I finished my read through of the 13th Age Beta rules. I have to say that I'm really interested in this game. My brain already started to ponder how to set up encounters, adventures, and campaign arcs the more of this I got through.
In general, it feels a good bit like 4th edition, but that's kind of misleading. It's not simulationist, and it's not a full bore narrative system (definitely less so than Marvel Heroic, for example). However, it's a lot more narrative and story based than 4th edition, and does not require a map at all. To me, this is a huge plus, but I'll avoid that for now.
There are several narrative based mechanics that "sort of" have a mechanical effect that might come up once in a while, but there aren't really examples of how this might come up. While I can understand leaving the whole range of imagination open, but like DCC RPG, some examples (such as DCC gives for fighters) might not be bad, even if they stress that the examples aren't the only things that can happen.
Lasting injuries aren't really that exciting. I was hoping that lasting injuries would be more like the injuries in Dragon Age (the original video game, not the table top), where you could drop to 0 hit points, come back, but you would have an "issue" of some kind until you could get a remedy for that specific injury, but it didn't affect your hit points.
I think a system like this would be great for lasting injuries, curses, or illnesses. I get that heroes can often get up after being beaten down and handle the next fight, but lasting afflictions of the above nature are also fantasy tropes, even in heroic fantasy. They don't have to hamstring the character, but if they had some kind of effect, it would be nice.
Incremental advances are meant to be a "stop gap" to give your players something after a session even if they haven't leveled up, but they almost seemed more confusing and to cause more fiddly stuff to track between sessions. Especially given the fact that the book has no real set advancement rate, having jettisoned XP (which I actually kind of like).
The following con is only because this element is something that really seemed to have potential: the monk is not going to be included in the core book because the development team wants to spend more time tweaking it. I will say this, it felt much more like a martial arts class that previous monks I've seen. Long story short, monk powers were divided into opening moves, a transitioning move of some sort, and a finishing move. You could use opening moves whenever you wanted, but transition moves could only be used after an opening move, and finishing moves could only be used after a transition move. It sounded like a lot of fun.
However, I did just read that anyone that pre-ordered the game will get a PDF of the class from the final product that it appears in.
I touched on this a while back in a post, but I'm really liking the condensed level progression. Levels range from 1-10, with the tiers broken up into 1-4/5-7/8-10. It keeps the "feel" of progressing in levels and getting better and better, and moving from being a person with potential to being a near demi-god, but without a lot of the filler levels in between.
Abstract movement is another thing I love. You are Far Away, Nearby, and if you are Nearby, you might be engaged. If you aren't engaged, and someone tries to engage one of your buddies, you can interpose and force them to engage you instead. You have to have a move action to engage or disengage, and to reach someone Far Away you have to spend a whole round moving. I love it.
Rituals are one of those things that I mentioned as being narrative that might have some kind of rules effect, but are left pretty wide open. That having been said, I love the idea. Essentially, you pick one of your daily spells to give up, gather a bunch of stuff, potentially spend some gold and make a check, and in the end, you come up with some magical effect that is appropriate for your level and the spell you gave up.
It's very free-form, and a nice addition to this system is that spellcasters can't do exactly the same ritual more than once. So if you have an idea to solve a problem in one adventure, and use a ritual to do it, you can't expect to "spam" that ritual to solve every similar problem.
Relationship dice are a neat mechanic that are designed to tie a character to the setting. In the default setting, there are "Icons," important NPCs that are the movers and shakers of the world, and your dice show how closely tied to them you are, and in what manner (positive, negative, or conflicted). Once or twice a session you can make a roll on your relationship dice to see if they help you out. You either get no effect, a positive effect, or a "messy" success. Plus, if your relationship is negative, even a good result means that you might have garnered negative attention from your adversarial Icon.
When creating characters, each player is suppose to come up with "one unique thing." You can be fairly wild with these. They aren't suppose to have much of a game mechanic use, but help explain who your character is and give you an oddball thing that just might be helpful in some weird corner case that will make for a memorable session. For example, you might be a human, but make your "one unique thing" that you were cursed to be a cat for a few years, and out of the blue you might be able to understand when some cat is agitated to give you a clue, but you may also never get along with any dogs you run into . . . it's another example of one of those narrative based things in the game that I really like, but want to see a few more examples of from actual players.
The setting is actually more compelling than I thought it would be. It's simple, but that's the point. Lots of things are spelled out in vague terms, which are just detailed enough to be interesting and able to be developed, but not quite detailed enough that you get the idea that you might be doing it wrong if you provide too many of your own details. It's the level of detail I wish WOTC's points of light default had, instead of vague "we're going to constantly reference it, but never connect any dots at all" hints we got in a lot of 4e products.
Finally, I was a big fan of the "inside baseball" candid comments in the book that had to do with the preferences of the developers and their differences as well. It went a long way towards making the game feel like it's meant to be played and tweaked and enjoyed, not that there is One True Way to Fun, as some of the initial 4e marketing seemed to imply.
All in all, really interested to see how this develops, even if the monk won't be ready in the final version of the rules.