level N1 N2
Abomination Limit maneuver + 1 maneuver Limit maneuver + 2 maneuvers
Bard 1 battlecry, 1 spell & song 2 battlecries, 2 spells & songs
Barbarian - -
Chaos Mage At-will spells only 1 once-per-battle spell
Cleric 2 spells 3 spells
Commander 2 commands & tactics 3 commands & tactics
Demonologist 1st-level initiate spells and powers of the chosen talent 1st-level initiate/adept spells and powers of the chosen talent(s)
Druid (*) 1st-level initiate spells and powers of the chosen talent 1st-level initiate/adept spells and powers of the chosen talent(s)
Fateweaver (Dark Pacts) 2 spells 1 meditation, 3 spells
Fighter 1 maneuver 2 maneuvers
Monk 1 adventurer form, Wis ki points 2 adventurer forms, Wis ki points
Necromancer 2 spells 3 spells
Occultist 2 spells 3 spells
Paladin - -
Psion (Dark Pacts) 2 minor powers, 2 powers, 2 PP 4 minor powers, 4 powers, 4 PP
Ranger - -
Rogue 1d2 Sneak attack, 2 powers 1d3 Sneak Attack, 3 powers
Savage (Dark Pacts) 1d2 frenzy die, 1 power 1d3 frenzy die, 2 powers
Sorcerer 2 spells 3 spells
Swordmage (Dark Pacts) 1 aegis, 1 spell 1 aegis, 3 spells
Warlock (Dark Pacts) 2 spells 3 spells
Wizard 2 cantrips,  2 spells 4 cantrips, 4 spells

(*) GMs may want to give novice druids AC 12 and a bonus feat to help them out a bit...

 

Leveling up

The easiest way to handle leveling up in novice tier is to let the PCs gain all abilities of the next level at once, without incremental advances. This is especially recommended if you plan to fast forward a few in-game years between each level. It’s also the best way to handle the step from N0 to N1, where the PCs gain a lot of abilities at once from choosing a class.

Of course, GMs who wish to spread out the step from N0 to N1 a bit are invited to work out a process for their campaign. Some classes, like the ranger, have no class features and don’t gain powers or spells in addition to their first talent at that point, while others, like the Abomination, have an entire laundry list of features that change a lot about the PC. Therefore, it is best to look at each PC in the party individually, and give them advances that match the in-story progress of the PC’s training. Some upgrades, like the two extra background points, the two additional recoveries and the icon relationship point, can easily be separated from everything gained by choosing a class, and can be handed out as incremental advances.

From level N1 to N2, and from N2 to adventurer tier first level, the progress is more smooth, and the upgrades can be split into incremental advances without much hassle. Unless there is a story reason to do it otherwise, the most straightforward way is to give all PCs in the party the same incremental advance at the end of a session. For example, after the session, each PC could get their second talent, or their second icon relationship point.

Note that in novice tier, you cannot take the feat, magic item, or +1 to all skill checks incremental advances, since these only become available when you advance from first to second level in adventurer tier.

Encounter design for novice characters

Novice-level characters, especially at level N0, aren't heroes yet. For them, the key to survival is using their smarts to achieve their goals while avoiding combat. A first-level mook is already a potentially deadly threat. The focus of the game should be exploring the nearby environment, puzzle-solving, and interaction with everyday NPCs like the local butcher or the town witch. Combat encounters should be sparse, and reward creative solutions over mechanical application of PC powers.

Even at level N1, the PCs are noticeably more fragile than 13th Age first level characters, with slightly less than half the hit points. First-level monsters can knock them out in 1-2 hits. They can take on single monsters of level two or three, but this will drain their limited resources, like daily spells, and there is always the risk of bad rolls leading into a TPK.

At N2, the PCs are now closer to standard first level, and you can build encounters as per the standard guidelines outlined in the Core Book on page 186, with the PCs counted as level zero.

At novice tier, GMs should be lenient with PCs fleeing from combat, or taking a full heal-up before the normally expected four combat encounters. Compared to epic level, where a „campaign loss“ could mean that Tiamat breaks loose to rain death over the Empire, at novice tier it means that you didn‘t rescue farmer Peet‘s prize pig before the goblins roasted it. Not the PCs’ most proudest moment, but not the literal end of the world either.

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