The wicker golem appears in Shards of the Broken Sky, where it’s one of several golems performing various magical maintenance functions. But its inspiration, of course, is the 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man—making it a great monster for a creepy adventure set deep in the High Druid’s woods, where the people still hold fast to the Old Ways…

Pre-order Shards of the Broken Sky and download the PDF right away!

Wicker Golem

It burns well, you’d just better hope you are not inside it at the time. Some use wicker golems as a means of capturing rather than killing, others to sacrifice their enemies mid-battle.

Huge 0 level wrecker [CONSTRUCT]Initiative: +4
Vulnerability: fire

Wicker hands +5 vs. AC (two attacks)—5 damage. If at least one attack hits a target, the target is grabbed.

Entrap: If a grabbed target does not escape the grab by the end of its next turn, the golem stuffs the target into its body cavity. Once a target is in the golem’s body cavity, it moves with the golem until it escapes and is stuck, dazed, and unable to affect anything except the wicker golem. The target also takes any fire damage the wicker golem takes. If the target deals 5 or more damage with an attack, the golem’s body cavity briefly pops open and the target can make a disengage check to try to escape.

Golem immunity: Wicker golems are immune to effects. They can’t be dazed, weakened, confused, made vulnerable, or touched by ongoing damage (except fire damage).

Burning man: Whenever the wicker golem takes fire damage, it also takes 5 ongoing fire damage. While the wicker golem takes ongoing fire damage, a natural even hit with wicker hands does the same amount of ongoing fire damage to its target.

Deliberate conflagration: If the golem has an enemy trapped inside, it may set itself on fire (5 ongoing fire damage) at any time.

Blood sacrifice: If a non-mook creature is reduced to 0 hp while within the golem’s body cavity, the golem immediately heals to 55 hp.

AC 14
PD 14 HP 55
MD 10


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.

We’re happy to announce we’re once again taking part in Free RPG Day 2019 on Saturday, June 15th, and this year’s free Pelgrane giveaway features adventures for the forthcoming The Yellow King RPG and 13th Age.

The Yellow King RPG – The Doors to Heaven

Behind Iron Doors, a Gateway to Doom!

Paris, 1895. A sensation-seeking band of art students confronts supernatural invasion from an alien realm. A play called The King in Yellow circulates in the city’s secret, decadent circles, twisting the ordinary and corrupting the sacred. In the students’ latest case, a fellow student’s disappearance draws them to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Legend claims that its iron doors were sculpted through a pact with the devil. Behind this tale the investigators uncover a stranger truth, replete with hooded figures, an unearthly plague, and the terrifying creatures that inspired the gargoyles.

 

13th Age RPG – Assault on the Dungeon of the Pogonomancer

The renegade dwarf wizard has returned from exile, and now his army of thralls lays siege to the fortress of his ancestors. Doom and kinstrife threaten the lands of the dwarves! There’s but one chance – if a small band of heroic adventurers can brave the passage of the Underworld, they could strike at the wizard’s secret sanctum where he plots with his mysterious allies from the depths!

Battle through the tunnels of the world below! Navigate weird perils! Face fiendish horrors! It’s a race against time – if you tarry, the dwarves on the surface will most certainly perish!

Above all, don’t get entangled – for the dungeon of the Pogonomancer is certainly one hairy situation…

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A well-designed modular element for an RPG, whether we’re talking about a GMC, location, conspiracy, or occult tome, does more than extrapolate from an evocative premise. The text you write, explicitly or otherwise, indicates to the GM how it will be used in play.

Let’s look at roleplaying’s archetypal modular element, the one that has launched a thousand bestiaries, the creature. Or, if your core game prefers, monster, or foe, or alien life form.

In some cases the utility of a creature, or other modular element for that matter, goes without saying. That happens when the core activity of a game is so hard-wired to its modular elements that their function at the gaming table needs no further elaboration.

Take the venerable first mover and perennial market leader, Dungeons & Dragons. Its core activity is: fight monsters in fantastic environments.

(This greatly accounts for the enduring popularity of D&D and its stickiness as a concept. Not only does it have an exceptionally clear, easily enacted and highly repeatable core activity, it tells you this right in the brand name. Fantastic environment = Dungeon. Monsters = Dragon. It’s all right there.)

A well-wrought D&D creature design requires you to address its activity by showing the GM how it behaves in a fight, and how it interacts with its environment. In 5E, the stat block focuses on the former, and the descriptive text on the latter.

Different iterations of D&D have favored one over the other. The classic “Ecology of the X” magazine article format traditionally goes into way more extrapolative detail on a creature’s relationship to its environment than any DM can possibly put into play at the table. 4E, and its spiritual descendant 13th Age, focus much more on what the creature will do in a fight than in the broader world. A stat block might represent not a category of being, but a particular sort of orc or demon or pirate who attacks in a specific way, with its distinctive spell effect or weapon.

D&D casts such a shadow over trad RPG design that the very term “trad design” might mean “has a little D&D influence in it somewhere.”

It’s easy, then, to lose track of what you’re doing by applying D&D assumptions to the creation of creatures for other games. Making an adversary useful and easily playable in another rules set requires you to step back and consider the core activity you’re writing toward.

GUMSHOE games all have slightly different core activities, all of which can be expressed including the verb investigate.

  • Intrepid volunteers investigate the cosmic secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • At the behest of a benevolent conspiracy, trained professionals investigate an occult conspiracy to tear apart the world.
  • Ordinary people investigate their way out of horrific situations.
  • Burned spies on the run investigate the vampire conspiracy intent on destroying them.
  • A freelance starship crew investigates interstellar mysteries.

To design a GUMSHOE creature requires not just a focus on the tropes and themes of the setting—an eldritch abomination, a psychically invasive modern horror, an alien life form—but the creature’s role in the investigative action.

GUMSHOE’s emphasis on structure helps you do this. If you look at the scenario format, you can see that a creature might be:

  1. central to the scenario’s key mystery
  2. a secondary obstacle adding challenge and suspense along the way

In case 1, the creature is either the source of the mystery, or adjacent to the source. The PCs have to interact with it in some way to bring the case to a close. That’s your:

  • salt vampire feeding on the crew of the mining outpost
  • resurrected sorcerer bumping off anyone who uncovers his secret
  • ghost taking vengeance on its killer’s descendants

Many instances of case 2 fall into the broader category GUMSHOE calls Antagonist Reactions. When the heroes start poking around, the primary villain sends some lesser creatures to harry them. Secondary creatures might also be keyed to specific investigative scenes, as guardians or obstacles the characters must overcome before gathering clues. Examples include:

  • the gargoyles the corrupt priest sends to trash your studio
  • the mutated dogs in the abandoned lab
  • the faceless homunculus hitman known only as Mrs. Blank

Your description of a GUMSHOE creature might suggest ways it can appear in either role. When writing up Mrs. Blank, you could indicate how she acts when the PCs are tracking her through her trail of victims, and then what she does when she shows up at the behest of the vamp conspiracy to treat the agents to some silencer music.

Accompanying any core activity is a game’s default identity, the description of a typical PC group: ordinary people, trained professionals, burned spies, starship crew, or whatever. Take that into account also as you design your creature. Show the GM how to get the characters into contact with your entity. In other words, your description needs at least one plot hook demonstrating its introduction into play.

Super easy, again, in D&D: unless you say otherwise, the creature occupies the fantastic environment, ready to defend itself when adventurers show up to fight it.

The more specialized the default identity, the more guidance GMs need getting your creature into their games.

Let’s say you’ve designed a ghost that materializes out of printer’s ink. What motivates the typical group for this game to confront it? The answer differs if the PCs are ordinary people (Fear Itself), burned spies (Night’s Black Agents) or security pros who respond to assignments from their handlers (The Esoterrorists, Fall of Delta Green.) The question in the first two examples is “Why do the PCs care?” In the last case, it’s “Why do their handlers care?”

Keep these essential questions in mind as you first envision your creature, and again as you revise your text. You’ll probably spot passages that explore a rabbit hole of iterative detail but don’t figure into a GM’s key concerns:

  1. What does it do in my scenario?
  2. What does that scenario look like?
  3. Why and how do the PCs encounter it?

If you’ve ever played a 13th Age demo with me, it might be obvious that I love miniatures. It’s less obvious that I like miniatures so much that I also love cardboard miniatures, the kind you print out and glue onto cardboard or have sold to you in helpful cardboard packs.

These days my favorite cardboard miniatures are made by my favorite fantasy cartoonist, Rich Burlew. In an art style you’ll recognize from his Order of the Stick comics, Burlew has published four sets of wonderful cardboard minis. The sets are called A Monster for Every Season and they’re for sale at Gumroad. Autumn is probably my favorite. They’re all great.

Earlier today, while working on 13th Age design, I realized I could draft one of Rich’s critters for this column. From the Summer set, here’s the front of what Rich called a magma para-elemental, used with his permission. (Of course all his monsters and heroes have both a front and a back, but for that, buy the set.)

In 13th-Age-world, I’m in the midst of creating adversary groups for an upcoming book. One group is a mix of demons and elementals surfacing from a magically suppressed volcano. Here are stats for one of the critters who embodies a self-destructive collision of demon and elemental.

Twisted Magma Elemental

Fire elementals weren’t meant to spend centuries trapped in a demonic volcano.

4th level archer [ELEMENTAL]

Initiative: +7

Fiery smash +8 vs. AC—10 damage

Natural even hit: 5 ongoing fire damage.

R: Flying magma +8 vs. PD (one nearby or far away enemy)—8 damage to a far away target, or 12 damage to a nearby target

Natural even hit: 5 ongoing fire damage.

C: Local eruption +8 vs. PD (1d4 + 1 nearby enemies)—15 fire damage

Limited use: 1/battle when the escalation die is even. Magma elemental deals 4d6 damage to itself when it uses this ability, and won’t hesitate to blow itself up!

Conditional escalator: The magma elemental adds the escalation die to its attacks when it attacks an enemy that did not move on its previous turn or is delaying or holding a readied action.

Resist fire 16+: When a fire attack targets this creature, the attacker must roll a natural 16+ on the attack roll or it only deals half damage.

AC   21

PD    17                 HP 50

MD  14

 

Want to heighten dramatic tension or foreshadow a huge battle far beyond what the PCs are accustomed to? Here are a couple of tricks you can do with the escalation die to achieve that. (For a change, I haven’t used either of these tricks yet—I’ve been playing lately instead of GMing. Maybe I can talk my GM into using the “bump it up” mechanic the next time he rolls three crits in a single round!)

A caveat: these mechanics are more effective when you’re GMing for experienced 13th Age players than with newcomers to the game. Experienced players know what to expect from escalation in normal circumstances; so when they see you’re doing something unusual with it, they recognize that something important is about to happen.

Bump It Up

Mid-fight, increase the escalation die by 1 higher than normal—and make sure the players notice. The best time to use this trick is when the stakes have risen, or the tide has suddenly turned against the PCs in a major way. It’s not exactly momentum, like most other increases to the escalation die. It’s more like the PCs have realized that things just got real and they need to kick it up a notch.

This is the opposite of de-escalation, as described on page 162 of the 13th Age core rulebook. De-escalation is an option when you judge that the PCs aren’t doing anything to push the conflict. If they’re dodging and hiding and wimping out, for example, you don’t increase the escalation die the next round.*

In contrast, bumping it up is based on the actions or good fortune of the villains of the fight. I intend to use it when I’m about to give the monsters some mid-combat lucky break that’s the equivalent of a PC’s icon relationship advantage. It’s a good way of invoking the power of enemy icons.

Here are a couple examples of how I might use it.

  1. The PCs are fighting a nasty group of warriors and spellcasters devoted to the Crusader. One of them, an Ebon Gauntlet inquisitor (Bestiary 2, page 41), points her dagger at the frenzy demon summoned by Skullburn, the party’s demonologist. The inquisitor growls, “By His power you are nothing!” and I tell everyone that I’m rolling an easy save. If the save succeeds, the inquisitor dismisses the frenzy demon. While everyone in my group is yelling at me about being a terrible person, I reach out and increase the escalation die by 1. “Yeah, things just got real. She called on the Crusader, and it looked like he answered,” I say. “That was just a quick action, so now she uses her judgment of the Crusader attack on Skullburn and the occultist.” If the easy save the inquisitor rolled failed, I’d have her curse and keep fighting, and the PCs wouldn’t know what just missed them.
  2. The escalation die is at 2 and the PCs have a pack of gnolls on the ropes. Our heroes think they’ve got everything under control, when suddenly a second wave arrives! Bump the escalation die up to 3 as the new monsters cycle into the initiative order.

And that brings us to the second trick . . . .

Big Foreshadowing

Battle is underway and the enemy forces seem about normal. But then, at the start of the second round, the escalation die you place on the table isn’t the usual six-sider. It’s a d8. No, no, not a d8. Never risk an underdose! It’s a d10. Maybe even a d12!

The players stare at the die in confusion and a touch of fear. Why would a d12 be necessary? There’s still no sign of what’s coming in the second round. Let the tension build.

Turns out, this battle is going to be a big fight. It’s going to be a LONG fight. And the only reason PCs would ever need an escalation die that’s a 10-sider or a 12-sider is if they were fighting monsters that are extremely hard to hit. An easy way to do this without an un-fun TPK is to make the creatures you gradually introduce into the battle much higher level than the PCs. They probably shouldn’t be large or huge creatures, because a higher-than-normal escalation die won’t save the PCs from the mighty wallops delivered by much stronger enemies.

Why “gradually”? Because it probably won’t work very well in terms of combat math to send a whole bunch of higher-level monsters in at once. The Bruce-Lee-vs.-mooks method is probably what you need: sending one or at most two monsters at a time against the PCs. Unlike Bruce, the PCs probably won’t have time to pose and admire the impact of their blows, because the higher-level monsters you’re sending in won’t function like kung fu action movie mooks (even if they are literal 13th Age mooks).

In this scenario, consider giving each PC an option to get the equivalent of a quick rest at some point during the fight. I might handle that by letting one character per round regain hit points and abilities as if they’d gained a short rest right in the middle of combat. They’d probably have to be unengaged to do that, but otherwise it shouldn’t take more than a quick action.

Interactions (or, What Could Possibly Go Wrong With This Method?): Most player character powers that intersect with the escalation die aren’t a problem with the big foreshadowing mechanic. The commander has many abilities that play off of or increase the escalation die, and one even increases the size of the die, but that’s not really a problem for this battle.

On the other hand, the trickster’s Follow Me! No Her! No Me! talent from page 209 of 13th Age Glorantha would seize control of ‘foreshadowing’ and spin the battle into some other dramatic shape. What shape? Impossible to tell. There aren’t many other whacky powers in the game like that, but who knows? PCs are full of surprises.

 

*In practice, I think I’ve only ever enforced de-escalation once. I’ve threatened it six or seven times, and the threat is nearly always enough to remind some of the PCs that they’re heroes, or people doing a fair impersonation of heroes.

 

About 13th Age

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.

Here’s what I love about the giant shark bowl ooze from Tome of Beasts 2: Creature Codex by Kobold Press: it’s a perfect over-the-top addition to a master villain’s lair in 13th Age. Spy movie masterminds often have tanks full of sharks, alligators, piranhas, and other menaces in their headquarters. These remind everyone who they’re dealing with, and are also handy ways to dispose of intruding heroes and unlucky henchmen.

The giant shark bowl ooze does them one better—not only is the shark deadly, the aquarium itself is a monster.

The original is designed for 5th Edition under the OGL, and as soon as I saw it, I sat down and statted it for 13th Age. (Many thanks to Rob Heinsoo for giving it a development pass before posting.) Whereas the original is treated as one monster, my version treats it as two. The ooze is a variant of the gelatinous dodecahedron, and the shark is a non-mook version of the Iron Sea shark, both from the 13th Age Bestiary.

Giant Shark Bowl Ooze

A giant shark swims within a huge fishbowl, circling above a sandy floor strewn with seashells, a small castle, and a treasure chest. While you’re figuring out how to kill the shark and get the treasure, the bowl lashes out with a gelatinous pseudopod and engulfs you.

Huge 7th level blocker [ooze]

Initiative: +7

Shlup’n’schlorp +13 vs. PD—30 damage, and the giant shark bowl ooze engulfs the target if it’s smaller than the ooze.

Miss: The ooze can make a spasms attack as a free action.

[Special trigger] C: Spasms +13 vs. AC (up to 2 attacks, each against a different nearby enemy)—20 damage

Engulf and suffocate: Engulfed targets automatically take 20 damage at the start of the ooze’s turn, and are consider nearby to (and soon to be engaged with!) the giant shark swimming inside the ooze. The shark acts after the ooze’s turn, and can engage any engulfed targets. The shark cannot attack targets outside the ooze (unless it moves out of the ooze, see its stats below). Engulfed targets can escape the ooze with a successful disengage check at a -5 penalty.

Instinctive actions: Gelatinous creatures have no brains, sometimes they just do things. When the escalation die is odd, instead of making an attack or moving, roll a d8 to see what the giant shark bowl ooze does. If an option is not available (you roll a 1 but there are no nearby enemies), reroll until you get a valid option.

  1. The giant shark bowl ooze makes a squash attack against 1d4 nearby enemies as it rolls and shlorps around the area. Any enemies already engulfed by the giant shark bowl ooze take 10 thunder damage.

C: Squash +10 vs. PD (1d4 nearby enemies)—20 damage, and the target is stunned (easy save ends, 6+)

  1. The giant shark bowl ooze throws out whip-like tendrils and makes a sudden orifice attack against each enemy engaged with it. Then it pulls each nearby enemy next to it and engages that creature.

Sudden orifice +15 vs. PD (each enemy engaged with it)—The giant shark bowl ooze engulfs the target if it’s smaller than the giant shark bowl ooze

  1. Hundreds of finger-size slimes slither out from the interior of the giant shark bowl ooze and begin worming their way across the bodies of each of its enemies in the battle. Until the end of the battle, when a non-ooze creature takes any damage besides ongoing acid damage, it also takes 10 acid damage.
  2. The giant shark bowl ooze produces spikes. It gains a +4 bonus to all defenses until the end of the battle.
  3. The giant shark bowl ooze makes a spasms attack. If it misses with either attack roll, after the attacks, it can make a stretch and engulf attack as a free action.C: Stretch and engulf +13 vs. PD (one nearby or far away enemy)—30 thunder damage, and the giant shark bowl ooze engulfs the target if it’s smaller than the ooze
  4. C: Pseudopod slaps +13 vs. AC (one nearby enemy)—40 thunder damage

    Natural odd hit: The target pops free from the giant shark bowl ooze and is knocked far away, and the ooze makes the attack again against a different nearby enemy as a free action.

    Natural even hit: The giant shark bowl ooze engulfs the target if it’s smaller than the giant shark bowl ooze.

AC 21

PD 19     HP 400

MD 16

 

Giant Shark

Double-strength 5th level wrecker [beast]

Initiative: +7 (but don’t roll for the giant shark, it acts immediately after the giant shark bowl ooze)

Massive jaws +10 vs. AC—36 damage

Miss: 18 damage.

Frenzy: While staggered, if the giant shark is unengaged at the start of its turn, it must roll an easy save (6+). On a failure, the giant shark must move and attack a random nearby enemy that’s staggered, or a random nearby non-ooze creature if there are no staggered enemies. Yes, this means the giant shark might propel itself torpedo-like out of the ooze at a target.

Shredder: When an enemy misses with a melee attack against the giant shark and rolls a natural 1–5, the attacker takes 18 damage.

In a bowl, yo: As mentioned above in the its ooze bowl’s stats, the giant shark can’t attack enemies unless they’re in the ooze with it; the ooze was reduced to 0 hp and has dissolved; a PC thought that getting the shark out of its bowl would somehow be a good idea; or the shark has erupted from the ooze during frenzy. Likewise, thanks to the ooze’s protection, very few attacks from outside the bowl can affect the giant shark. If you decide that a particularly powerful or clever attack from outside the bowl can choose the shark as a target, the shark gets a +5 to all its defenses against that attack.

Last, dying thrash: If the giant shark is outside of its bowl, the shark takes 25 damage at the end of its turns. When it reaches 0 hit points and dies, roll this attack against all nearby non-ooze creatures: +12 vs. PD—18 damage

AC 22

PD 19     HP 140

MD 14

 

About 13th Age

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.

If you use background music in your 13thAge games – such as the wonderful 13thAge soundtrack – you can replace the regular rules for icon relationships with a more improvisational approach. Here’s how it works.

  1. Players choose their icon relationships as normal during character creation.
  2. The GM creates a playlist, mixing in the songs for each players’ icons plus a few more suitably atmospheric tracks. The playlist should be longer than the expected length of the game session. Play it on random shuffle.
  3. Instead of rolling relationship dice, whenever an icon’s song comes up, the first player to invoke that song gets to call on it for a suitable story-based benefit, or a +d6 bonus to an attack roll or background check.
  4. More than one player can invoke the same icon at the same time, but that’s the equivalent of rolling a 5 on a regular icon die – it’s a benefit with strings attached. There’ll be an icon-related complication later on.

The trick here is that the songs act as immediate prompts. Players who freeze at the question “how might your relationship with the Priestess help you in this session?” have far less trouble with the question “how might the Priestess help you right now, in the middle of this conversation you’re in?” It’s an approach better suited to a free-wheeling, anarchic, anything-goes campaign than a carefully plotted one.

Possible variants

  • Bardic balladeers get to add songs to the playlist.
  • The GM adds hostile icons to the mix – badness gets triggered when they play
  • Hit next whenever anyone gets a crit
  • Hit next whenever the escalation die increases
  • Players can add their personal theme songs as well as their icon relationships

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.

Wanna bend the rules a little and play a character who has the ultimate in conflicted relationships? Choose one icon that suits your character’s story best. Spend your three icon relationship points like so: take one relationship point that’s positive, one that’s conflicted, and one that’s negative. Yes, all with the same icon.

What interwoven stories will explain your situation? Let’s use the Archmage as an example. Perhaps you are devoted to the Archmage as a Spark within the almost extinct but now resurgent Order of the Blue Flame. That’s your positive relationship point.

But the Blue Flame has a rival order (possibly responsible for their fall?) in the service of the Archmage that opposes everything they stand for, politically and metaphysically, so your negative relationship point is connected to opposing a secretive faction of Archmage-devoted definite-enemies. You’re probably not lethal rivals, but you’d rather see everything about them fail, and vice versa.

The conflicted point might be most all the other factions in the Archmage’s service, who probably appreciate your faction’s fervent return to power but are concerned about in-fighting. Some times they help you, other times you’re figuring out how to keep them from helping your rival.

I’m sure the High Druid, Priestess, and Prince of Shadows are ripe for this type of treatment. And we haven’t even mentioned the most obvious icon for three-part disharmony: The Three! In the simplest interpretation, you could be on great terms with one of the Three, mixed up in both positive and negative relations with followers of another, and directly opposed to the third, perhaps for personal reasons or perhaps for reasons connected to your most-positive aspect of the icon.

Soldiers of the Emperor, happily unaware that they might soon be statted up as monsters. “We’re only NPCs!” they say to each other. “We’re safe!”

NPC followers of icons like the Priestess, Emperor, and Archmage aren’t usually monsters—but that doesn’t stop player characters from wanting to fight them!

Icon Followers will focus on playable monster-stats for human and humanoid NPCs of the Dragon Empire. Want stats for a city guard, gladiator, traveling priest, bardic college student, or Imperial Legionnaire? Icon Followers gives you options for many such NPCs, further distinguished by their chosen icon or their home environment. Less generic write-ups cover intriguing agents of the icons such as the Blue’s diplomatic envoys and the Priestess’ minotaur labyrinth-keepers.

Authors include Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW, Cal Moore, Liz Argall, Lynne Hardy, Steven Warzeha, and Wade Rockett.

Icon Followers is currently in development. Stay tuned for a release date!

Elf Queen SketchThe 13th Age core book tells us little about the Queen’s Wood, where the Elf Queen rules: it’s a sprawling elven wood, largely empty now, whose trees have leaves that are “a riot of silver and gold and green and indigo.” In the lengthy description of the elven Court of Stars in 13 True Ways, we learn a bit more:

The Queen’s Wood redounds with the magic of nature, to which the elves of all mortal races remain most bound. The Court of Stars moves in harmony with the other, inaccessible natural worlds hanging high in the heavens. It moves across the magical forest as the constellations proceed through the night sky above. As such it comprises the central vortex of the ever-growing, ever-breathing collection of living things that is the Queen’s Wood. Just as the plants of the forest floor can grow from seed to maturity in a few short hours, the forest transforms itself as the Court approaches. To try to map it is fruitless. It’s not that you can’t perceive it properly—all the details of the physical environment exist in literal reality. But by the time you’ve drawn up your map, the details have faded into obsolescence.

So, here we have a fairy wood, ever-changing under the Queen’s influence. This is more than enough to spark the imagination when it comes to adventures inside the Queen’s Wood: this place is magic, but of a vastly different kind than the Archmage’s in Horizon. Time and space behave differently here, not because someone harnessed the power of wizardry and, through force of will, made it that way. There’s no “because” here; things simply are, the way they simply are in a fairy tale.

How do you represent this in your game, should you decide to send your heroes on a quest within in the Queen’s Wood? Here’s how two of my favorite fantasy authors handled the matter of the deep, magical forest, and those who dwell within.

Little, Big: The Further In You Go, The Bigger It Gets

John Crowley’s novel Little, Big chronicles the lives of the Drinkwater family, whose destiny is mysteriously bound up with the fairies. In a flashback to the Victorian era, we hear an ancestor, Dr. Bramble, explain why he believes descriptions of the little folk vary so wildly—from tiny people with “spears of locust-thorns and their chariots made of nutshells” to fully-formed men and women three feet tall, all the way up to “fairy warriors on great steeds, banshees and pookahs and ogres who are huge, larger by far than men.”

His theory is that the universe consists of worlds or layers of reality in concentric circles. Our world is the outermost, largest ring; but paradoxically, the further in you go, the bigger those innermost worlds are. Passing through a “door” into the next circle brings one into contact with the smallest of the fey. Entering the next circle, you meet larger fey. At the center is the infinite realm of Faery.

Using this approach in an adventure within the Queen’s Wood makes the journey a multidimensional one that plays with the idea of perception vs. reality. The characters may perceive themselves to be traveling through a forest, but they’re actually transitioning between parallel worlds. Each world, zone, circle—however you want to frame it—is home to different types of fey creatures found in 13th Age. But perhaps in the Queen’s Wood, elves, pixies, sprites,  and so on only appear to be different types of creatures because the PCs encounter them in different places. Maybe the next time they glance over at the pixie NPC who agreed to be their guide, that tiny, winged creature has become a faun, or a tall elven warrior with a shining spear. (See the fey entry in the 13th Age Bestiary 2, particularly the power of a name mechanic which gives fey different powers depending on which name they’ve taken.)

Lavondyss: Old Forbidden Place

In Robert Holdstock’s book Lavondyss, Ryhope Wood is England’s last primeval forest, and the way into the Otherworld, or “Old Forbidden Place” as the book’s hero Tallis calls it. Here, “mythagos”—hero-forms from myth, legend, and folklore—take material form from the power of the forest and the often dark, violent subconscious of humanity. You could meet Guinevere, or Robin Hood, or olderheroes from humanity’s prehistoric past here. But the Robin Hood you meet might not be the version you’re familiar with, or want: a winking rogue in Lincoln Green, or a strange, silent predator. Arthur might look like Malory’s noble Once and Future King, or might be Artorius, a Latin-speaking military commander covered in mud and blood.

If you like the idea of ancient heroes and legends (or their phantoms) dwelling in the Queen’s Wood, here’s where you open your copy of The Book of Ages and dive in—because past icons make great mythagos. This version of your players’ journey through the forest has a dreamlike feeling where past and present are mingled, and turning a corner might lead them to the scene of the Barbarian King’s last battle, a tangled path where the Huntsman has laid his snares, or to the foot of the Hermit’s tower. These shadow forms of the icons might be friends, foes, or both. It’s likely that the elves will warn you away from them, but maybe there’s a piece of vital information you need, and only the Spelljack (or his memory) has it.

For this approach, I recommend checking out the chapter on Heroquesting in 13th Age Glorantha. The PCs might perform a ritual in the Queen’s Wood, where the barriers of time and space are flexible, to enter a timeless realm of heroes and participate in the significant events of past ages as they exist in myth and dream. Success there could provide mythic insights or special magic items, or even alter the world in the present day by setting right an ancient wrong.

About 13th Age

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.

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