Next, glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, at stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honorable.
— Homeric Hymn to Hermes
The Twelve Olympians receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

The Twelve Olympians Receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

That, you will be gobsmacked (or perhaps even godsmacked) to know, is the earliest reference known to the Twelve Olympians, and it’s not that early: the “Homeric” hymns are usually dated to around 600 BCE, which is about 75 years before the tyrant Peisistratos sets up the first known altar to the Twelve, in Athens. (A cult of the Twelve in Olympia, appropriately enough, likely dates to about the same time.) Where the Greeks got the idea remains mysterious: from the twelve Babylonian months, perhaps via a grouping of 12 gods found in Hittite rituals (and in a 13th-century BCE hall of statuary at Yazilikaya) and from thence to the Greek coasts of Asia Minor.

Why, you may well ask, am I improving our minds with Classical study at this late juncture? Because in my home game, my newest campaign is a 13th Age campaign I call Poikila Hellenistika, or “The Brightly-Colored Hellenistic Age.” It’s set in a big-eyes-and-archaic-smile anime-influenced version of the Hellenistic era, specifically in Syracuse in Sicily (for now) in 273 BCE. (More information here, should you wish it.) And that means I needed to redefine the 13 Icons as, of course, the 12 Olympian gods, because hey, Alexander the Great won. And indeed, erected “altars to the Twelve Gods” on the banks of the Hyphasis River, the eastern edge of his empire.

So my Icons are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Dionysos. So who’s the Thirteenth God, then? Who isn’t? Dionysos famously replaced Hestia (goddess of the hearth) on Olympus; by the Hellenistic era, Heracles was much more worshipped than Ares. Hades is often considered the (unlucky) Thirteenth God, and Alexander the Great allegedly demanded the Greek cities recognize him as the Thirteenth Olympian. Olympia itself doesn’t help: its Twelve Gods swap in the Three Graces (as a unit), the River Alpheios, and the fallen gods Kronos and Rhea. Other common Hellenistic interlopers include Hekate, Asklepios, Pan, and Persephone. Given that one of my player characters is the Occultist from 13 True Ways, that means the Three Fates are likely an Icon, too. In practice, I’m letting the players pick their Icons and (much like the Greeks) not sweating the specific membership list.

The 13 Olympikons In Play

So leaving aside the question of “Who?” we get to the question of “What?” What do the Olympikons do in my game that the Icons don’t, and vice versa? Let’s start with the common factors: like the Dragon-Imperial Icons, the Olympian Ikons have a wide network of worshipers, priests, and other agents from the Seleukid dynasty claiming descent from Apollo to the various cults, mysteries, and temples all over the Mediterranean and points east. Most cities have at least one patron god (Syracuse’s are Athena and Apollo, plus there’s a big temple of Zeus just south of the city), so the Ikons have even more helpers in the shape of city governments and armies. It’s even more fun than it sounds, because the Olympians wound up with so many weird responsibilities in their portfolio: Poseidon is not just the god of the sea, but of horses, earthquakes, epilepsy, watchfulness, and even (as Poseidon Phytalmios) gardening. (For everything you could ever want to know about any figure of Greek myth, hie thee to theoi.com.)

Another thing that’s cropped up in play is the very Greek notion of the gods speaking and working through the players: we’ve already had Apollo justify a player’s 6 on the relationship die by inspiring his tongue to talk down a Spaniard. Greek gods loved to appear in dreams and oracles, so I can always drop one in if I like. Even then, given the sheer number of Ikonic interventions needed with six players (even on an average roll, that’s two or three interventions in one session, and my players do not roll average dice) we’re also adopting a house rule: if the player or the GM can’t think of something cool (or hasn’t yet) for your 6 to do during the game, you can take a +2 to something your Ikon plausibly might help you with. For clerics, that’s likely just casting a spell, but the Amazon might turn her 6 on the Artemis relationship die into a +2 to hit with a spear or bow. So far, a 5 likely gives you a +1 in similar fashion, although I’ll probably put a twist in the tail of a roll like that.

Some potential Ikons just flow together: Asklepios is the son of Apollo, so he becomes a major agent of the Ikon Apollo; Pan and Dionysos have that wild-man feel and patronage of satyrs in common, so they’re both aspects of the same Ikon. The campaign world is pretty human-centric, so the explicitly inhuman Icons like the Orc Lord wind up as aspects of godly humanist Olympians (the Orc Lord sounds pretty Ares-ish to me, although the Romans did explicitly identify Hades with their deity Orcus). Again, we’re letting that stuff emerge in play — we’ve decided that the Apollonian royalty of Hyperborea make pretty good elves, for example, at least on a mechanical basis, so the Elf Queen is likely an aspect of either Apollo or his woodsy sister Artemis.

In my game, if Alexander conquered you, your gods got subsumed into Olympian Ikon-hood: Melqart of Tyre becomes Heracles, for example, and Isis becomes Demeter. (Herodotos identified her as such; he also equated Osiris with Dionysos, Horus with Apollo, Amon with Zeus, and Bast with Artemis, among others.) That does leave a number of grumbly foreign gods: so far, I can reveal that Moloch (aka Baal-Hammon) of Carthage and Saturnus in Rome have not at all accepted their demotion. In our history, Zeus and his ilk eventually collaborated with the Romans and got subsumed in their turn into Jupiter, etc., but that’s 150 years away in my game and may not happen, depending on just how epic our epic tier gets. But that, as they say, is in the lap of the Ikons.

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

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

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

The Prince of Shadows

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Crusader

13th Age Crusader colorTemples where demons are destroyed permanently in rituals that siphon their power away to the Crusader’s gods; ‘airships’ powered by winds that blow only from hellhole to hellhole, so that the Crusader’s armies can float between hellholes when the ‘winds’ are right—or wrong, depending on what’s actually going on here; bridges built where bridges are most required that can be freely used by the populace, so long as everyone crossing provides their true name (lies are often detected) and their intentions for this travel.

Occasional ‘high cullings,’ in which the temples and worshippers of the weakest of the dark gods—at that time—are destroyed and sacrificed or driven away so that the strongest gods get stronger—and so that the strongest gods are careful to make sure they never become weak. Public-minded pension programs that provide additional assistance to widows and families of Imperial veterans, so long as those families send one daughter or son to join the Crusader’s armies; literacy initiatives that create generations of readers with an extremely dark vocabulary.

Knights or warriors in full plate who ride forth to accomplish their mission and then seem to freeze, and when someone finally dares to investigate the motionless armor, it’s empty—at least for now; likewise, walls and fortifications that appear to be patrolled by dozens or hundreds of warriors, but it’s difficult to say which armor is occupied and which is not, especially since the unoccupied armor sometimes moves.

Renamed holidays and festivals, so that every worthwhile celebration is named after a past or present general or mighty crusader, with new ‘traditions’ playing off the original traditions in ways that sometimes get adopted by people who otherwise oppose everything the Crusader stands for; unpredictable amnesties for crimes that do not support the Diabolist or (generally) damage the Emperor.

13th Age High Druid colorThe High Druid

Ancient magical stones that have been allowed to weather; holy stones that have not been carved upon but instead gradually grown into somehow organic shapes; menhirs sprouting living trees; plinths covered in flowers, in patterns that reveal problems in the forest.

Great monsters that break through the Sea Wall, but somehow subside and find a hole to burrow into deep within the Wild Wood; great subterranean creatures that more or less follow the Koru behemoths; great creatures never seen on the surface, that have occasionally been known to swallow an entire living dungeon; beasts that used to live in the Midland Sea but now sleep somewhere upriver, waiting for the day when the wizardry that tames the Midland Sea falls shattered; rangers or druids or monster killers or manipulative wizards who take it upon themselves to uncover and learn about the giant creatures that live just beyond the Empire.

Forests with canopies shorter than humans, cultivated or guarded by gnomes, pixies, or halflings; traveling human raft communities that convert to lake towns on pole houses when they reach their magically prepared seasonal moorings; human tribes who reincarnate into the local otter population and then back again into the human clans, so that the two groups have distantly understood kinships and fur hunting will get you killed either way; animals that talk to people but only at specific phases of the moon, which makes it the beasts’ equivalent of lycanthropy, a blessing to some and horrible disease to others.


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