A 13th Age GM recently asked for advice on using Backgrounds in a modern setting. At first I didn’t see the problem—”Former circus performer” should work the same in the modern world as it does in the Dragon Empire, right?

But when I really gave it some thought, I saw the difficulty. “Former circus performer” in the Dragon Empire lets the player do loads of world-building, unconstrained by real-world facts and enhanced by the magic of the setting. Likewise, the GM has complete freedom to use that Background to create adventure and campaign hooks relevant to that character.

However, if your game is set in the modern wold it becomes more difficult, especially if you care about some degree of accuracy, and real-world believability. It’s can be even harder if that Background is connected to a region or a culture you aren’t very familiar with. What, realistically, could a modern-day character with the Background “subsistence farmer” do with it? What if they were a subsistence farmer in New England? Rural Japan? A tiny island near Madagascar? What compelling and believable adventure and campaign hooks could the GM create?

Here’s how I’d handle this.

First, remember that a GM needs to know just enough about a thing to make it believable and entertaining at the table, and no more.

Also, remember that Backgrounds, like other character creation mechanics, exist to generate fun.

Third, recall that 13th Age players and GMs work together to build out the world, and create adventures that are relevant to the characters.

Let’s say I’m running a modern-day campaign set in the United States, where the player characters are a ragtag band of wandering misfits who roam the country, get involved in some local troubles, resolve them, and then head off into the sunset. One player decides that her character, who is Chinese-American, has the Background, “Former circus performer in China”.

For the purposes of gaming at our table we could leave it at that, in which case the player occasionally says something like, “I squeeze through the bars of this jail cell using a trick I learned from the contortionist at the circus.” That’s fine!

However, if that player made the circus Background a +5, that player is telling me she wants this part of her character’s life to be an important element of the game. If it’s connected to a One Unique Thing and/or icon relationships, she might want it to be one of the things that defines the campaign.

In order to find ways to incorporate this Background into the campaign story arc. I’d ask questions like:

  • How did you come to join the circus?
  • What made that circus different from others?
  • Was it successful? Struggling?
  • How long were you in it?
  • What was your role—your job, but also your place in the society within the circus?
  • What was your relationship with the owners? The performers? Other employees?
  • When did you leave, and how?
  • Why did you leave? Was it on good terms, or bad terms? Were you able to leave freely, or did you escape?

Guided by these answers, I would do some research on circuses, especially ones in China—just enough to create compelling story hooks relevant to that character, ones that would feel believable in play.

Hmm. Wikipedia* has very little on circuses in China. Here’s what I found just now:

  • In the 1800s, a Frenchman named Louis Soullier was one of three early circus owners who introduced the circus to China. He was the first circus owner to introduce Chinese acrobatics to the European circus.
  • “Chinese variety art” is the English translation of a Chinese term which covers a wide range of acrobatic acts and other demonstrations of physical skill traditionally performed by a troupe in China. These include plate-spinning, Shaolin monks who resist projectiles thrown or fired at them, kung fu demonstrations, unicycling, balancing on balls, and contorting.
  • “Circus” refers to a Western-style circus, which may include Chinese variety art. The Chinese State Circus is a touring circus presenting these arts to European audiences.
  • Both Eastern and Western circuses have undergone a revival and transformation since the 1970s, with elaborate themed productions, often telling a story through characters which reappear throughout the show. In the Chinese State Circus, this is the figure of the legendary Monkey King.

Whoa. Wait a second. As described in the Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West, the Monkey King rebelled against the divine Jade Emperor and was imprisoned by the Buddha in a mountain. He was released 500 years later, and atoned for his crimes by protecting the monk Tang Sanzang. The Monkey King does all kinds of amazing feats—the kind you’d see in…a circus featuring Chinese variety art.

Not only do I now have some background information to work with in handling skill checks, I’ve made an important thematic connection in my head. I’m reminded that “circus performer” is more than a set of skills: it’s an archetype, an iconic outsider figure who uses skill, cleverness, unpredictability, and humor to overcome obstacles and enemies (often the forces of law and order).

Here’s what I might challenge this player character with:

  • Physical obstacles that put these skills and qualities to the test, and which resemble the sorts of challenges overcome in Chinese variety arts and circuses.
  • Enemies who are their opposite number: solid, straightforward, and serious.
  • Enemies who are their distorted mirror image: skillful, clever, and unpredictable outsiders. Maybe this includes a recurring villain, someone who’s very much like the PC but with an important difference that puts them at odds.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine for circuses, which are fun and interesting. What about the boring Background, ‘I am a former page in the United States Congress’? How do I give that depth, and find story hooks for it?”

Just as we did in the example above, you learn a bit about how it works, ask questions, and find the fun. You might find out he got the highly-coveted job of page because his late father blackmailed a senator who had ties to a powerful Mob boss. If that’s the case, you could run an adventure where the group arrives in a town to discover that the character’s father, who vanished recently, now lives there as part of a witness protection program. And guess who else just figured this out, and sent a car full of hit men?

This works for auto salvage yard owners, tax preparers, homemakers, and every sort of life path.

If a character’s Backgrounds are really just bundles of skills, summarized in a sentence, that’s okay. But if inspiration strikes, your players might be incredibly entertained when a shadowy conspiracy comes after the former tax preparer because the client he helped five years ago was a time traveler from the future, changing history one tax return at a time.

*Wikipedia is sufficient if all I’m doing is running a game for my friends. If I’m turning this into a published adventure or campaign, I’m going to do a lot of thorough research, and take steps to ensure I’m representing real-world cultures accurately and respectfully.

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.

ROB_tileJonathan and I usually agree on the mechanics of 13th Age, but our memories don’t always agree when it comes to how key mechanics were created.* The escalation die is a prime example.

I remember using the escalation die in a bizarro 4e game, fighting minions of Torog, back before we started work on 13th Age. Jonathan remembers coming up with the mechanic on his own, as part of a system he ran for a couple of months that I…er…never showed up for. Both those memories may be accurate; but recently I discovered that the true origins of the escalation die lay elsewhere.

During a period when Jonathan and I weren’t GMing, Mike Fehlauer manned the captain’s/GM’s chair and took us on a 4e cruise through the Savage Tide. Mike’s excellent campaign benefited from a lot of mechanical experiments, and here’s one that he recently unearthed from an ancient email thread:

Another idea I had for speedy play was to put a card for “end of round” into the initiative deck. Each time that card comes up, all combatants (including monsters) add +1 to all their attacks. Second time it comes up, everyone starts adding +2 to all their attacks. And so on.

The pacing isn’t right, but the general idea is that as time goes on, the combat’s pace toward resolution increases. Sort of like how the blind keeps increasing in poker.

Maybe a better pace is “when a monster or character is bloodied, the ‘combat blind’ goes up by 1. All monsters and characters add the ‘combat blind’ to all their attacks.”

Hmm. Instead of “combat blind”, let’s call it “Savage Tide”. That way, as the Tide rises, things get more deadly. I like the sound of that. :)

Jonathan said that the idEscalation_Die_LKEea was interesting, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to track it. Paul Hughes commented that you could just use a die to keep track.

Jonathan and I both went off and used our own versions of the escalation mechanic in our games, giving the escalating bonus to the player characters but not the monsters. As a result, by the time we decided to design 13th Age together, we were both locked in with using something like the escalation die at the table.

Turns out that it’s really important to have a good gaming group!

*To be honest, Jonathan and I don’t particularly care which of us created specific mechanics, or how—the topic only comes up when other people ask.


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.

last doorEarlier this month, Phoenix Online Studios invited us to co-sponsor a short-short-short fiction competition to promote The Last Door Collector’s Edition. We’re all for creepy 8-bit Lovecraftian horror, and gladly joined in. Five prize winners got a Pelgrane PDF of their choice (and all of them chose either Trail of Cthulhu or Bookhounds of London); and 5 winners got a free copy of The Last Door.

Here are the winning entries for your enjoyment:

The 5 Pelgrane Press PDF winners:

She didn’t give me her name. I gave her mine. When she left the bar, she took it with her. – Paul Kirsch

Napping in a crowded metro, a whisper in my ear: don’t wake up. – Victor Ribeiro

“The ‘virus’ is an idea,” she said, “spread via sentence. It commands me to obey.” Chuckling, the doctor replied, “The ‘virus’ is an idea…” – Steven Marsh

As her hand slipped from my grasp, I marveled at its rate of descent compared to the other parts of her body. – Philip Gonzales

A step, drip, cold, door, dark. A step, twist, claw, fur, flare. It’s ok, you can’t see anything wrong. Or anything at all. A step. – Linda Evans

The 5 winners of copies of The Last Door:

I woke before dawn & warmed my shivering wife before returning to slumber. I woke again with a scream when I realized she died a year ago. – Brian Webb

He told me to get a bottle of wine from the cellar. I suppose that’s what he told the rest of these women to do, too. – Kyle Williams

Frightening was hungry eyes, watching me from the gloom. Terrifying was knowing I’d seen them before, every time I’d gazed into a mirror. – Noah Baxter

A bump, a creak, a faint rustle; all from me. I wait till you feel safe with these sounds. Then, as you sleep, I emerge from the shadows. – Gerry Bibaud

Slowly the words formed. We are legion it said. He stared at the readout from the quantum correlation encryption experiment. – Christian Mintert

13th Age at Origins 2014Many thanks to our GM team and all the players who attended our games at Origins this year. We sold out of all of our games, and even squeezed in some walk-ups in the scheduled games. Kendall Jung did an amazing job of managing our play events at the show. Onward to Gen Con!

Free RPG Day

Make Your Own Luck, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s prequel to the upcoming Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, is our contribution to this year’s Free RPG Day — you can get it on Saturday, June 21 at your nearest participating game retailer. We’ve heard that some stores are giving GMs their copies in advance so they can run the adventure on the day of release, so you might want to ring up your local store and see if they’ve scheduled a play event.

(Because some folks have asked: Free RPG Day is a retailer-sponsored event created to support game stores, so we’re not giving away PDF copies of the game.)

Make Your Own Luck: Live Play Crossover Event!

In much the same way that Nick Fury assembled the Avengers, for Free RPG Day we’ve assembled a team of players to play Make Your Own Luck via Google Hangout and Roll20 on Saturday, June 21st at 3:00 PM EST / noon Pacific:

Join us live on Aaron’s YouTube channel on Saturday, and watch the mayhem unfold.

Upcoming Adventures

Domain of the Dwarf King will go live soon. At Rob Heinsoo’s request it features a dwarf centipede. (I guess I know what Dutch horror movie Rob watched last night.)

Domain of the Dwarf King concludes the Orc War trilogy, and will see the final defeat of General Gul. Or not — that’s up to the adventurers.

The next big Organized Play installment after Domain of the Dwarf King is the first of our champion-tier games: Escape from the Diabolist’s Dungeon!

State of Play

We’e now up to 1186 GMs running Tales of the 13th Age worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. If you know anybody in an Antarctic research station who wants a copy of 13th Age let us know!

by Wade Rockett

13th Age OP graph May 2014I’ll start this update by sharing a graph that ASH made, showing what almost a year of 13th Age Organized Play looks like in terms of GMs and sign-ups — click the image on the right to see it more clearly. The initial bump and flatish-line represents our pre-launch OP announcement. Once we went live we saw the numbers really start to go up.

I was going to use the rest of this post to list all 21 Gen Con games we’d scheduled, but THEY ALL SOLD OUT IN A HALF HOUR. Which is wonderful and amazing, because there was always the terrifying possibility that we’d underestimated demand for play and would end up struggling to fill our events. But the enthusiasm and support for 13th Age is greater than ever.

The good news for you is that we received a lot of GM applications after the deadline, so  expect to see a second wave of 13th Age games added to the schedule. We’ll let you know as soon as they go live.

13th Age Seminars at Gen Con: GM advice, design workshops & more

But maybe you’re interested in becoming a better 13th Age GM, or learning how to design adventures and monsters for the game? You’re in luck! We’re offering four seminars at Gen Con:

13th Age Adventure Design
Date & Time: Thursday at 1:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C
The freeform story rules in 13th Age require a different approach to adventure design. We’ll talk about how to design with icons, backgrounds, uniques and more, and answer your questions.

13th Age GM Roundtable
Date & Time: Friday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Grand Central D
Rob Heinsoo, Mike Shea, Ruth Tillman and Wade Rockett share their advice on how to run 13th Age, from handling icon rolls to collaborative world building and beyond. Got questions? Bring ‘em!

13th Age: Year One
Date & Time: Saturday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Victoria Stn A/B
13th Age debuted one year ago at Gen Con! Join Rob Heinsoo, Simon Rogers and Wade Rockett as they talk about where the game is now, share what’s coming next and answer your burning questions.

13th Age Monster Workshop
Date & Time: Sunday at 2:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Pennsylvania Stn C
Join 13th Age designers as they build a new monster that’ll take advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver all sorts of nasty surprises at the table.

…also, check out Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live on Friday at 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM at the Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn C/D

13th Age at Origins

We’re also running games at Origins Game Fair  June 11-15 —  download the Origins event grid.

13 True Ways Pit Fiend Tile SketchA 13 True Ways Preview

Chapter five of 13 True Ways is all about devils—those malevolent creatures from the Pit who delight in corrupting, binding and tormenting mortals. Where demons rage, devils persuade; where demons destroy, devils subvert and dominate.

Typically their role in your campaign depends on which icon you associate them with. If devils are most closely identified with the Archmage in your campaign, they are the servants and betrayers of wizards. If you prefer to tie them to the Elf Queen, they are haters and despoilers of beauty. If you choose to tie them to the High Druid, they work to transform the Wild into a desolate, industrial wasteland.

And then there are ideas that don’t follow the standard format tying the devils to icons. Some of these apply better to monstrous devils, and others work with the new covert devils you’ll find described for the first time in 13 True Ways.

Continue reading »

Elf Queen SketchBy ASH LAW

Our latest adventure is out: The Elf Queen’s Enchantment.

In this adventure the elves answer the call of the Dwarf King, marching west to aid in defeating the renegade orc warlord General Gul. The adventurers are called upon to act as wayfinders for the elven forces, being dropped ahead of the army by eagle riders to clear the way.

GMs: If you’re a Tales of the 13th Age GM, check your email to download The Elf Queen’s Enchantment. If you’re not in the program, sign up here!

Players: This 4th level adventure takes place simultaneously with Wrath of the Orc Lord and Domain of the Dwarf King, and intersects with those. Unless you have a character who has a compelling One Unique Thing that lets them be in more than one place at once you should play a different 4th level character than the one you used for Wrath of the Orc Lord.

Other News

Award time
As you have probably heard, 13th Age has been nominated for an Origins Award for best RPG!

The maps from the current adventure and a lot of maps from the previous adventures can be found here.

GM of the Month
We asked our organized play GMs who deserves to win GM of the Month for the 2nd level adventures…

Who deserves to win GM of the Month for Wyrd of the Wild Wood?

You answered: Aaron Roudabush

Who deserves to win GM of the Month for Quest in the Cathedral?

You answered: Aaron Roudabush

Who deserves to win GM of the Month for Shadow Port Shuffle?

You answered: Ben Roby and Sarah Miller

This will be the 2nd win for team Roby-Miller, as they also won for Crown of the Lich King. You can read about it on their blog.

Until next time, stay awesome!


Tales of the 13th Age is the free ongoing organized play program for the 13th Age roleplaying game. You can play it anywhere you like: at home, your local game store, the neighborhood tavern…wherever. Sign up here to join.

13th Age icon symbolsby Wade Rockett

Greyhawk. Golarion. Eberron. Mystara. The names of these settings ring out in the history of roleplaying games. It’s no surprise that many 13th Age fans want to run campaigns in them, or others that are equally beloved. And one question comes up all the time: how do I figure out who the icons are in that setting? 

That was the project I undertook when I turned 13 powerful NPCs from the Midgard Campaign Setting into icons for the Midgard Bestiary by Kobold Press. Here’s what I learned: When you’re identifying the icons in a setting, whether it’s an existing product or your own homebrew campaign, focus on Connections, Goals, Geography and Flavor.


There’s only one mechanic for icons: relationship dice. This is the most important thing to understand about icons. They are all social by nature. A powerful dragon who spends all of his time in the heart of a mountain, sleeping on a mound of treasure, is not an icon. But a dragon who rules a city-state could be an icon, because she has followers, factions, allies, enemies and a need to employ adventurers.

This is important on a practical level because someone has to provide the benefit of an icon relationship roll to a player character, whether it’s gold, a magic item, a map, a copy of a key, a crew of henchmen, or valuable information. Even if the benefit comes in the form of a flashback, it’s still a flashback to a past interaction with a follower or foe of the icon. (Or at high levels, the icon itself.)


Here’s another reason that greedy dragon I mentioned isn’t an icon: he doesn’t have goals. All icons want something, and they use their power and influence to chase after that thing. Usually what they want gets in the way of something another icon wants, and that’s when the fun really starts. Goals make icons more than just vending machines for benefits — it makes them compelling and exciting additions to your campaign. If a setting’s NPC isn’t driven to accomplish or prevent something, they won’t be a very interesting icon.


An icon’s influence can span the globe, but most of them have a center of power somewhere. A few, such as Midgard’s Baba Yaga, are nomads who might turn up anywhere; but such beings aren’t the rule. (And adventurers are still more likely to find that cunning Feywitch in the Old Margreve forest than they are in the Southlands.)

When choosing the icons for your campaign, consider the extent to which an NPC’s influence is determined by geography. In 13th Age‘s default setting, the icons are most powerful and influential on their home turf, but their actions can affect events setting-wide. But not every setting includes people whose influence could be felt anywhere, no matter how far.

Depending on your comfort level, you can take one of two approaches here:

  • Decide where you want your campaign to take place, and choose icons based on which powerful NPCs with goals and followers could reasonably influence events in that place. For example, if your campaign takes place in and around a single city, your icons could be the ruler of the city, the local crime lord, the dwarf clan chief up in the nearby mountains, the northern barbarian king whose mercenaries fill the army’s ranks, the elf queen of the woods surrounding the city, and the scheming undead lord of a neighboring principality. If the city is important enough, faraway icons (even ones on other planes) could take an active interest in what happens there.
  • Present your players with all the possible icons in the setting, and have them decide which ones they want to be involved with. Then apply the above process in reverse, identifying a place where all these powers could be in play.

You can also use the involvement of icons who are distant, and their influence limited, to foreshadow that something important is going to happen that makes them want to have agents on the ground. If a baron sends assassins to kill a high priest on the other side of a continent, there must be a good reason he went to all that trouble. Maybe the baron has a direct interest in the affairs of church and state halfway around the world; or maybe he’s allied with, or being blackmailed by, a faction closer to where the PCs are based.


Your choice of icons influences the type of campaign you’ll run, and which your players will play. Ask yourself whether making a particular NPC an icon helps to create the kind of game you’ll enjoy playing.

If the PCs never venture far from their city, but a distant sultana bent on conquest is an icon, it probably means her agents are in (or very near) the city, and your campaign will have a flavor of international intrigue. If the decadent, demon-summoning ruler of a slaver kingdom is an icon, you’ll focus heavily on the criminal and occult underworld — particularly smuggling, drugs, slavery and black magic.

How many?

You might be wondering how many NPCs to elevate to icon status. Five? Thirteen? More? Less?

Again, let’s look at practicalities. Just because you have 13 icons in a setting doesn’t mean that all 13 are going to be active in your campaign. And an even smaller number will play a major role in your adventures through successful icon relationship rolls. But in my experience, knowing that there are other powers striving and clashing in the world gives a setting depth, and makes it more dynamic. Even if things are relatively quiet in your neck of the woods, a mighty necromancer’s army might be steadily marching on a distant trade city — where a siege could mean a hungry winter for the dwarves in the North.

Me, I like to go with 13. It’s traditional, you know?



13AgeLogoFull-Transparentby Martin Killmann

Many types of barbarians roam the wilderness of the Dragon Empire, drawing on the power of ancestral spirits, draconic pacts, and even the mountains themselves to strike terror into their enemies’ hearts. Here are four sets of talents to build a distinctive barbarian who brings something unique to the battle.


The Mountainheart are an ancient dwarven clan who chose to live on the surface when their homeland was destroyed during the war with the dark elves. Any barbarian can choose the following talents, but they are most commonly used by dwarves.

Mountainheart Adventurer Talents


While raging, you can end your rage as a free action to negate all damage from one attack or effect.

Adventurer Feat: When you negate an enemy’s damage with this talent, your next attack against that enemy deals half damage on a miss.

Champion Feat: When you negate an enemy’s damage with this talent, make a saving throw (11+). If you succeed, your rage doesn’t end. For each point of relationship you have with the Dwarf King, you gain a +1 bonus to the roll.

Epic Feat: In addition to damage, you also negate all other effects of the attack.

Avalanche of Steel

Once per battle while you’re wielding a shield, you can make a shield smash melee attack as a quick action. Treat the shield as a d6 melee weapon. If you are not engaged with an enemy, you can move to a nearby foe before making the attack as a free action.

Adventurer Feat: When you hit with shield smash, make a Strength check against the enemy using a DC set by the tier. If you succeed, you can push the enemy against a wall, over a ledge, or into an obstacle, depending on your surroundings.

Champion Feat: Before making a shield smash attack, you can pop free from an enemy you are engaged with as a free action.

Epic Feat: When you score a critical hit with a shield smash attack, the target is also stunned until the end of its next turn.

Ancestral Shield

You start the game with a shield that was blessed in an ancestral temple. It is an adventurer-level true magic item with one of the following enchantments: protection, resilience, or termination. Only members of your bloodline can benefit from its effects.

While wielding the shield, you gain a +2 bonus to AC instead of the standard +1.

Quirk: Your shield houses the spirit of one of your ancestors. Its quirk is whatever quirk they had in life.

Adventurer Feat: The shield does not count against your maximum number of magic items.

Champion Feat: The shield is upgraded to a champion-level item, and the maximum hit point bonus increases.

Epic Feat: The shield is upgraded to an epic-level item, and the maximum hit point bonus increases.

Mountainheart Champion Talents


Against large and huge enemies, increase your damage dice with heavy weapons to d12.

Once per round when a large or huge enemy hits you with a melee attack, you can make a hard saving throw (16+) to dodge the attack and turn it into a miss.

Champion Feat: When you dodge an attack with this talent, you can also make a melee attack against the attacker as a free action. If you score a critical hit with this attack, that enemy is hampered (save ends).

Epic Feat: You gain a bonus to your giantslayer saving throw equal to the escalation die. For each point of relationship you have with the Dwarf King, you gain an additional +1 bonus to the roll.

Mountainheart Epic Talents

Whirling Wall of Axes

When you hit with an opportunity attack against an enemy making a ranged attack or casting an attack spell, that attack misses. Spells without a miss effect simply fail. Note than when you use this talent once or twice in a battle, the smarter creatures will figure out that they need to disengage with you before taking those actions. Of course, this gives you an opportunity attack against them if they fail the check.

Epic Feat: When an enemy makes a successful saving throw to disengage from you, it still draws an opportunity attack from you. Your opportunity attack deals half damage. It doesn’t stop the creature from moving away from you.



These talents can represent gifts from the draconic icons, either the Three or the Gold Wyrm. They can also be a manifestation of draconic ancestry.

Wyrmfang Adventurer Talents


Choose a sorcerer dragon breath spell of your level or lower. You gain a +1 bonus to the recharge roll of your dragon breath spell for each point of relationship you have with a draconic icon.

Adventurer Feat: You can use Constitution instead of Charisma for attack and damage with the spell.

Champion Feat: While you’re raging, your dragon breath spell gains the same benefit as your melee attacks—Roll 2d20 for the spell’s attack rolls. If both natural rolls are 11+, you score a critical hit.

Epic Feat: When you score a critical hit with a melee attack, if the escalation die is 5+ and you have your dragon breath spell available, you can use it as a free action.


Choose one dragon color. You gain the elemental resistance of that color (12+) but also the vulnerability (listed in brackets).

White: Cold (Fire)
Black: Acid (Thunder)
Green: Poison (Psychic)
Blue: Lightning (Force)
Red: Fire (Cold)

For each point of relationship you have with a draconic icon, increase your resistance by +1.

Adventurer Feat: You do not suffer the vulnerability when raging.

Champion Feat: Increase the base resistance to 16+.

Epic Feat: When taking damage of the type you are resistant to from this talent, make a saving throw (11+). If you succeed, you can heal using a recovery.

Eye of the Wyrm

You have been blessed with true seeing. You are immune to invisibility or illusion effects created by enemies of your level or lower.

Adventurer Feat: You can see in the dark as well as a normal human can in full daylight.

Champion Feat: You gain a +1 bonus to ranged attacks.

Epic Feat: Your ability to see arcane auras allows you to defend against magic. You gain a +2 bonus to your defenses against spells, magical close quarter attacks, breath weapons and magic traps.

Wyrmfang Champion Talents

Gift of the Blue

You gain a counterspell ability similar to blue dragons. When an enemy targets you with a spell, you can roll a hard save (16+); success means the spell has no effect on you. If the level of the spell is lower than your level, reduce the difficulty to a normal save (11+).

Champion Feat: When you successfully counter a spell, you can make a melee or ranged attack against the caster as a free action. The attack deals half damage.

Epic Feat: The above attack deals full damage instead. For each point of relationship you have with a draconic icon, the target takes +1d6 damage.

Wyrmfang Epic Talents

Wyrm Ascension

When you activate your barbarian rage, you transform into a normal-sized dragon. Your hands and teeth become d12 claw and fang natural weapons. You grow wings that allow you to fly. Your skin changes to scales that are equal to Heavy Armor (base AC 13), but incur no attack penalty.

Everything you are wearing or carrying—including clothes, weapons, armor, shields and magic items—magically vanishes when you take dragon form. They reappear when you resume your normal form.

Epic Feat: You have earned the respect of dragons. Roll twice on Charisma-based skill checks when interacting with dragons. If you have a positive relationship with a draconic icon, you gain this feat for free.


Graceful Fury

Elves are known for a graceful, controlled combat style. These talents are practiced by wild elves who embrace the ferocity of a cornered animal.

Graceful Fury Adventurer Talents

Ferocious Dance

When an enemy misses you with an attack, your first hit with a melee attack against that enemy before the end of your next turn deals an additional 1d8 damage.

Adventurer Feat: You gain a +4 bonus to all defenses against the first attack made against you each battle.

Champion Feat: Increase the bonus damage to 2d10.

Epic Feat: Increase the bonus damage to 3d12. For each point of relationship you have with the Elf Queen, you can reroll one of these damage dice.

Deadly Blur

While wielding a light or small weapon, you can use Dexterity for attack and damage, and your crit range with that weapon expands by 1.

Adventurer Feat: Add your Wisdom or Charisma modifier to your damage with all melee and ranged attacks. Your crit range with small and light weapons expands by 2. In addition, while your off-hand is free and you are not wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Champion Feat: Double the damage bonus, expand the critical range by 3, and increase the AC bonus to +2.

Epic Feat: Triple the damage bonus, expand the critical range by 4, and increase the AC bonus to +3.

Venomous Sting

Once per day when you hit an enemy with a melee attack, the target also takes 10 ongoing poison damage.

Adventurer Feat: If the escalation die is 3+ when you use this talent, the target is also dazed (save ends both).

Champion Feat: Increase the ongoing poison damage to 30 if the escalation die is 3+. You can use the power one additional time per day for each point of relationship you have with the Elf Queen.

Epic Feat: Increase the ongoing poison damage to 50 if the escalation die is 5+.

Graceful Fury Champion Talents

Predator’s Gambit

As a standard action, you can allow one enemy engaged with you to make a melee attack against you as a free action. If the enemy chooses not to take the attack, you don’t benefit from the escalation die until the start of your next turn.

If the enemy’s attack misses, you can make a melee attack against that enemy as a free action. If your attack hits, you deal +1d10 extra damage for each point of the escalation die and the enemy is dazed until the end of its next turn.

Champion Feat: Add your Wisdom or Charisma modifier to all defenses against the attack. If the enemy’s attack hits, you take only half damage.

Epic Feat: When your Predator’s Gambit attack hits, you can choose to make the target confused instead of dazed until the end of its next turn.

Graceful Fury Epic Talents

Death is Swift and Beautiful

Once per day, when you start raging, your next melee attack that turn targets 1d4+1 nearby enemies. You pop free of each foe you attack and can move to the next one as a free action.

Epic Feat: You can also attack far away targets with the attack.


Tribal War Chief

These talents are found in barbarians who have been chosen to lead their people, be it by birth, merit, or the will of the gods.

Tribal War Chief Adventurer Talents

Heirloom Armor

You start the game with a set of heavy armor inherited from your ancestors, a true magic item. Choose between the heedlessness, splendor and warding adventurer-level enchantments. Only you can benefit from the item’s enchantment.

You do not take an attack penalty while wearing heavy armor.

Quirk: You tend to make dramatic speeches, and swear mighty oaths.

Adventurer Feat: The item does not count against your magic item limit.

Champion Feat: The item is upgraded to champion level.

Epic Feat: The item is upgraded to epic level.

Voice of the War Chief

Choose a Battle Cry of your level or lower from the bard’s list. You gain this Battle Cry as a class power.

Adventurer Feat: You gain a second Battle Cry.

Champion Feat: When using a Battle Cry, both you and one ally benefit from it.

Epic Feat: Once per day, you and each ally who can hear you can benefit from your Battle Cry.

Tribal War Chief  Champion Talents

The Pack Circles the Prey

When you score a critical hit against an enemy, the crit range of each of your allies attacks expands by 4 against that target until the start of your next turn.

Champion Feat: The target takes a cumulative –1 penalty to its next attack for each hit it takes before its next turn.

Epic Feat: The target is hampered until the start of your next turn; and, if they’re a creature that can normally use recoveries, cannot use recoveries until the start of your next turn.

Monks FightingBy Brian Slaby

Dicey Stunts is an expansion of the “Dicey Moves” section of the 13th Age core rule book, which allows for any character to exercise their narrative creativity during combat — much like a Rogue with the Swashbuckle talent. (If they succeed at an appropriate skill check, of course!)

Talents such as Swashbuckle, Vance’s Polysyllabic Verbalizations, and Terrain Stunt have gotten a lot of praise from fans of 13th Age.  These open-ended, player-driven abilities reflect the spirit of this system very well, just like Backgrounds, Icon Relationships, and the One Unique Thing.

The Dicey Stunts rule provides guidance for all players to use improvisational “stunts” — not just those who picked certain talents.  It also gives players of the simpler classes (barbarian, paladin, and ranger) an opportunity to spice up combat and play more tactically.


A Stunt is whatever the player would like to achieve.  The options below should cover a wide variety of possibilities, with the mechanics reflecting the intent of the action.  The intended effect can be described in whatever narrative way that the player sees fit.

Stunts are usually a quick action skill check, but some of the more impressive effects require a standard action.

Risks are consequences chosen by the GM.  If the skill check for the Stunt fails, then the Risk is triggered.

Any quick action Stunt can be used as a standard action to avoid a Risk.

The skill check DC is usually based on the standard difficulty for the environment. If the action directly opposes an opponent, use their PD or MD instead.  For simplicity, targeting PD or MD is equivalent to a Normal difficulty.  If the action would normally be a Hard difficulty, add 5 to PD/MD.


Combat Maneuver (quick action): Make a skill check (usually Str or Dex) against your opponent’s PD (usually).


Trip – The target is Prone.  They can stand up as part of their move action, but must succeed at a Normal Save to reach their intended destination (Hard or Easy Saves can be used for relatively further or closer destinations).

Bull Rush – The target is pushed back a few feet, popping them free of any engagements except the bull rusher (and potentially pushing them into new engagements).  If pushing the target into dangerous terrain (fire, off of a cliff, etc.) then you must hit PD+5 (equivalent to a Hard DC).  If the target is Large or Huge, add an additional +5 to the DC (so it’s Very Hard to push a larger creature into dangerous terrain).

Grapple – The target takes a -2 penalty to disengage checks (you must have at least one hand free to initiate a Grapple).

Gain the Advantage (quick action):  Make a skill check against the target’s MD or PD, or use the Normal DC for the environment.  Choose 1 of the following effects (or similar), which lasts until the end of your next turn:

  1. The target is Vulnerable
  2. You or 1 ally gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls against the target
  3. You or 1 ally gains a bonus to damage against the target equal to your level.

Players that really like to gamble may want a stronger effect.  Feel free to give it to them, but with a Hard DC (or add +5 to PD/MD).  Instead, they may choose from these effects:

  1. The target is Dazed
  2. The target is Hampered
  3. Choose one of the Normal DC effects, and make it Save Ends.

Examples:  Taunting the opponent, throwing sand in his eyes, feinting, using footwork to improve your relative positioning, etc.  This is very much a catch-all category.

Attack the Masses (standard action):  First, make a skill check (Hard DC) with an ability appropriate to the action you’re describing.  If successful, you can make a basic attack against 1d3 nearby enemies in a group (whether it’s a melee or ranged attack depends on how you describe the action).

 Examples: Sweep attack, cutting/shooting the rope of a chandelier so it falls on your enemies, throwing a table at your enemies, etc.

Increase Momentum (standard action): Describe how you’re increasing the momentum of the battle and then roll a skill check with an appropriate ability (Normal DC).  Immediately raise the escalation die by 1 on a success.  This is limited to 1 attempt per battle.


Counter-attack:  One enemy (usually the target, but a ranged enemy works well too) makes an immediate basic attack against the gambling character.  If it makes more sense that the action would endanger an ally, then an ally can suffer the counter-attack (this will usually only happen if the character that took the gamble is in a fairly safe position).

Vulnerable:  The character is Vulnerable (Hard Save Ends).

Backfired:  Something went wrong, and now the character is either Dazed or Stuck (Save Ends).

Lost Momentum:  Decrease the escalation die by 1.  This should usually be a pretty dramatic event, so you shouldn’t overuse it (in other words, don’t do it more than once per battle, but see Increase Momentum).


A previous version of this system was originally posted to my blog under the name The Mazarbul Gamble.  Much credit goes to quinn on the Thought Crime blog for his Gamble! stunt system, which provided the basic framework for failed skill checks triggering a Risk.  This idea is so important in keeping players from “spamming” stunts and bogging down combat, while still being forgiving enough that cool stunts are a viable option for anyone.


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