The upcoming Book of Ages includes the Engine of the Ages, a Microscope-like tool for collaboratively generating your own history of the Dragon Empire. Each player tells the tale of one faction (usually, one associated with their player character), while the GM mixes in other groups that may play a part in the campaign. The group then steps through the history of the Empire, Age by Age, with the occasional roll on the Random Catastrophe Table. So, here’s one possible history (we only played through the 4th, 8th, and 12th Ages, and the player characters are an Elf Wizard, a Barbarian with a 2-point negative relationship with the Lich King, and a Draconic Rogue).
Our 4th Age
As you know, the Wizard King was overthrown by the first Emperor and his allies, kicking off the 1st Age. Conflicts between the Empire and the undead forces of the Lich King dominated the first three Ages, but history doesn’t get really interesting until the 4th Age, the Age of Elvendom. Elves, my players decided, are a species of planar nomads, plunging from world to world. The Elf Queen is their anchor to the physical world. She appeared in the Dragon Empire as an infant, born from the sacred Birth Tree in the heart of the Queen’s Wood. The other elves phased into existence, along with their dimension-hopping forests and cities. Suddenly, half the Empire was occupied by a vast and otherworldly forest; the Elves were worshipped as demigods by the folk of the Empire.
The arrival of the Elves at the height of their power forced other groups onto the defensive. The Lich King fled the Empire as a bodiless spirit, and discovered the barbarian tribes of the west. The barbarians worshipped their ancestors, but the Lich King was able to conquer their afterlife and imprisoned the ancestors who would not serve him. He whispered in the dreams of the shamans and priests of the barbarians, pretending to be their beloved ancestors, and so was able to warp their culture into a death-cult that worshipped him.
The Three also retreated from the Empire, fearful of the arrows and spells of the mighty elves. They allied with suspicious dwarves to create the first Forgeborn, creatures made of dwarven steel and fuelled by dragonfire, to guard their abandoned lairs. These first Forgeborn were essentially golems, unthinking machines that obeyed only their masters’ commands.
The arrival of the Elves disrupted the balance of the elements. The air elemental king declared war on the elven race, and to this day if an elf tries to fly too high, or if the High Elves build their towers above the treetops, then it draws the wrath of the winds. The fire elemental queen was even more furious, and sacrificed herself to put out the sun. For years, the sun guttered like a dying ember, and without sunlight, most of the elven forests died (the Queen’s Wood and parts of the Wild Wood are the only places where the alien elf-trees still grow).
Our 8th Age
In the chaos, the Prince of Shadows stole a silver apple from the elven birth tree. This scheme would come to (pardon the pun) fruition four Ages later in the 8th Age (the Rising of the Bad Moon), when he threw the apple into the night sky and it created the moon. To this day, the moon is an unwholesome and pernicious influence over the Empire – bad things happen by moonlight, and nights of the full moon are considered unlucky. The moon does favour the elves, though, which accounts for the elves’ reputation as thieves and tricksters.
The Elves also warred with druidic guerrillas (or gorillas, I can’t read my own handwritten notes from the session), who objected to their wizards’ continued disruption of the balance of the elements.
Under the new moon, the Lich King’s barbarians contacted the Empire. The barbarian tribes of the west traded and paid tribute to the Emperor, and fought as mercenaries under the banner of the Empire, but kept their traditional ancestor-cult religion, so the Lich King was able to infiltrate his clerics and agents across the Seven Cities. In Santa Cora, the Priestess grew suspicious of this new cult, and through her divinations discovered the Lich King’s imprisonment of the barbarian ancestors. She created two secret orders of Paladins – one dedicated to unmasking and defeating the Lich King’s spies, and another sworn to travel into the afterworld to break down the Lich King’s spiritual internment camps and free the ancestors. The barbarian cult schismed into two groups – one who worshipped the ‘true’ spirits of the dead, and one that was still in the thrall of the Lich King. Most of the barbarians in the Empire were part of the former cult, but the Lich King maintained his hold on the barbarians beyond the borders.
(The 8th Age, by the way, ended in a zombie plague, as upheavals in the afterworld briefly disrupted the natural order of death.)
Our 12th Age
The 12th Age was the Age of War, when the Empire was invaded almost simultaneously from west and east. From the west came the Lich King’s forces – the death-worshipping barbarian hordes he’d been cultivating for eight Ages. Vampire berserkers, selected for size and strength. A massive army of zombies and skeletons, enslaved ancestor-spirits chained into bone-golems, and thousands of death priests. Added to this force came a host of liches and skeletons out of the Necropolis.
From the east came the dragons under the Three. Long ago, the dragons established a manufactory on a secret island in the Iron Sea, and this automated dungeon-factory had built a whole army of forgeborn. To the dragons’ surprise, these forgeborn had grown increasingly complex and intelligent; with each generation, the manufactory had refined the design. This iron army, led by dragons, invaded the Empire from the east.
Captured humans were taken back to the manufactory and subjected to bizarre sorcerous experiments under the direction of the Blue; these experiments created the first draconics. These experiments also had an unlikely side effect – the Blue used forgeborn to assist in her work, and the forgeborn somehow isolated and stole the essence of humanity. The manufactory used this to create the final generation of forgeborn – truly alive metallic creatures, with free will and souls and absolutely no desire to be ruled by dragons.
Faced with rebellion from their own army when both draconics and forgeborn turned on them, the Three sued for peace. In exchange for dragon aid against the invading forces of the Lich King, the Emperor ceded the ruins of Highrock to the Blue, and recognised the draconics as imperial citizens.
So, in our take on 13th Age…
Elves are a declining race, greatly diminished from the days when they were worshipped as living gods. Still, they have the sacred Birth Tree that brings forth new fruit and hence new wonders in every Age, and they remember that one day, the Elf Queen will perish in this plane and be reborn in another dimension, and they will follow her en masse to their new home.
Foes of the Lich King know that while he was recently defeated, he still has two major power bases – his fortress on Necropolis, and his barbarian death-cult to the east. He continues his attempts to subvert the Imperial-aligned barbarians by kidnapping their ancestors in the afterworld, so the cult has evolved a complex system of passwords and signs – don’t trust a ghost until it gives you the correct password!
Draconics are a new-born species, the product of experiments carried out in the war. They have a complex relationship with the Forgeborn – the Forgeborn are fuelled by dragonbreath, and now that most of the dragons have again fled the Empire, the forgeborn are dependent on the draconics for survival. At the same time, the forgeborn aren’t trusted by most of the Empire, and no-one knows for sure what they’re doing out on the mysterious island of the Manufactory. (Some fear that they have a plan…)
What histories will your players create?
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to be eaten by it.
The game is called 13th Age—so what’s in those 12 previous Ages? What fantastic treasures, brooding monsters, perilous dungeons, or ancient secrets survive from past centuries? What now-vanished icons shaped history, and what legacies did they leave behind?
Designed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (Eyes of the Stone Thief), The Book of Ages includes:
- The Engine of the Ages, a collaborative method for designing the ancient history of your campaign, producing a chronology of past Ages, plus a wealth of legacies, legends, and lairs to trouble the present day
- Prompts, suggestions and random tables to spur creativity
- More than a dozen sample Ages with new icons, monsters, treasures and powers: Explore the wolf-haunted Age of the Silver Moon, preserve civilization in the Age of Walled Cities, or fight for freedom in the Age of the Terrible Emperor
- Six ways PCs can travel into the past in search of adventure!
Status: In development
“We have digressed on these matters, not out of a desire to criticize Herodotus, but to show that wondrous tales tend to prevail over truthful tales.”
— Diodorus Siculus (c. 60 BCE), anticipating John Ford by 2,000 years
Not that we normally have any truck with wondrous tales here in this here column, no sirree. But the exigencies of running a 13th Age campaign set in the Hellenistic era (323-30 BCE) and more specifically in 273 BCE, mean that a wondrous tale will do us nicely. Or perhaps thirteen wondrous tales, starting with seven wonders.
Seven Wonders, No Waiting
The poet and travel writer Antipater of Sidon first (c. 180 BCE) described and listed the Seven Wonders (a pun on themata, or “marvels,” and thaumata, or “magics”), but even he only got around to it forty years after the seventh one fell down. All seven Wonders only co-existed for about fifty years, from the completion of the Lighthouse at Pharos, in 282 BCE, to the destruction of the Colossus of Rhodes in the earthquake of 226 BCE, but that’s plenty of time for fighting giant apes on top of the Pyramids or a demi-lich in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
The rival monarchs built plenty of Imperial Destroyers for their various clashes of titans on the wine-dark sea. Demetrios I of Macedon (r. 294-288 BCE) had a 16-bank ship with 2,000 crew, which the Romans found hidden in a harbor in Macedonia 80 years after he died. Ptolemy Philopator, Macedonian pharaoh of Egypt (r. 244-205 BCE), built a twin-hulled warship with 40 banks of oars, seven rams, and room for 2,750 marines. It was 80 feet high and 420 feet long, with a crew of over 4,000 sailors and rowers.
Archimedes (c. 290-212 BCE) designed a catapult for one of those super-ships that threw a 120-lb. stone 200 yards. He also designed a giant claw that picked up ships and smacked them around, and a giant mirror that burned ships at sea. (He did so.) Who doesn’t want a super-genius who invents calculus and ship-killers in their game? Other mad Hellenistic weapon designers include Philo of Byzantion (c. 280-220 BCE) who built a chain-driven repeating crossbow, and Kteisibios of Alexandria (285-222 BCE), who built a compressed-air cannon.
Hey remember Demetrios I? He built a 13-story tall siege tower called the Helepolis (“City-Killer”) for the Siege of Rhodes in 305 BCE. Loaded with 16 catapults (including one that hurled a 180-lb. projectile) and weighing 160 tons, it was only brought down by the ingenious work of Rhodes’ engineer Diognetos, who cunningly flooded its path so that it mired itself in mud. But how did he find out its path? Perhaps your player characters got the plans, one rogue in particular …
The First Superhero Crossover
Gardner Fox and Stan Lee got nothin’ on Apollonios of Rhodes (c. 300-230 BCE) who came up with the idea of teaming up all, or most, of the great Greek heroes in his blockbuster poem Argonautika. (Theseus was trapped in Hades, and I guess Perseus was with another studio.) Imagine playing the team of heroes who look back on the Argonauts as their Justice Society — or, if you’d rather, imagine unfreezing Jason from an iceberg in Thule and having him lead a new team of avenging heroes.
Antipater of Sidon also mentions a fifty-foot sea monster that washed up on the beach, possibly near Athens, to be found by the fisherman Hermonax. He calls it a skolopendra, which at the time probably meant a creature that could vomit up its own bowels to void a fish-hook, but now means a giant centipede. Fifty-foot giant sea centipedes, anyone?
A Star-Finding Super-Computer
In either 205 BCE or 100 BCE or another year entirely, a ship went down off the coast of the island of Antikythera. On board was a magnificently intricate and weird device, all clockwork gears and counter-weights, escapements and cams, which probably existed to predict eclipses and planetary patterns but maybe it didn’t. People are still arguing about just what the “Antikythera mechanism” was and whether there were more of them so it might as well be the brain of a warforged or the spell-store of a math wizard like Archimedes or just a wonderful 13th Age-style magic artifact. Maybe it was a really intense escalation die.
Weird Sky Cult
Alexarchos (350-290 BCE) believed that he was the incarnation of the Sun and wore its power like a helmet, and he invented his own crazy version of Greek and sent letters to rhetoricians demanding that they use it instead of regular Greek. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just ignore him, because he was the brother of King Cassander I of Macedon (r. 305-297 BCE) who may have poisoned Alexander the Great so don’t get him mad. So Alexarchos was urged to found a “City of Heaven,” Ouranopolis, on the slopes of Mount Athos, and everyone tried to forget about him and his cult compound in between weirdly spelled letters.
The Illyrians, unlike the Greeks, didn’t have any hangups about women warriors. (One of Alexander the Great’s half-sisters was Cynane, a fighting cavalry princess of the Dardanians.) And their favorite way of war was piracy, because their fast, light ships named libyrnae (after the Liburnian tribe of Illyrians) were capable of taking on even heavy quinquiremes and winning, and because it pays better. It paid so well that the Romans got into a scuffle with Queen Teuta of the Ardiei tribe (r. 231-227 BCE) who defended the rights of all her subjects to loot anyone they liked, including Roman ambassadors, which did not in fairness end well for her. But light fighter ships crewed by pirate women vs. immense behemoths full of armored Zeus-troopers — tell me this isn’t a fantasy tale from a long time ago and far, far away.
The Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, as modern scholars call them, begin accumulating in the 2nd century BCE in Alexandria, and boy do they have everything: demons, invocations to the gods, love potions, summonings, stage magic, possibly a prismatic spray of some kind, and oh yeah voodoo dolls. Lots and lots of magic incorporated into figurines that received baths in various eerie ingredients or were made from unlovely substances, then associated with something of the target’s and buried — in swamps, graveyards, caves … pretty much everywhere in the Hellenistic world there’s a tiny evil cursed doll waiting for you.
A Gate To Hades
Near the city of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), founded in 190 BCE, a hole in the ground held not a hobbit but a gateway to Hades. Called the Ploutonion, its exhalations of deadly gases killed everyone who went in except the priests of Cybele and, one hopes, the priests of Plouton (the Greek name for Hades when they didn’t want to tempt him to kill them with deadly gases). Pilgrims would toss birds or other animals into the cavern as sacrifices or get high off the fumes and hope for a dream-vision from the dark god, a practice called incubatio. Other gates to the Underworld existed around the Hellenistic Mediterranean, but this one was the newest and therefore the neatest.
Who doesn’t love war elephants? Despite their very iffy performance in actual battles, they were the M1 Abrams of the ancient world: tough, fast, immense, and terrifying to people without fireball spells. They wore armor and spikes on their feet and tusks, and threw foes around with their trunks. Seleucus I Nicator (r. 321-281 BCE) thought they were vital enough military resources that he traded his eastern provinces to Chandragupta Maurya for 500 elephants, and he was no slouch. For more elephantine inspiration, see the Oliphaunt in Lord of the Rings, or 1 Maccabees 6.
For no reason anyone can tell, in 334 BCE the Greeks suddenly started depicting giants as having snakes for legs, rather than human limbs. These anguipede giants may have come from Persian or Scythian myth, and they show up in Etruscan art as early as 500 BCE. But the Greeks, up until the beginning of the Hellenistic era, staunchly refused to hear, write, or depict anything of the sort — and the mainland Greeks kept up the tradition of human-legged giants even as anguipedes took over temple after temple in Asia (especially the Gigantomachia frieze at Pergamon, 190 BCE), Italy, and Africa into Roman times. Hunting down a new gigantic Icon seems like a great adventure … and if the “snakes” are actually tentacles, well, I know another game that can tackle gigantic hybrids of man, octopus, and dragon. But let’s try 13th Age first, shall we?
By ASH LAW
In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.
Last week we introduced the Arcane Sorcerer. Today, it’s a new build with a draconic spin.
Download the Dragon Sorcerer character sheets here.
This sorcerer build is all about being as dragon-like as possible, and resisting energy attacks.
The build’s focus on breath weapons means that the sorcerer works best when close to the action (but not too close).
This sorcerer can resist energy attacks, so can move to the frontline against enemies whose damage it can shrug off. Otherwise it is best darting in and out of the battle, avoiding being pinned down and taking out multiple enemies with its breath weapon. Your metallic protector talent lets you resist energy as a quick action so do it as soon as you spot energy attacks being used (or you suspect that they might be), and use your resist energy spell to grant the same resistance to your allies. At epic tier you also gain once-per-day resistance to demon and dragon attacks—useful if you’ve gained dragon or infernal enemies.
Your talents make you optimized for breath weapons, so use them—even if you blow them on low-level mooks early in the adventuring day it you’ll have still saved the resources of the rest of the party. As a dragonic you get a once-per-battle breath weapon—if you run out of sorcerous breath you can still use your racial breath weapon.
When this sorcerer fails to recharge a breath weapon it is sometimes better to gather power and hope that the breath weapon recharges in time for it to be cast empowered on the following turn.
Your familiar is a small dragonette—make regular use of your familiar’s random abilities, it is your third talent and while not as useful in combat as other talents has lots of out of combat applications. At 4th level this sorcerer learns ritual casting, so keep imaginative non-combat uses of breath weapons in mind when playing this character.
Keep multiple breath weapon spells active at the same time.
Improves chances of re-using breath weapons.
A small dragonette with the flight ability, and one random ability that changes each day.
Charisma and Constitution are important sorcerer attributes: Str 8, Con 16, Dex 12, Int 8, Wis 10, Cha 20.
Attributes: Str 8 (-1) Con 16 (+3) Dex 12 (+1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 10 (0) Cha 20 (+5)
Racial Power: breath weapon
Talents: chromatic destroyer, metallic protector, spell sorcerer’s familiar
Feats: metallic protector
Spells: breath of the white, burning hands, chaos bolt, resist energy
New spell (scorching ray), new feat (chromatic destroyer).
New spell (breath of the green), level-up spells (breath of the white, resist energy), new feat (burning hands).
+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), all spells now 3rd level, new feat (ritual casting).
New spell (breath of the black), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, resist energy), new feat (chromatic destroyer).
New spell (swap scorching ray for dragon’s leap), all spells now 5th level, new feat (breath weapon).
+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), new spell (breath of the blue), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, breath of the black, dragon’s leap), new feat (metallic protector).
All spells now 7th level, new feat (chromatic destroyer).
New spells (breath of the void), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, breath of the black, breath of the blue, dragon’s leap) new feat (metallic protector).
+1 to three attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom), all spells now 9th level, new feat (breath of the blue).
By ASH LAW
In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.
Sorcerers are all about timing, forgoing attacks now to cast an empowered spell later. Today we’ll be presenting a sorcerer with a touch of wizardry, the Arcane Sorcerer. Next week, we’ll share one inspired by and infused with the power of dragons.
Sorcerers can be ‘swingy’—they are for players who like sudden unexpected surges of power that turn the tide of battle in their favor.
Download the Arcane Sorcerer character sheets here.
This sorcerer build focuses on close-up dependable magic, a ‘semi-melee caster’ that evolves into a flying teleporting menace as it levels up through higher tiers of play.
This sorcerer is an all-rounder, able to go toe-to-toe when needed or switch to ranged combat to support tougher warriors. As this sorcerer relies upon mobility and deterrence to avoid damage, if there are tougher warriors in the party let them handle melee while you hang back. Your sorcerer isn’t as tough as a fighter or paladin, so make wise use of spells that encourage enemies to keep their distance.
At 1st level this character has simple blast-away spells (burning hands and magic missile), and two more involved spells (the chaining lightning fork and the random chaos bolt)—at higher levels the spells become more complex.
The addition of the auto-hits wizard spell balances ‘swinginess’ from the wood elf racial and infernal heritage talent—so on a bad dice day use magic missile often (at champion tier it can be empowered).
Gather power is a worthwhile action in a fight—do it early and often so that when you let fly with empowered spells the following round the chances of hitting will be higher due to the escalation die. The wood elf’s racial power gives you extra actions—use these when they come up to gather power and cast on the same turn.
A +2 magical background, and a wizard spell as an equal-level alternative to a sorcerer spell.
This adds daily barbarian-rage-like ‘spell frenzy’, and damage resistance.
A +2 AC bonus and you don’t provoke opportunity attacks when casting spells.
Wood elves’ elven grace nets us extra standard actions to gather power.
For this sorcerer, Charisma and Constitution are important attributes: Str 8, Con 16, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 16.
Attributes: Str 8 (-1) Con 16 (+3) Dex 16 (+3) Int 12 (+1) Wis 10 (0) Cha 16 (+3)
Racial Power: elven grace
Talents: arcane heritage, infernal heritage, spell fist
Feats: infernal heritage
Spells: magic missile, burning hands, chaos bolt, lightning fork
New spell (breath of the white), new feat (spell fist).
New spell (echoing thunder), level-up spells (lightning fork, chaos bolt), new feat (lightning fork).
+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), all spells now 3rd level, new feat (arcane heritage).
New spell (queen’s shadows), level-up spells (lightning fork, echoing thunder, magic missile), new feat (arcane heritage).
New spell (swap breath of the white for dragon’s leap), all spells now 5th level, new feat (elven grace).
+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), new spell (touch of evil), level-up spells (magic missile, lightning fork, echoing thunder, queen’s shadows), new feat (spell fist).
All spells now 7th level, new feat (spell fist).
New spells (resist energy, swap burning hands for three dooms), level-up spells (magic missile, chaos bolt, lightning fork, echoing thunder, queen’s shadows) new feat (infernal heritage).
+1 to three attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom), all spells now 9th level, new feat (echoing thunder).
The Archmage BANISHES them.
The Crusader CONQUERS them.
The Great Gold Wyrm DEFIES them.
The Diabolist SUMMONS them.
When the world cracks open and the demons attack, what will YOU do?
The Book of Demons takes an in-depth look at the Abyssal enemies of the 13th Age – the demonic hordes whose eternal struggle to shatter reality causes hellholes, dimensional breaches, and other, even weirder assaults on the world.
- Master the forbidden arts of the demonologist class
- Claim demon-tainted magic items (or be claimed by them…)
- Discover how to seal a hellhole and save the world
For Game Masters:
- Five detailed hellholes, and advice on making your own
- Secrets of the Crusader and the Diabolist
- Demons! Demons! Demons!
Status: In development
(Cover art by Melissa Gay)
Fallen icons, apocalyptic fire giants, and a purple dragon who throws the best parties: welcome to 13th Age Bestiary 2!
We had so much fun with the first 13th Age Bestiary that we’re making an even bigger monster book! More than 250 individual stat blocks appear in 40+ all-new entries, plus a dozen revised and expanded monsters that first appeared in 13th Age Monthly. Each monster comes with story hooks, icon relationships, customizable campaign variants, and advice on creating exciting battles.
New monsters for your campaign include:
- Fallen icons like the Gold King and the Forest that Walks, powerful beings who must be defeated by a blend of swords, spells, and campaign victories.
- A wizard bonded to their spellbook, a rogue bonded to their magic cloak, and other former heroes who took shortcuts to power by merging with their magic items.
- The Lich King’s covert undead propaganda force: the Cult of the Silver Hand.
- Fomorians, monstrous worshipers and children of the ancient chaos gods (fomorian art by Ania Kryczkowska).
- Rattletales, dangerous spirits who will probably leave you alone if you can tell them a truly scary story (ideally, one about rattletales).
- Malatyne, the purple dragon whose entertainments are legendary—and the player characters might be the main attraction…
- Lions (temple); tigers (elemental & rakshasa); and owlbears (plumed).
Coming in the fall of 2017.
Lead Designers: Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW
Developer: Rob Heinsoo
Art Direction: Rob Heinsoo, Cathriona Tobin
Interior Art: Rich Longmore, Ania Kryczkowska, Aaron McConnell, Lee Moyer, Patricia Smith, Naomi VanDoren
Authors: Liz Argall, Paul Fanning, Jaym Gates, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Lynne Hardy, Rob Heinsoo, ASH LAW, Cal Moore, Carrie Rasmussen-Law, Wade Rockett, Aaron Roudabush, Michael E. Shea, Ruth Tillman, Jonathan Tweet, Steven Warzeha, Emily Westfall
My current project (ONE of my current projects, so many current projects) is the (provisionally-titled) Book of Ages, for 13th Age. It’s mostly a grab bag of “cool stuff from previous Ages” – monsters, magic, feats, legends, adventure seeds – but here’s one of the early sections, discussing persnickety world-building questions and assumptions.
* * *
Twelve Ages have passed since the foundation of the Empire and the reign of the Wizard King… but what’s an Age? And how long is that exactly? These questions are of comparatively little importance in a regular 13th Age campaign compared to “what’s that scaly firebreathing monster-snake over there” and “how long is it, roughly, because if it’s a Huge monster we’re screwed”, but in a book all about Ages we must at least briefly define our terms.
What is an Age?
An Age is a period of history that, in retrospect, has a discernible arc or overriding influence. Ages are book-ended by catastrophes. So, the First Age was dominated by the founding of the Empire in the aftermath of the Wizard King’s defeat, and ended when the giants razed Axis. The Sixth Age’s defining influence was the spread of lycanthropy among the aristocracy; like other Ages, it began and ended in catastrophe.
That isn’t to say, of course, that there isn’t tumult and catastrophe at times other than the start and end of Ages. Every peril that threatens the Empire is hailed by doom-sayers as the turning of the 13th Age. You don’t know that the world is falling apart when you’re trying to survive in the middle of it.
Who Defines An Age?
The historians and chroniclers in the court of the Archmage in Horizon are responsible for declaring the beginning of a new Age. This usually happens retrospectively – “clearly”, they might say, “the defeat of the Sea Raiders a generation ago marked a great change in the affairs of the Empire, so we have decided that the 11th Age ended at the Battle of the Redwater and we are now in the first century of the 12th Age”. At times, ambitious Emperors have pressured the sages into prematurely declaring the start of a new Age, but such hubris is punished by history – and anyway, only sages, historians, dungeon-crawling adventurous archaeologists and long-lived elves really care that much about when precisely an Age begins.
How Long Is An Age?
It varies. Recent Ages are all a few hundred years long. Earlier Ages might have been much longer, for the further back you go in the history of the Dragon Empire, the more uncertain things become. (All those catastrophes play havoc with proper record-keeping, after all.) So, Ages last as long as the Gamemaster needs. If you like an absurdly ancient Empire, then maybe the first Age lasted ten thousand years. If you want something faster and more chaotic, then Ages might last scarcely a century, and some of the earlier Ages might be entirely fraudulent. (“Historians!”, shouts the barbarian king who’s just claimed the throne, “insert another Age, and relate to me tales from that era about how my ancestors ruled the Empire, and how I am therefore reclaiming my rightful inheritance from a usurper and now, as it might appear, a bloody-handed mass murderer.”)
Do Ages Mean Anything?
Now that’s an interesting question. How much mystical significance does an Age have? The catastrophe that ends an Age usually results in the death, diminishment or transformation of one or more Icons; it’s unheard-of for two Ages to have exactly the same roster of Icons.
Of course, that implies other questions, like: is an Icon simply a powerful or influential individual, or are they somehow an embodiment/reflection/wellspring of mystical power? Does the appearance of the Priestess in the 13th Age mean that divine magic will become more powerful? Does the loss of the Oracle mean that it’s now harder – or even impossible – to see the future? If an Age is defined by its Icons, then are there a limited number of Iconic “slots” available? If there are always 13 Icons, no more and no less, and the existence of an Icon has mystical significance, then the goal of every sinister conspiracy and cult might be to eliminate an existing Icon to elevate their own champion. If the Orc Lord dies in battle, and the Lizard Queen takes his place, then will orcs become weak and fearful, and lizard-folk become stronger and fiercer in their stead?
An interesting variant assumes that the number of an Age determines how many Iconic ‘slots’ there are. So, in the First Age there was only one Icon, two in the Second, three in the Third and so forth. The Great Gold Wyrm was the first Icon; in the Second Age, the dwarves defeat the giants and the Dwarf King ascends to Iconic status. In the third, the Four Dragons arrive, drawn by the wealth of the underground kingdom. In the fourth, the Elf Queen binds the Green, making the Four into the Three and marking her as an Icon…
Alternatively, Icons might be purely a measure of local praxis – the Emperor’s an icon in the Empire, but has no reach beyond it, and if you follow the Koru trail up north, then local potentates like the Frostjack, the Living Glacier or the Hobgoblin Chieftain take on Iconic roles. In that interpretation, a player could even take Icon-style relationships with these smaller-scale Icons that would only work when in that Icon’s zone of influence. There still might be a Grandmaster of Flowers in some hidden monastery where she trains monks, and she works as an Icon when you’re adventuring near that holy mountain, but she doesn’t have the Empire-wide reach of her forebears.
Another possibility is that some forms of magic might be possible in one Age, but not in others. There might be Ages when all arcane magic just stopped working for centuries, until the world turned again. There might be Ages when other forms of magical power (psionics, maybe) worked, but they stopped when the Age changed, leaving behind only a few impossible relics and the memories of wonder.
Some astoundingly potent rituals and spells might be restricted to once-per-Age, just as resurrection is once-per-lifetime, more or less.
Does Everyone Agree on the Ages?
Even if you assume that the turning of an Age is marked with completely obvious and unambiguous signs and portents, even if giant letters of fire appear in the sky saying ‘NOW TURN TO THE NEXT AGE’ when the time is at hand, some people are going to argue. The Elves might refuse to acknowledge that the 12th Age ever ended; historians might argue over whether Horizon was built in the 3rd or the 4th Age, or if it was actually built in the 18th and is moving backwards in time (because the Archmage, that’s why.) Not only will the ordering of the Ages vary from campaign to campaign, but there can be plenty of disagreement and ambiguity within a campaign too. After all, an Age is just the high-fantasy way of saying “once upon a time…”
by Mike Shea
For many of us, the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was an excellent refinement of the tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs) we’ve enjoyed for 30 years. For some of us, it was our first exposure to D&D in any form. If 4th Edition wasn’t your bag, there are probably other reviews of 13th Age that will serve you better. Today we’re going to talk in particular about what 13th Age means for a 4th Edition D&D player and dungeon master.
Like 4th Editon, 13th Age is a tabletop fantasy roleplaying game by Rob Heinsoo, one of the developers of 4th Edition D&D, and Jonathan Tweet, one of the developers of the 3rd Edition of D&D. 13th Age is their love letter to the game they (and many of us) love dearly.
The world of tabletop RPGs has changed greatly over the past couple of years. With D&D Next on the horizon and Kickstarter giving birth to loads of new high quality RPGs, we have a whole new landscape of game systems and worlds to explore. For a 4th Edition player, however, 13th Age brings the most familiar elements of the game we love while smoothing out the rough edges. If you loved 4th Edition, you’ll definitely want to take a look at 13th Age.
Here are a few reasons why a 4th edition player might enjoy 13th Age.
Empowered Characters with Lots of Options
As a 4e player or GM, much of 13th Age will feel familiar to you. As in 4e, characters in 13th Age begin as empowered heroes, even at level 1. Level 1 characters are tough. They represent the heroes of the world, not just farmers with swords. Level 1 characters have a good amount of choices to make, many of which feel like your traditional 4th edition character powers. Unlike the core set of 4th Edition classes, character classes in 13th Age won’t feel similar. The classes in 13th Age follow a track of complexity from the simple and straightforward barbarian to the detailed and complicated bard. The complexity of your preferred play style will dictate which classes you’re likely to want to play.
Like 4th Edition, 13th Age includes a robust list of feats which will feel familiar to you —with one exception. Many of your feat choices focus directly on specific powers so you can improve the parts of your character you use and enjoy the most.
The level spread in 13th Age will seem quite different from what you’re used to seeing in 4th Edition. There are only ten levels in 13th Age, but these levels span the full range of power you’d expect in a PC. A level 10 13th Age character will feel a lot like a mid-epic character in 4th Edition. This has the effect of matching spell levels to character levels and ensures that characters get a lot of interesting new things every time they level.
Backgrounds, Not Skills
4e players will find 13th Age’s background system to be a bit different from the rigid skill lists we’re used to in D&D. In 13th Age, skills are abstracted into large pools that form a character’s background. For example, the “Advisor of the Royal Court of the Dragon Emperor” background would bundle up a bunch of potential skills such as history and diplomacy while also tying the PC closer to the game world. These backgrounds serve both to define your character and as an open-ended skill system. It’s a refreshing difference.
Tactical Combat and Distance Abstraction
With 4e’s focus on combat, 13th Age’s combat system will be one of the biggest aspects on which 4e players will focus. The basic mechanics of combat in 13th Age will be very familiar to 4e players: Roll a 20, add a modifier, check it against a defense. The defenses in 13th Age are simplified to AC, Physical Defense, and Mental Defense but act the same as AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses. Attack and defense modifiers go up every level instead of every other level, which fits the power growth of PCs in 13th Age across its ten character levels.
You’ll notice that damage scales up quite a bit in 13th Age as well. Melee attacks add an additional die of damage every level and lower level spells can be memorized at higher levels to increase their damage and effectiveness. This spell progression will look odd to many D&D players since you lose lower level spell slots as you gain higher level ones. It makes sense as soon as you see that Magic Missile can be memorized at level 9 for a whopping 10d6 damage.
Unlike 4e’s focus on gridded tabletop combat, 13th Age is designed to be played with or without maps and miniatures. 13th Age abstracts distances instead of using squares or feet for movement and ranges. Instead of “5 squares,” 13th age uses terms like “nearby,” “far away,” “grouped,” and “engaged” to describe distance. Spells and effects use these same terms. Effects that hit more than one creature usually use a term such as “1d3 nearby enemies” so you don’t have to worry about exact positioning.
On the surface, one might think that 13th Age’s distance abstraction would make it a poor choice for maps and miniatures. It turns out that’s not true at all. 13th Age is a fantastic system for playing with maps, minis, and terrain. One could certainly not use the adjective “tactical” to describe such combat but the freeform abstract nature of 13th Age combat ends up opening up a lot of fun possibilities. If a player wants to use a large miniature to represent “the largest woman in the world,” doing so doesn’t hose up combat. Who cares how big a miniature is when squares aren’t important? Want to use that gargantuan black dragon “miniature” to represent the dragon who’s only “large?” Go for it!
There’s one other mechanical component of 13th Age combat worth noting — the escalation die. 4e battles can take 60 to 90 minutes to run, and this was well known by Rob and Jonathan when they wrote 13th Age. The escalation die helps ensure that battles speed up the more rounds go by. Every round after the first, all PCs get +1 to attack on all attacks. This is represented by a six-sided die on the one position. Every additional round, the die and the bonus increases by one. This increase ends up ensuring PCs begin to hit more and more as the battle goes on. It’s a built in system for speeding up fights the longer they go on. Some PC powers and even powerful monsters trigger interesting effects based on the escalation die as well.
All of these refinements to the tactical combat we found and loved in 4th edition end up making 13th Age combat fast, furious, and fun.
Icon Relationships and the One Unique Thing
13th Age adds quite a few other features to catch our eye including icon relationships and each PC’s one-unique-thing. There really isn’t a similar construct in 4th edition to compare these to. Rather than describe these features here, take a look at Rob Donohue’s 13th Age review and my own 13th Age review on Critical Hits to learn more about them.
For the Game Master
So far we’ve covered much of what a 4e player will find interesting in 13th Age but there is a lot of love for game masters as well. 13th Age follows 4th Edition’s approach of treating monsters completely differently from PCs. 13th Age monsters have simple stat blocks designed to make them easy to run at the table. 13th Age also includes easy-to-use tables for improvised damage and quick monster math, something those of us who fell in love with page 42 of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide are sure to use.
Because 13th Age abstracts many of the game elements we’re used to seeing well refined in 4th Edition D&D, a GM running 13th Age is given much more authority and responsibility to make rulings instead of following codified rules. How far is “far away?” Can a PC use that particular background for that particular scene? How will an icon relationship manifest in tonight’s adventure? The GM must adjudicate each of these questions directly and must wield that responsibility well to ensure the game is fun for everyone.
Using 13th Age to Houserule 4e
Beyond being a full game system, 13th Age can also act as a set of well-designed house rules you can drop right into your 4th edition game. Want battles to go a little faster? Add the escalation die. Want to abstract the skill system? Add in 13th Age’s backgrounds. Want to tie PCs closer to the main NPC drivers of your campaign? Add in the icon system. Any of these components plug right into 4e with hardly any core changes to 4e.
A Refinement of the Game We Love
It’s clear that Rob and Jonathan love D&D as much as we do. They poured that love into a game that showcases the parts of 4th edition D&D we loved the most and helps polish down the rough edges. While 4e’s combat encounters ended up monopolizing much of the time we played, 13th Age slims combat down without removing PC empowerment and adds in story elements sure to entertain us for years to come.
Even if you have no intent of leaving your 4e games behind, 13th Age has a lot to offer. Give it a try.
About The Author
Mike Shea is a writer, gamer, technologist, and webmaster for the D&D website Sly Flourish. Mike has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and wrote the books Sly Flourish’s Dungeon Master Tips and The Lazy Dungeon Master. Mike lives in Vienna, Virginia with his gamer wife Michelle and their gamer dog Jebu.
Next, glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, ﬂat stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honorable.
— Homeric Hymn to Hermes
The Twelve Olympians Receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians
That, you will be gobsmacked (or perhaps even godsmacked) to know, is the earliest reference known to the Twelve Olympians, and it’s not that early: the “Homeric” hymns are usually dated to around 600 BCE, which is about 75 years before the tyrant Peisistratos sets up the first known altar to the Twelve, in Athens. (A cult of the Twelve in Olympia, appropriately enough, likely dates to about the same time.) Where the Greeks got the idea remains mysterious: from the twelve Babylonian months, perhaps via a grouping of 12 gods found in Hittite rituals (and in a 13th-century BCE hall of statuary at Yazilikaya) and from thence to the Greek coasts of Asia Minor.
Why, you may well ask, am I improving our minds with Classical study at this late juncture? Because in my home game, my newest campaign is a 13th Age campaign I call Poikila Hellenistika, or “The Brightly-Colored Hellenistic Age.” It’s set in a big-eyes-and-archaic-smile anime-influenced version of the Hellenistic era, specifically in Syracuse in Sicily (for now) in 273 BCE. (More information here, should you wish it.) And that means I needed to redefine the 13 Icons as, of course, the 12 Olympian gods, because hey, Alexander the Great won. And indeed, erected “altars to the Twelve Gods” on the banks of the Hyphasis River, the eastern edge of his empire.
So my Icons are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Dionysos. So who’s the Thirteenth God, then? Who isn’t? Dionysos famously replaced Hestia (goddess of the hearth) on Olympus; by the Hellenistic era, Heracles was much more worshipped than Ares. Hades is often considered the (unlucky) Thirteenth God, and Alexander the Great allegedly demanded the Greek cities recognize him as the Thirteenth Olympian. Olympia itself doesn’t help: its Twelve Gods swap in the Three Graces (as a unit), the River Alpheios, and the fallen gods Kronos and Rhea. Other common Hellenistic interlopers include Hekate, Asklepios, Pan, and Persephone. Given that one of my player characters is the Occultist from 13 True Ways, that means the Three Fates are likely an Icon, too. In practice, I’m letting the players pick their Icons and (much like the Greeks) not sweating the specific membership list.
The 13 Olympikons In Play
So leaving aside the question of “Who?” we get to the question of “What?” What do the Olympikons do in my game that the Icons don’t, and vice versa? Let’s start with the common factors: like the Dragon-Imperial Icons, the Olympian Ikons have a wide network of worshipers, priests, and other agents from the Seleukid dynasty claiming descent from Apollo to the various cults, mysteries, and temples all over the Mediterranean and points east. Most cities have at least one patron god (Syracuse’s are Athena and Apollo, plus there’s a big temple of Zeus just south of the city), so the Ikons have even more helpers in the shape of city governments and armies. It’s even more fun than it sounds, because the Olympians wound up with so many weird responsibilities in their portfolio: Poseidon is not just the god of the sea, but of horses, earthquakes, epilepsy, watchfulness, and even (as Poseidon Phytalmios) gardening. (For everything you could ever want to know about any figure of Greek myth, hie thee to theoi.com.)
Another thing that’s cropped up in play is the very Greek notion of the gods speaking and working through the players: we’ve already had Apollo justify a player’s 6 on the relationship die by inspiring his tongue to talk down a Spaniard. Greek gods loved to appear in dreams and oracles, so I can always drop one in if I like. Even then, given the sheer number of Ikonic interventions needed with six players (even on an average roll, that’s two or three interventions in one session, and my players do not roll average dice) we’re also adopting a house rule: if the player or the GM can’t think of something cool (or hasn’t yet) for your 6 to do during the game, you can take a +2 to something your Ikon plausibly might help you with. For clerics, that’s likely just casting a spell, but the Amazon might turn her 6 on the Artemis relationship die into a +2 to hit with a spear or bow. So far, a 5 likely gives you a +1 in similar fashion, although I’ll probably put a twist in the tail of a roll like that.
Some potential Ikons just flow together: Asklepios is the son of Apollo, so he becomes a major agent of the Ikon Apollo; Pan and Dionysos have that wild-man feel and patronage of satyrs in common, so they’re both aspects of the same Ikon. The campaign world is pretty human-centric, so the explicitly inhuman Icons like the Orc Lord wind up as aspects of godly humanist Olympians (the Orc Lord sounds pretty Ares-ish to me, although the Romans did explicitly identify Hades with their deity Orcus). Again, we’re letting that stuff emerge in play — we’ve decided that the Apollonian royalty of Hyperborea make pretty good elves, for example, at least on a mechanical basis, so the Elf Queen is likely an aspect of either Apollo or his woodsy sister Artemis.
In my game, if Alexander conquered you, your gods got subsumed into Olympian Ikon-hood: Melqart of Tyre becomes Heracles, for example, and Isis becomes Demeter. (Herodotos identified her as such; he also equated Osiris with Dionysos, Horus with Apollo, Amon with Zeus, and Bast with Artemis, among others.) That does leave a number of grumbly foreign gods: so far, I can reveal that Moloch (aka Baal-Hammon) of Carthage and Saturnus in Rome have not at all accepted their demotion. In our history, Zeus and his ilk eventually collaborated with the Romans and got subsumed in their turn into Jupiter, etc., but that’s 150 years away in my game and may not happen, depending on just how epic our epic tier gets. But that, as they say, is in the lap of the Ikons.