During one of the informal Pelgrane meetings, Robin asked all GMs present about their default NPC-style. The PCs start interacting with an NPC we haven’t planned something for; what style of NPC do we tend to default to? I kept notes!

  • Gareth said he tends to introduce upper-class fops. And drunks. Maybe drunk upper-class fops.
  • Cat also tends towards drunks. And Valley girls, because: the accent. Not necessarily drunk Valley girls. But not necessarily not drunk Valley girls.
  • Noah’s default NPCs aren’t defined by personality, more like by activity. His players tease him because whenever there’s an unexpected NPC interaction, someone is busy loading or unloading a truck, or its era-appropriate equivalent. His default NPCs are stevedores and at any moment they can say, “Well the truck is ready, I gotta go.”
  • Robin brings on dumb-guy walk-on characters or disarmingly frank and charming Big Bads. But if the NPCs are just one-scene villains, meant to be defeated, they frequently work very hard to hurt the PCs’ feelings, making their comeuppance that much sweeter.
  • Similarly, I tend to introduce NPCs who are positioned to be sarcastically mocking, possibly because of the situation rather than their actual words. And I use funny voices. Which may burble out of control.
  • Speaking of out of control speech patterns, when Ken used an extremely funny accent for descendants of the Marsh Family, his players kept arranging visits with the Marshes for no reason other than to force Ken to use the accent. This is probably payback, because when Ken’s players interact with new NPCs, these NPCs are most frequently worryingly helpful.
  • Wade says he has two flavors of default NPC that emerge at the spur of the moment. One flavor is gruff and super-intense. The other flavor is absurdly wide-eyed and earnest.  Both flavors of NPC tend to react the same to the PCs—with barely suppressed incredulity. “Well, that’s one approach I guess,” an NPC will say after hearing the PCs’ plans. “You certainly do seem to know what you’re doing, I mean, you must do this kind of thing a lot without lots of people getting killed and things catastrophically blowing up, so maybe that would work.”

By Julian Kay

As penned by Viriel Pyrolea, newly appointed Imperial Astrologer, formerly an esteemed seer of Lightwood, now doing penance service for spurring theft and piracy along the Spray.

The foreboding register consists of stars seen as hostile to imperial interests. Those that adorn themselves in raiment or accessories showing the foreboding constellations make a show of disloyalty, though it is said that imperial spies may use these marks as shams to deceive barbarians and criminals.

While the imperial dictum imposes distinctions between the registers (as opposed to a distinction clear in the stars themselves), I would have open concerns about placing any of these in the official imperial register. One should not need to be an astrologer to anticipate the dark times to follow.

The Dagger: It’s marked by the “Drop”, a reddish star that helps novices locate its tip. I find it best to speak little of this skullduggerous constellation. For those that fear visitors in the night, look to the sky, and when the dagger whorls closest to the center so that it opposes the moon, the symbology is not subtle. Knowing the position of the dagger and its implications can net one many wealthy clients, though the length of one’s employment is dependent on one’s accuracy.

The Owlbear: Let’s settle the tiresome debates; yes, in the past, both owl and bear stood as separate constellations. Such an interpretation is still popular in the Court of Stars, after all. But popular thought on the matter has shifted my own opinion. The resulting constellation is one everybody can recognize without wondering if they’re looking at a pair of spoons.

We live in a world with magical beasts, and the meddling of mages combined with druidic practices lets one more properly predict when a flight of griffins or other unnatural creatures will descend; it’s a practical solution for people likely to be eaten by griffins.

The Skull: Oh, so you need a simple, ill omen even a babe can interpret? Here it is. No tiresome arguments over its meaning. It signifies orcs at the gates and skeletons marching over the hill. No one can miss the simple line of stars that forms its spiteful smile.

The Veil: Where bright stars shine, hiding a cluster of dim pinpricks, one finds the veil. It is a sign of hidden things and shocking revelations. Unlike the Dagger, the hidden is not inherently dangerous, but its revelation carries implications. A lost noble scion. A stolen valuable hidden away. A traitorous notion kept in one’s mind. The Veil an omen of secrets kept, either good or ill.

Lastly, I will mention the White Star, the sky-void; “Star” is a misnomer, but one too persistent to deny. Do not think to place the White Star in any constellation, major or minor. If the Abyss is a hole in the world below, the White Star is the hole in the sky above. Legends tell of a demon that tore a star free to forge a blade. What lies beyond might be hell, or the realm of elder things or star-masks. Or, to tell those of the Cult of the White Star tell it, a wise creator-god beyond any of Santa Cora. I am not wise enough to tell you what lies beyond, other than to not meddle with it. There have been those who have tried to mark it as part of a constellation. This has been an egregious mistake I will not speak of further.

There are some that claim the shifting of the stars—or the meddling of the past Astrologer—swapped the White Star with a star in a major constellation, hiding it away. This is folly, and need not be seriously considered. But if you do hear any such claims, report them to me. While such notions are patently false, it is important to track them so we may quash such notions before they take root.

[Earlier in the lecture series, the merely Capricious Register can be seen here . . .

. . . and the fully-approved Imperial Register can be found here.]

[[art by Aaron McConnell & Lee Moyer]]

Crown of Axis

The arena officially opens in a month! In the next Page XX, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase Wade Rockett’s PDF-only intro adventure. It’s in the middle of layout now and has been slotted into the schedule as Pelgrane’s March 1st release.

Until then we leave you with Simone Bannach’s illo of spirit-aided oratory from a noble of House Emberhill, dedicated to restoring Axis’ glory one decaying arena at a time.

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters

Art is complete. I’d say design is complete except that J-M DeFoggi and Liz Argall came up with some new monsters to add while J-M is finishing development work on other chapters. J-M is working on his last development pass, the next step will be teaming up with me to handle final math and storytelling questions. We aim to turn the Drakkenhall sourcebook over to the editor the first week of March. I’m not sure when it will be out of editing and into layout.

Simone Bannach gets the art preview again, this time from a couple of the citizen-monsters who give the city its epithet.

Gareth’s New Book

Cat has turned Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan loose to work on his new 13th Age adventure. We’ve learned that when Gareth is unleashed, he soon returns home with a thick manuscript held between his jaws. So we’re not entirely certain that this wicked new adventure will be slipping into the schedule in this position, but we wouldn’t be surprised. Nor would we be upset, because it would be nice to publish an adventure in between two sourcebooks.

Behemoths: Paths of the Koru

Authors are working on their second drafts. Art hasn’t been commissioned and development hasn’t begun, so this sourcebook is still a ways off. We’ll find out soon whether it moves up the schedule or down.

Icon Followers

I’ve done less work on Icon Followers than expected, which sees it moving to later in the year. Playtesting of the pieces that are finished has gone well, and regular contributors including Cal Moore, J-M DeFoggi, and Liz Argall have been adding exciting bits, so I expect to announce this Bestiary of NPCs’ next steps later this year.

Speaking of announcements/heralds, that’s the flute and quill symbol of the Axis Bardic College, a touch added by ASH LAW and illustrated by Aaron McConnell.

[[Crown of Axis cover by Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer, Drakkenhall cover by Roena I. Rosenberger]]

by Julian Kay

As penned by Viriel Pyrolea, formerly an esteemed seer of Lightwood, recently appointed as Imperial Astrologer. His appointment is rumored to be penance service for promoting piracy along the Spray.

The capricious register consists of constellations held as neither strictly opposed to Imperial fortunes, nor loyal. Use in Imperial heraldry isn’t unknown, usually as a statement of power and control, as if to say, “I do not fear opposition.” An Imperial guard bearing the Manticore upon their shield bears it as a warning against transgressors. The Road, of course, is frequently associated with messengers, particularly skilled messengers.

For context and understanding of what has gone before—in this case that is to say, before my appointment and the adjustments to charts based on my gathered observations—there  had been only two registers of constellations held by the imperial throne: favorable and disfavored. Previously, the Imperial throne deemed the Couatl, Road, and Manticore as favorable, while considering the Horns and Wolf as disfavored. While you need not account for these less subtle understandings in your equations, bear in mind there are traditionalists who cling to the original blinkered view of the sky.

The Couatl: In Axis or Horizon, you would know it as the Couatl; a symbol of magic and potential wisdom. Diabolic cults call it the Serpent, a symbol of magic and insight. No doubt, if the Archmage’s Superiors and the Diabolist’s followers were on speaking terms, there could be a fierce debate whether the Fetherstar is the 10th star in this constellation.

But from my outside view on these petty distinctions, the meaning of the symbol is the same to both parties: a marker of importance to ritual casting. The flight of the Couatl’s stars align it with other celestial markers, with each being vital to empowering a different ritual. But it’s a fickle constellation, and I would not rely on the blessing of its position overmuch—particularly when it makes it painfully clear to foes when your circle of casters will attempt a exceedingly important task.

The Horns: The power of the woods, things stirring on claw and hoof, sometimes known as the Stag. Far from the concerns of Horizon, but this constellation always sits in the corner of a farmer’s eye. But it’s more than just beasts, it also can help predict storms and stranger weather. Peasants and merchants alike take care to avoid the two times of year when the Horns cross the Road. “Stag in the road, take to your abode.”

The Manticore: Ancient symbol of imperial justice or a symbol of violent rebellion? The Manticore stands in whenever both matters cross. It is a lesson for novice astrologers: there are no contradictions, only complications. The Manticore may mark unrest in a city, or it could mark an imperial crackdown. Its head may seem loyal, but always pay attention to the tail.

Note that present-day manticores hold to the constellation as part of their claim to past imperial agreements. In such cases, abandon neutrality and take up sincere agreement, at least within earshot. Note that their earshot is further than one might presume.

The Road: The first constellation any child can glean, the Road serves as a simple means of wayfinding. Though the positions of the stars have shifted over the years, they have not drifted so much as to be unrecognizable, and all still lead towards the Warden Star far to the north of the Empire itself. While other stars whip around the sky, the Road shifts so slowly as to be reliable even between ages.

There are some that claim an ancient highway once stretched along the path laid out by the stars, but such claims would seem absurd with the Midland Sea barring any such passage. Still, I am accustomed to absurdities; perhaps such a road might exist in the underworld, overworld, or other realms betwixt our own.

The Wolf: A craven, cruel beast nipping at the edges of the empire like, or to the faithful, the canine “Shepherd” gathering the vulnerable flock. As with the Manticore, it can be both, both the guiding light and the terrifying darkness, the thin line between safety and being swallowed. Orcish raiders and sheltering temples.

One can see it as the lesser danger that keeps us prepared for greater troubles. But do not dismiss or underestimate it. A lesser danger is still dangerous, and often lethal.

[Part 1 of Viriel’s lecture can be found here]

by Julian Kay

As penned by Viriel Pyrolea, formerly an esteemed seer of Lightwood, newly appointed as Imperial Astrologer as penance service for spurring theft and piracy along the Spray.

During my time in Axis, I have seen Thronehold’s glistening mounts, the clouds of Wyrmblessed, the liminal spaces between the palace portals, and more. But for all the wonders of the city, many are blind to the wonders that whirl endlessly overhead. Perhaps the cursed destinies of the Astrologer still haunt the empire, echoed in a wariness of skyborne wisdom. Knowing one’s fate can be a curse, but that fate remains all the same. I leave to the reader to judge how best to deal with knowledge that dwarfs our existence.

The imperial vizier has tasked me to share my knowledge of the stars with readers, for the benefit of your education. This is of particular use to courtiers, as I served as a servant of the Elf Queen for many years. It’s true that I relocated rapidly for personal reasons, and experienced misadventures before my royal appointment. Of course, you may idly muse, as many have, how much that relates to my own awareness of my fate. You can kindly keep musing on that mystery; I will not elucidate further.

Additionally, any suggestions that I’m penning this work to square some grudge against the Queen is a common notion I won’t humor.

And so, we begin with the simplest of matters: the thirteen major constellations. I have shared my knowledge of elven starseeking, melding it with official imperial dictum. We only find the truth of the skies through multiple perspectives.

The Three Significant Registers: To place the skies in perspective, there are currently three registers of constellations that those pondering upon the stars must consider. The first is main subject of today’s essay: the imperial register, consisting of those constellations the empire holds as favorable. You will find this distinction insignificant on the fringes of civilization, but here at the very center of our world you’ll find these constellations used everywhere, including imperial livery. Overuse, however, is a clear and tiresome form of bootlicking.

The second register, which we will consider on a subsequent date, is the capricious register, constellations that are neither loyal to imperial fortunes nor hostile.

The final register, as you no doubt have surmised, is the foreboding register, constellations of hostile stars. We will say no more of them today.

Our Subject, Our Strength: The imperial constellations are important for interpreting conditions favorable to the empire. When they cross Axis or the Road (see the Register of Capricious Constellations, to be penned shortly), times of glory are upon us. However, when they whirl closer to the barbarian lands, one should take precautions.

The Anvil: These seven stars represent the surface on which some dwarves claim the gods forged the world, and the ancient practice of their smiths taking their blades to great heights to be “sharpened by the sky” likely comes from this tale. Many forges seek mountains not only for their ores, but to clearly see the finest times for forging.

Similarly, the pre-battle tradition of raising one’s sword likely comes from the spread of dwarven battle traditions far beyond the mountains. Thankfully, the tradition of some crusading warriors to pile demonic and cultist bodies high to stand upon before brandishing one’s blade is a tradition still restricted to that grim lot.

The Crown: Claimed simultaneously to be an omen for the Dragon Emperor, Dwarf King, and Elf Queen. Though this is astrologically contradictory, I must officially state the Emperor is the crown-bearer. Still, this author makes no attempt to disabuse the King or Queen of their claims. I would also suggest that any reader take up a similar notion of neutrality.

Past records claim the crown once held a thirteenth star, but presently, we only see twelve. Is its disappearance symbolic of the fall of a ruler, like the Terrible Emperor? Or was it somehow stolen from the sky, as some have claimed?

The Dragon: But which one? The Black claim it’s the progenitor of dragonkind, a shadowy ur-drake born of the stars. Holy warriors see its proximity to the White Star to be symbolic of the Gold Wyrm, sealing the pale void in the sky just as it seals the abyss in the earth. Of course, likening a silver dragon’s shine to the stars is a traditional compliment for the Emperor’s winged allies. As with the Crown, I would advise neutrality in such debates, as there are as many tales across the world as scales in a dragon’s hide.

The Gauntlet: Sealing, protecting, crushing—the gauntlet is a symbol of divinely inspired warriors regardless of the god they cleave to. Having it point in the direction of one’s quest or crusade is a good omen for the endeavor, if not always for its participants. The gods never fail to appreciate an effective self-sacrifice.

 

By Julian Kay

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

 


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.

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 Kay

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 Kay

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 Kay

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.

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