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.

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.

A funny thing happens over time with an RPG that you’ve designed: your opinions can change. As you play it, and as new designers bring fresh perspectives and approaches to the table, you discover some unexpected things that work really well, and some things that…could be better.

With that in mind, here are  two do’s and a don’t for 13th Age that I’ve learned recently—two from playing the game with my home group, and one that surfaced during the design stage for Book of Ages.

Do. . .

. . . use the improvement to the incremental advance rules that we came up with while working on 13th Age Glorantha (page 74), limiting the choice of a new class power or spell to one per level when choosing incremental advances.

The new rule is simpler and avoids a couple thorny corner-cases I’d rather not go into. It’s also fun and dramatically proper to save some of the new-power goodness for when your character levels up.

Don’t . . . .

. . . pay attention to the way that Jonathan and I actually chose our own characters’ backgrounds in our home campaign. Please don’t. I beg you.

We wrote some good advice in Chapter 2 of 13th Age about avoiding overly broad backgrounds that demonstrate your desire to control . . . . well . . . . everything. But in the most recent session of our group’s current Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, Jonathan’s cleric/spirit-talker and my monk both ended up making skill checks using lesser backgrounds that hadn’t surfaced much before. Our problem was that we hadn’t phrased them as ‘lesser,’ and when we had to say them out loud, side-by-side, we made quite a pair. Jonathan’s spirit-talker’s background is physical agent and my monk’s 2-point background is as a metaphysical artist. Oh dear. That about covers reality, then. Cue hooting and hollering and laughter as we faced our sin together.

Do . . . .

. . . look to Book of Ages for hints on how we’ll be handling races in the future.

I’ve often been a stick-in-the-mud about adding new races. But Paul Fanning has been doing more and more development work on the 13th Age line, and when I talked with him about my plans to cut most of the races out of Gareth’s wonderful book, Paul made a persuasive case for keeping many of the races in. We developed the mechanics together, and I wrote a paragraph on the option of using new ‘races’ as interesting One Unique Things (page 24). Book of Ages is one of my favorite 13th Age creations, mostly thanks to Gareth, of course, but Paul’s help with the new races also makes me happy. There’ll be more such shifts in approach in future books.

I’ve started running a new 13th Age campaign for my Fire Opal Games comrades and their families. The PCs are (apparently) questing to recover a goddess who most of the world has forgotten. The Elf Queen has several statues of the missing goddess in one of the halls she devotes to her friends, and she wants to know who it was and why the goddess is lost to her.

The quest took the PCs to a uniquely laid out halfling tavern in Concord. (Actually, I don’t think it’s unique, it’s how most halfling establishments should be organized; but that’s a story for another time!) Viv—the former adventurer who owned the bar—had the info the PCs needed, but asked for a service from the PCs: an exorcism of sorts, a cleansing of the bad spirits that had taken over her tavern’s original location. Not just bad spirits, bad alcohol spirits. They’d been weakened over time by the evaporation of the worst of the lot, the Grimtooth Ale. But Viv’s age and the death of her dwarf pal, Rak, meant she needed help. Adventurers who’d finagled heavy winnings out of her tavern’s mantis-fights seemed like people who might get the job done.

All of this prologue is to explain why this month’s installment of 13th Sage is a couple of spirits-related spirits. For the battle I used wibbles (13th Age Bestiary) recast as bad-champagne bubble mooks. A couple of natural 1s with spells cast during the battle probably should have created more wibble-bubbles, but it was more important to keep the game moving for the all-new players. Happily for the newcomers, they cruised through this battle without encountering the worst the spirits had to offer. Your PCs may not be so lucky.

Roll initiative!


Rockfist Ale Dreg


1st level troop [spirit]

Initiative: +4


Thump go boom +6 vs. AC—6 damage

Natural 18+: PC is hampered (hard save ends, 16+, but PC receives a +8 bonus on save if they can tell a story worth hearing that involves beer—the save automatically fails if the story is longer than one minute)

Miss: 3 damage


Spirit body: For each attack against this spirit, a PC uses their best mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) instead of the ability score they normally use for attacks. Use the same mental ability score to determine damage.


AC   17

PD    15                 HP 32

MD  11


Bad Wine Spirit

Disgusting oozy ectoplasmic slime that won’t stop whining.

2nd level spoiler [spirit]

Initiative: +6


Wet slap +6 vs. AC—6 damage

Natural even hit: target slides somewhere the spirit thinks is funny; may require a second +6 attack vs. PD if the location is going to result in serious damage to the target.


R: Bubbly laughter +7 vs. MD (one nearby enemy)—4 ongoing psychic damage and confused (save ends both)

Limited use: Only on the turn after it scores a natural even hit with wet slap (but against any target, not just the one it slapped).


Spirit body: For each attack against this spirit, a PC uses their best mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) instead of the ability score they normally use for attacks. Use the same mental ability score to determine damage.


AC   16

PD    13                 HP 40

MD  15


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.

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