Recently we’ve gotten some feedback from players on the summoning mechanics for champion and epic tier druids and necromancers that  coincides with how we handle summoning in new books like 13th Age Glorantha and Book of Demons. In this column, I’m going to take the opportunity to extend one of our summoning improvements to the classes in 13 True Ways.

The change is simple. Use the following rules adapted from 13G and Book of Demons to help summoned creatures contribute to higher level battles.

Attack bonuses: Summoned creatures use the default bonuses of their summoner’s magic weapon or implement, if any. In other words, if you have an attack and damage bonus from a magic weapon or implement, so do any creatures you summon.

Defense bonuses: Similarly, summoned creatures use the default bonuses of their summoner’s armor, cloak, and head items, if any. In other words, default bonuses to AC, PD, and MD from magic items also apply to your summoned creatures. As with the attack bonuses covered above, this only applies to default bonuses. Bonuses and abilities that come along with an item that are not default bonuses only apply to summoned creatures if they specify that. At present, not many do.

This is the only change. Stick with the current rule that druidic and necromantic summonings don’t automatically add the escalation die to their attacks—both classes have feats that get around that, or you can spend a quick action to add the escalation die to the druidic/necromantic summoned creature’s attack (see 13TW page 11).

Part of the fun of developing adventures like Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Red Crag Castle section of Book of Demons is adding monsters that complete the theme. Sometimes those missing bits turn out to be things that fill a gap in all of 13th Age, not just the one adventure.

That turned out to be true for the demonic forces that guard the hellhole centered on Red Crag Castle. One of the demonic factions is all about swords, steel, and a sadistic impression of military discipline. A sword-sword-sword (etc.)-wielding marilith-style demon seemed like a natural fit, but our mariliths are epic 12th level creatures, far too powerful for the champion-tier environment of Red Crag Castle.

What was needed was a 7th level version of something like a marilith. As I poked around our monster lists, I realized that we had precious few normal-sized demons at 7th level, and nothing that could stand in for a melee troop. So I added the minor serpent demon to Redcrag Castle, along with a couple of other generally-useful demonic warriors.

This minor serpent demon uses the same core mechanics as the marilith. It’s useful enough that I think it deserves to be in 13th Age monster lists that might not normally pay attention to demons in specific adventures. I’m going to reprint its stats here, along with two other stat blocks for demon warriors that could physically resemble the minor serpent demon and the marilith, or could be reskinned as you require.

To make them more useful, I’ve placed the new demons on either side of the 7th level minor serpent demon, and designed them for different roles. As you’ll see, each of the demons has a different approach to the question of how to force magically-competent enemies into melee, and how to punish enemies once they’re engaged. The minor variations in stats and abilities are deliberate. They should team up well with each other.

Minor Serpent Demon

Progressing sword by sword and death by death toward a full marilith.

7th level troop [demon]

Initiative: +13

 

Four whirling swords +12 vs. AC (4 attacks)—7 damage

Miss: 2 damage

 

C: Beguiling gaze +12 vs. MD (one nearby or far away unengaged enemy)As a free action, the target immediately moves toward the minor serpent demon, attempting to engage it or get as close as possible to it

Limited use: 1/round, as a quick action.

 

Terrible swords: When the escalation die is even, the minor serpent demon’s crit range with melee attacks expands by a number equal to the escalation die.

 

AC   23

PD    16                 HP 98

MD  20

 

Serpent Demon Slasher

A one-on-one fight may be the best way to face this demon, but is it really one-on-one when she wields three massive two-handed swords?

6th level wrecker [demon]

Initiative: +12

 

Three two-handed swords +10 vs. AC (3 attacks)—7 damage

 

Six-handed devastation: The serpent demon slasher gains a bonus to its attacks equal to the number of different enemies that it has attacked or been attacked by this battle; maximum +6.

 

AC   21

PD    17                 HP 94

MD  18

Bladeweaver Demon

You know how you’re supposed to keep your eye on the enemy’s blade? Don’t.

8th level blocker [demon]

Initiative: +14

 

Churning swords +13 vs. AC (2 attacks that add the escalation die as a bonus)—14 damage

If both attacks hit: Bladeweaver demon can use deadly swords attack below.

 

Deadly swords +13 vs. AC (2 attacks)—16 damage

Miss: 8 damage

Limited use: 1/round, as a quick action and only when triggered by churning swords.

 

Terrible compulsion: Each round, the first enemy that misses the bladeweaver demon with an attack when it is not engaged with the bladeweaver demon must immediately move toward the bladeweaver as a free action, attempting to engage it or get as close as possible to it.

 

AC   24

PD    18                 HP 124

MD  20

Montages—first introduced in our organized play adventures and later expanded on in the 13th Age Game Master’s Resource Book—can quickly advance a story while co-creating events and interactions that might contribute in surprising ways later in the session or the campaign.

Here are the basics of running a montage:

  1. Start with a player who is comfortable improvising, and ask them to describe a problem that the party faces as they travel or undertake an activity, without offering a solution.
  2. Turn to the player to the left of the starting player, and ask them how their PC does something clever or awesome to solve the problem. After they narrate a solution, ask that same player to describe the next obstacle that the group must deal with.
  3. The next player clockwise gets to solve the new problem, then offer up a new obstacle.
  4. Keep going around the table until everyone has both invented, and solved, a problem.

Typically you won’t call for any die rolls, even when the solution to a challenge involves combat. These events occur in quick narrative time, and allow the players to invent stories to reinforce their characters’ defining qualities. (They also won’t actually use any resources, even if they describe doing so.)

For GMs who’ve run games where the PCs take long journeys over land or sea to get to the “real” adventure, the usefulness of the montage is clear: you can make the journey eventful without spending a ton of time, or eating up the PCs’ recoveries, powers, and spells. It’s also a great opportunity for players to warm up for the session with some low-consequence, fast-paced play; and it gives players an opportunity to do two of their favorite things—make trouble for other players’ characters, and make their own character look cool (or entertainingly uncool).

But there are plenty of other uses for montages besides travel. You can apply the technique to any extended activity that the RPG you’re playing doesn’t have mechanics for, or which might be more interesting to resolve with round-robin narration than dice rolls. Here are some ideas and examples of montages from games that we’ve run here at Pelgrane:

  • Two sides—individual champions, groups, or even armies—face off in combat as the PCs watch as spectators. Using the montage technique, the players describe how each side attacks and defends against their foe, with the GM providing colorful descriptions where appropriate. If the battle is uninterrupted, so one side wins and the other loses, you could determine the outcome through narration (deciding as a group who would likely win given what they’ve described). You could also rack up +1 bonuses for each side whenever a player came up with an especially good narration for an attack or defensive move, then roll a d20 for each side against a normal DC.
  • If there’s a battle you want to treat as a cutscene rather than run as combat, use a montage to narrate the fight. This is a handy option when you’re running a prologue to the adventure, a flashback to a fight from the group’s past, or a flashback to a long-ago historic battle that’s relevant to the present-day campaign.
  • Casting a massive ritual often requires special items and ingredients, sometimes hard to obtain. One option is to build an entire adventure or even a campaign arc around this quest, or series of quests. However, you can also run it as a montage. Give the players the list of items, then go around the circle, introducing problems and solutions. (“The first item on the list is the Prince of Shadows’ lucky coin. Jim, where is it located? And if it’s guarded, who or what is guarding it?”)
  • If you’re a fan of police procedurals, you might have seen scenes that compress part of the investigation into a montage. You can use the montage technique in your game to show the PCs interrogating multiple sources of information, and/or canvassing an area to find clues. In each case, there should be a player-narrated obstacle, and a player-narrated way to overcome the obstacle. Upon each solution to a challenge, give the character a clue, or a resource to help the group solve the mystery. (You’ll see this  approach in my adventure Temple of the Sun Cabal when the group is searching for the vampire Eleodra Malfador)
  • Sometimes the PCs might need a small army of their own—for example, when repelling the troll siege in Make Your Own Luck. Let them narrate a Magnificent Seven style montage to describe how each PC gradually trains a group of townspeople to be a formidable fighting force, and cleverly prepares the terrain for the upcoming battle.

Have you used a montage in other ways in your game, or added your own twist to the mechanic? Share it in the 13th Age Facebook group or Google+ community!

 

 

By Rob Heinsoo, with Jonathan Tweet

Another 13th Age campaign, another experiment with the icon relationship dice!

My previous campaign was using a riff on the way that 13th Age Glorantha handles rune narrations. This time, in a campaign I’m referring to as 13th Arduin*, I’m using an idea from Jonathan that he hasn’t gotten around to trying yet because he’s been busy testing the new version of Over the Edge.

In this new campaign, icon relationships aren’t a once per session thing. Instead, you can roll your icon relationships (at least) once per day. (As a reminder, a “day” in 13th Age consists of approximately 4 regular battles, or 3 hard battles, or 2 regular battles and 1 very hard battle.)

Instead of rolling your icon relationships at the start of the day, roll your icon relationship dice at a dramatic moment during play when you’re hoping that an icon relationship might come up and give you a chance to narrate an advantage. The choice of when to roll is up to you, the player, as is the choice of which dice to roll. A player might, for example, roll the die associated with one icon but not another, depending on the situation.

If at least one die is a 5 or a 6, all the 5s and 6s apply to the current situation. At the GM’s option, the player can instead choose one 5/6 result to be the active die. (This gives the GM the right to be merciful when a player has come up with a great story for one icon relationship and isn’t sure about another.)

Like rune narration in 13G, it’s up to the player to tell the story of how their character’s icon relationship gives them an advantage in that situation. At minimum, the player starts the story and the GM can step in and help finish it up. Some players can be trusted to handle their own complications; others require help. Using this system means that complications generally can’t be avoided unless the GM allows it, since all 5s and 6s that are rolled must be narrated.

Using up dice: If the icon roll resulted in at least one 5 or 6, then all the icon dice you rolled are used up for the rest of the day. If there are other icon dice that you didn’t roll, you still have the option of rolling them later in the day. I like to break out Campaign Coins icon tokens to show which dice players can still use, removing an icon token when a specific relationship’s die is done for the day.

Keeping dice: If the icon dice you chose to roll don’t generate any 5s or 6s, you don’t get to narrate any icon relationship advantages at this point. Connections with the icons aren’t in play, so you’re going to have to deal with whatever’s going on in the game with your own powers and ingenuity and hit points.

But you haven’t lost out completely on your icon relationships. Because all the dice you rolled whiffed, you can roll them again later in the day in some other situation. That holds true even for your reroll. You may end up running out of time in the adventuring day, but as a rule, every PC should end up with some advantage from their icon dice. You can’t be sure exactly when your icon relationships will make a difference, but if you get a couple of chances to roll, you should get roughly one successful relationship roll per day.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on how David Hargrave’s mid-1970s Arduin Grimoire provided inspiration for 13th Age, check out this 2012 EN World interview with Jonathan Tweet.

by Rob Heinsoo

When we wrote the 13th Age core book, Jonathan and I traded off writing Chapter 8: The Dragon Empire. I got the chapter rolling with a big rush of ideas I’d always wanted to use in a fantasy campaign. Jonathan added many sections, then I rolled back through to finish the chapter off.

All of that is to explain why I don’t know which of us wrote the following section, which got cut during layout because of space. The phrasing makes me think that it was Jonathan, with me revising; but that may just be a case of how we mimic each other’s style when we write together.

Not only do I not know which one of us wrote it, for years I didn’t remember that we’d cut this piece out of the book! I would have put it into 13 True Ways if I’d realized it had been knocked out of the core book during construction. I’ve told multiple groups the story, thinking that I was just repeating stuff they’d already read.

Touching up the entry for this post, I noticed that “Builder’s Dreams” apparently misplaces its possessive apostrophe—the highway had multiple builders, so why the singular? But I think that was originally intentional: a hint that there may have been a singular builder, one whose dreams are not dreams you want to share.

Builder’s Dreams

Part of the magic of the great Imperial Highways is that no one feels comfortable living too close to them. Inns, towns, and buildings of all sorts (other than temporary shelters from the weather) are almost always constructed at least 100 yards or more from the road.

Travelers who sleep too close to the highways often have problems with dreams. The dreams of the original road builders haunt the highway stones. The dreams won’t touch you if you’re awake. But anyone who sleeps too near the road can count on nightmares, terrible sleep, and a gradual degradation of their faculties.

Such dreams and disrupted sleep isn’t something that has game mechanics effects after a night or a week, but the effects could be a problem after two weeks. People say that the Lich King has no power over these dreams. It might even be true.

The innkeepers near Horizon and Santa Cora show off the strength of their warding spells by setting up closer to the road than inns built in less magically skilled areas.

ROB_tileInspired by the new rune narration mechanics in the upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha book, I’m experimenting with a twist on the icon relationship rules in my Dragon Empire 13th Age campaign.

As before, a roll of a 5 or a 6 on the six-sider gains an icon relationship advantage. But in this campaign, the 5 and the 6 are pretty much the same, and it’s usually up to the player to say they want to use the advantage and suggest how it’s being used.

Instead of 5 always being a complication, I roll for a possible complication when the player uses the icon relationship advantage, normally after the player has said what they’re hoping to get out of it. I roll a d20—on a 1-5, there’s a complication, and I get to tweak the story and make it interesting.

Since I’m using the new icon tiles from Campaign Coins, the players usually keep the green side up in front of them to show they have an icon relationship waiting to be used. If they end up rolling a complication and I feel like hanging on to it, keeping it poised for later use, I tell them to turn the tile over to its red side.

I like this mechanical tweak because the complication comes as a dramatic twist, not as a definite consequence of using the icon relationship advantage. We’ll see how it goes.

ROB_tileWith a sly flourish on Twitter, Michael E. Shea asked how Jonathan Tweet and I ask for skill checks: Attribute? “Choose an appropriate background?”

First Method

There are a couple of ways to call for checks in 13th Age. Jonathan’s is simplest, and he gave it on Twitter (at @JonathanMTweet if you’re not following him yet):

Tweet on skill checks

 

Second Method

But what if the players aren’t entirely certain how they want to solve a problem? Sometimes I’ll say something like, “It sounds like you’ve decided you want to keep the refugees calm about the moon/water spirit in Halgrim’s Well. One of you should give me a skill check. Tell me who, and tell me a little about how you’re going to manage that.”

In that particular case, the player decided to calm the refugees with a Charisma check. With a natural 20, not only did the refugees feel comfortable about the spirit, they started propitiating it!

But in some cases, how the character has decided to accomplish a task doesn’t sound like the type of check they’ve announced at all. In that case I’ll say something like, “Okay, you’ve said you’re working behind the scenes to figure out what everyone needs, and get it done without them even knowing it. That’s a Wisdom check. What backgrounds do you have that might help you pull off this behind-the-scenes course correction?”

Partial Credit & Failing Sideways

Here’s one trick I enjoy: when it seems like a player is really stretching to apply a background to a particular skill check, I give them partial credit. I ask them to narrate what they think they’re doing, subtract 1 or 2 from their background, and let them roll. If they succeed, hey—turns out that they did know what they were doing, and how it works out may be funnier or a bit different than usual.

Same for failure! Situations like this are probably where my players get the idea that I sometimes turn their fail-forward moments on skill checks into fail-sideways. If the player stretched their background for a skill check, I say thank you, and load extra-fun (for me) complications when they fail forward-ish!

ROB_tileby Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo

When creating characters in a d20-rolling RPG, some of us will always want to roll ability scores. Others hate the randomness, or the risk of rolling up a less-then-competent characters, and opt for point-buy systems. In our games, we let players choose the method they like. When we make our own characters, Rob has always opted for rolling ability scores while Jonathan uses the point-buy system from the core rulebook.

But while we were creating 13th Age in Glorantha, Jonathan came up with an alternative we both like. It creates more diverse characters, it’s simple, and it’s what we have been using lately and suggesting to our players.

Assign these six scores to your abilities: 17, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10.

This alternative array is better than the point-buy arrays on page 309 of 13th Age, but it’s better on the bottom end. Low scores usually get ignored with point-buy systems; but a bit more emphasis on the low end of the scores helps characters in 13th Age because skill checks call on many different abilities, and your defenses are based on multiple ability scores.

Try it, and see if you like the results!

ROB_tileCal Moore created the lightning elemental as part of the newly published High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Four Icons. I tweaked the stats a bit to get them to play more like our other elementals.

High Magic & Low Cunning includes stats for the 7th level version of the lighting elemental. The monster tile Lee Moyer created for the lightning elemental is snazzy, and I’m taking this chance to show it off in color by presenting stats for the other lightning elementals at 3rd, 5th, and 9th level.

Technically, given the standardized sizes we used for elementals in 13 True Ways, we should have called the 7th level lightning elemental in the book the ‘big lightning elemental.’ No harm done, and I’m using the elemental standard in this article. I’m also ever-so-slightly massaging the stats of these new versions, but I can’t imagine you’ll notice!

Bzzzzt!

Small Lightning Elemental

Lightning elementals don’t have natural shapes of their own, unless you count bolts and sparks as shapes. They tend to pulse rapidly between jagged bolts and outlines borrowed from the creatures around them.

3rd level spoiler [elemental]

Initiative: +10

Lightning zap +8 vs. AC—7 lightning damage

Natural odd hit: The target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

R: Lightning strike +8 vs. PD (one nearby enemy)—9 lightning damage

Flight: Lightning elementals zip from place to place about half-as-quick as lightning, hovering above the ground to avoid being grounded.

Metal affinity+: The lightning elemental’s attacks gain a +2 bonus against an enemy wearing metal armor or wielding a metal weapon.

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

AC   18

PD    18                 HP 38

MD  11

 

Lightning Elemental

Webs of lightning repeatedly streak in all directions, outlining the form of the creature and then dissipating. Each flash happens so fast, it leaves the thing’s image burned into your eyes.

5th level spoiler [elemental]

Initiative: +12

Lightning zap +10 vs. AC—12 lightning damage

Natural odd hit: The target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

R: Lightning strike +10 vs. PD (one nearby enemy, or far away enemy at -2 attack)—17 lightning damage

Lightning storm transformation: Roll a d10 at the start of each of the lightning elemental’s turns. If you roll less than or equal to the escalation die, it shifts into lightning storm form until the end of the battle. While in this form it gains the following improved attack (and you stop rolling lightning storm transformation checks):

C: Storm strike +10 vs. PD (up to 2 nearby enemies)—14 lightning damage

Natural even roll: The elemental can include an additional target in the attack (requires attack roll) that hasn’t been hit by storm strike this turn, but the attack only deals half damage.

Flight: Lightning elementals zip from place to place about half-as-quick as lightning, hovering above the ground to avoid being grounded.

Metal affinity+: The lightning elemental’s attacks gain a +2 bonus against an enemy wearing metal armor or wielding a metal weapon.

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

AC   20

PD    20                 HP 66

MD  13

 

Epic Lightning Elemental

Epic lightning elementals that serve the Archmage have often been forced into somewhat regular forms in order to be able to hold a conversation. Epic lightning elementals associated with the High Druid let their current do the talking.

9th level spoiler [elemental]

Initiative: +16

Lightning zap +14 vs. AC—35 lightning damage

Natural odd hit: The target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

R: Lightning strike +14 vs. PD (one nearby enemy)—45 lightning damage

Lightning storm transformation: Roll a d6 at the start of each of the lightning elemental’s turns. If you roll less than or equal to the escalation die, it shifts into lightning storm form until the end of the battle. While in this form it gains the following improved attack (and you stop rolling lightning storm transformation checks):

C: Storm strike +14 vs. PD (up to 2 nearby enemies)—40 lightning damage

Natural even roll: The elemental can include an additional target in the attack (requires attack roll) that hasn’t been hit by storm strike this turn, but the attack only deals half damage.

Flight: Lightning elementals zip from place to place about half-as-quick as lightning, hovering above the ground to avoid being grounded.

Metal affinity+: The lightning elemental’s attacks gain a +2 bonus against an enemy wearing metal armor or wielding a metal weapon.

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

AC   24

PD    24                 HP 164

MD  15

 

ROB_tileThe Icon Riffs series offers inspiration for adventure design and improvisation at the table. The ideas presented aren’t numbered, because numbered lists imply a certain consistency between results. These lists are evocative rather than consistent.

They’re also not thorough. This isn’t an attempt to list all the things that could be associated with the icons. There are huge numbers of worthwhile connections already scattered through our books and through players’ and GM’s websites. Instead of cataloging existing ideas, these notes are a brainstorm touching on ideas we haven’t already presented in detail. Some ideas may feed into future products.

(This month’s riffs created in collaboration with Wade Rockett.)

The Prince of Shadows

13A-Prince-Of-Shadows-tile-colorThe PCs start to notice the Prince’s symbol everywhere: in pipe smoke, bootlace knots, temple carvings, rock formations, sheet music, and more; magical tattoos of the Prince’s symbol that last a week and can only be seen by others with the same tattoo; covert missions to rescue slaves and relocate them with new identities, turning them into fiercely loyal assets to the Prince; a crime ring of anti-theist wizards that hires adventurers to steal from gods and demons; clerics of other gods who secretly worship the Prince as a god of lies and trickery.

Sleeper agents who are loyal to other icons—until they receive the signal and remember their true allegiance; ultra-rare dragons who can change their colors, spying or running long cons in Axis and Drakkenhall; whispers of a treaty between the Emperor and the Prince that grants safe haven to all within the palace grounds, leading to certain nervous retainers never setting foot outside the palace.

13A-Dwarf-King-tile-colorThe Dwarf King

A game using rune-carved stone tokens that predates the 1st Age, and which legend says was created by the first Dwarf King as a powerful magic ritual; an annual ceremony where the Dwarf King and every dwarf in the Empire strike the ground with their hammers at exactly the same time—maybe in remembrance, maybe to ensure something happens, or maybe to prevent something from happening; a top-secret program to create and control living dungeons as weapons of war against the drow.

Dwarf-forged cultists who await the coming of the Dwarf-Forged King, an icon  made of metal, fire and magic; negotiations between the Dwarf King and the Crusader over mining rights to a type of metal that’s found only in hellholes; a secret envoy from the Black to the Dwarf King, offering her assassins to help bring down the Prince of Shadows—for a price; rumors that every spring the Dwarf King sends a caravan laden with wondrous items and beautiful, exotic creatures to the Elf Queen.


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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