I have now read through the bulk of the 13th Age core rulebook, with only portions of the default setting and the magic items rules yet to go. I feel that’s enough to give an overall assessment, and while not a one of you asked for it, I’m going to anyway. 😛
I’d rather get the negatives out of the way first. I feel like there are a number of spots where the rules could have used clarification/editing/further examples. It took me a while to grok just how the ritual system works, for instance. I also feel like there’s an unfortunate lack of variety in some of the class’s spell selections, class selections, and the monsters, but those can, at least, be addressed in future books.
What do I like about 13th Age, then?
Damn near everything else. 😀
Narrative focus. Unique character plots. Flavorful uses for spells and rituals (and a game that encourages creative spell use, rather than a rigid "This is the only way the spell can work!" attitude). Simpler character options and combat than 3E or 4E, but not so much so that they’re uninteresting. Dramatic/descriptive rather than tactical combat. (Yes, for some players, that’s a bug. For me, it’s a feature. A gold-plated one, even.)
I love the free-form rulings. I love the "escalation die" mechanic. (No, really. Love.) I love triggered/flexible powers. I love some of the icons, and the concept of icons. I love the Overworld. I love the flexibility of the wizard’s non-combat spells (even if, as I said above, I’d like more variety in all manner of spells). I love "one unique thing." I love the incremental leveling. I love the lack of XP. I love the emphasis on describing/entertaining the table when casting spells or otherwise using an effect, as opposed to just "I cast [blah]." I love a game that admits to the fact that balance is an art, not a science, and cannot be exact, and thus doesn’t try to pretend that it can. I love how resurrection works–and how it doesn’t. 😈 I love the fact that, from the moment of character creation, the characters are influencing the campaign plot/world, even if only in small ways.
Is everything perfect? Of course not. There are definitely mechanical elements/aspects I wished worked differently here, or had been included there. A very few that I was unimpressed with.
But said imperfections are minimal, AFAIAC, compared to everything else.
I don’t know what D&D Next is going to look like, so I have no idea what I’ll think about it when it’s out. But for now, at least? If I was running a campaign starting next week, 13th Age–not 3E or 4E–would very likely be my "D&D" of choice.