With Crown of Axis out of its design and development phases and currently with the editor, I thought See Page XX readers might be interested in hearing how the adventure came about—a behind-the-scenes look at how one adventure came to be, for aspiring RPG designers or anyone who likes to hear how the sausage gets made.

It began with Rob Heinsoo emailing to tell me that Pelgrane wanted a new 1st level introductory adventure for 13th Age. Shadows of Eldolan and The Strangling Sea are both excellent, but they’d been out for a while and it would be good to have something fresh to offer. Would I be willing and able to write:

  • A 44(ish) page adventure for level 1 characters
  • Introducing GMs and players to 13th Age, its distinctive mechanics, and its approach to F20 roleplaying
  • With different types of antagonists than the other intro adventures (e.g. not undead)
  • As soon as possible?

This was the first time I’d actually been asked to write an adventure instead of volunteering myself. Wreck of Volund’s Glory began as a homebrew adventure I wrote to run at Gen Con, and I pitched it to Kobold Press as a product after a few successful sessions. The general outline of Temple of the Sun Cabal took shape at the 13th Age Adventure Workshop panel at Gen Con, and I offered to write it up as a full adventure for 13th Age Monthly.

This project would also be the longest and most complex RPG project I’d ever tackled. I love a good writing challenge (and seeing my name on the covers of things), so I said yes. Rob asked me to send him a pitch and a proposed outline.

I thought about the adventures that most excited me when I was new to RPGs, playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager back in the early 80s. As a huge fan of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, I loved city adventures—ones where armed and dangerous rogues wander through bustling markets filled with exotic goods, fight duels, chase pickpockets, evade the city watch, and become embroiled in the sinister schemes of the wealthy and powerful. A lot of introductory adventures are set in the kinds of places Fafhrd and the Mouser left behind in order begin their careers—for this one, the heroes would follow their example and head for the big city.

For a long-form creative project I find it useful to have a one-sentence summary of what this thing is and what it needs to accomplish, so I can refer back to it throughout the process in order to keep myself on track.  For this project it was, “An introductory 13th Age adventure in which the PCs are new adventurers seeking their fortune in a wealthy and powerful city, and which will inspire the same feelings of wonder and excitement I experienced when I encountered City-State of the Invincible Overlord as a teenager.”

And where would such an adventure be set but in Axis, the seat of Empire?

I immediately realized what I’d be getting myself into if I set this adventure in Axis. Writing an adventure to introduce brand-new players and GMs to a game is a heavy responsibility already, but to set it in arguably the single most important city in the game? What on earth was I thinking? But the idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go: our heroes would test their mettle in the legendary City of Swords itself.

But only if Rob agreed.

NEXT: In Which The Author Adds Meat to These Bones, Researching Axis, Brainstorming Adventure Elements, and Constructing an Outline to Present for Rob’s Stern Judgment

 


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.

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