Patreon Article: Keeping Up The Momentum

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The tabletop roleplaying game 13th Age®, published by Pelgrane Press, has a very neat mechanic in called the Escalation Die that comes into play on the second round of combat, incrementing each round from 1 to 6, and adding bonuses to player actions. This is meant to add mechanical benefits to things characters can do and simulate the changing tide of combat turning it in the players favor as they constantly engage with their opponents.

There are two concepts that the mechanic derives from:

  1. The focus of the mechanic is on making players more awesome than their opponents, apart from a few monsters, although all monsters are ramped up in the game
  2. Escalation happens in a continual manner each round at a steady rate (or stagnates, or resets if the party disengages)

The truth, though, is that momentum in a battle doesn’t simply travel only in a single continual direction for only one party, but constantly ebbs and flows between all of the individuals and factions in a battle, sometimes rapidly and wildly when certain morale-boosting or breaking things happen. An attack that provides shock and awe can heavily compromise one group engaged in combat, putting them on the defensive and potentially causing them to need to disengage from combat rather than stay invested in it. This is especially true in old-school games, where “Oh, Shit! Run!” is often the order of the day and where encounters are not always balanced and can turn against a party’s favor more often than not. Running away IS an effective combat strategy, but one few take advantage of.

But there’s a way we can use of the same type of dice mechanic to make combats more engaging in old school games while staying aligned with old school encounter philosophy, using what I’ll present as MOMENTUM DICE.


Each party that engages in combat is allocated a MOMENTUM DIE that keeps track of their current MOMENTUM value, which is an increasing (or decreasing) bonus value that can be added to various mechanical attritubes used during combat. This Momentum value simulates the ongoing power balance shifts during the battle as well as exhaustion, fatigue, and encroaching fear from being defeated as the battle wears on.

The die used for this can be any die, but at least a d6 is recommended. As each party performs actions in combat that provide these shifts in combat, they have the ability to either raise the value of their own Momentum value (reflected in their Momentum Die), or lower the value of one or more or their opponents’ Momentum (represented by their Momentum Dice).

Once parties start triggering actions that increase Momentum, the party is given the Momentum Die at the beginning of the following round so that they can start keeping track of its value. Any additional Momentum they receive in that round is added the round following, and so on. Writing the party’s name on a sheet of paper and placing the Momentum Die below it, or using a token or miniature to represent the party and putting the Momentum Die next to it is a good way to show all of the current Momentum values in play at the same time. As Momentum changes, change the facing value on each Momentum Die to reflect the current Momentum each party.

Actions that can provide Momentum are shown on the table below:

Gaining surprise at the beginning of combat1-2*YesNo
Anyone in the party rolls a natural 20 on an Attack Roll1**YesNo
Anyone in the party rolls a natural 1 on an Attack Roll-1**YesNo
Performing a non-standard surprise action that an opponent would not expect1*YesYes
Killing or disabling at least one opponent in the previous round1YesYes
Taking out a minor character2YesYes
Taking out a major character3YesYes
Providing shock & awe2-5 or (1d4+1)YesYes
Rallying the party (battle cry, horn, some other)2*YesYes
Boosting the party morale1YesNo
Forcing retreating/placing opponents in defensive position1YesYes
Routing/breaking opponent3*YesYes
Disengaging from combat-1**YesNo

* can be earned only once per combat
** cumulative per party member per round

Momentum in the above table stacks every round and can be earned repeatedly. It is earned as a group, not individually. The “shock and awe” entry is provided to cover such things such as taking out half of an opposing party with a single attack, or using a special magical attack, or doing something really, really unexpected etc. i.e. essentially anything that puts an opposing force off-kilter should be awarded some additional points.

Momentum Die benefits are used by characters choosing each round to apply them to one of the following mechanical effects for the entire round:

  • Ability Checks
  • Armor Class
  • Attack Rolls
  • Damage Rolls (including magical damage)
  • Initiative Roll
  • All Saving Throws

A character doesn’t need to nominate the use of any Momentum bonus (except for Initiative) until they’re ready to use it, allowing them to decide the optimal time to use the bonus. Unused Momentum from one round doesn’t carry forward to the next round.

Additionally, the Momentum Die be also used as a form of “luck check” by rolling another die similar to the Momentum Die; if the result of the other die rolled is the same or lower that Momentum then it’s a success! This type of roll can be used perhaps to provide the chance of a critical strike or offset the chance of a critical failure happening, depending upon how which game is being played. Or in cased when or types or checks or rolls aren’t appropriate and sheer unadaulterated luck is needed.

As combat unfolds, there will be a constant increasing and decreasing of Momentum for each party involved in the combat, tracked by their Momentum Die. There will be times that it will be more tactically advantageous for characters to increase their own party’s Momentum, but there will also be times when they will want to reduce their opponent’s Momentum instead. This is especially true in the case of going up against large and tough solo creatures that will gain more benefits from taking out multiple party members one by one. Their advantage can be offset by players being creative and thinking differently on how to tackle these creatures; by applying creative approaches to their attacks, they can reap a number of mechanical benefits that can increase their chances to help take down challenging creatures that would normally cause then to turn and flee. Although that always remains an option.

This article is © 2016 Jason Paul McCartan.
Published under license by InfiniBadger Press.


13th Age is a registered trademark of Fire Opal Media Inc. and published by Pelgrane Press Ltd. under license.


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