Silver ENnie award winner for Best Rules; nominee for Best Game and Product of the Year. 13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming: Icon relationships and One Unique Things offer exciting storytelling possibilities Backgrounds provide a simple, flexible skill system drawn from characters’ personal histories Escalation dice enable fun, fast-moving d20 combat. Owlbears will rip PC’s limbs off to feed their young. Get your copy of 13th Age today at the Pelgrane Shop or your local game store. “13th Age RPG delivers an incredible fantasy storytelling experience.” – io9 “13th Age is, perhaps, the first d20 game that I’ve ever played that treats the game inside of combat and the game outside of combat with equal love, attention, and innovation.” – Dorkadia Learn more about 13th […]

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Pelgrane Press excitedly announces the next event in its Virtual Panel series: “How to Add Cthulhu To Your Fantasy Roleplaying Game” Extra special, dare we say legendary guest Sandy Petersen joins Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner to talk about the intersection between the fantastic and eldritch. From the literary roots laid down by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith to tentacled special attacks on your PCs, we’ve got you covered—in ichor! Join us live on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 5 pm Eastern.

To secure the event we provide the Zoom link on the #virtual_panels channel of Pelgrane’s Discord channel. If you’re not yet on the channel, get an invite link by sending a cheery note to Pelgrane administrative assistant and ghost-hunter Becky Smith at support@pelgranepress.com, with the subject line “Please send me a link to the Pelgrane Discord channel.”

The event will be recorded and later posted on Pelgrane Press’ YouTube channel.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logo“The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs.” – Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977)

“Books (including tomes, librams and manuals), artifacts, and relics are of ancient manufacture, possibly from superior human or demi-human technology, perhaps of divine origin; thus books, artifacts, and relics cannot be made by players and come only from the Dungeon Master.” – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979)

“Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery!”Thundarr the Barbarian (1980)

There’s a campaign I’d love to run someday that dives joyfully into the implications of an idea that’s been around since the beginning of the tabletop fantasy roleplaying hobby: that the characters explore and have adventures in a post-apocalyptic world built atop the ruins of long dead, highly advanced civilizations. The idea originated long before Gary Gygax, of course—his inspirations included M.A.R Barker’s world of Tékumel and Jack Vance’s Dying Earth—and is expressed today in RPGs such as Numenara from Monte Cook Games.

Post-apocalyptic adventure is already baked into 13th Age: the default setting has 12 previous ages, after all. But the default vibe is fantasy with bits of science fiction here and there, rather than the science fantasy campaign I’m imagining. So, how would I give 13th Age a strong “swords, super-science, and sorcery” feeling?

Here’s how I’d think about a post-apocalyptic science fantasy campaign, one that I’ll refer to in this post as Gamma Draconis.

The World

  • The world is old, and haunted by the ruins, relics, and memory of long-dead “Ancients”.
  • Many of the civilizations of the Ancients were incredibly advanced technologically, even by our standards.
  • The people of this world live amid the devastation of a global catastrophe that ended the most recent of the great civilizations hundreds or thousands of years ago.
  • The world feels weird: the sky is a strange color, the weather is dangerous and wildly unpredictable, and a lot of things are trying to kill you.
  • Monsters and humanoids are the result of genetic engineering, interplanetary travel, mutation, and extraterrestrial invasion.
  • The player characters are heroes who represent hope amid the tragedy and horror of this world.
  • Technology ranges from Stone Age (isolated wildlands dwellers, nomads of the irradiated wastes) to Iron Age (the largest and most prosperous cities).
  • People also make use of technology and magic which was created long ago, but which they no longer understand.
  • No distinction is made between science and magic; the two are ultimately indistinguishable.

The Icons

There are many options for icons in my imagined Gamma Draconis campaign. I’m drawn to the idea of using the icons in the 7 Icon Campaign from 13th Age Monthly adjusted to reflect a post-apocalyptic tone, and the mix of magic and far-future technology:

The Deathless Queen: A combination of the Diabolist and the Lich King, she rules a subterranean realm of the undead: once-living humanoids animated by technology and dark wizardry She has allied herself with malevolent beings known as demons, whose catastrophic arrival via portals (“hellholes”) from the dimension known as the Abyss destroyed the last great human civilization. The living in her realm endure her reign in terror and numb despair, or hope for the immortality that she alone can grant.

The Engineer: A combination of the Dwarf King and the Crusader, the Engineer sends his people out all over the world to slay demons and undead, and bring the ancient technology they guard back to the citadel of Forge to be studied and mastered.

I might give dwarf PCs, and/or PCs who have a relationship with the Engineer, the option to spend Background points on “Engineer”. This Background adds a bonus to figuring out relics, and a 5-point Engineer can try to repair or recharge broken or depleted relics.

The Invincible Emperor: A villainous merger of the Emperor and the Great Gold Wyrm, this cruel, decadent tyrant—an immortal being once human, now almost completely dragonic—rules the Dragon Empire from his throne in the Golden Citadel. His dragon-riding paladins enforce his will and crush his enemies.

The Hierophant: A combination of the Priestess and the Archmage, she is actually an ancient artificial intelligence that resides within the Cathedral—a massive structure that towers over Horizon, City of Wonders—where she is tended by her arcanite servants. She grants heroic clerics and wizards a portion of her power to help aid and protect the helpless. Her wards prevent demons and undead from ravaging across the land, for now.

The Three in Shadow: The slithering reptilian powers known as the Sorcerer Queen (the Blue), the Prince of Shadows (the Black), and the Great Beast (the Red) each prey on civilization in their own way, but are united in a powerful bond. For the desperate and downtrodden, their aid can be welcome—though it always comes with a hidden agenda.

The Warlord: Replacing the Orc Lord, the Warlord unites the creatures of the savage wastelands under his banner, and dreams of sitting on the Emperor’s golden throne. He might be a heroic rebel, or a Mad Max: Fury Road style villain—or something more abbiguous.

The Wild Queen: This combination of the Elf Queen and the High Druid is the soul of those wild, green places where beasts, trees, and elves dwell. Her elves embody three sorts of wild things: wildlife (wood elves), the wild cosmos (high elves), and the inner wild (drow).

Available PC Races

Any race could be in this campaign, either explained as mutations or genetic engineering, or simply allowed to be with no reason given—like everything else in this world they began sometime in the distant and mysterious past, and survive into the present. But here are the ones that feel right to me:

Human: unchanged.

Arcanite: Taken from the Book of Ages, these post-human servants of the Hierophant have been transformed by ongoing exposure to her arcane power. They look mostly human, but have odd cosmetic changes that mark them as something unusual—skin like polished silver, gemstones embedded in the face, glowing runes instead of eyes, and so on.

Beastblooded: Also from the Book of Ages, this race fills the role of part-human, part-beast people found in so many works of this genre.

Dwarf: The Engineer’s people. They might have originated in a long-ago age as an offshoot of humanity genetically engineered to operate in harsh environmental conditions.

Elf: Make them strange, and a little scary.

Forgeborn: The dwarves have figured out how to cobble together and reactivate ancient constructs from the parts they’ve found. Some are mindless machines; but others turn out to be, well, people.

Half-Elf: I might call them “elf-touched” or “Wild-touched” and have them be born to human parents in proximity to the Wild.

Lizardman: From Book of Ages. Monstrous characters who are extremely good at fighting are an excellent fit for this campaign! Dragonics and half-orcs definitely work, but I see a lot of potential in lizardfolk as the descendants of reptilian alien conquerors. Plus, I like their frenzy power—and the Epic tier feat that lets them move across water, up walls, and on ceilings makes them extra weird.

Space Fleet Explorer: From Book of Ages, these are stranded travelers from another universe who live in the hidden village of Commandule near Stardock. I would permit them as PCs very, very rarely because they actually understand the world they’re trapped in, and the items they encounter. I can see how it could be fun to have a character in the group who can say, “I think this is some kind of supercomputer,” but you miss out on the fun of Iron Age heroes trying to figure out a teleporter through trial and error.

Available PC Classes

I see no problem with including all of the classes from the 13th Age books published by Pelgrane Press, with any magic powers being the result of incredibly advanced technology or mutation (see below). I’m sure a lot of third-party classes also fit—some maybe exceptionally well.

Magic Items: Relics of the Forgotten Past

Long, long ago, the Ancients created wondrous items that can still be scavenged from ruins and wastelands. The knowledge of how to create these items—or even maintain and repair those that survived—is now lost, perhaps forever. It’s possible that people today use them in ways they were never intended: maybe the metal staff that fires a beam of killing light was originally some kind of cutting tool.

True Magic Items

In Gamma Draconis, “true magic items” are incredibly sophisticated relics that are virtually indestructible, and house powerful AIs capable of interfacing telepathically with those who are attuned to them. These relics form a network with other relics attuned to the same person. Perhaps the Ancients knew how to wield an unlimited number of relics, but in this post-apocalyptic world PCs are limited to a number of relics equal to their level. Go above that number and the telepathic AI network becomes so powerful they override the wielder’s own will and take control. Once a sufficient number of relics have been disconnected from the network, the user returns to normal. (Yes, this is identical to the game’s chakra system, just worded differently!)

One-Use Items

Other relics of past ages can only be used once, whether by design, degradation, or because nobody really understands how to properly use them. Potions, oils, and runes become wholly mysterious substances that take effect when ingested or applied to armor or weapons. Items such as the Mask of Face-swapping, Lighting Quagmire, and Featherlight Skirt become ancient devices activated by voice or touch. I would take a lot of these from the lists of consumable items in Book of Loot and Loot Harder for these relics.

Limited-Use Items

Depending on the kind of campaign you want to run, there could be a third type of relic between the (almost) indestructible true magic items, and one-use consumables. These relics degrade with use until they become junk—though the heroes might be able to find a powerful wizard/technologist who’s capable of repairing or recharging them, or scavenge a new power source from a ruin.

Here are three options to handle relic degradation mechanically:

Charges: When the heroes find a relic, a player rolls to see how many uses it has left. The GM assigns a die to the relic based on how well it’s been preserved, from 1d4 to 1d20. The relic has a number of uses equal to the result of the roll, and the player using it keeps track.

Escalation Roll: The method comes from the Book of Ages for 13th Age. After each battle, roll a d20; if the result is equal to or lower than the value of the escalation die at the end of the battle, the relic is broken, burned out, or otherwise permanently rendered useless.

Durability Roll: This method is adapted from Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, published by Gallant Knight Games. The GM assigns the relic a Durability score from 1 to 5, with 5 representing a fully charged and functional relic. When the GM calls for a Durability Roll, the player rolls a d6 and compares the result to that score. On a result of less than or equal to that number, the item doesn’t deteriorate with use. A result higher than the Durability score means the relic’s Durability is reduced by 1. Once a relic’s Durability score reaches zero, it is unusable. How often the GM calls for Durability Rolls depends on how unforgiving they want their setting to be, ranging from once per use to once per adventure.

Spellcasting

If “magic” items are actually advanced technology, how do you account for spellcasting? Any or all of these might be sources of spellcasting power in a science fantasy campaign:

Icons: Elevate the icons to near-godlike beings enhanced by ancient technology, mutation, or both, and have them bestow a portion of their power on certain followers, allies, and agents.

Alien gods and demons: Spellcasters are in contact with immensely powerful, inscrutable being from other dimensions of reality, which this benighted age calls gods and demons. Invoking the names of these beings enables you to wrap reality to your will.

Mutation: Some are born with special abilities which they can learn to channel to wondrous and devastating effect. There might be remote villages that consist entirely of such people, or they might be born seemingly at random from otherwise unremarkable parents.

Technology: The ancients left behind relics that can permanently change those who use them: substances that rewrite DNA, scrolls that reconfigure the brain, and microscopic nanotechnology that can be controlled and commanded by those who have learned the secret.

Invisible servitors: “Spells” are effects produced by near-omnipotent invisible beings whom the caster has learned to command or persuade. They could be other-dimensional creatures, energy constructs created by the ancients, powerful machines buried deep within the earth that can turn thought into reality (see the machines of the Krell in the movie Forbidden Planet), or something entirely different and surprising.

Monsters

Honestly, pretty much anything goes here. I would probably reskin monsters from mythology to feel more alien—reptilian centaurs, redcaps that are murderous psionic mutants, ogre magi reinterpreted as other-dimensional aliens (which they pretty much already are), and so on.

What Else?

If you’ve run anything like this, or have other ideas, I hope you’ll share them in the 13th Age Facebook group or on the Pelgrane Press Discord. (If you aren’t on the Discord, you can get an Invite link by dropping us a line at support@pelgranepress.com and asking for one.)

“Wade Says” designer symbol by Regina Legaspi

Art from The Dying Earth Revivification Folio by Ralph Horsley and Jérôme Huguenin


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

13th Age designer Rob Heinsoo takes you on a tour of the monsters he has known and loved throughout his gaming career, before finally naming on a particularly powerful and clever adversary as his favorite monster.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

13th Age permits players to take negative relationships with Icons, to define their characters in opposition to these mighty foes. Sometimes, though, it’s tricky to reconcile that opposition with the mechanical benefits of icons. It’s easy to justify getting a benefit from a positive or conflicted relationship – I’m a loyal follower of the Crusader, so sometimes I get help from the Crusader and his allies. It’s easy, too, to come up ways to involve enemies of the evil icons – I’m a foe of the Crusader – so sometimes I get help from the Priestess or the Great Gold Wyrm.

However, it can be a bit harder to come up with foes of the good or neutral Icons on the fly – especially if your players don’t want to ally with evil forces. Who stands against the Archmage, the Priestess, or the Great Gold Wyrm, but isn’t in league with darkness?

Archmage

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: High Druid, Elf Queen

  • Champions of nature, who object to the Archmage’s cavalier manipulation of the cosmic order.
  • Survivors of magical experiments gone awry.
  • Renegade spellcasters, who chafe under the Archmage’s strangehold on magical research.
  • Rival powers like the Elf Queen or the Diabolist, who have their own claims on magical authority that clashes with the Archmage’s domain.
  • Thieves or spies investigating the Archmage’s operations.
  • Magic-hating dwarves.
  • Spirits trying to escape magical bindings or wards.
  • Wizard King loyalists insulted by this pretender to the title

Dwarf King

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Elf Queen, Prince of Shadows

  • Miners or adventurers objecting to the Dwarf King’s claim on all underground riches
  • Elves pressing the ancient rivalry with the dwarves
  • Robin Hood-esque brigands fighting dwarven mercantilist hegemony
  • Ambitious dwarven nobles or oppressed dwarven commoners plotting against the king

Elf Queen

Iconic Enemies: Dwarf King

  • Folk of Drakkenhall, who want to expand into territory claimed by the Queen
  • Dwarves pressing the ancient rivalry with the elves
  • Foes of the Dark Elves
  • Common folk who’ve been bewitched/abducted/enchanted by wayward fae
  • Agents of the Archmage, who seek magical powers forbidden by the Queen

Emperor

Non-evil Iconic Enemies:-

  • Revolutionaries and the unjustly accused, fighting against the oppressive state
  • True allies of the Emperor, conspiring against the evil nobles and advisors who’ve led the Emperor astray, or who use the Emperor’s name to further their own selfish ends
  • Enemies of corrupt officials
  • Separatists from the Empire’s remote provinces who plot to secede from Axis
  • Champions of some higher cause or calling than mere mortal law

Great Gold Wyrm

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: –

  • Well-meaning monks who believe it’s time for the Great Gold Wyrm to finally move on to the afterlife.
  • Unwilling heroes tormented by maddening dreams sent by the Wyrm.
  • Foes of corrupt or crazed paladins.
  • Heroic dragons who seek to replace the Wyrm; as long as the Wyrm remains trapped in the mouth of the Abyss, there’s no-one to counterbalance the threat of the Three

High Druid

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Archmage, Emperor

  • Civilisation in all its forms – wood-cutters and farmers, scholars and city-builders, road-makers and hunters
  • Alchemists seeking curative ingrediants in the woods
  • Foes of the former High Druid, who fear the new Druid will prove as monstrous as her predecessor
  • Rival druids who seek to challenge the High Druid, and must weaken her first
  • Sages and spellcasters who fear the High Druid will endanger the Empire by breaking protective magical wards.

Priestess

Iconic Enemies: –

  • Servants of the Dark Gods, who believe the Priestess threatens cosmic balance by favouring the Light.
  • Servants of certain Light Gods, who believe the Priestess threatens cosmic balance by secretly favouring the Dark
  • People who just think anyone that nice must be up to something.
  • Those who feel that whatever divine penance or punishment they suffered was too harsh.
  • Merchants and nobles who aren’t evil, per se, but who’d like a little moral flexibility
  • Hard-as-nails adventurers who know that, sometimes, you have to be do cruel things for the greater good, and so are at odds with the Priestess and her followers

Prince of Shadows

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Archmage, Dwarf King

  • The authorities in any city, cracking down on the Prince’s criminal empire
  • Victims of the Prince’s schemes
  • Rival criminals, taking their shot at the Prince.
  • Thief-takers and agents sent to recover stolen goods.

In a virtual version of their popular 13th Age Monster Design Workshop, Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW and Wade Rockett explore principles of F20 monster design and, based on audience suggestions, spitball a joy-eating fungal threat.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logoAlso, check out Robin D. Laws’ “9 Tips for Remote Tabletop RPG Play”.

Greetings, fellow dungeon dwellers! Today, I wanted to talk about playing 13th Age on the Roll20 virtual tabletop. However! Because I’m a Roll20 noob, I asked Aaron Roudabush, the master of 13th Age online play, to share some tips.

You can purchase three 13th Age adventures on Roll20—as of today Pelgrane Press has made one free to purchase (forever!), and the others 20% off through September 2020.

Make Your Own Luck (free forever): a stand-alone adventure which also works as a prequel to the megadungeon campaign Eyes of the Stone Thief. Includes 3 full color maps, 20 unique character tokens, 12 pregenerated characters using the official 13th Age character sheet, and a PDF of the adventure, as well as handouts within Roll20 to help both players and GMs who are new to Roll20 or 13th Age.

Shadows of Eldolan (20% off through September): an introductory 13th Age adventure for 1st level heroes that provides a GM with a partially fleshed-out town setting full of intrigue. Includes 11 full color maps, 38 unique character tokens, 12 pregenerated characters, and 19 handouts written and organized specifically for the Roll20 edition. A PDF of the adventure is also included.

Swords Against the Dead (also 20% off through September): a quick-start zombie-fighting adventure with multiple possible paths. Includes 6 maps complete with Dynamic Lighting and support for Advanced Fog of War, macros for all combat NPCs, for instant automatic rolls, statted token art for every character and monster, 6 pre-gen characters with variants, the full adventure broken out into easy handouts and folders for whatever direction the players go.

Aaron’s Roll20 13th Age GM Tips:

If you’re using maps, you don’t need to use the grid Roll20 defaults to. You can turn it off in the settings for each individual page. However, keeping the grid on helps you size tokens equally, so take advantage of that. Turning it off and on again only takes a moment so use what best suits your immediate need. I turn the grid on to place tokens, but then turn it off for gameplay.

Macros help! You can learn more about them here: https://roll20.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360037256794-Macros. You can use macros as part of your character sheets, but they can also be useful on their own. Sometimes you just need to roll a d20 or d6 or any other dice, such as when you take impromptu damage from skill challenges or when you are simulating gambling in-game. Especially helpful is the Rolling a Macro with a Variable section, which is great for GMs to do their attack rolls. Additional bonus: any macro you make as a GM can be shared with the players, so they can use it too—just scroll down on the macro creation popup. Just don’t forget to show the macro quick bar, and check each macro you want to use.

You can place maps or tokens on multiple visible levels. Take advantage of this. Do you need to put a token to represent a torch on the map but don’t want to accidentally move it around? Put it on the map level and not the token level. Have monsters waiting to ambush the characters, but don’t want to spend time dragging the tokens onto the map from your library or journal? Just set them up ahead of time and put them on the GM-only level. If you’re using fog of war, you can also hide these monsters in there until they need to be used. Do you need to have a “before” and “after” map, such as when you need to show the aftermath of an explosion or rockslide? Put the after map on the GM-only level and right click to change its layer.

You might know that you can designate a token to represent a particular character in the Journal—but did you know you can set that token up so you can immediately show its HP and recoveries as well as other attributes? To do this, set up the token on the play space. Drag your image onto the page, then double click it to bring up the Edit Token page. Use the drop down on the left to select the character it represent. On the right, you can then pick things for the bars to represent. If you’re using the official 13th Age character sheet, you can easily set the bars to show HP and Recoveries (listed as “rec” in the dropdown). But you can use the bars for more as well, such as rogue’s momentum, commander’s command points, and so on. Once you’ve set up the token to your liking, save the changes and close the Edit Token page. Then open up the associated character’s page. Select the Edit button at the top right. On the left, you’ll see an area called “Default Token (optional)”. Select the token, then click the “Use Selected Token” button. Now, you can drag the character from the Journal page onto a page and it will have all the correct information you’ve set up every time. It sounds like a lot of work for not much reward, but it saves time and effort for me every game.

To roll initiative using the official 13th Age sheet select your token, then click the Initiative button on the character sheet. You will save yourself a lot of errors if you remember this.

As a GM you can drag the views of all the players to a specific point by using shift + long left click. Extremely useful if you have a big map or need to draw attention to something on an area players might not be looking at.

I almost always make a setting or world map page for my campaigns, then use an abstract token to show players where they are in the grand scheme of things. I take players back to this page if they’re not anywhere specific or if they’re traveling, much like the map scenes in an Indiana Jones movie. This page is also useful if players need to test out tokens or if you, as the GM, need to do the same. If you don’t need a map, put down something else! A landscape or piece of action packed art can set the scene for everybody and get them in the right mood.

Even if you don’t use maps, you don’t have to use a blank page, either. Get a landscape or picture which represents the location your players are in. A blank white screen is very likely to make people’s attention wander away from the screen to check email or social media or whatnot. Something visually stimulating they can focus on helps alleviate that issue.

Watch Aaron run 13th Age at Roll20con 2016:

“Wade Says” designer symbol by Regina Legaspi


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan writes game books meant to be turned into wide-screen adventures. Book of the Underworld goes one better: the sunbearer golems who march an endless path through the four warring Kingdoms of the Mechanical Sun aren’t just made for cinema, they’d also work splendidly as the subject of a area-control and route-carving wargame!

In Gareth’s words: “In ages past, the dwarves forged the Mechanical Sun. This incredible artifact is a globe of crystallized flame, which sheds warmth and light in the same manner as the surface sun. Four golden golems carry the globe, marching tirelessly through the underworld like artificial Koru behemoths. The golems’ path is marked by magical waystones, which can be adjusted to change the sun’s speed and direction.”

Warring underground kingdoms fighting over waystone locations! Costly rituals to reroute the golems, with your results not clear until the golems pass that waystone again! I want to design this game now.

Here are a couple illustrations that capture the feel of this dream-boardgame and that show how inspired the artists were by Gareth’s story. The illustration above, by Rich Longmore, shows the four golden golems carrying the Mechanical Sun. The illustration below, by Roena I. Rosenberger, shows a noble warrior from the Queendom of Voth, one of the four Kingdoms of the Mechanical Sun, where light is the most precious magic.

Book of the Underworld is on pre-order and in the middle of layout. The fully laid-out version will be available through the pre-order soon.

Pre-order now

chaos symbolWhen you need a new monster in 13th Age, customizing an existing monster is a great option. For this post, we’ll turn an existing monster—the human thug—into a variety of guards from across the Dragon Empire by adding a single, distinctive special ability.

Player characters in 13th Age (and almost every other RPG) tend to go places someone else doesn’t want them to be in. As a result, they often encounter guards. Guards are monsters whose job is to keep watch in a certain area, determine whether or not Waldo the Wizard belongs there, and if not, eliminate Waldo as a problem.

As a city adventure, Crown of Axis—which I’m currently writing—needs more than the usual number of guards. They’re everywhere, from the Palaces to Rabbleward and every neighborhood in between. However, populating the city with only one kind of guard doesn’t feel fun or interesting. My solution was to create baseline humanoid stats for different roles that guards might have in a battle (bumbling mooks, competent leaders, and terrifying brutes), and create special abilities that give them the flavor of whichever part of Axis they’re in. Rabbleward cops fight dirty. Goldring and Upside security forces deliver savage beatdowns that send a message to would-be trespassers. Palace guards know exactly when something’s not quite right along their well-traveled patrol routes.

Normally in adventures we provide icon-themed options for reskinning monsters, and I do that with other monsters in Crown of Axis. But because I see all guard-type monsters in Axis as linked to the Emperor, I decided that the major differences between them would be rooted in their location and function.

For the show-and-tell portion of this blog post, I’ll have a go at reskinning the human thug from the 13th Age core book. Here’s the original writeup:

Human Thug

1st level troop [humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Heavy mace +5 vs. AC—4 damage

Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming, it’s not a secret.)

AC 17

PD 14    HP 27

MD 12

Getting Started: What’s Your Deal?

The first thing I do when I’m creating or customizing a monster is to figure out what their deal is. Knowing this helps me design abilities that create a distinctive experience for the players when their PCs fight that monster. I’ll ask questions like:

  • What word or short phrase best describes its nature? Loyal? Cowardly? Honorable? Cunning? Cruel? A vessel for a greater power?
  • What’s its purpose? Defend its territory? Protect someone, something, or some place? Keep the peace? Accumulate treasure? Feed?
  • How does it fulfill that purpose successfully?
  • Does it do this for itself, or for someone/something else? Who or what is that?

For example, in my version of Axis:

  • Upside security forces are reliable professionals, tasked by their clients with protecting the property of the upper classes in Axis. They succeed by working as a team to beat the crap out of unwanted outsiders before handing them over to the Imperial Home Guard.
  • Rabbleward cops are corrupt bullies, tasked by the government with keeping the poor and marginalized in the district under control. They succeed through terror, by inflicting horrible pain and injury on their enemies.

This process applies to other kinds of monsters. If I were designing a Martian spider, I might decide it’s a ferocious beast whose purpose is to capture and eat prey, and to protect its hundreds of eggs from predators. It does this by spinning multidimensional webs that can entangle and daze creatures, which it then kills with its mandibles.

Sample guards

Let’s pick a few major spots around the Dragon Empire, and give our human thug special abilities to reflect their location and role. I’ll include my answers to the who, what, why, etc. of the monster, and some notes on how I turned that into an ability. In almost every case I used an existing monster ability, reskinned for the guard.

Shadow Port Thieves’ Guild Sentry

WADE THINKS: “This is a cunning rogue tasked by the Guild to defend its headquarters from intruders. It accomplishes this through stealth and surprise. When I search the core book for the word ‘surprise’, I find the gargoyle’s statues, statues, everywhere ability. Yoinked!”

Softly, softly: Think those guards stationed at the door are the Guild’s first line of defense? Nah, mate. The real guards wait in the shadows to ambush you before you even get close. PCs must make a Wis skill check (DC 20) to avoid being surprised (see 13th Age core book page 164).

Glitterhaegen Bodyguard

WADE THINKS: “This is a grim professional tasked by a client to keep someone safe. It does this by putting its body between whoever it’s protecting and whatever’s attacking. Hmm, maybe I can adapt the skeletal hound’s skilled intercept.”

Protect the client: Once per round as a free action, an engaged bodyguard can automatically pop free from one enemy without taking an attack of opportunity and intercept an enemy who is moving to attack one nearby ally. Other enemies engaged with the bodyguard can take attacks of opportunity.

Frost Range Shrine Guardian

WADE THINKS: “This is a spiritual warrior tasked by the priesthood to protect a sacred place from desecration. It does this by making itself a vessel for the power of the gods of the frozen North. I imagine this power growing like a blizzard or encroaching ice, and the escalation die makes a great timer. If I were doing this for a book, I’d definitely ask a developer to check the math and make sure I haven’t made this monster too fearsome, or not fearsome enough.”

Spirits of the ice: The Frost Range shrine guardian adds cold damage equal to the escalation die to the damage from heavy mace. (This ability replaces the +6 damage that follows a natural even hit or miss.)

Guardian of the Golden Citadel

WADE THINKS: “This is a penitent knight tasked by the Great Gold Wyrm to keep vigil in the ruins of the Golden Citadel, slaying monsters and testing pilgrims in battle. It does this through self-sacrifice. If it’s paying a penalty to access an attack, that attack should be pretty good. Maybe I’ll give this attack an automatic success, like the despoiler mage’s magic missile attack, but keep the amount of damage the same as heavy mace.”

Penitent: The first time the guardian becomes staggered, the guardian can make a Penitenziagite attack on their next turn.

[special trigger] R: Penitenziagite (one nearby or far away enemy)—both the target and the guardian take 4 automatic damage
Limited use: 1/battle

Highdock Ranger

“This is a courageous wilderness fighter tasked by a fellowship of rangers to roam far and wide across the Highdock mountain range—a place that attracts and sometimes spawns flying realms—keeping the peace and repelling invaders. It does this using weapons it’s found while exploring crashed flying realms. Highdock, and flying realms in general, call for weirdness; so I’ll create an ability that uses a random table to generates bonuses, penalties, and special effects.”

Sky realm weapon: Highdock rangers’ weapons are strange items they’ve found in flying realms. In addition to the +6 heavy mace damage that follows a natural even hit or miss, the attack does something unusual. Roll a d6 on the following table:

  1. At the beginning of its next turn, the ranger disappears with a faint pop and the weapon falls to the ground. If the PCs ever journey to Moonwreck, they find the ranger’s skeleton lying on the tundra.
  2. The ranger is surrounded by a glittering halo. Ranged attacks against the ranger get a +1 bonus until the end of the ranger’s next turn.
  3. The air is filled with butterflies made of rainbow light. They have no substance and disappear at the end of the battle.
  4. Dark clouds form in the sky overhead. Participants hear ominous peals of thunder, and see weird lights moving within the clouds. The effects disappear at the end of the battle.
  5. The target is surrounded by a glittering halo. Ranged attacks against the target get a +1 bonus (normal save ends).
  6. The ranger’s weapon emits a deafening chime. All nearby enemies must make a normal save or take a -1 to their attacks until the end of their next turn.

13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Crown of Axis arena. Wade’s request for a cover image featuring two powerful female gladiators had been executed in style by Aaron McConnell:

original sketch

For a change, Aaron decided to hand-paint the piece, old school instead of digital. That turned out to create a delivery problem. At first, the paints wouldn’t dry. Well, they dried a bit, but the yellow was taking a loooooong time. Then Aaron’s scanner tech couldn’t pick up the colors he’d painted with properly. Neither could Aaron’s photos.

drying on the easel

So Aaron went over to Lee Moyer’s house, since they were working together on a different project and Lee has a Serious Scanner. And if you know Lee, you know Lee’s super-power—he had suggestions. They got the piece scanned and then worked together on the paints, turning a high-noon situation into an evening showdown. Aaron held onto the piece for another couple weeks, but he has overcome separation anxiety and is calling it done!

Crown of Axis cover by Aaron McConnell, with paints assist by Lee Moyer

 

 

Vikings tradingA while back I asked members of the 13th Age Facebook group what they’d like to see from a future 13th Sage column. Longtime community member Antonio Eleuteri asked for suggestions on running a “mythic Viking campaign”, and I’ve been giving that a lot of thought ever since. Today I’m going to take a stab at that topic.

Disclaimers: this is just how I, personally, would start to think about  running a mythic Viking game of 13th Age. It’s not 13th Age: The Viking Supplement! Also, I suspect Antonio is actually more qualified than I am to write about this particular topic, so I apologize in advance if this is a terrible disappointment to him. Not only are there folks out there who know a lot more than I do about the Viking age and Norse mythology, there are those for whom this is their living religion.

Resources

The first thing I’d do, naturally is educate myself about the Viking era and the various forms a mythic Viking 13th Age game could take. Here are a few books I’d check out:

HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook for AD&D 2e

Northlands for Pathfinder 1e

Mythic Iceland for Basic Role Playing

GURPS Vikings

The Mythic North

To me the word “mythic” says that my game will draw upon the folklore, culture, and history of the North Germanic and/or Icelandic peoples of the Early Middle Ages, but it should feel to the players as though their characters live within that culture’s myths—their stories about gods, demigods, monsters, and supernatural heroes. Everything the heroes do should feel larger than life, and part of a larger cosmos where all paths lead eventually to Ragnarok.

The mythic nature of the setting, characters, and events means I’m going to use 13th Age Glorantha heavily, and loosely base the campaign world on the actual historical Viking era. A character might stride into a mead-hall in Sweden and end up arm wrestling a mysterious one-eyed stranger who later reveals himself to be Odin.

Icons, Runes, and Rune Magic

One obvious approach to icons would be to use allegiance to one or more gods as icon relationships. However, instead of icons I think I’d use the rune mechanics from 13th Age Glorantha, perhaps with the 24 Elder Fúþark runes in Mythic Iceland.

During character creation, each player chooses three runes for their character that are deeply significant to them—perhaps related to the god their character is devoted to, an important background, or their One Unique Thing. These three runes, magically embodying concepts such as fire, death, truth, and wealth, aren’t just resources the characters are connected to: they are, in a cosmic sense, the essence of the character.

Whenever heroes take a full heal-up, each of them becomes attuned to one of their runes. To see which rune their character is attuned to that day, they roll a d6. On a 1, 2, or 3, they’re attuned to their first, second, or third rune, respectively. On a 4–6, roll they randomly on a table to see which of the full list of existing runes they’re attuned to, even if it’s not one of their personal three.

Runes are used by narrating them during the game to affect the story in a way that benefits the heroes. For a mythic Viking game,  I might interpret this as heroes using rune magic as described in Mythic Iceland—thus highlighting the fact that these are mythic characters in a mythic world. In that book, each rune has a “narrative magic use” section that can provide inspiration for what the use of that rune looks like in this game.

Rune magic would probably take place outside of combat and its effects would look more like a cantrip or a ritual than a spell. For example:

  • A rogue using the Kaun rune (associated with fire) might cause a spark from a woodfire to set a hall ablaze.
  • A barbarian using the Þurs rune magic to gain protection from enemies might slow the advance of an oncoming army, or diminish their forces by causing them to be attacked by wild creatures along the way.
  • A commander could use the magic of their Yr rune, associated with death, by delivering a thundering speech before a battle against mighty foes, describing how their bodies will lie strewn upon the ground to be food for wolves and ravens. The GM might decide that fulfilling this curse and slaying every enemy on the battlefield grants the heroes an incremental advance at the end of the battle.

The GM rolls a d20 when the character uses rune magic, and on a result of 1-5 adds a complication.

Available PC Races

  • Humans
  • Beastblooded (Book of Ages, p. 77)
  • High elves (known as Ljósálfar or “light elves”) who dwell in Álfheim
  • Dwarves, who dwell deep in the Earth
  • Half-elves and half-orcs, both reskinned as “trollkin”—a term I’m borrowing from Northlands that encompasses the offspring of ogres, trolls, elves, and other fey creatures who’ve taken humans as husbands or wives.

Available PC Classes

  • Any class from 13th Age Glorantha (Troll Warrior becomes Trollkin Warrior)
  • Barbarian
  • Bard (the Battle Skald talent is encouraged!)
  • Commander
  • Fighter
  • Ranger
  • Rogue

The World

Midgard, one of the Nine Worlds, is the realm of mortals, and where most of your adventures will take place. It’s surrounded by a huge, impassable ocean, and encircled by the titanic World Serpent.

Travel to other worlds is possible via Yggsrasil, the World Tree—but travel on the tree is an adventure in itself, due to the monsters and other mythic beings that dwell in it. How one gets onto the path can be the object of a quest in itself: maybe through sacrifices to the proper gods, the acquisition of certain magic rings, or tricking the guardian of a portal.

Magic Items

I would give all true magic items names and a lineage. Who made them (almost always the dwarves), and for whom? What heroes and villains have wielded them in the past? What fate befell them?

I might consider making them all cursed somehow, so that most people avoid them out of fear. But our heroes, who fear nothing, gladly take them up—even though one day, something bad will happen as a result. It’s just a matter of when.

Foes

The giants will fight against the gods at the end of all things, so I suspect they’re recurring and climactic villains. Other foes include dragons, troll raiders, human clans and kingdoms, hostile elves and dwarves, the restless dead, and ravening Grendel-type monsters who emerge from the world’s dark places to prey upon the innocent.

Ben Naylor’s Mythic Viking Campaign

13th Age fan Ben Naylor is currently running a mythic Viking campaign, and has shared some of his notes in the 13th Age Facebook group. Here are a few glimpses he’s provided over time.

Ben’s reskinned classes include:

  • Paladin (Doomsayer of Tyr)
  • Bard  (Galdr, using the mythkenner feat to morph into a runecaster. No songs, just rune casting.)
  • Barbarian (Berserkir, with a bit of Fire Jotun blood, so it has a fire-related talent)
  • Ranger (Fardrengir, a wandering Norse hunter)

The icons are based on gods and monsters: Aesir, Vanir, Fenris, Gorgamund, etc. Characters earn their icon rolls by roleplaying as heroic Vikings performing mighty, courageous deeds as they explore North Norway during the coming of Fimbulwinter.

To make the game more deadly, Ben swapped the recovery mechanic with a rune point economy, where physical runes enable a recovery. It’s so deadly, in fact, that one of the character aims is a heroic death in battle, giving the character a place in Valhalla (or other desired destination in the afterlife). If a player gives their character a good death fighting heroically in battle, their next character will be more favored by the gods. In Ben’s game this means unlocking special backgrounds and PC races.

A player who chooses to give their character a heroic death activates a Heroic Death ability which gives them special powers as they make their last stand: things like refreshing some of their daily powers and granting their allies a bonus by inspiring them to fight harder. If the character somehow fails to die, there’s a cost: maiming, a wound which doesn’t heal, or some advantage given to the kin of their foe.

Image: Calling of Vikings,’ by Viktor Vasnetsov, early 1900s – Credit: WikiPaintings


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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