So ye seek the lost treasure of Karrag Voraldo, do ye? There’s a tale about Voraldo told in the taverns of Shadow Port that ye should know, then. They say that during the Age of Corsairs he was a trusted lieutenant of the King of Corsairs himself, until greed overcame him. He began lying to the King about the loot he’d won while sailing under the King’s patronage, so he could keep a larger share for himself. When the King discovered this treachery, he laid a curse upon Voraldo: from that moment on, only cursed treasure would find its way to him. If the tales are true, such items are powerful—but they carry a cost. . . .

Cursed Item Rules (from 13 True Ways)

If the magic item’s curse is minor, its default bonus is standard (e.g., +1 at adventurer tier). These cursed weapons and armor are just plain worse than a basic magic item of the same type. A hero might use one if they can’t get their hands on a decent item, or if something terrible happens to their normal weapon and they have to scrounge in the middle of a battle.

If the curse is major, the item has a default bonus as if it were a higher-tier item (e.g., an adventurer-tier sword with a +2 bonus instead of +1). A hero might be interested in using one of these weapons because they see that benefit as being so good.

Wade Says: If I introduced a cursed magic item into my campaign, there’s no way it would simply be worse than a basic item! To me, cursed magic is an opportunity to give players an interesting choice. Is the benefit enticing enough to accept the downside of owning such an item?

Three Cursed Pirate Items

The Cursed Compass: Once per full heal-up, this battered compass points unerringly toward whatever location you wish to travel to—for example, the Dwarf King’s treasure chamber, the Stone Thief’s exit, the lair of the evil wizard you’re supposed to kill. When you use this item, roll 1d20. On a 1-5, sometime in the near future the needle spins wildly with enough speed to make the compass vibrate, and then it comes to a stop. You must go at once in the direction the needle points toward and perform whatever task awaits you there. The task will be obvious due to its strangeness or urgency. It might be dangerous, or completely safe; you might complete it with a single action, or the task might span several game sessions. The task will not be relevant in any way to your current situation: whatever supernatural force controls the compass, these tasks are vitally important to it but not to you. Quirk: Highly suggestible.

Shipmate in a Bottle (wondrous item): A corked glass bottle containing a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. Anyone adjacent to the item hears a guttural voice speaking in a hollow whisper. The voice belongs to “Old Sam”, the ghost of a widely-traveled sailor from a long-ago age. When you attune this item, you gain a bonus +5 background “Shipmate in a bottle” that can be used for skill checks appropriate to a sailor or pirate. Each time you use this background, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bottle shatters and Old Sam emerges as a dybbuk (13th Age Bestiary, p. 63). He will pursue and attack you until either you die or he is destroyed while in his ethereal form. Quirk: You find yourself singing strange sea shanties that cause seasoned sailors to look at you in fear and quickly leave.

Driftwood Cutlass (+2 adventurer, +3 champion, +4 epic): This gnarled wooden blade has a crit range of 18+ when fighting on or within a body of water, and against aquatic monsters in any environment. However, you take a -1 penalty to AC and PD. Quirk: You feel an urge to brag about your exploits, especially in situations where bragging about your exploits would be a bad idea.

Adventure hooks

Topsy Turvy—An icon comes into possession of a cursed magic item from Voraldo’s hoard. It could be an icon the heroes have a relationship with, or one that’s not normally involved in the events of the campaign. When the item is used, a heroic icon temporarily becomes villainous, a villainous icon becomes heroic, and an ambiguous icon swings wildly between both extremes. How much damage they do before they recover their senses depends on the tier and the tone of the campaign. It could be as dire as the Emperor declaring war on the Elf Queen and Dwarf King; or it might be relatively harmless but chaotic, like the Lich King cheerfully showing up in Rabbleward with a legion of zombies and skeletons to help poor families.

Voraldo’s Ghost—The scroll that marks the location of the cursed treasure also says the King of Corsairs gave Voraldo a way to free himself—and his treasure—from the curse. What the King required was so intolerable to Voraldo that he couldn’t bring himself to do it in life. If the heroes can find Voraldo’s bones and summon his ghost, maybe they can persuade him to do it in undeath. Possible complications include:

  • Voraldo tells the heroes that to lift the curse he has to apologize to the King. Now the heroes have to find the King’s bones and summon his ghost in Voraldo’s presence. If they succeed, how does that conversation go?
  • If the group lacks a necromancer, does the one they enlist to help have an agenda of their own?
  • Once he’s freed from the curse, will Voraldo let the heroes keep his newly non-cursed treasure? Or will his greed once again overcome his sense of honor?
  • Multiple icons might consider Voraldo’s treasure rightfully theirs. Can the heroes prevent a diplomatic incident, or even war? More importantly, can they figure out how to make the icons happy while keeping the treasure for themselves?
  • Once summoned, can Voraldo’s ghost be put down again? Maybe he feel like exploring the world and raising hell on the high seas again!
  • Is this whole thing a trick? Is that really Voraldo they’re summoning, or someone much more dangerous?

 


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 column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Last time we started laying out a loose episode structure for your Yellow King Roleplaying Game Paris sequence. Start there for episodes 1 through 7.

Episode 8: Visit from Home

Follow a time-honored serialized storytelling convention, bringing in a relative who drops into Paris to complicate an art student’s life, illuminating their backstory.

The relative’s personality contrasts with the characters’, sparking entertaining conflict. A stern investigator has a flighty, extroverted mother. The flibbertigibbet Poet has to squire around the forbidding father who wants him to set prose aside for the family insurance firm.

After a light comic opening, reveal that the relative arrives pre-enmeshed in Carcosan trouble. Mom has invested in a skin cream that owes its remarkable properties to black star magic. Father wishes to procure an antique at the behest of a masked blackmailer capable of ignoring the constraints of time and space.

A player may have already laid seeds for this by connecting their Drive to a relative. If someone’s looking for a missing sister or hoping to clear the name of a falsely accused brother, or came to Paris to escape a scandal involving a wastrel father, that story now surfaces, with a decadent, supernatural hook.

Episode 9: Police and Thieves

Dispatch the art students into the Parisian demimonde to solve a mystery with a criminal element. See pages 133-137 of the Paris book.

  • Oddly chosen targets of the latest anarchist bombing wave suggest a connection with Carcosa.
  • Prisoners released from Le Sante Prison commit murders they can’t remember. The art students must identify the inmate distributing smuggled excerpts from the play and untangle his vengeful scheme.
  • Sûreté head turned private eye Marie-François Goron enlists the art students in his inquiry into a hypnosis-related murder that echoes the old case that haunts him, the slaying of high profile courtesan Régine de Montille.

Episode 10: Psychogeography

Create a scenario that draws the art students to an iconic Paris location.

  • A ritual to feed souls to the king must naturally take place at the city’s axis mundi, also known as the Eiffel Tower.
  • How did strange yellow flowers come to overrun the botanical exhibits at Jardin des Plantes?
  • Are the lights seen at night at the Picpus Cemetery connected to victims of the revolutionary guillotine, or something older?
  • The Catacombs—portal to the shores of Hali?

Episode 11: Ripples from Brittany

Bring in haunted Brittany, site of Robert W. Chambers’ better supernatural stories outside his King in Yellow cycle. Either have the weird beings of its folklore show up in Paris, or send the art students on a road trip to the sea-swept coastal town of Brest. In this latter case, disturbances inland and out on the sea could presage the rising of Carcosan island, the model for the legendary city of Ys.

If you want to keep the students in the city, the mystery might revolve around:

  • the hulking, demonic church guardians called the Nain.
  • the troublingly self-willed and mobile skull of a Breton sorcerer.
  • a rash of improbable deaths, each heralded by the sound of an unearthly locomotive—a sign that the long-tressed Breton herald of death, the Ankou, has come to town.

Episode 12: Royal Return

A new mystery leads once more to the member of the Carcosan royal court you introduced in Episode 6. The plot the art students uncover is meant to further the royal’s previously established agenda. Build in opportunities for:

  • the player character most connected to the royal to pull away—or draw closer.
  • the other characters to interact with your big bad.
  • Foreshadowing an even bigger plot, which comes to fruition in episode 17.

Episode 13: Family Obligation

A message arrives from back home, urging one of the art students to attend to a matter concerning the family business empire. This leads to business or political intrigue instigated by a conspiracy bound together by the Yellow Sign. Depending on how the player describes the source of Papa’s wealth, this might involve:

  • sabotage of a ship or factory.
  • embezzlement to fund the conspiracy’s activities.
  • a smokescreen that falsely implicates the company in assassination or massive graft.

Episode 14: Weird Science

An experiment gone awry, no doubt after someone in the lab read the play, sends the art students on the trail of Patchworks, radium ghosts, or a device that sees past events—and then alters them.

Episode 15: Secondary Villain Returns

The recurring antagonist first seen in episode 3 returns, seeking revenge on the art students or running a new scheme for domination only they can unravel. This time, give them a solid opportunity to finish off this foe for good.

Episode 16: Political Entanglement

When scandal threatens a prominent politician, the art students can’t help but see a Carcosan modus operandi behind it. Investigation draws them into the halls of power, as they determine which of France’s factions have been suborned by the pallid mask. Is it the Legitimists, aka Monarchists, desperate to reverse their vanishing influence? The Bonapartists, believing themselves to be in communication with the spirit of Napoleon? Or those normal-seeming Moderates, who currently hold power and thus have the most of what Carcosa seeks?

Episode 17: A Glimpse of Hali

A climactic mystery brings back your chosen Carcosan royal and gives your players the chance to wrap up various sub-plots of this first sequence. The scenario allows the art students the chance to behold Carcosa, perhaps to travel there briefly. Whether they achieve a victory that feels suspiciously like a happy ending, or are drawn into a doom that will bedevil later counterparts depends on how well they do during the closing confrontation.

In the next installment of See P. XX, the series outlines continue, with the front half of a similar episode guide for The Wars.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Free RPG Day adventure Make Your Own Luck (get it here!) begins with an army of trolls and goblins besieging the town of Harrowdale. As written, the siege is a jumping-off point that gives the events in the adventure context. If you want to explore the ongoing tension and danger of defending a town under siege, one possible mechanic is a twist on the escalation die called the siege die.

Using the siege die

  1. Just as you do with the escalation die, place a special d6 on the table so it’s visible to the players. This is your siege die. Make sure the two dice look different, so you don’t confuse them!
  2. Using a sheet of paper or other note-taking method, divide each in-game 24-hour period into periods of Day and Night. (I’m cribbing from the fantastic heist RPG Dusk City Outlaws here.)
  3. On the first Day period, set the siege die to 1 and roll a d6.
    • If the result is greater than the current number on the siege die, the status of the siege is unchanged. At the beginning of the following time period, increase the die to 2 and roll your d6 again. Keep increasing the siege die by 1 and rolling a d6 until you roll equal to or less than the number on the siege die.
    • When the result of your d6 roll is equal to or less than the current number on the siege die, roll on the Siege Table below or choose some new action by the enemy that requires the heroes to take action.
  4. The first time you activate the siege die by rolling equal to or less than its number, reset the die to 1 and start over. The next time it happens, reset the die to 2; then 3, then 4, and so on. This represents that the enemy is slowly building toward total victory—if things continue this way, eventually the siege die reaches a permanent 6 and the enemy assault becomes relentless..
  5. The players can lower the siege die in a number of ways. They could describe how they’re expending a class or item ability that reduces the escalation die to lower the siege die instead. They could find a clever use of skill checks, or run a montage scene describing how they’re strengthening the town’s defenses and improving defenders’ morale. When they do this, have them roll a d6—feel free to give them a bonus if they did something especially cool or hilarious. Reduce the siege die by that amount, to a minimum of 1. This keeps them engaged with the current status of the siege, and lets the heroes influence how the larger battle is going.

There are a few ways you can adjust the pacing of the siege with this approach. You could have the siege die escalate at a different rate—for example, it might go up once per 24-hour period, or every three hours, or every six. You could also reset the siege die to 2 instead of 1 the first time it triggers, or roll a larger die (d8? d12?) against the siege die.

Siege table (d6)

Make Your Own Luck cover

  1. The enemy launches a major attack, one with sufficient strength that it requires the PCs to expends significant resources (such as daily spells).
  2. The enemy successfully destroys one of the city’s important defenses: a tower, a section of wall, a magical defense, etc. The heroes must help rebuild it, or find some other way to shore up the defenses in its absence.
  3. Saboteurs inside the city wreak havoc in some way: arson, poisoning the water supply, setting off a bomb, toppling a structure. The heroes must save the victims and identify and defeat the saboteurs.
  4. The enemy strikes a blow against the townspeople’s morale: targeting a beloved landmark, capturing or killing a town official or other pillar of the community, stealing something symbolically important to the town, spreading rumors that the rescuing army was defeated, etc. The heroes must either undo what the enemy has done, or counteract it in some way with a morale-boosting display.
  5. A group of assassins sneak into the town during an attack, and try to kill the PCs later that Day/Night.
  6. The enemy seizes part of the town—it must either be recaptured, or defenses quickly set up to keep them from advancing further.

For another fun escalation die hack, check out the investigative montage rules in Crown of Axis, a new introductory 13th Age adventure for level 1 characters!


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

 

In the 13th Age Facebook group, a new GM asked for good examples of PC backgrounds. I offered some, but couldn’t help also giving advice on what makes a good background. (It’s one of my favorite mechanics in the game.) I said that a good background doesn’t just outline your character’s backstory in three or four brief sentences, and provide a bonus you can add to a wide variety of checks—a good background also gives the GM story hooks for an adventure or even an entire campaign.

For this column, I’m going to take an example of a good PC background, and talk about how I’d turn it into an adventure! The background is, “Former sailor on the Imperial frigate Intrepid, which was sunk in battle against the Revenant, flagship of the Lich King’s Pale Fleet under the command of the lich admiral Vertinor (+4)”.

Before we dive in (ha!) I want to mention that If any part of the background conflicted with a non-negotiable element of my campaign, it would be completely reasonable for me to ask the player to change that detail. For example, if it were important to me that my version of the Dragon Empire strongly resembled ancient Carthage, I would ask the player to change it to something like “the warship Adherbal“.

Breaking Down the Background

I’ll put on my (nautical) GM hat and think about the elements of this background.

The Imperial navy. The game tells us that the Dragon Empire has a navy, but its presence in a PC’s background brings it—and the theme of seafaring adventure—to my table. I can have the heroes explore the Midland Sea, search for sunken or buried treasure, hunt a traitor in the navy’s upper ranks, fight sea battles, battle sea monsters, and more.

The frigate Intrepid.Wikipedia tells me that a frigate is “a lighter galley-type warship with oars, sails and a light armament, built for speed and maneuverability” that originated in the late Middle Ages. This tells me something about the composition of the navy, and the technology level of sailing vessels (and maybe other things) in my campaign world. To help bring the world to life, I can research what other kinds of ships were used in fleets of that era and include them in the game. It also gives me a template for the kinds of names those ships might have.

Sunk in battle. This background cites a specific naval battle that occurred in the past, where the Emperor’s navy was one of the combatants. I ask the player how long ago this happened, and how large the battle was. She says it was a major sea battle that happened about ten years ago. Both sides had heavy casualties, but the Emperor managed to prevail with the help of air support from the dragons of Axis. There’s also a specific sunken wreck somewhere at the bottom of the Midland Sea. Did something valuable go down with it? What monsters might inhabit the wreck? What are the Intrepid‘s survivors up to these days?

The Revenant, flagship of the Lich King’s Pale Fleet. Okay, so the Lich King has a navy of his own! This is a big change from how he’s presented in the core book: the book describes the island of Necropolis as “dormant” thanks to rituals performed at tombs on the island’s outer ring by the Gravekeepers of the Empire, and it says if those rituals aren’t performed, “the undead swarm through the ocean and emerge onto land all around the Midland Sea.” Giving the Lich King actual ships puts him more on a level with the Emperor as an earthly ruler to be reckoned with. It also raises the possibility of ships crewed by the undead occasionally putting in at Shadowport.

The lich admiral Vertinor. This is fantastic! I now have a villain who one of the PCs hates. He—or his minions—could be recurring foes, showing up anywhere on the coasts of the Midland Sea. Are you headed to the island of Omen in search of an artifact? One of Vertinor’s ships is right behind you—or maybe they got there first. Negotiating a peace treaty with the sahuagin? Vertinor shows up on behalf of the Lich King to offer them a better deal.

I think I want Vertinor to stick around for a while, so I’m going to make him a high-tier monster using the stats for the Lich Count in the 13th Age Bestiary. If the heroes manage to kill him, their next and final target might be the Lich King himself!

The Lich KingThe Lich Admiral Vertinor

Double strength 8th level spoiler (undead)
Initiative: +11

Touch of the grave +13 vs. AC—50 cold damage, and the target is dazed (hard save ends, 16+)

Natural even hit: The target is weakened instead of dazed (hard save ends, 16+)
Miss: 25 cold damage.

R: Shadow rays +12 vs. PD (2 attacks)—35 negative energy damage

Natural 16+: The target is encased in shadows (save ends). While under the effect, it’s weakened and takes 10 ongoing cold damage.

R: Empowered fireball +12 vs. PD (1d3 + 1 nearby creatures in a group)—35 fire damage, and 10 ongoing fire damage

Natural even hit: The target takes 20 ongoing fire damage instead of 10.
Miss: 15 fire damage, and 5 ongoing fire damage.
Limited use: 2/battle.

C: Look upon your doom +13 vs. MD (up to 3 nearby enemies)—Vertinor gains a fear aura against the target until the end of the battle

Fear aura: While engaged with this creature, if the target has 48 hp or fewer, it’s dazed (–4 attack) and does not add the escalation die to its attacks.

Thank you for the best ten years of your life: When Vertinor scores a critical hit, the target loses a death save until the end of the battle (effectively, it now dies after failing three death saves, and the effect is cumulative). In addition, the crit range of attacks by Vertinor against the target expands by the escalation die and he heals 40 hit points.

Immortality: When Vertinor drops to 0 hit points, his lifeless body turns to seawater but he does not die. He begins to reform near the item that contains his soul—a blue gemstone set in a silver necklace—taking a number of days to regain its full strength equal to his level. If the gemstone has been destroyed, Vertinor dies when he drops to 0 hit points.

AC 24
PD 18
MD 22
HP 240

Let’s Make an Adventure!

I have all the elements of a fun adventure that’s powerfully relevant to one of the PCs; now it’s just a matter of assembling them. Let’s see…a sunken ship connected to the Emperor implies sunken treasure that includes a true magic item connected to the Emperor. Looking at Loot Harder, I think the melee weapon of Imperial Might fits well—let’s make it the Sea Axe of Imperial Might, a weapon wielded by the Intrepid’s captain. A search for sunken treasure suggests fights with various sea-themed monsters, so I’ll go through the books and build appropriate battles. A recurring villain with a connection to the wreck adds urgency and variety if he’s also after the treasure. The villain is undead, which means his minions probably don’t have to breathe, so they can just walk around on the seafloor.

Here are three possible approaches to an adventure based on this one background:

Wreck of the Intrepid: A former shipmate of the PC’s turns up on her doorstep with a dagger in his back that bears the symbol of the Lich King. In his dying moments he gives the PC a map of the Midland Sea that shows the location of the Intrepid. “He’s after the Sea Axe,” he wheezes before passing away. The GM tells the player what her character knows about the Axe, including that it was a symbol of the Intrepid’s honor, to be kept out of enemy hands at all cost. “He” can only refer to Vertinor. The adventure is a race to get to the Intrepid first, with challenges that include figuring out how to reach the ship, an underwater hazard montage (see Book of the Underworld for hazard montages), and battles with gigantic sea creatures and the undead.

Skulls of Shadowport: A former shipmate of the PC’s turns up on her doorstep with news that a group of treasure hunters has located the wreck of the Intrepid and recovered the Sea Axe of Imperial Might. The Sea Axe is now in Shadowport, and it already has a buyer—Vertinor is on his way there in the Revenant to purchase it as a trophy of his victory over the Intrepid. The PCs must get to Shadowport and prevent it from falling into the hands of the hated lich admiral! The adventure is a city scenario with challenges that include an investigative montage to learn who has the Sea Axe and where it is (see Crown of Axis for investigative montages), navigating the city’s criminal underworld, and battles with thieves, smugglers, pirates, and the undead—plus other monsters that lurk in Shadowport’s dark alleys and docks.

Reclaim the Sea Axe: A former shipmate of the PC’s turns up on her doorstep with news that Vertinor’s minions located the wreck of the Intrepid and recovered the Sea Axe of Imperial Might. It now hangs on the lich admiral’s wall as a trophy of his victory. This adventure is a heist caper where the PCs must devise a plan to get the Sea Axe back: either steal it from the lich admiral’s cabin aboard the Revenant, steal it from his manse on Necropolis, or steal it when the lich admiral is traveling, away from the usual protections provided by his ship or Necropolis. Be ready to work up battles and hazards appropriate to the plan! (See this column on how to quickly and easily adapt a monster to a different location or role.)

I could also run this as a series of three adventures, with the Sea Axe continually being snatched from the heroes’ grasp at the last moment until they finally seize it for themselves. Their eventual triumph will be that much sweeter for the delay!

“Wade Says” icon by Regina Legaspi.


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

 

In part one I described how Crown of Axis began with an invitation to write the next big introductory adventure for 13th Age, and my idea to set it in the Emperor’s city of Axis. I just had to convince Rob Heinsoo this was a good idea!

First, I read everything ever written about Axis in 13th Age. The game’s “your Dragon Empire will vary” approach meant that I was free to present one possible interpretation of the city, but I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of, and feel for, what had come before. I was also aware that a GM might not have 13 True Ways (which contains the most extensive writeup of Axis to date), so I would need to figure out what background information was important enough to include within my limited page count. Brief descriptions of the various neighborhoods were vital: PCs might travel anywhere in the city, and I had to equip the GM with enough information to handle the basics. Some of it was important to making players feel like Axis is a place: the tastes, the sounds, the smells, and how people there live their lives. I wanted to invite players to sample the street foods, play wargames in the taverns of Garrison, and cheer on gladiators in the arenas.

I wrote a detailed, bulleted outline with a rough map of a key adventuring location and sent it to Rob and J-M DeFoggi, the project’s developer, for review. I knew they would come back with incisive questions, as well as comments about things I may have overlooked or not fully thought through.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll share some issues (large and small) that I needed to work through before the outline was approved:

  • The outline included real-world historical people and institutions as placeholders for fictional ones, and the longer those placeholders stick around the harder it will be to create the fictional versions.
  • Nothing prevents the PCs from going straight from the situation in the beginning of the adventure to the final battle, ignoring everything in between.
  • Why doesn’t [BAD GUY] simply do [OBVIOUS THING]?
  • The design needs to account for the possibility that the PCs will fail in the end.
  • Some players will want their characters to fight in the arenas as gladiators, so the GM needs tools to handle that.
  • The PCs spend much of the adventure solving a mystery, and there aren’t investigative rules in 13th Age. It would be great if there were an elegant mechanic to handle those parts that feels like it belongs in 13th Age.

In the end, I wrote eight drafts of the outline before Rob gave me the go-ahead to write the adventure. This was great because even though plenty of details would change during the design phase, my foundation was rock-solid. However, I struggled at the beginning: this was the biggest RPG writing project I’d ever taken on, and my anxious perfectionist brain became overwhelmed. The solution was to schedule weekly Skype discussions with J-M where I’d share the status of the draft and we’d work together to solve any design and plot problems that came up. That’s where most of the solutions to the challenges above came from. It’s the closest I’ve ever worked with a developer on an RPG project, and it was incredibly helpful.

The final draft kicked off the development phase, a back-and-forth process where J-M ensured that my design matched the desired play experience, and he checked my math and mechanics. He also asked me to write a handful of art orders: descriptions of people, items, or locations for an artist to illustrate. From there it went to the editor, Trisha DeFoggi, and from there to layout. Which is where we are as of this writing!

I hope these posts are helpful to anyone who’s interested in becoming an RPG designer, or just wants to know how the RPG sausage gets made—and I hope you enjoy playing Crown of Axis when it comes out!

 

“Wade Says” icon by Regina Legaspi.


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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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.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logoElven Towers is a fantastic new adventure from Cal Moore—if you pre-order the print edition now, you get the full PDF and color map folio immediately as a download. It does some really interesting things with 13th Age design, but as a GM I also love that it’s full of creepy monsters. With Halloween on the way, I decided to use this column to preview a couple of them for use in your October games. (I redacted some of their mechanics so there’s still a surprise in store for any players who sneak a look at these.) I hope you enjoy them, and encourage you to get your hands on this book!

Phantasmal Knight

6th level troop [CONSTRUCT]

Initiative: +14

Vulnerability: force

Force blade +11 vs. AC—15 force damage

Natural even roll: Make a second force blade attack (but not a third).

Phantasmal tricks: As a standard action, the knight can create a random force effect. During its turn, roll a d6 to determine the effect it can create that turn:

1–2: Force javelin +11 vs. AC—20 force damage, and if the natural attack roll is greater than the target’s Dexterity ability the target is stuck until the end of its next turn.

3–4: Force burst +11 vs. PD (1d2 nearby enemies)—18 force damage, and the target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

5–6: Force shield: The knight and one nearby ally gain a +4 bonus to AC and PD until the start of the knight’s next turn. Reroll other knights’ phantasmal tricks results of 5–6 until this force shield ends.

Resist elemental damage 16+: When an elemental attack (acid, cold, fire, lightning) targets this creature, the attacker must roll a natural 16+ on the attack roll or it only does half damage.

Phantasmal push: Once per round as an interrupt action, when a creature moves away from the knight, the knight can attempt to stop that movement (negating a disengage, for example) or push the creature a few feet backward (off the stairs, perhaps) with a blast of blue light. The target rolls a save; on a failure, it gets stopped/pushed.

Flight: The knight prefers to stay low to the ground, but can fly just enough to move carefully over obstacles or reach flying enemies who are trying to hover in out-of-the-way corners of the ceiling.

AC 22

PD 19    HP 90

MD 16

 

Priestess Shade

7th level troop [SPIRIT]

Initiative: +10

Shadow mace +12 vs. AC—21 damage; plus 10 cold damage once [REDACTED].

Natural even hit: The target takes 10 ongoing negative energy damage. If the natural roll was a 16, 18, or 20, the target is also weakened (save ends both).

Natural odd miss: 4 damage.

Pent-up malice: When the priestess shade is defeated, it raises two shadow watchers to join the battle during the next round as a final act of malice.

Shadow form: The priestess shade can pass through objects and walls, but can’t end its turn inside them. It won’t use this ability until [REDACTED].

AC 23

PD 16 HP 100

MD 21

 

Shadow Watcher

6th level mook [SPIRIT]

Initiative: +9

Shadow attack +11 vs. AC—9 damage; plus 6 cold damage once [REDACTED]

Natural 16+: The target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

Shadow form: Shadow watchers can pass through objects and walls, but can’t end their turns inside those objects. They won’t use this ability until [REDACTED].

AC 22

PD 20    HP 20 (mook)

MD 16

Mook: Kill one shadow watcher mook for every 20 damage you deal to the mob.

 


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.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logoIf you attended the 13th Age Monster Workshop at Gen Con Online this past weekend, you were treated to some odd and creepy fun with gnomes. It reminded me that way back in 2013, when 13th Age was still brand new, I ran this weird little adventure at Gen Con. It was a lot of fun so I’ve shared it here with some updates. The linkling and the clockwork automaton are both by ASH LAW—the former is from Into the Underworld, the latter from Shards of the Broken Sky.

 

DEEP GNOME RISING

A small adventure for level 2 characters

Background:

A representative of the PCs’ patron icon (choose one from their icon relationships) asks the group to investigate strange goings-on in a town within their region. Outgoing trade, travel, and communication has ceased; people who attempt to visit the town report seeing from a distance that it’s been bizarrely transformed by the presence of weird machines and mechanized structures such as gates, bridges, and automated  watchtowers that fire crossbow bolts at anyone who gets too close. At the same time, a rough gang of drow bandits have been raiding nearby villages and robbing merchant caravans at night.

When the PCs arrive (run a travel montage in which you dole out snippets of information about recent activity in and around the town over the past few months) they discover that the town is under the control of deep gnomes: a branch of gnomekind that dwells deep in the underworld, where its weirdness has made them become profoundly erratic and obsessed with “improving” things through science. The city is now ruled by the gnomarch Azbqiplth; its non-gnomish citizens live in fear of the new overlords and their well-meaning but profoundly dangerous civic efforts. The gnomes are accompanied by a contingent of surly drow who report directly to Azbqiplth’s majordomo Gaspard, a drider cyborg.

The horrible truth: Azbqiplth is actually controlled by a science-minded intellect devourer named (as is custom) for its greatest achievement, which unfortunately is Escaped Execution by the Dwarf King for Blowing Up His Favorite Steam Chariot While Fixing It. After fleeing the Dwarf King’s realm in its automaton body, E.E. stumbled across a deep gnome settlement and was struck by inspiration: “Is an intellect devourer not entitled to the sweat of its brain?” it thought. E.E. envisioned a city dedicated to technological advancement far above the underworld, free from meddlers and naysayers. It killed Azbqiplth while the gnomarch was in a drunken stupor, took over his body, rallied its new subjects to support its scheme, and hired Gaspard’s gang of drow mercenaries as muscle. Gaspard convinced E.E. that simply taking over the town that happened to be directly above them would be easier than building one. Gaspard now uses the town as a base for looting and pillaging; he plans to disappear with his gang back into the underworld when the inevitable army shows up, leaving the gnomes to face the consequences.

 

Monsters encountered in town: 

Deep Gnome Apprentice

1st level mook [humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Truncheon +6 vs. AC—4 damage

C: Grappling hook +6 vs. AC—3 damage

Natural 16+ hit: Target is hampered (basic attacks only, normal save ends.)

AC 14

PD 14        HP 5 (mook)

MD 11

Mook: Kill one mook for every 5 damage you deal to the mob.

 

Deep Gnome Journeyman

1st level troop [humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Truncheon +6 vs. AC—6 damage if the gnomes and their allies outnumber their enemies; 4 damage if they don’t.

R: Repeating crossbow +6 vs. AC—4 damage

Confounding: Once per battle, when the deep gnome journeyman rolls a natural 16+ with an attack, it can also daze the target until the end of its next turn.

AC 16

PD 13    HP 22

MD 12

 

Deep Gnome Master

4th level leader [humanoid]

Initiative: +5

Sword +10 vs. AC—14 damage, and willingunderling triggers

R: Throwing axe +8 vs. AC—10 damage

Protect  me, you dolts!: Until the start of its next turn, the first time an attack would hit the deep gnome master, it can partially avoid that attack if  deep gnome journeyman or apprentice is nearby: It only takes half damage from the attack, and that ally takes the rest.

Confounding: Once per battle, when the deep gnome master rolls a natural 11+ with an attack, it can also daze the target until the end of its next turn.

AC 20

PD 17    HP 50

MD 14

 

Linkling

A tiny mechanical golem, linklings are spherical assemblages of cogs, chains, and clockwork.

1st level mook [construct]

Initiative: +4

Gear teeth +7 vs. AC—5 damage

Natural even hit or miss: Disengaging from the linkling has a -5 penalty as it wraps tiny chains around its target’s feet.

Limited golem immunity: Non-organic golems are immune to effects. They can’t be dazed, weakened, confused, made vulnerable, or touched by ongoing damage. You can damage a golem, but that’s about it. Linklings are fragile, and lose their golem immunity when the escalation die is even.

AC 17

PD 15.     HP 7 (mook)

MD 10

Mook: Kill one linkling mook for every 7 damage you deal to the mob.

 

Clockwork Automaton

Gears grind and the thing moves forward on a pair of spoked, iron wheels. Each of its metal arms ends in a sharp point.

2nd level troop [construct]

Initiative: +4

Spear-hands +6 vs. AC—6 damage

Natural even hit: The automaton can make a second spear-hands attack as a free action (but not a third).

Made of gears and cables: When an attack crits against it or when it’s staggered, the automaton must roll an easy save (6+). On a failure, the construct’s internal workings fail, and it breaks apart in a small explosion of metal and gears. Drop the automaton to 0 hp and make an exploding gears attack.

C: Exploding gears +6 vs. PD (each creature engaged with or next to the automaton)—2d12 damage

AC 17

PD 14     HP 40

MD 12

 

Monsters encountered in the Mayoral Hall 

Gaspard

An elegant, polite dark elf who acts as the majordomo of the Deep Gnome gnomarch. His lower body is a mechanical spider constructed by deep gnomes and powered by harnessed lightning.

Large 4th level caster [wrecker]

Initiative: +4

Sword-wielding mechanical arms +9 vs. AC—14 damage

Natural even hit: Gaspard can make a lightning bolt attack as a free action.

R: Lightning bolt +11 vs. PD—20 lightning damage

Natural even hit: Gaspard can make a lightning bolt attack against a second nearby enemy, followed by a third and final different nearby enemy if the second attack is also a natural even hit.

C: Lightning web +11 vs. PD (up to 2 nearby enemies in a group)— the target is hampered (basic attacks only, save ends)

Limited use: 1/round as a quick action, if the escalation die is even.

Clockwork spider: Gaspard can climb walls as easily as running across the floor.

Summon Lightning Ghosts: Once per battle when staggered, Gaspard can summon 1d6 lightning ghosts to attack his foes. They act on the following turn and remain till killed or the battle ends, whichever comes first.

AC 20

PD 18      HP 54

MD 14

 

Lightning Ghost

1st level spoiler [elemental]

Initiative: +8

Shocking claws +6 vs. AC—3 damage, and 5 ongoing damage

Electrical aura: Whenever a creature attacks the lightning ghost and rolls a natural 1–5, that creature takes 1d10 lightning damage.

Flight: Lightning ghosts are hard to pin down because they fly. Not that fast or well, but you don’t have to fly well to fly better than humans and elves.

AC 16

PD 11   HP 27

MD 15

 

Dark Elf Mercenary

1st level spoiler [humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Fancy sword +5 vs. AC—4 damage

Natural even hit: The drow deals an additional 5 ongoing bleeding damage  (6+ save ends)

AC 17

PD 14       HP 27

MD 12

 

Azbqiplth, Gnomarch of the Deep Gnomes

Azbqiplth has become more machine than gnome. Madness!

5th level wrecker [construct]

Initiative: +8

Fists of iron +10 vs. AC—15 damage

Miss: 5 damage.

Limited golem immunity: Due to his part-mechanical nature, Azbqiplth can only be dazed, weakened, confused, made vulnerable, or touched by ongoing damage when the escalation die is even

Poison gas: The first time Azbqiplth is staggered, poison gas leaks from his mechanical body into the area. He can make a poison gas cloud attack as a free action.

[Special trigger] C: Poison gas cloud +10 vs. PD (all nearby foes)—5 ongoing poison damage

Confounding: Once per battle, when Azbqiplth rolls a natural 11+ with an attack, he can also daze the target until the end of his next turn.

AC 21

PD 19                  HP 72

MD 15

 

Escaped Execution by the Dwarf King for Blowing Up His Favorite Steam Chariot While Fixing It (aka E.E.), Intellect Devourer

13th Age intellect devourer3rd level spoiler [aberration]

Initiative +5

C: Recall trauma +8 vs. MD (one nearby enemy)—16 psychic damage

Natural even hit: The target can’t add the escalation die bonus to its attacks (save ends).

C: Ego scourge +8 vs MD (one enemy)—10 psychic damage, and the target must choose one: take 10 extra damage; OR lose two points (cumulative) from its highest current background until the next full heal-up.

C: Mind wipe +9 vs MD (nearby enemies equal to escalation die)—The target can neither detect the intellect devourer’s presence nor remember it was ever there to begin with. If no enemy remembers the devourer is there, remove it from play. All nearby enemies immediately detect the devourer’s presence if it makes an attack or if it hasn’t left the battle by the end of its next turn.

Limited use: 1/battle.

Exploit trauma: An intellect devourer’s crit range with attacks against MD expands by 2.

Psychovore: An intellect devourer remembers the current escalation die value the first time it becomes unhosted in a battle and gains a bonus equal to that value to all attacks and defenses.

Nastier Specials

Increased trauma: Add the following extra effect trigger to the intellect devourer’s recall trauma attack.

Natural 5, 10, 15, 20: The target can’t cast spells until the end of its next turn.

AC 19

PD 15     HP 56

MD 19

 


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.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logo“The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs.” – Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977)

“Books (including tomes, librams and manuals), artifacts, and relics are of ancient manufacture, possibly from superior human or demi-human technology, perhaps of divine origin; thus books, artifacts, and relics cannot be made by players and come only from the Dungeon Master.” – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979)

“Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery!”Thundarr the Barbarian (1980)

There’s a campaign I’d love to run someday that dives joyfully into the implications of an idea that’s been around since the beginning of the tabletop fantasy roleplaying hobby: that the characters explore and have adventures in a post-apocalyptic world built atop the ruins of long dead, highly advanced civilizations. The idea originated long before Gary Gygax, of course—his inspirations included M.A.R Barker’s world of Tékumel and Jack Vance’s Dying Earth—and is expressed today in RPGs such as Numenera from Monte Cook Games.

Post-apocalyptic adventure is already baked into 13th Age: the default setting has 12 previous ages, after all. But the default vibe is fantasy with bits of science fiction here and there, rather than the science fantasy campaign I’m imagining. So, how would I give 13th Age a strong “swords, super-science, and sorcery” feeling?

Here’s how I’d think about a post-apocalyptic science fantasy campaign, one that I’ll refer to in this post as Gamma Draconis.

The World

  • The world is old, and haunted by the ruins, relics, and memory of long-dead “Ancients”.
  • Many of the civilizations of the Ancients were incredibly advanced technologically, even by our standards.
  • The people of this world live amid the devastation of a global catastrophe that ended the most recent of the great civilizations hundreds or thousands of years ago.
  • The world feels weird: the sky is a strange color, the weather is dangerous and wildly unpredictable, and a lot of things are trying to kill you.
  • Monsters and humanoids are the result of genetic engineering, interplanetary travel, mutation, and extraterrestrial invasion.
  • The player characters are heroes who represent hope amid the tragedy and horror of this world.
  • Technology ranges from Stone Age (isolated wildlands dwellers, nomads of the irradiated wastes) to Iron Age (the largest and most prosperous cities).
  • People also make use of technology and magic which was created long ago, but which they no longer understand.
  • No distinction is made between science and magic; the two are ultimately indistinguishable.

The Icons

There are many options for icons in my imagined Gamma Draconis campaign. I’m drawn to the idea of using the icons in the 7 Icon Campaign from 13th Age Monthly adjusted to reflect a post-apocalyptic tone, and the mix of magic and far-future technology:

The Deathless Queen: A combination of the Diabolist and the Lich King, she rules a subterranean realm of the undead: once-living humanoids animated by technology and dark wizardry She has allied herself with malevolent beings known as demons, whose catastrophic arrival via portals (“hellholes”) from the dimension known as the Abyss destroyed the last great human civilization. The living in her realm endure her reign in terror and numb despair, or hope for the immortality that she alone can grant.

The Engineer: A combination of the Dwarf King and the Crusader, the Engineer sends his people out all over the world to slay demons and undead, and bring the ancient technology they guard back to the citadel of Forge to be studied and mastered.

I might give dwarf PCs, and/or PCs who have a relationship with the Engineer, the option to spend Background points on “Engineer”. This Background adds a bonus to figuring out relics, and a 5-point Engineer can try to repair or recharge broken or depleted relics.

The Invincible Emperor: A villainous merger of the Emperor and the Great Gold Wyrm, this cruel, decadent tyrant—an immortal being once human, now almost completely dragonic—rules the Dragon Empire from his throne in the Golden Citadel. His dragon-riding paladins enforce his will and crush his enemies.

The Hierophant: A combination of the Priestess and the Archmage, she is actually an ancient artificial intelligence that resides within the Cathedral—a massive structure that towers over Horizon, City of Wonders—where she is tended by her arcanite servants. She grants heroic clerics and wizards a portion of her power to help aid and protect the helpless. Her wards prevent demons and undead from ravaging across the land, for now.

The Three in Shadow: The slithering reptilian powers known as the Sorcerer Queen (the Blue), the Prince of Shadows (the Black), and the Great Beast (the Red) each prey on civilization in their own way, but are united in a powerful bond. For the desperate and downtrodden, their aid can be welcome—though it always comes with a hidden agenda.

The Warlord: Replacing the Orc Lord, the Warlord unites the creatures of the savage wastelands under his banner, and dreams of sitting on the Emperor’s golden throne. He might be a heroic rebel, or a Mad Max: Fury Road style villain—or something more abbiguous.

The Wild Queen: This combination of the Elf Queen and the High Druid is the soul of those wild, green places where beasts, trees, and elves dwell. Her elves embody three sorts of wild things: wildlife (wood elves), the wild cosmos (high elves), and the inner wild (drow).

Available PC Races

Any race could be in this campaign, either explained as mutations or genetic engineering, or simply allowed to be with no reason given—like everything else in this world they began sometime in the distant and mysterious past, and survive into the present. But here are the ones that feel right to me:

Human: unchanged.

Arcanite: Taken from the Book of Ages, these post-human servants of the Hierophant have been transformed by ongoing exposure to her arcane power. They look mostly human, but have odd cosmetic changes that mark them as something unusual—skin like polished silver, gemstones embedded in the face, glowing runes instead of eyes, and so on.

Beastblooded: Also from the Book of Ages, this race fills the role of part-human, part-beast people found in so many works of this genre.

Dwarf: The Engineer’s people. They might have originated in a long-ago age as an offshoot of humanity genetically engineered to operate in harsh environmental conditions.

Elf: Make them strange, and a little scary.

Forgeborn: The dwarves have figured out how to cobble together and reactivate ancient constructs from the parts they’ve found. Some are mindless machines; but others turn out to be, well, people.

Half-Elf: I might call them “elf-touched” or “Wild-touched” and have them be born to human parents in proximity to the Wild.

Lizardman: From Book of Ages. Monstrous characters who are extremely good at fighting are an excellent fit for this campaign! Dragonics and half-orcs definitely work, but I see a lot of potential in lizardfolk as the descendants of reptilian alien conquerors. Plus, I like their frenzy power—and the Epic tier feat that lets them move across water, up walls, and on ceilings makes them extra weird.

Space Fleet Explorer: From Book of Ages, these are stranded travelers from another universe who live in the hidden village of Commandule near Stardock. I would permit them as PCs very, very rarely because they actually understand the world they’re trapped in, and the items they encounter. I can see how it could be fun to have a character in the group who can say, “I think this is some kind of supercomputer,” but you miss out on the fun of Iron Age heroes trying to figure out a teleporter through trial and error.

Available PC Classes

I see no problem with including all of the classes from the 13th Age books published by Pelgrane Press, with any magic powers being the result of incredibly advanced technology or mutation (see below). I’m sure a lot of third-party classes also fit—some maybe exceptionally well.

Magic Items: Relics of the Forgotten Past

Long, long ago, the Ancients created wondrous items that can still be scavenged from ruins and wastelands. The knowledge of how to create these items—or even maintain and repair those that survived—is now lost, perhaps forever. It’s possible that people today use them in ways they were never intended: maybe the metal staff that fires a beam of killing light was originally some kind of cutting tool.

True Magic Items

In Gamma Draconis, “true magic items” are incredibly sophisticated relics that are virtually indestructible, and house powerful AIs capable of interfacing telepathically with those who are attuned to them. These relics form a network with other relics attuned to the same person. Perhaps the Ancients knew how to wield an unlimited number of relics, but in this post-apocalyptic world PCs are limited to a number of relics equal to their level. Go above that number and the telepathic AI network becomes so powerful they override the wielder’s own will and take control. Once a sufficient number of relics have been disconnected from the network, the user returns to normal. (Yes, this is identical to the game’s chakra system, just worded differently!)

One-Use Items

Other relics of past ages can only be used once, whether by design, degradation, or because nobody really understands how to properly use them. Potions, oils, and runes become wholly mysterious substances that take effect when ingested or applied to armor or weapons. Items such as the Mask of Face-swapping, Lighting Quagmire, and Featherlight Skirt become ancient devices activated by voice or touch. I would take a lot of these from the lists of consumable items in Book of Loot and Loot Harder for these relics.

Limited-Use Items

Depending on the kind of campaign you want to run, there could be a third type of relic between the (almost) indestructible true magic items, and one-use consumables. These relics degrade with use until they become junk—though the heroes might be able to find a powerful wizard/technologist who’s capable of repairing or recharging them, or scavenge a new power source from a ruin.

Here are three options to handle relic degradation mechanically:

Charges: When the heroes find a relic, a player rolls to see how many uses it has left. The GM assigns a die to the relic based on how well it’s been preserved, from 1d4 to 1d20. The relic has a number of uses equal to the result of the roll, and the player using it keeps track.

Escalation Roll: The method comes from the Book of Ages for 13th Age. After each battle, roll a d20; if the result is equal to or lower than the value of the escalation die at the end of the battle, the relic is broken, burned out, or otherwise permanently rendered useless.

Durability Roll: This method is adapted from Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, published by Gallant Knight Games. The GM assigns the relic a Durability score from 1 to 5, with 5 representing a fully charged and functional relic. When the GM calls for a Durability Roll, the player rolls a d6 and compares the result to that score. On a result of less than or equal to that number, the item doesn’t deteriorate with use. A result higher than the Durability score means the relic’s Durability is reduced by 1. Once a relic’s Durability score reaches zero, it is unusable. How often the GM calls for Durability Rolls depends on how unforgiving they want their setting to be, ranging from once per use to once per adventure.

Spellcasting

If “magic” items are actually advanced technology, how do you account for spellcasting? Any or all of these might be sources of spellcasting power in a science fantasy campaign:

Icons: Elevate the icons to near-godlike beings enhanced by ancient technology, mutation, or both, and have them bestow a portion of their power on certain followers, allies, and agents.

Alien gods and demons: Spellcasters are in contact with immensely powerful, inscrutable being from other dimensions of reality, which this benighted age calls gods and demons. Invoking the names of these beings enables you to wrap reality to your will.

Mutation: Some are born with special abilities which they can learn to channel to wondrous and devastating effect. There might be remote villages that consist entirely of such people, or they might be born seemingly at random from otherwise unremarkable parents.

Technology: The ancients left behind relics that can permanently change those who use them: substances that rewrite DNA, scrolls that reconfigure the brain, and microscopic nanotechnology that can be controlled and commanded by those who have learned the secret.

Invisible servitors: “Spells” are effects produced by near-omnipotent invisible beings whom the caster has learned to command or persuade. They could be other-dimensional creatures, energy constructs created by the ancients, powerful machines buried deep within the earth that can turn thought into reality (see the machines of the Krell in the movie Forbidden Planet), or something entirely different and surprising.

Monsters

Honestly, pretty much anything goes here. I would probably reskin monsters from mythology to feel more alien—reptilian centaurs, redcaps that are murderous psionic mutants, ogre magi reinterpreted as other-dimensional aliens (which they pretty much already are), and so on.

What Else?

If you’ve run anything like this, or have other ideas, I hope you’ll share them in the 13th Age Facebook group or on the Pelgrane Press Discord. (If you aren’t on the Discord, you can get an Invite link by dropping us a line at support@pelgranepress.com and asking for one.)

“Wade Says” designer symbol by Regina Legaspi

Art from The Dying Earth Revivification Folio by Ralph Horsley and Jérôme Huguenin


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.

chaos symbolWhen you need a new monster in 13th Age, customizing an existing monster is a great option. For this post, we’ll turn an existing monster—the human thug—into a variety of guards from across the Dragon Empire by adding a single, distinctive special ability.

Player characters in 13th Age (and almost every other RPG) tend to go places someone else doesn’t want them to be in. As a result, they often encounter guards. Guards are monsters whose job is to keep watch in a certain area, determine whether or not Waldo the Wizard belongs there, and if not, eliminate Waldo as a problem.

As a city adventure, Crown of Axis—which I’m currently writing—needs more than the usual number of guards. They’re everywhere, from the Palaces to Rabbleward and every neighborhood in between. However, populating the city with only one kind of guard doesn’t feel fun or interesting. My solution was to create baseline humanoid stats for different roles that guards might have in a battle (bumbling mooks, competent leaders, and terrifying brutes), and create special abilities that give them the flavor of whichever part of Axis they’re in. Rabbleward cops fight dirty. Goldring and Upside security forces deliver savage beatdowns that send a message to would-be trespassers. Palace guards know exactly when something’s not quite right along their well-traveled patrol routes.

Normally in adventures we provide icon-themed options for reskinning monsters, and I do that with other monsters in Crown of Axis. But because I see all guard-type monsters in Axis as linked to the Emperor, I decided that the major differences between them would be rooted in their location and function.

For the show-and-tell portion of this blog post, I’ll have a go at reskinning the human thug from the 13th Age core book. Here’s the original writeup:

Human Thug

1st level troop [humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Heavy mace +5 vs. AC—4 damage

Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming, it’s not a secret.)

AC 17

PD 14    HP 27

MD 12

Getting Started: What’s Your Deal?

The first thing I do when I’m creating or customizing a monster is to figure out what their deal is. Knowing this helps me design abilities that create a distinctive experience for the players when their PCs fight that monster. I’ll ask questions like:

  • What word or short phrase best describes its nature? Loyal? Cowardly? Honorable? Cunning? Cruel? A vessel for a greater power?
  • What’s its purpose? Defend its territory? Protect someone, something, or some place? Keep the peace? Accumulate treasure? Feed?
  • How does it fulfill that purpose successfully?
  • Does it do this for itself, or for someone/something else? Who or what is that?

For example, in my version of Axis:

  • Upside security forces are reliable professionals, tasked by their clients with protecting the property of the upper classes in Axis. They succeed by working as a team to beat the crap out of unwanted outsiders before handing them over to the Imperial Home Guard.
  • Rabbleward cops are corrupt bullies, tasked by the government with keeping the poor and marginalized in the district under control. They succeed through terror, by inflicting horrible pain and injury on their enemies.

This process applies to other kinds of monsters. If I were designing a Martian spider, I might decide it’s a ferocious beast whose purpose is to capture and eat prey, and to protect its hundreds of eggs from predators. It does this by spinning multidimensional webs that can entangle and daze creatures, which it then kills with its mandibles.

Sample guards

Let’s pick a few major spots around the Dragon Empire, and give our human thug special abilities to reflect their location and role. I’ll include my answers to the who, what, why, etc. of the monster, and some notes on how I turned that into an ability. In almost every case I used an existing monster ability, reskinned for the guard.

Shadow Port Thieves’ Guild Sentry

WADE THINKS: “This is a cunning rogue tasked by the Guild to defend its headquarters from intruders. It accomplishes this through stealth and surprise. When I search the core book for the word ‘surprise’, I find the gargoyle’s statues, statues, everywhere ability. Yoinked!”

Softly, softly: Think those guards stationed at the door are the Guild’s first line of defense? Nah, mate. The real guards wait in the shadows to ambush you before you even get close. PCs must make a Wis skill check (DC 20) to avoid being surprised (see 13th Age core book page 164).

Glitterhaegen Bodyguard

WADE THINKS: “This is a grim professional tasked by a client to keep someone safe. It does this by putting its body between whoever it’s protecting and whatever’s attacking. Hmm, maybe I can adapt the skeletal hound’s skilled intercept.”

Protect the client: Once per round as a free action, an engaged bodyguard can automatically pop free from one enemy without taking an attack of opportunity and intercept an enemy who is moving to attack one nearby ally. Other enemies engaged with the bodyguard can take attacks of opportunity.

Frost Range Shrine Guardian

WADE THINKS: “This is a spiritual warrior tasked by the priesthood to protect a sacred place from desecration. It does this by making itself a vessel for the power of the gods of the frozen North. I imagine this power growing like a blizzard or encroaching ice, and the escalation die makes a great timer. If I were doing this for a book, I’d definitely ask a developer to check the math and make sure I haven’t made this monster too fearsome, or not fearsome enough.”

Spirits of the ice: The Frost Range shrine guardian adds cold damage equal to the escalation die to the damage from heavy mace. (This ability replaces the +6 damage that follows a natural even hit or miss.)

Guardian of the Golden Citadel

WADE THINKS: “This is a penitent knight tasked by the Great Gold Wyrm to keep vigil in the ruins of the Golden Citadel, slaying monsters and testing pilgrims in battle. It does this through self-sacrifice. If it’s paying a penalty to access an attack, that attack should be pretty good. Maybe I’ll give this attack an automatic success, like the despoiler mage’s magic missile attack, but keep the amount of damage the same as heavy mace.”

Penitent: The first time the guardian becomes staggered, the guardian can make a Penitenziagite attack on their next turn.

[special trigger] R: Penitenziagite (one nearby or far away enemy)—both the target and the guardian take 4 automatic damage
Limited use: 1/battle

Highdock Ranger

“This is a courageous wilderness fighter tasked by a fellowship of rangers to roam far and wide across the Highdock mountain range—a place that attracts and sometimes spawns flying realms—keeping the peace and repelling invaders. It does this using weapons it’s found while exploring crashed flying realms. Highdock, and flying realms in general, call for weirdness; so I’ll create an ability that uses a random table to generates bonuses, penalties, and special effects.”

Sky realm weapon: Highdock rangers’ weapons are strange items they’ve found in flying realms. In addition to the +6 heavy mace damage that follows a natural even hit or miss, the attack does something unusual. Roll a d6 on the following table:

  1. At the beginning of its next turn, the ranger disappears with a faint pop and the weapon falls to the ground. If the PCs ever journey to Moonwreck, they find the ranger’s skeleton lying on the tundra.
  2. The ranger is surrounded by a glittering halo. Ranged attacks against the ranger get a +1 bonus until the end of the ranger’s next turn.
  3. The air is filled with butterflies made of rainbow light. They have no substance and disappear at the end of the battle.
  4. Dark clouds form in the sky overhead. Participants hear ominous peals of thunder, and see weird lights moving within the clouds. The effects disappear at the end of the battle.
  5. The target is surrounded by a glittering halo. Ranged attacks against the target get a +1 bonus (normal save ends).
  6. The ranger’s weapon emits a deafening chime. All nearby enemies must make a normal save or take a -1 to their attacks until the end of their next turn.

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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