One of the popularly praised attributes of the new 13th Age game is the Escalation Die. It’s so popular, in fact, that people are trying to find ways to house-rule it into other systems, such as Pathfinder and D&D.
In a nutshell, the Escalation Die in 13th Age is a “round” tracker that starts at 0, and goes up one each round, as represented by a D6 for tracking. The PCs may add the escalation die number to their die rolls in combat, while (most) enemies may not. The idea is to make the beginning of combats scarier, but to help end combats sooner and make the “mop up” phase of the battle wrap up more quickly. In addition, various race and class powers can only be used, or have different effects, when the escalation die goes above a certain threshold, and some monster powers mess with the escalation die (like resetting it to 0). Maybe I could be convinced otherwise, but in my limited play experience, I don’t really like it:
- Artificially tips things to the players with a meta game mechanic
- Rewards playing slow and safe since they’ll want to avoid the combat until they escalation die has swung in their favor
- Adds an ever-changing modifier to every die roll to keep track of (different every round of combat!)
- Completely Dissociated from anything “real” in the game
Now, there are some legitimate benefits as well, so to be fair:
1. Does seem like it would speed up encounters since there will be more net “hitting” in the combat (although, this isn’t necessarily the case, as the math of the game could have just “assumed” an escalation at all times). If nothing else, it does help speed the “mop up” phase of most battles.
2. Encourages players to use climactic powers later in the combat. I think this is the biggest benefit.
3. Gives the designer a new mechanic to play with for powers, including triggers for players and monsters.
Still, I don’t think those benefits are enough for me to want to use the escalation die. It’s just too invasive with nothing to associate it with while playing. I think encounter speed could be increased simply by changing the underlying math and health levels. I think good encounter design, or even another mechanic entirely (such as low health) could be used for triggers for players and monsters to have climactic powers later in an encounter.
Any thoughts on this mechanic? Does the cinematic benefit seem worth it to you?