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Picking a “One Unique Thing” To Enable Awesome

Today I’m going to shift from GM advice to player advice, given from a GM perspective.

One of the best parts of 13th Age’s character creation is the One Unique Thing (hereafter called simply a Unique). It is a free form field on the character sheet that lets the player create a bit or a lot about the world in which you will play, and it can make the difference between yet another level one swordsman and an interesting and fun character that everyone will remember. I tell my players that their Uniques are what makes them the main characters of the story and not just the supporting cast.

Before play begins, your Unique is the most important part of defining who your character is and making them interesting enough that things will happen to them instead of merely to the party as a whole (no pressure!). If you want some time in the limelight, you had best pick a good Unique that will let the GM tilt that sucker in your direction. So let’s figure out what makes a good unique.

Be Unique. It’s right there in the name: in my game, your unique is really a one of a kind thing, and no be can take it from you. Make that count.

Go Big. No, bigger. Don’t fill this with a background. You lead a group? That’s noteworthy, and a nice background, but its not Unique material. You founded the group? Unless they’re taking over the Dragon Empire, it’s likely not important enough to skip into this slot. Also, don’t fill this with an icon relationship. You’re the Emperor’s son? That’s a relationship; make yourself the heir (and still, ask if that can be a relationship before eating your Unique!). You are the Priestess’ consort? Relationship; make yourself her True Love. But…

Don’t be an Icon’s kid. We’ve all seen that one (it was my first!), and you can do better. This applies to basically all “X’s Y” Uniques, where X is an icon and Y is a relationship we all know. Yes, “heir” and “True Love” are Ys, and are probably best avoided, because they simply aren’t good story creators1.

Live in the now. Uniques should focus on the part of the game that everyone is interested in: today. Did you get orphaned by an evil icon at a young age? Nice, but that is old news2. How does that make life different in tonight’s session? Similarly, don’t settle for a prophesy of future awesome, especially if the prophecy will mean that your unique is over (after, what are you left with?). Your best bet is to combine: this thing happened, and is still going on. This thing will happen, and here is who knows (and doesn’t). That gives your Unique context. Which brings us to…

Connect to the world. More ties into the world means more places where the GM can pull you into the action, and more times your unique can shine. Your Unique should be a reason that something happens that otherwise wouldn’t: you know that guy from way back, or read that thing, or built this castle, or whatever. It gives you some reason to be more than just another warm body filling out your party’s roster; it makes you a real part of the world, and makes the party seem like they have a history and a future that’s almost as interesting as the current session (but not more, or you’d be playing that session!).

Do a second draft. You can do better by tweaking something. Qualify to make it more specific. Emphasize to make it even bigger. Generalize to make it broader. Name something to make it more pointed.

A good Unique will make your character infinitely more fun to play, because it offers a simple test for every action: ”will this make the story of my Unique cooler?” If the answer is yes, then you should do that thing. A good GM will use this to pull you into a cycle where you do shenanigans to further your Unique and she pulls plots out of said shenanigans. A good party will throw you lots of opportunities to play up your Unique so that no one could possibly forget who you are. And you, the good player, will jump on all those chances, because the games that you remember are the ones where awesome characters did awesome things because it totally made sense for them to do it, and everyone knew it. That’s the goal, so use your Unique as a springboard to get there.

  1. unless you want to be kidnapped and held for random, I guess 

  2. and as such would make a good relationship or background