Wanna bend the rules a little and play a character who has the ultimate in conflicted relationships? Choose one icon that suits your character’s story best. Spend your three icon relationship points like so: take one relationship point that’s positive, one that’s conflicted, and one that’s negative. Yes, all with the same icon.

What interwoven stories will explain your situation? Let’s use the Archmage as an example. Perhaps you are devoted to the Archmage as a Spark within the almost extinct but now resurgent Order of the Blue Flame. That’s your positive relationship point.

But the Blue Flame has a rival order (possibly responsible for their fall?) in the service of the Archmage that opposes everything they stand for, politically and metaphysically, so your negative relationship point is connected to opposing a secretive faction of Archmage-devoted definite-enemies. You’re probably not lethal rivals, but you’d rather see everything about them fail, and vice versa.

The conflicted point might be most all the other factions in the Archmage’s service, who probably appreciate your faction’s fervent return to power but are concerned about in-fighting. Some times they help you, other times you’re figuring out how to keep them from helping your rival.

I’m sure the High Druid, Priestess, and Prince of Shadows are ripe for this type of treatment. And we haven’t even mentioned the most obvious icon for three-part disharmony: The Three! In the simplest interpretation, you could be on great terms with one of the Three, mixed up in both positive and negative relations with followers of another, and directly opposed to the third, perhaps for personal reasons or perhaps for reasons connected to your most-positive aspect of the icon.

03-ashen-starscoverThere are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).

We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.

Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.

Rasal, The Practitioner

Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant       

Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer

Judy Coyle, The Viceroy

The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.

Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel

 Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleedinsect

The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.

Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer

Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur

The Master of the Plunderbund

The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.

Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket

Klaadarr, The Seeker

The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.

Allies: The Transer, the Healer

Enemies:  The Meddler, the Pracitioner

Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant

Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.

Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.

Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund

02_ashenstar_BallaStarwind, The Healer (Balla)

Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.

Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel

Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)

Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile

Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)

Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.

He owns corporations too –  among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.

Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund

Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy

Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)

The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.

Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler

Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer

Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)

The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.

Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner

The Meddler (Vas Mal)02_ashenstar_vasmal2

The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.

Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant

The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)

And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…

Allies: None

Enemies: All

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Alarums & Incursions front cover_350Fun random tables to generate mini-stories for player characters between adventures, or figure out what a character was up to when their player couldn’t make it to Game Night. Each icon-related task or experience includes a suggested contact, a temporary background, or a reward. GMs can also use these tables to generate zany plot ideas for NPCs related to the Archmage, Crusader, Diabolist, Dwarf King, Elf Queen, and Emperor. By Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

Alarums & Incursions: Downtime for Six Icons is the eighth installment of the second 13th Age Monthly subscription. You can buy it as a stand-alone PDF, or purchase the collected Volume 2 to get all 12 issues plus the 2016 Free RPG Day adventure Swords Against the Dead!

Stock #: PEL13AM22D Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Rich Longmore, Aaron McConnell Type: 14-page PDF

Buy now

 

 

campaigncoins_400Telling Stories with 13th Age Icons

Mark Morrison is one-half of Campaign Coins, who have a Kickstarter for official 13th Age Coins & Icon Tokens in May 2016. He has also written scenarios for Call of Cthulhu and Elric!

I’ve been helping my friend Andre Bishop run Campaign Coins since 2011, and it’s all Rob Heinsoo’s fault. Rob’s card game Three Dragon Ante stopped our Pathfinder campaign dead for two months because we got so hooked on gambling with fake coins (I used to call it nerd poker). In time I offered to help Andre run the business, and the rest is history and counterfeit gold.

I kept an eye on Rob’s designs after that, so after my 4E group finished Gardmore Abbey it was the perfect time for us to try 13th Age, as it promised the sweet spot between 4E’s ease of play and 3E’s flexibility, all streamlined into a beautiful and at times hilarious indie-DnD package.

The group was totally hooked, and it’s been our house campaign ever since.wyrm

The Dragon Empire is a great setting, but I have two loves: heroic fantasy and westerns. So, I used the new campaign as the opportunity to mashup my own sort-of original setting, inspired in large part by Joe Abercrombie’s dusty and bloody novel Red Country:

I’m running a Spaghetti Tolkien campaign.

It’s 1876, train tracks are crossing the United States, the Plains Wars are raging, and there are humans and elves and dwarves all armoured up and killing each other with swords. There are stagecoaches and dragons and dwarf prospectors and chain gangs and haunted mines, but no six-guns. In other words, the best of both worlds.

I love the icons, they’re my favourite part of 13th Age. They are Jungian and universal and heroic, and offer all the themes you need to build a self-sustaining story engine.

In my fantasy-western the Emperor is the President (I do a half-arsed impersonation of Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln). The Priestess is in Utah, the Dwarf King is building tracks from San Francisco, the Archmage is building them the other way from the East Coast, the Prince of Shadows is running the gangs of New York, the Diabolist is doing nefarious things out of New Orleans, and the Crusader With No Name turns up when he is least wanted, which is quite often the way my players make icon rolls.

Instead of the Lich King we have the Serpent King, a bloody Mesoamerican deity who the player characters have awakened from a pre-human time when the 13 icons were all reptilian. My living dungeons are serpent mounds and tunnels which criss-cross America. Last session the adventurers learned that the reptile icons are waking from centuries of hiberation, and one of the 12 human icons is now a reptoid. I seriously can’t wait until the players burst in and see [REDACTED] open wide and swallow a baby rat.

Icons fuel the campaign. When I sit down behind the GM screen the only thing I’m certain of is where the session will start, rarely where it will end. I try to let the icon rolls shape the story. It keeps me on my toes, and also keeps giving narrative surprises. I’m also a big believer in the subconscious storyteller, and so many times the elements we threw into the campaign at random last week are the sudden key to a huge plot revelation this week.

dwarf-zigguratThe Dwarven Tower coin description in 13th Age got me convinced that these would make great metal coins, and it was so easy working with Rob and Jay to get the license up and running. In my videogame days I worked with Drew Morrow, a fantastic concept artist at THQ, and he was the perfect man to get his head around the 3D planning required to make them sort and stack. They’re also ridiculously beautiful. I love using metal coins in RPGs, it’s so satisfying when the player physically hands you a stack of gold for a Potion of Healing. Plus, I can’t wait to go full circle and play Three Dragon Ante with them.

Falling in love with the icons also made me really pine for a set of beautiful icon tokens which could sit in front of the players. A bloke at GenCon gave me the idea; he carefully looked over all of our fantasy coins and trade bars and picked out 13 coins that could represent the icons. If he comes back to see us, I’ll gladly give him a proper set.

The icon tokens were easy to design, because Lee Moyer had already done the art on page 12 of the 13th Age core rulebook. “Let’s just make these!” I said to Rob. Drew designed them from there, and our 3D team got the sculpts just right. We put green transparent enamel on one side and red on the other, so that any token could be flipped over for a 5+ roll or a 6+ roll.

They have already made my game better: now that the players have a physical reminder, they have been coming up with top new ideas for their icon relationships. I’m excited to think that the tokens will help players all over the world tell great new stories. Preferably with slightly better Daniel Day Lewis impressions.

MARK’S HOUSE RULES FOR ICON RELATIONSHIPS

  • Players can only put a maximum of 1 point into any icon

I found that when the players double up on their relationships, then that icon figures too much in the story. All 13 icons are important in my world, so I’ve asked the players to spread their allegiances and enmities. The story is richer, but we see a lot less of Clint Eastwood I mean the Crusader.

  • If the player does not roll a 5 or a 6, but rolls Snake Eyes with two other dice, they get a random icon relationship

It’s always a bummer if you don’t get an icon, even though statistically 5 and 6 should deliver one result across three rolls. So, if the player can roll two ones on their three dice, I give them a random surprise icon. I use the icon d12 I got from the 13 True Ways Kickstarter, although any d12 can do. We’ve had some great surprise plot twists this way.

  • If a player still gets nothing, they get a D20 reroll this session

Everyone deserves to shine, and the game is just better if the players hit rather than miss, so now I give a free D20 reroll as a consolation prize. Plus, it’s a way to use our D20 coins. Lynda Mills designed those for us, and in the campaign she plays a paladin who is going straight to hell. I can’t wait to see what happens when she gets there.

coin-stacks

 

Check out the 13th Age Coins & Icon Tokens campaign on Kickstarter!

 

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.

Thirteen – each has a number. Each asked to tell something strange – order of numbers makes the story complete – at the end the Count comes in.

            — Bram Stoker, Notes for Dracula

For a change, this isn’t something we left out of the Dracula Dossier. No, instead it’s something you can put into the Dracula Dossier – 13 Icons, very much like the 13 Icons in that other excellent game. Refresh your memory of how we insert Icons and Relationship rolls into Night’s Black Agents, if you care to.

KS logo 3

Rules

No agent can have (or should want) more than 1 Relationship point with Dracula. Defending a Positive relationship with Dracula is left as an exercise for the player and Director, but keep in mind that being loved by (or as he thinks of it, “property of”) Dracula is, if anything, perhaps even more dangerous than being hated by him.

Some of the Icons have possible factions: e.g., individual Dukes of Edom, or agencies of the Romanian government. When you take a Relationship with such an Icon, pick a faction if you wish. If that faction has an enemy within the Icon (the SRI and the SIE, for example) a Relationship Roll of 5 means your faction’s enemy shows up in the story: to do you dirt (but not actually whack you), try to get you to switch sides, get intel on its opponent, etc. Your relationship with your faction’s enemy is always Conflicted. However, balancing this potential irritation, your faction values your support more because it’s challenged more often: you can refresh 1 Relationship point in an Icon with a faction once per session.

Most large bureaucracies have plentiful factions, so feel free to introduce them where I haven’t: MI5, like the CIA, doubtless has its own bureaucratic siege warfare. Or even sub-factionalize the factions I do provide: the Vatican has rival cardinals, wayward bishops, and weird medieval bureaucracies that somehow no one can quite control.

Factions also make great nodes for a Conspyramid. Just saying.

All of the Icons are Ambiguous or Villainous, with the exception of Dracula (who is only Villainous) and the Slayer (who is Heroic or Ambiguous). In some campaigns (especially Stakes mode games) ECHELON, Five, The Circus, The Cross, The Company, or Der Reichsadler might also be Heroic.

A given Director might switch these around to suit her specific version of the Dracula Dossier, or switch her version of the Dracula Dossier around to emphasize the Icons her players pick as Relationships. Feel free, in other words, to swap in Icons like Queen Tera, Lilith, the Red Horse (the Turks), or any other key players in your game.

Edom

This is the original vampire project, nestled within MI6. You were marked for recruitment, or left under a cloud, or learned too much, or helped too little.

Factions: Individual Dukes, Dr. Drawes

The Bride

Like Quincey Morris in Munich, a Bride has gotten a special taste for you.

Factions: Individual Brides; perhaps Lilith, Alraune, or Elizabeth Báthory

The Octopus

You have a relationship with one of Europe’s mafias, perhaps even the Mafia or the Mafiya. You may be a fixer respected by all, or an ex-investigator hated by all; a former brother, or an escaped target.

Factions: Russian Mafiya bratva, Cosa Nostra, ’Ndrangheta, Camorra, a Triad, Chechen Obshina, Romanian mafia clan

ECHELON

You are inside the head of the folks who have eyes and ears everywhere. Were you a programmer or a monitor for the surveillance state, or do they have a special reason to follow your activities?

Factions: NSA, NRO, NGA, GCHQ, DIFC, ASD (Australia), CSE (Canada), GCSB (New Zealand)

Five

MI5, the Security Service of the United Kingdom, responsible for domestic intelligence, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage. And in theory, responsible for uncovering rogue century-old operations within MI6.

The Circus

MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom, responsible for foreign intelligence operations. Your relationship with the Service is not with Edom; you may not even know they exist – or the Circus may have burned you for insisting that Edom did exist.

Factions: Secretariat (military), Requirements and Production (analysis), Security and Public Affairs (internal affairs, mole hunting), Operations (clandestine service), Information Operations (psychological warfare, press manipulation), the Intrusives (DH, p. 293)

The Cross

You have a relationship with someone with a relationship with God. You may be able to get “Indulgences” and illicit sacramental Hosts, or you may be marked for martyrdom for the good of the flock.

Factions: The Vatican, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church

The Company

The Central Intelligence Agency, known as “the Cousins” to the Circus and Five, has plenty of hands out, and plenty of handouts, for anybody and everybody. You took a hand, once, or bit it.

Factions: Directorate of Analysis (“armchairs”), Directorate of Operations (“cowboys”), the CIA vampire program (“Find Forever”)

The Bear

British intelligence originally intended to aim its vampiric weapon at the Russians, its opponent in the Great Game – and the Russians haven’t forgotten it. The enemy of your enemy is your friend … or possibly your even worse enemy.

Factions: FSB, SVR, GRU, TE (“Special Expedition”) anti-vampire program surviving from 1801 (DH, p. 76)

The Lynx

The national animal of Romania is a small, solitary predator that somehow survives disasters that doom larger species. Sounds about right. You have a “guy in Bucharest” or a “contact in the Palace” or a bunch of signed Securitate pay stubs.

Factions: SIE, SRI, Romanian Armed Forces, Romanian Police, Control Body of the Prime Minister, individual cabinet ministries or oligarchs

Der Reichsadler

Officially called the “Bundesadler” now (except in Greece, and probably Spain and Portugal, and maybe Italy …) the black eagle has been the symbol of Germany for longer than Dracula has been alive. You have fallen under the eagle’s wings … or escaped its talons.

Factions: BND, BfV, Deutsche Bank, Projekt Draugr or other surviving Nazi vampire program (Villainous only)

The Slayer

This Icon hunts vampires, most likely more intensely and dangerously (or incorrectly) than you’d like. It’s an ideal placeholder Icon for a Legacy such as a dhampir Mina Harker, an undiscovered Van Helsing scion, or a badass Morris descendant like Carmilla Rojas. The Slayer may think of you as a protégé, as a weapon … or as bait.

Factions: Individual Legacies, Sayeret Aluka (DH, p. 75), Schola Allatio (DH, p. 77), Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160), Echipa Mortii (DH, p. 149; also Villainous)

Dracula

The King of Vampires knows who you are! Don’t you feel special?

Factions: None

Forgery ColourHave you ever noticed that having one really beautiful set of mechanics next to another really beautiful set of mechanics leads to lots and lots of friction and unforeseen attraction between them? It’s like the set of a CW show up in this Pelgrane design space, sometimes.

Here’s how to take the wonderful Relationship rules from 13th Age (pp. 35-37, 179-183) and use them to add still more behind-the-scenes action and maneuvering to your Night’s Black Agents game.

Relationship Points

At the beginning of the game, each player may spend up to 3 build points (total) on Relationships with … not Icons, exactly, but mighty powers with their own agenda and overweening ego. You know, like the CIA. The Relationships need to be with entities capable of operating at a distance most places in the world, and capable of low-profile, high-power maneuvering: intelligence agencies, multinationals, major NGOs, the Vatican, non-vampire conspiracies, etc. (All right, Icons it is.) All Icons are Ambiguous or Villainous, except in Stakes-mode games, where agencies of the good guys (defined however) can be Heroic. Likewise, the game group’s politics likely determines which are which.

You can put all 3 points in one Relationship, split them up, whatever. (In Mirror mode, you can save them to be “revealed” later.) You then characterize each Relationship, as in 13th Age, as Positive, Conflicted, or Negative. So you might have: CIA (Positive) 1, Mossad (Negative) 1, Royal Dutch Shell Oil 1 (Conflicted). This doesn’t outweigh your Network contacts (or any other spends) with individuals in those agencies; this is a “default” based on your dossier, past, and general rep with the Icon. But a Positive agency asset NPC might be open to Reassurance in a way a Negative agency operator wouldn’t.

Relationship build points come out of the General build point pool.

In Burn-mode games, no Icon Relationship can be Positive.

In Mirror-mode games, starting with a Positive Relationship gives that Icon 2 Trust points from your agent. Each time you get a 6 on a Relationship roll for that Icon, it gets 1 more Trust point from you.

Relationship Rolls

Just like in 13th Age, at the beginning of each session (or if the Director suspects this will introduce too much chaos, at the beginning of each operation), roll one die per Relationship point. 6s and 5s are just like it says in 13th Age: positive boons from the Relationship, or favors with strings very much attached.

However, in the darker world of espionage, you also need to look at 1s. Those mean someone will screw you over — maybe send a wet-worker after you, maybe just rat you out to the locals and raise your Heat (by +1 per 1 rolled), maybe anything the Director’s cruel heart can surmise. And yes, the Director can absolutely save up those 1s for a less propitious time. Who, exactly, is gunning for you depends on your Relationship: If it’s Negative, it’s the Icon or one of its cut-outs; if Conflicted, it might just be extra Heat or unwanted interference; if it’s Positive, it’s not the Icon but its enemies who are griefing you — your CIA (Positive) earns you the enmity of the Chinese MSS or al-Qaeda. (And vice-versa for 6s from Negative Relationships, of course.)

If your Relationship is part of (or has been infiltrated by) the Conspiracy — if, in our example above, Shell Oil is vampire-riddled — that should get some story juice (blood) flowing for sure. Clever players may even be able to guess at such vampiric subversion when a few too many of their Shell favors come with a side of Renfield attacks.

Relationship Spends

You can also spend Relationship points as a dedicated Investigative ability pool for finding things out involving that Icon. You can also spend 1 Relationship pool point to get a +2 on a related General test; e.g., spending 1 pool point of FSB for +2 on an Infiltration test to break into an FSB facility, or on a Surveillance test to shed FSB watchers. Relationship pool points refresh like Investigative pool points, at the end of an operation.

You can also spend Relationship pool points (1 for only +1) on Network contact tests if the contact is either part of that Icon or actively opposing the Icon in that test.

Relationship rolls are based on ratings, not pools, so “spending yourself invisible” is impossible.

Relationship Shifts

While at Heat 6+ your Relationship automatically shifts to Conflicted or stays Negative; it shifts back one session after the Heat dies back down.

The Director may also shift your Relationship negatively if she senses you’ve abused it too much; conversely, she may just have the Icon demand a favor right now at the most inconvenient possible time in order to “balance the books.”

If you are the sort of teacher’s pet agents who go around doing favors for globally powerful entities (or if in a Stakes-mode game you do something unimpeachably heroic) you might be able to shift a Relationship from Conflicted to Positive. Only in the sunniest possible game can you shift a Negative Relationship to Conflicted, much less to Positive.

IconPage9The Dragon Empire – Through A Mirror, Darkly

by Aaron Roudabush

The Dragon Empire, bitterly cold and dangerous from border to border — whether in the depths of the wilds or the heart of a city — is as cruel, unfriendly land. The people here have long been oppressed and controlled by a line of power-hungry Emperors and their allies: the twisted, mad Archmage, the cruel and powerful Orc Lord and the dangerously zealous Priestess. The common people have little real freedom and live in fear of powerful nobles, fanatical priests, magical disasters, and bloodthirsty monsters. The ages-old protector of this land, the Great Gold Wyrm, has lost all hope of saving it and now seeks to destroy the world before demonic forces can claim it for themselves.

Still, there are rays of light in the darkness. The Crusader leads armies of rebels against the tyranny of the Emperor. The Elf Queen fights a guerrilla war to weaken and defeat the Orc Lord. The Three counter the otherwise unstoppable destruction of the Great Gold Wyrm. Other Icons, in their own way, resist the Dragon Empire and fight to make the world a better place for all.  But, despite their strength and determination, they will need help from heroes, both large and small, to claim their victories.

This mirror Dragon Empire is a variation of the default setting that can play with players’ and GMs’ expectations of the Icons and experience a different sort of relationship with them. They can be used all together, along with the brief overview up above, to change the whole setting or transplanted into a “regular” game to shake things up and keep the players guessing.

Archmage

Power-mad and obsessed with the accumulation of arcane knowledge, The Archmage and his deranged experiments and followers sometimes threaten the Empire, the world — or even reality itself. But with magical strength rivaled only by Elf Queen, his allies reluctantly allow him to continue in his madness, so that in his rare moments of clarity they can take advantage of his abilities.

Insanity and obsession have not made the Archmage any less intelligent or cunning, although they have made him considerably more difficult to predict and counter. The followers of the Archmage often are little more than unwitting pawns in his schemes, but many still benefit from his vast knowledge, unscrupulous experimentation and twisted schemes.

Crusader

At the heart of the military resistance to the Emperor is the Crusader, fighting to overthrow the tyrant and return freedom to all the lands of the Dragon Empire. From hidden bases he strikes at the Emperor’s strongholds and fights to weaken the allies of the Empire. Years of hard fighting and harder decisions have made him a hard man, but he knows that in the end, his goals are noble – and that even the greatest of sacrifices will ultimately be for the benefit of all.

The Crusader’s followers come from all walks of life: Betrayed nobility, impoverished peasants and fair-minded merchants. So long as they’re willing to take up against the Dragon Empire, the Crusader welcomes all into his ranks. Iron-hard and rough from their long battle against oppression, there is little room among the ranks of the Crusader’s follower for weakness, but they are as fiercely committed to one another they are to their goals.

Diabolist

The Diabolist plays a dangerous game, making deals and bargains to limit the number of devils who can gain entry into the world. Assuming the role of protector now that the Great Gold Wyrm has gone mad, The Diabolist seeks to trap those demons that do get into the world, and force them to work for more noble causes. The devils hate her for her cunning contracts and agreements, but her knowledge and influence make her almost impossible to ignore — either in this world or among hellish planes.

Those who follow the Diabolist don’t always live up to her noble intentions, however, and the world holds as many devils free to wreak havoc as there are those trapped into aiding the forces of good. But the Diabolist is secretive and plans many steps ahead, so who can say what is or isn’t a part of her plans?

Dwarf King

Ostensibly a reluctant ally of the Emperor, The Dwarf King is, in reality, the chief supplier of weapons, armor, troops, and shelter to groups and individuals fighting against the Dragon Empire. He fears the Empire may decide mere trade and tribute are not enough and that, in time, the Empire’s forces may choose to conquer the Dwarf King’s territories and subjugate their sturdy inhabitants the way they did the Queen’s Woods and the elves. The Dwarf King would prefer to go it alone, but he knows that he needs allies until the world above his holds and mines can be stabilized.

The Dwarf King’s followers fully understand the precarious situation they find themselves in, but are as stubborn and unrelenting in their goals as he is. Magewrights, tradesmen, soldiers, lorekeepers, and more devote their efforts to the protection of their homes and livelihoods and, ultimately, the eventual defeat of the Dragon Empire.

Elf Queen

The queen without a country, the Elf Queen fights a guerrilla war against the Orc Lord to drive him out of the Queen’s Woods and reclaim them for her people. She is aided in this task by the Dwarf King and the Crusader, as well as (sometimes contentiously) the High Druid. Her political skill is even greater than her incredible magical prowess, as it must be to unite the often argumentative factions of the Elven Court in Exile and placate the High Druid. Her savvy, as well as her immense magical talent, are a large part of what has kept the Court and her people safe since the Orc Lord, backed by the might of the Archmage and Emperor’s forces, took their lands.

The Elf Queen’s followers know they are up against the wall and looked at with suspicion across the Dragon Empire. To be associated with the Elf Queen and her court is to be thought a traitor. But all the arts of the elves, and their many allies among the other races, are bent toward the task of breaking the Empire and reclaiming their homeland.

Emperor

An iron-fisted tyrant who controls the Dragon Empire, the Emperor keeps its people tightly controlled with his terrifying secret police, the allegiance of powerful nobility and his vast legions of well-trained soldiers. He keeps the populace content, or at least distracted, with numerous arenas filled with bloodsport and other games. The current Emperor is young and, as of yet, relatively untested. The Dragon Empire retains the status quo, but none know if, or for how long, that will remain the case. Hot-headed and temperamental, the young Emperor may well push the empire headlong into even greater conflict than already rages within and without.

The Emperor’s followers believe in the stability and security of the Dragon Empire and are committed to keeping it that way. Traitors, rebels, and spies must be rooted out and destroyed for the good of all the people of the empire.

Great Gold Wyrm

Driven to madness from his long watch sealing the Abyss, the Great Gold Wyrm now seeks to destroy the world to prevent demons from ever gaining control of it. In his times of lucidity, he cultivates groups of bloody-minded paladins, fanatical warriors, and black-hearted assassins to remove all obstacles in his way. But in his times of madness, he seeks only to destroy the world with flame and claw. Wide swathes of countryside have been turned into barren glass from dragonfire and more than one town has suffered at the claws of the Great Gold Wyrm. Even the Dragon Empire rightly worries about what destruction may come next.

Many of the Great Gold Wyrm’s followers are as mad as he is, although some merely find the idea of complete destruction fitting with their nihilistic philosophies. The Wyrm’s cults are terrifying, dangerous and hunted by every other Icon, but not all followers are easily extinguished — and some are deliberately allowed to remain so that their madness and fanaticism can be manipulated to another Icon’s ends.

High Druid

The High Druid fights tooth and nail (often literally) against the constant militaristic encroachment of the Dragon Empire and is reluctantly allied to a number of other Icons in order to fulfill her goal. Although the High Druid sometimes shelters the Elf Queen and her bands of rebels, the forces of nature often fight alone as her ultimate goals are not always the same as other Icons. However, with all the might of the natural world at her command, her forces rarely fight from a position of weakness. The Archmage, with his unnatural taming of the Midland Sea, is her greated and most hated foe.

The High Druid’s followers are often not as militant in their dislike for civilization as the High Druid herself, but frequently are put in a position where opposing unchecked expansion of the Dragon Empire is little different than opposing farms, roads, and towns. They must not only fight directly with bow and blade, but also must convince the citizens of the empire to work in harmony with nature. It’s not an easy task, but the High Druid and her people know it must be done.

Lich King

Formerly the High King of the lands now controlled by The Emperor, this fallen monarch was killed and sealed away by the first Archmage over a prophecy that he would one day return to reclaim his throne. From the shadows of death, he and his followers plot to return the Lich King to life and fight to free the land from the usurpers. In his undead state, the Lich King can rarely extend his personal power beyond the Necropolis but his control over the unquiet dead gives him more influence than his opponents would like. After killing The White in life, his power now extends over white dragons, whether dead or alive, and the Dragon Empire fears their sight.

The Lich King’s followers are diverse and frequently at odds with one another. Some are dedicated advocates for the return of the High King and fight the Dragon Empire to break its power. Some are necromancers uninterested in political struggles. And then there are the thinking dead themselves, who have not lost sight of the goals and objectives they had in life. This disunity keeps the Lich King from being more effective, but his followers are generally accepting and protective of one another.

Orc Lord

The Orc Lord, along with the Archmage and the Emperor, represents one third of the ruling triumvirate of power in the Dragon Empire. The first Orc Lord helped overthrow the Lich King, then went on to conquer the Queen’s Wood with the help of the Emperor and Archmage – a repayment for their use of his brutish armies. In this, the 13th Age, the current Orc Lord still lives for the thrill of battle, the scent of burning buildings in the air and the taste of blood on his lips. The Emperor and the Archmage keep him reigned in and focused on rebels and traitors like the Crusader or the Elf Queen, but this may well be the Age when the Orc Lord breaks free or their control and finally crushes civilization as we know it beneath his feet.

The Orc Lord’s followers are tolerated, but not exactly liked, within the Dragon Empire. Outside the bounds of the empire, they are even less liked for their tendency towards violence and plunder. Not all the Orc Lord’s followers are mindless berserkers, but outside of a few clans and tribes, honor and intelligence are scorned as weaknesses.

Priestess

A fierce zealot and firebrand of the gods, the Priestess demands worship, sacrifice, and obedience upon pain of death (or things worse than death). Her aims are supported by the Emperor since they frequently target those who would fight against the injustices in the empire, and in return her sermons and holy texts tell the masses that the Dragon Empire is divinely supported. She constantly seeks out heretics, pagans, and the godless to return them to the fold with blood and fire. The gods, if they exist, that the Priestess represents care not where or how the worship comes, so long that it comes regularly and in great numbers. The Priestess and her fanatical followers constantly ensure that the faithful do not falter in their divinely-given task.

Followers of the Priestess often have the zeal of the true believer and act accordingly. They fight against blasphemy, heresy, and apathy within the Empire and fight to spread the word to the godless outside the Empire. Outside of the circles of fervent believers, the Priestesses followers are often disliked or even hated, but few would say such things out loud where they might be overheard.

Prince of Shadows

The Prince of Shadows is folk hero and symbol of rebellion and freedom within the Dragon Empire. He opposes — and steals from — the rich and the powerful to embarrass them and spread their wealth to others less fortunate. He is a constant thorn in the side of the Emperor and his allies, but rarely acts in conjunction for long other Icons. Or at least, that’s how he presents himself — if the Prince is a he at all. Or even a person. Few know the truth of the Prince of Shadows, and there are as many rumors about his true nature as there are heists, exploits, and assassinations attributed to him. The Prince of Shadows may not exist at all outside of a symbol for freedom … or maybe that’s just what he wants you to think.

The Prince of Shadows has been an inspiration for all the downtrodden peoples of the Dragon Empire, which often makes for strange bedfellows. Thieves and assassins work with idealists and rebels in the name of the Prince of Shadows. Robberies, assassinations, information gathering and more are their stock and trade. Not all the Prince’s followers oppose the Dragon Empire, but the tyranny of the empire frequently chafes the sort of freewheeling and independent sorts who are attracted to the Prince in the first place.

The Three

The Three are one of the few things that stand between the Great Gold Wyrm and the destruction of the world. The Red is one of the few beings that can match the Great Gold Wyrm in physical combat. The Blue pits his arcane might against the maddened gold dragon. The Black trains and uses mortal groups to counter the Great Gold’s own cults. As greater dragons, the Three rarely work with other creatures, even other Icons, but the danger that the Great Gold Wyrm represents has forced them to seek allies. The Green was captured and imprisoned long ago by The Emperor. The White turned traitor and was destroyed by the Lich King when he still ruled as the High King. Reluctantly, the Three sometimes work with the Diabolist and, when they find that their goals overlap, occasionally the Crusader, but would prefer to use their own mortal followers.

The Red has no followers. Or at least, none that he openly acknowledges. Those who associate with the Red do so from afar, emulating his devastating physical prowess in their fight against the fanatics of the Great Gold Wyrm. The Blue attracts followers of intelligence and arcane power, who learn draconic secrets in exchange for their service. The Black attracts those of more subtle persuasion, and these followers often serve as spies and assassins in the fight against the psychotic gold dragon.

The Prince of Shadows is part thief, part trickster, and part assassin. To some he is a hero; to others a villain. He has squandered the riches of the dwarves, murdered the hopes of a dragon, and plundered the dreams of a god. His exploits have changed the world, but none can tell you his ultimate goals or motives.   –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.

The Prince of Shadows, our final icon.  Who doesn’t love an international man of mystery?  I do, and I certainly love how Lee Moyer painted this piece.  I’m hesitant to post my pencils, because it makes me look like a slacker, but there’s a lot to be said for the less-is-more philosophy when it comes to evocative illustration.  As I see it, RPG art is meant to stimulate the imaginations of those playing the game, and shadows can be useful in that endeavor.  Speaking of RPG art, I’m delighted to announce that select pieces of interior art from 13th Age will be included in a show at Krab Jab Studio in Seattle.  I plan to attend the reception on August 30th as it coincides with the weekend of PAX, but the show goes up August 11th.  Here are the details.  And here’s the promotional flyer:

Here are my comparatively uneventful pencils for the Prince of Shadows.  (I’m glad Lee used his imagination!)

Here are some early thumbnails before we decided the Prince should go play outside.

And now a little teaser of things to come!  Amidst this sea of thumbnails for the interior art of 13th Age (reduced to maddeningly illegible sizes) you’ll find the thumbnail for an illustration that relates to the Prince of Shadows.  Check back for more excitement in the coming weeks as we rev up for the official release of 13th Age.

Previous Entries