By Julian Kuleck

In the early days of our hobby, before players learned to yearn for lofty quests, adventurers’ motivation was simple: treasure was what we needed. Using wealth to draw enemies towards a trap is a standard real-world and literary trope, but early fantasy games went a step further, turning the wealth into a monster! And few such monsters are more iconic than the mimic, an ambulatory chest filled with more teeth than treasure.

The mimic’s problem is that it’s become too iconic. The only reason a mimic might surprise your players is that it hasn’t appeared in 13th Age—yet. Even so, describing a treasure chest in too much detail will give the game away and encourage a round of chest-thumping.

And so, this version of the mimic is about more than the trap. If your PCs have grown accustomed to modern sensibilities after opening dozens of normal treasure chests, and you can get the old chest-ambush trick to work, the surprise rules (13A pg. 164) and the mimic’s abilities will give you plenty to chortle about. But our focus is on playing on adventurers’ greed in a different way, providing an encounter that forces them to choose between their well-being and the call of that sweet, sweet loot . . . .

Backstories of a Box

The mimic seems like such a strange concept that it begs for an explanation. Some may feel an answer ruins its surreal appeal, so it’ll be up to you to decide whether you’re interested in one of these possibilities.

  • Blame a wizard: The Archmage, the Wizard King, one of their agents—somebody wanted an all-in-one guardian and container. Maybe it was more voracious or fecund than its creator expected, or maybe the mimics outlived the icon that created them. While the surface world eventually eliminates such pests, some mimics found ancient caches and deep caves where they hibernate, slowly digesting any enchanted valuables they can get their maws on.
  • Blame a dungeon: Mimics could easily be part of the strange ecology of living dungeons. And if a dungeon has a constant influx of adventurers, it could be a form of adaptation. Or maybe a living dungeon is canny enough to cook up these living traps. Worse, it’s easy to imagine delvers carrying one out, unaware of its tightly “locked” contents until it was too late, leaving the Dragon Empire to deal with the occasional hungry chest.
  • Blame a curse: Mimics could be part of a curse laid on a particularly greedy soul, perhaps by the Elf Queen or Diabolist, as an object lesson on the practice of hoarding. If you have the 13th Age Bestiary 2, perhaps those slain by a mimic become coin zombies (13B2 pg. 32). Alternately, it’d be fitting to involve the Gold King (13B2 pg. 112)—perhaps mimics are what’s left of his treasury’s guards, taking on an accursed role as eternal treasure-bearers.
  • Blame a demon: A mimic could be another fiend dragged out of hell. This version would titter and scream a lot more as it sinks its teeth into a delver’s arm.

Deathly Digestion

Whatever their origin, one thing we’re going with is that a mimic’s death destroys or digests any treasure they might be holding. GMs may want to inform a character with the appropriate background of that fact once the conflict starts, or keep it as a surprise.

While in hibernation, mimics digest treasure slowly, feeding on the magic, minerals, or both. Over time, some treasure can become runes within a mimic (13A pg. 284), something like pearls forming in oysters. But when they’re active, mimics burn though loot a lot faster, and their dying spasms push their metabolism to boil up whatever they’re holding. Or maybe they’re magical gates to dimensional caches that collapse upon their death. The exact mechanism isn’t too important.

Why get finicky about this timing? If adventurers can just kill mimics and take their loot, they become a novel monster concept, but not a novel encounter. Instead, adventurers will have to choose between seeking treasure and doing damage. Generous GMs might let PCs snatch a piece of loot from the maw of a dying mimic, but the rest of their hoard goes with them.

Beast or Barter?

Mimics may be intelligent, depending on the origin you’ve settled on (or not) and how you want to play them. If they’re just animals, they just want to gobble up anybody who thinks wearing a lot of magic morsels is a great idea.

But an alternative tradition, borrowed from their earliest origins, is for them to be both sapient and talkative. If so, they can offer information on the underworld or dungeons they’re found in exchange for treasure, or offer to trade items in their gullet. Since an item’s worth to a mimic may be based on its momentary value, its material, or just some aspect of its taste (”gotta get them sweet sapphires!”), it’s possible PCs may not even be trading down from a practical perspective. If you’re looking to get a bothersome item out of a PC’s hands, it can be a means to perform equitable exchange both in-character and out-of-character.

Intelligent mimics could offer alternative goals when delving. Perhaps a mimic is willing to ignore the tasty treats PCs are wearing if they’ll help it to a particular delicacy. Maybe it has an ancient grudge with a talking stalagmite. It could yearn for a lost drow song that once echoed through its cave. Either way, you’ll have to decide what a talking box wants.

Mimic

This voracious chest feeds on enchanted treasure, but humanoids make tasty side dishes.

Double-strength 3rd-level wrecker [ABERRATION]

Initiative: +8

 

Trap jaw +8 vs. AC—20 damage

Natural even hit: The mimic grabs the target. While the mimic is grabbing a target, it cannot use trap jaw, but does 10 acid damage to the target each turn they remain grabbed.

Miss: The mimic may make an inexplicable limbs attack as a free action.

 

C: Inexplicable limbs +8 vs. AC—12 damage, and the target becomes vulnerable until the end of their next turn.

 

Living trap: When a mimic starts a battle with a surprise attack, the escalation die does not increment to +1 until the start of the second full round. Anybody who suffers a surprise attack from a mimic is vulnerable until the end of their next turn.

 

Loot-filled innards: The mimic contains a few magical items of the GM’s choice, with the exact number based on the preponderance of magical items in the campaign and the size of your group. Some of these will be runes, but there should be one true magic item in there. Any character can attempt to snatch a piece of loot from inside a mimic’s maw during combat unless the mimic has someone grabbed; this requires a standard action while engaged with the mimic. (GMs should inform them of this option.) If the mimic is grabbing a target, only the grabbed character may attempt to snatch loot from inside the chest. When reaching for mimic loot, the character either rolls a normal save or attempts a DC 20 Dexterity check, their choice! On a success, they retrieve a random item from the creature’s innards. If they fail, the mimic makes a wicked maw attack against them as a free action. Once the mimic is reduced to 0 HP, all treasure it holds is lost.

 

Nastier Specials

Greedy glutton: The mimic adds +2 to trap jaw attacks against the foe with the most magic items (if any). If there is a tie, it gets a +1 bonus against all tied foes instead.

Sticky saliva: Any disengage check performed while engaged with a mimic has a -5 penalty.

 

AC   20

PD    18                 HP 82

MD  16

With Book of the Underworld surfacing on game store shelves and available from the Pelgrane store, it’s time for an update on the three other 13th Age books that will be published soon: Elven Towers, Crown of Axis, and Drakkenhall: City of Monsters.

Ready for the Printer: Elven Towers

[[cover by Lee Moyer and Rich Longmore]]

One of the constants in the half-designed world of the Dragon Empire is that the elves and their Queen implement long-running magical fiascoes better than anyone but the Archmage in a bad century. Elven Towers, a 120-page adventure for champion-tier adventurers, serves as Exhibit S (Stalactite In the Underworld), Exhibit T (Towering Tree in the Greenwood), and Exhibit Z (Ziggurat Atop Mountain) in the Elf Queen’s ongoing case of reckless ritual endangerment. Send your adventurers in to save the elves from age-old rituals gone awry . . . or get tricky and use the confusion to advance your own icon’s agenda.

Elven Towers is finished, the PDF is laid out. If you pre-order the book on the Pelgrane store you’ll receive the PDF right away and the print copy in a month or two. Bonus: When Aileen Miles has it ready in a week or two, you’ll also get the PDF of the map folio, presenting the great maps by Gill Pearce and Christina Trani in their full-color glory.

Next Up: Crown of Axis

[[cover by Aaron McConnell & Lee Moyer]]

Next in the queue, we’ve got Crown of Axis, Pelgrane’s first PDF-only 13th Age adventure. Wade Rockett’s design is complete, he’s done an admirable job of creating a first-or-second level adventure that plays well off the icons and the PC’s connections. J-M DeFoggi has paused decisive development while overseeing playtesting and handling the art order.

We ran a note earlier on the creation of the cover. We’ll probably run another post soon about the approach taken in Simone Bannach’s interior illustrations.

Expect this book within a couple months, probably before the print copies of Elven Towers arrive.

 

Third, as You’d Expect from the Three . . . Drakkenhall: City of Monsters

[[cover by Roena I. Rosenberger]]

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is 90% written, partially developed, and 90% illustrated. J-M stepped aside from finishing development to get Crown of Axis finished first. The missing 10% of design is on the way from AnneMarie Boeve and Liz Argall, who are finishing up a Gnomarchy section that came to us as the brainchild of the recent 13th Age Monster Workshop from GenCon Online. The internet demanded dangerous gnome bakeries in Drakkenhall. A mosaic book is the perfect place to meet those demands.

We expect art and editing to be finished in 2020, but aren’t entirely sure about layout.

 


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

By Julian Kuleck

Illustration by Aaron McConnell & Lee Moyer

To conclude the series on curses, we’ll be discussing other ways a PC might become cursed in play . . . or inflict curses of their own.

At No Extra Charge

Magical items are the most common way that heroes encounter a curse. Early F20 games loved to set cursed items as traps to ensnare characters with magic, whereas 13th Age uses them as traps to ensnare players with power. See 13th Age, 13 True Ways, and Loot Harder for specific examples.

But it’s worth pondering what makes a cursed item, whether it’s fault, age, or a troubling self-awareness. With enchanted weapons, maybe centuries of exposure to trauma and violence turns an enchantment into a curse. Smiths forge weapons to harm and kill, and what could be more spiteful than that? For a low-level curse, consider a magic item whose quirk is truly malicious and sometimes hard to resist. Maybe the cursed-quirk will go away as the magic item accepts you as its user. Or maybe it will mutate into something weirder.

Maybe magic items adjust to their users. If you’re taking a magic item from a monster, maybe the item has become monstrous over time.

For the GM looking for ways to generate curses, abandonment could be just as bad as over-use. If magic items are alive, even if they’re not alive as we are, being abandoned for decades could have deleterious effects.

Iconic Wrath

Of the icons, those on the “evil” side of the alignment grid are most often associated with curses in the text, with the Diabolist and Lich King coming up the most often in that context. But those in power often deal out curses in myth regardless of their moral compass, and it’s not hard to imagine even the Great Gold Wyrm cursing a great paladin that betrays their watch, or the Prince of Shadows using a curse to lay a rival low.

But there’s more we can do with icons that mere in-character tales of twisted tongues. The bard’s Balladeer talent (13A pg. 85) introduces the idea of cursed icon dice, which could easily represent an in-game curse, either adding cursed dice to a character’s icon relationships or replacing their dice with cursed dice—perhaps one per icon roll, at least until the character finds a way to purify themselves of bad luck.

If you want to get into the business of cursing icons yourself, look up the bard’s Song of the Iconoclast in Book of Ages (BoA pg. 81). Why would you want to do such a thing? Well, we assume you have your reasons.

So You’ve Got a Curse

We haven’t talked much about curses on heroes in play. And by “curse”, in this context, we don’t mean the ongoing damage coming from a mouthy goblin mystic. We’re talking about curses as a plot twist, the sort that take agency from players. Some players may be fine with that, and some far less so. It’s best to know in advance, and there’s no rule against asking them straight-out. Spoiling a surprise is better than violating trust.

The simplest way around this is to make curse-based plot twists largely about NPCs, preferably ones the characters have become invested in (or who invest in the heroes to solve their problem). Most curses leveled at PCs themselves should be flavorful in nature, or at least short-term, requiring a ritual or an icon’s favor. Of course, if a player really digs the characterization a good (bad?) curse brings, they can choose to embrace it. Just make sure it’s not an undue weight on the rest of the group.

Most curses on PCs are best as narrative story elements rather than in-game penalties. If you do offer penalties, they should be modest, like those for cursed items. Our interest in cursing PCs would be for the story that evolves from such, and the story where a hero became 20% more likely to miss isn’t a particularly interesting one.

Hexing 101

There’s no rule that PCs can’t get into the cursing business. Outside of class spells or a tiefling’s curse of chaos, handle this through the existing ritual rules (13A pg. 192). But depending on the nature of curses you’ve decided upon, curses may run on pure drama as much as magic. What hard-hearted GM could refuse the dying curse of a PC? And it could just be when the stars are right and emotions run high, even ill-considered words could have an impact.

When handling ritual curses by PCs, balance their narrative weight against their efficacy as a solution, as they shouldn’t be a go-to solution for most games. Curses are rarely justifiable as heroic, and often carry an unwanted side effect or troublesome requirement. It’s likely that severe curses, the kind that blind people or cause unreasoning hostility from each passerby, may inflict a curse on the caster themselves. GMs may also want to consider curses the way they consider other personal and profound forms of violence. Casting a powerful curse is an act that seeks severe, premeditated wrong to somebody, and it’s up to you to figure out if that’s appropriate for your table.

+1 Profane Bonus

Sometimes cursed words are just foul instead of fiendish. We’re not going to dig deeply into profanity, but after all these words on ill fates, here’s something fun to think about ill words: what unique or special things do characters and monsters say when they run into unpleasant surprises? What would a dwarf be without some foul phrase about beards? Hell, what does a demon say when things go wrong? They can’t just say “hell!” or “damn!”—what’s a curse to others is normal for a demon.

Some tables don’t appreciate profane cursing. Others thrive on it, and you can apply creativity either way. Your characters’ backgrounds, icons, and class can all contribute! If you’re a bard and you don’t have a colorful phrase when you drop your lute, I want you out of my tavern.

by Julian Kuleck

illustration by Dagmara Matuszak

We focused on demons in the first curse article—cursed and accursed demons. Here, we cover the many other 13th Age and F20 monsters that originated as curses or get much of their oomph delivering curses.

Deathly (Well, Undeathly) Curses

After the Diabolist, the Lich King is the icon most frequently associated with curses. Cursing a foe with a fate worse than death is a long-running fantasy trope, and what fate could be worse than undeath? (A few, but let’s not belabor them.)

Many undead arise from curses, possibly even as a careless curse as one dies. As such, it could be that some undead aren’t entirely destroyed by being reduced to 0-hp—to eliminate a truly cursed undead, you’ve got to resolve the curse that created them.

Start with the zombies of the Silver Rose (13TW pg. 207). Are their curses spoken in service to the Lich King, or are they condemnations of a world that failed them?

To take this idea all the way to the top, consider the Lich King. The One-Eyed King is almost certainly a self-made monster rather than the product of somebody else’s spite, but it could be that while another—like the Emperor—sits on his throne, the Lich King cannot fall, fueled by fated hatred that goes beyond necromantic artifice.

Orcish Objurations

Orcs, goblins, and other followers of the Orc Lord often deal in curses, which could easily be a lesson or secret unearthed by their icon. Or it could be that curses are a primal form of magic born of emotion, not requiring the towers and textbooks that produce many wizards. With that, it also could be part of the training a “book-wizard” goes through is just to steer them away from the easier and more troublesome hexes offered by magic.

Or it could be that curses are the magic of the underdog, and that those who lack power in an age find them easier to cast. This wouldn’t really square with the tales of icons casting curses, but icons break the rules.

The fact that orcs emerge from ruined lands absolutely feels like the ancient curse of an icon.

Curses of the Moon

Werebeasts (13TW pg. 204) spread a deadly, curse-based infection. If the moon is full, an adventurer who takes a nip from a lycanthrope can be infected with lycanthropy. How easily heroes can diagnose lycanthropy before the full moon shines is a matter for GMs to decide. If you’re seeking a more playable version of lycanthropy, the beastblood from Book of Ages (BoA pg. 77) could fulfill that need.

Before lycanthropy was a curse, it’s said to have been a blessing given by the Wolf Druid (BoA pg. 74). Perhaps the Wolf Druid punished those who stole his gift of shapeshifting, creating the infection the Dragon Empire knows today. Alternately, if the Wolf Druid forbid those who took on bestial shape from feeding on humans, one of the Druid’s folk biting down on the Emperor of a past age would certainly have broken that ban. The lesson you could apply more widely is that any blessing, with sufficient corruption via replication, can mutate into a curse.

Curses of the Blood

In fiction, vampires (13A pg. 248) are often the result of an ancient curse. Perhaps they arise from the curse of a god (or blessing of a dark god), a curse cast by the Lich King on his wayward descendants, or maybe they’re an object lesson as to why alchemists don’t include elven blood in their potions anymore. But how would a PC come under the effect of a curse? We suggest making it a slow process, requiring several nights or multiple bites, so that the characters can race against time to keep the curse from taking full effect.

But if you want a playable vampire curse, here’s an option for those who have become creatures of the night:

Bloodkin

+2 Str OR +2 Cha

Since vampires have many interpretations, we’re providing two different racial abilities for bloodkin. Players should choose one for their characters. Draining bite is more suitable to those who like wading into the thick of combat, while hypnotic gaze can be used by any character.

Draining Bite (Racial Power)

Once per battle, after you have hit with a melee attack that staggers a non-mook foe, you may heal using a recovery as a free action. You may substitute your Strength modifier for your Constitution modifier for the purposes of this recovery. This recovery must be rolled; you may not take the average result.

Champion Feat: When you trigger draining bite, the foe staggered becomes dazed until the end of your next turn.

Hypnotic Gaze (Racial Power)

Once per battle, when an enemy misses you with a natural attack roll of 1-5, they may not target you with an attack until the end of their next turn.

Champion Feat: When you trigger hypnotic gaze, you may deal 3 x the enemy’s level in damage to a different enemy engaged with you, as you induce the attacking enemy to strike another. If the enemy that triggers hypnotic gaze has a damaging ranged attack, the target of the damage no longer needs to be engaged with you!

But Vampires Can’t . . . .

As with their more monstrous cousins, it’s suggested that you customize a bloodkin’s weaknesses and requirements to the specific character or campaign. Such limitations should serve as roleplaying flavor and fodder, not as blocks on what the character can do. Maybe bloodkin just find the sun uncomfortable rather than harmful, or can shield themselves with heavy clothing. They could can feed on lifeforce or magic as much as blood, or may choose to feed on animals and monsters. Perhaps garlic tastes like soap rather than repelling them. This might seem lightweight, but is ultimately just a necessity of including vampires in an ensemble cast—having them bound by hard limitations risks too much of the game revolving around their needs.

Haggish Doggerel

The monster most strongly associated with inflicting curses would be the hag (13B pg. 104). After all, the name “hag” also gave us the German hexe. Their ability to cast a death curse is one thing, but just as interesting is their ability to remove other curses. They could be good folk to consult for any curse. . . for certain definitions of “good”, anyway. But what price might a hag ask? Self-serving requests come to mind, but it could be to remove a curse, one must inflict an equal curse. Does a hero choose to live with their affliction, or pass it on, not knowing who might be the next victim?

It could be that a hag is what you eventually become after casting one too many curses. Or they could be victims of the first curse, a lesson they took to heart. The hags aren’t telling, at least without exacting a price just as severe.

The Modern Hag

In my games, hags can be any gender. I also don’t call them “hags”I give them specific names or titles, like Anali the Soulsmith or Ever-Hungry Tvertak.

By Julian Kuleck

illustration by Lee Moyer

In many F20 games, curses are a flavorful inconvenience, temporary problems that can be removed by a single memorized spell. In 13th Age, freeform character creation options and flexible magic provide some mechanical and narrative space that can spin curses into blessings!

In the big picture, curses have begun and ended ages, spawned monsters, and shaken the Dragon Empire to its core. While keeping those momentous occasions in mind, this series of articles will focus on the smaller picture, embracing the rich heritage of supernatural curses as fun options for player characters and GMs.

One Unique Curse

Curses are often singular, which makes them perfect candidates for a player character’s One Unique Thing. Mythology is rich with colorful curses you can adapt to your character, along with the adventure-driving hook of one day escaping from the curse. But that’s not the only reaction a character can have to be cursed. Some characters might accept a curse as a form of penance, or even take on a curse voluntarily. A character who is blithely unconcerned about a curse that freaks out the rest of the adventuring party can be a roleplaying treasure!

Some players might view taking a curse as their unique as a hassle, but that’s not necessarily so. Even a drawback can become a boon. While a curse that grants power at a cost is classic, you can also consider what advantages might come of a purely-unfortunate curse. Having a curse to always speak the truth is a definite limitation, but it also means those aware of your curse can’t easily question your sincerity.

[[Editor’s note: For another example,  a character in one of my current 13th Age games was cursed by his enchantress ex-wife to have inanimate objects talk with him at inopportune times. It’s not only great comedy that everyone can chime in on, it’s also a potentially useful GM tool when I want to convey almost-helpful information as sarcastically as possible. –Rob H]]

But curses needn’t center on a character. It could be the hero’s unique is the result of a curse on somebody else. For example, a curse laid on an oppressive ruler might return an ancient hero to the world. Or perhaps the character is the only one immune from a curse laid on a community or locale. The character could be only one who can cast or inflict a specific hex!

If you want to get more ambitious, maybe it’s a shared curse that holds your motley party together in the first place!

Damn You From Hell!

Where do curses come from? In 13th Age, they’re often associated with demons and devils. Many demons have abilities that invoke the curse word, like an imp’s curse aura (13A pg. 210) or the nalfeshnee’s abyssal curse (13A pg. 214). And “accursed” is a common term thrown around in regards to hellholes. Do infernal beings have an (un?)natural ability to inflict curses, or does their spite just give them a gift for it?

What if demons were the ultimate source of all curses? What if all curses are summonings, bringing forth demonic spirits that attach to and bedevil the afflicted person. With that, a hellhole could be a form of curse itself, which would match the incidental curses that tend to arise in proximity to them. Could a sufficiently cursed person become a walking hellhole? One would hope not, but maybe that’s what made the current Diabolist what she is today. There certainly are enough reasons for others to curse her . . . .

Ancestral Sins

On the player side of the infernal coin, tieflings have access to the freeform ability curse of chaos. Causing trouble for others literally runs in their blood. But it’s worth thinking about how intentional this ability is (though the player is always in charge of the ability’s use). Is it something the tiefling can use instinctively? Is it triggered by their emotions? Or is it a trick passed down through demonblooded communities, learned long ago from abyssal lessons?

A lot of those answers will have to do with how you handle the infernal in your campaign and tieflings’ relationship to it. Either way, it’s a potent weapon. It could be that the combination of free-willed spite and accursed ancestors is an evolving brew that makes tieflings potentially greater than their forebears when it comes to hexes.

Hexperts

Book of Demons introduced the demonologist, and after the above, it should be no surprise that they’re the most curse-intensive class in the game. But because the demonologist emerged after 13th Age’s other classes, only the bard’s jack of spells talent (13A pg. 86) gets access to their toolbox.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s an alternative heritage talent for the sorcerer which could be adapted to other classes as you like. As you can see, this is another heritage talent related to the Diabolist. It’s meant to be an alternate talent for Infernal Heritage, the sorcerer talent on page 138 of the core rulebook that’s associated with the Diabolist. If you really want to play up your diabolic heritage and take two talents that are associated with the Diabolist, there’s nothing really stopping you except the sideways glances of your fellow adventurers.

Accursed Heritage (Diabolist)

Your existence offends fortune itself. This has its uses.

You can use one of your sorcerer spell choices to choose any demonologist curse spell, using the guidelines for curse spells contained under the demonologist class features (Book of Demons, pg. 9). When you cast such spells, you do so as if you were an initiate demonologist.

In addition, you may spend a quick action to come up with a curse spoken loudly and clearly. When the curse triggers, the target suffers a minor thematic effect in line with the curse proclaimed, as with the wizard talent Vance’s polysyllabic verbalizations (13A pg. 149) or the tiefling’s curse of chaos (13A pg. 72). Such effects should add flavor to the curse, not just exacerbate it.

Adventurer Feat: If you roll a 1 or 2 when casting a curse spell, it automatically recharges at the end of battle. Make sure to curse your luck.

Champion Feat: You no longer need to expend an extra quick action to perform a verbal curse.

Epic Feat: Once per battle when casting a curse spell, you may make its recharge roll immediately instead of at the end of battle.


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

 

Shop the Goblin Market, or plunder its riches! Join the SMASH Society of adventurers, or swear oaths to carry out the schemes of the Blue! Explore the rubblehoods, or get tangled in the sorcerous conspiracy that keeps the orcs out of Drakkenhall!

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is a 13th Age sourcebook for GMs running adventurer and champion-tier campaigns.

Drakkenhall doesn’t present a single view of the subject, but many. Just as no two 13th Age campaigns take place in identical versions of the Dragon Empire, the authors of Drakkenhall aren’t required to treat previously published material, or each other’s ideas, as canon. Instead, we gave each designer the freedom to come up with new aspects of the City of Monsters that they think players and GMs will enjoy—you can fit them together however you like at your own table. Most of the pieces of the resulting mosaic have, in fact, turned out to be compatible! The ideas that deliberately contradict each other reveal choices you and your players can make in your campaign.

Drakkenhall looms before you, its gates open. Dare you enter?

Authors: Liz Argall, AnneMarie Boeve, Benjamin Feehan, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Cal Moore, Corey Reddin

Developers: John-Matthew DeFoggi, Rob Heinsoo

Status: In development

[[Map above by Lee Moyer, from 13 True Ways]]

 

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-order now

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

original sketch

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

drying on the easel

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

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

 

 

While working on Book of the Underworld a couple weeks ago, I realized that our advice for leveling up monsters isn’t as direct as it could be. Some of you realized this right away, for others it could be a welcome clarification.

The simplest way to level up a creature is to bump it up by three levels.

We built the 13th Age math around the idea that power doubles every three levels. Therefore, the simplest way to level up a monster is also often the most useful way of leveling up a monster, effectively bumping it up a tier.

To add three levels to a monster, follow the following four steps.

First, add +3 to each of the monster’s attack bonuses and double the damage dealt by its attacks. (See the ongoing damage note below for the exception.)

Second, add +3 to each of its defenses.

Third, double the monster’s hit points.

Fourth, if the monster has abilities connected to healing, gaining hit points, or dealing damage to itself, double the points of those abilities. (For example, if you took the 5th level huge white dragon from page 219 of the 13th Age core rulebook and raised it to an 8th level huge white dragon, you’d increase the damage it deals to itself on a natural odd hit or miss with its ice breath attack from 2d8 to 4d8.)

Note on ongoing damage: Ongoing damage tends to increase by 5 points per tier rather than doubling every 3 levels, but especially at epic tier you could bump ongoing damage up by 10 instead of 5.

Most of the time, these quick adjustments will have handled everything you need to handle a three-level jump. Since the point of 13th Age monster design is to have a fun variety of unusual effects, you’ll probably encounter monster abilities that you want to tinker with slightly to reflect a higher tier. You usually won’t have to perform that type of adjustment, but if something feels off to you, adjusting it on the fly should be a lot simpler with the baseline handled by +3 and doubling.

Actually, that might turn out to be more of an issue if you’ve taken the opposite path. Dropping a monster three levels uses the same simple math in reverse, but higher level monsters might have abilities you’re not as comfortable inflicting on lower-tier player characters.

Of course, variations on this arithmetic work for other level-up shifts, as reflected in the DIY Monster Charts. We summarized the multipliers on the GM Screen, as shown below.

Leveling a Monster

+1 Level: Multiplier 1.25

+2 Levels: Multiplier 1.6

+3 Levels: Multiplier 2.0

+4 Levels: Multiplier 2.5

+5 Levels: Multiplier 3.2

+6 Levels: Multiplier 4.0


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

In a perfect world, I’d work up to revealing the final cover for Book of the Underworld, telling the step-by-step story of how it came to be and finally whipping the sheet off the easel.

But that’s now how the internet works. So here’s the cover as painted by Lee Moyer using some original pencil sketches by Rich Longmore.

How It Came to Be

Like Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s earlier Book of Ages, Book of Demons, and Eyes of the Stone Thief, the upcoming Book of the Underworld is a pinwheel of unforgettable ideas that are great for gaming. One of the high-class problems of working with material this good is that I feel responsible for finding ways of creating covers that live up to Gareth’s writing.

Last year, we handled this responsibility for Book of Ages by using a team-up. It was the same team-up we’d used previously on the core book and the 13th Age GM screen. Aaron McConnell created wonderful pencils (reprinted inside in the section featuring the Grandmaster of Flowers, page 91) and Lee Moyer handled the paints.

That team-up wasn’t available for Book of the Underworld, and at first it didn’t look like I had a way of getting Lee in on the project. Gareth, developer J-M DeFoggi, and I had some fairly standard art suggestion ideas for what we might do for the cover. But when I say “fairly standard” I also mean that I didn’t think our ideas were particularly good or entirely practical.

So eventually I called Lee, intending to tell him our problem and see if he had a suggestion for a better path. Lee listened and then suggested a better path that he was willing to carve himself.

Lee sent over a layout of an obsidian shard, hung in webs, the sketch just below. Lee asked whether Rich Longmore could provide pencils for a few characters that Lee would use to populate the obsidian mirrors. Lee had enjoyed painting over Rich’s pencils on the Timewatch GM Screen so this was another team-up that had worked before.

I sent Rich notes that went something like this:

The plan is to have a magical blade of obsidian (or something!) held up by spider webs. The obsidian will reflect several faces and scenes related to the underworld.

You will create four pencil sketches that will get slices taken out of them as shown in the blue shards cut out of the obsidian in Lee’s comp. The sketches don’t have to complete, but they need to be somewhat bigger than the spaces so Lee can move ’em a bit. They don’t have to be inked. They also aren’t part of something happening right in front of the shard, it’s more like a magic mirror effect, Lee will take what you draw and distort it in the slab.

Rich was into it and we agreed on the characters/creatures to be sketched: drow warrior; dwarf warrior; giant spider; and soul flenser.

Here are Rich’s sketches. I wasn’t entirely clear on how these were going into the painting, so I couldn’t have approved them without confirming that they were what Lee was hoping for. Yep, as usual Rich hit it on the first try.

And then came the blessed period when Lee goes away, spends three or four times as many hours as he said he would spend on the project, and comes back with something finished and wonderful. For a change, Lee handled the fonts and text for the cover, I think that may actually have taken him as much work as the painting. We’ll put the Pelgrane logo in the bottom right corner and we’re done with another cover that lives up to its book.

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