Monthly Archives: November 2014

Let’s Make Icons! (Arabian Fantasy Edition, vol. 3)

Nothing is really in final form until the campaign begins, and probably not even then. But I think I’ve gotten my Khavayish icons settled now. What got them solid in my head? Active use.

Yep! I have now finally run a 13th Age game, and seen how players react to the icons — well, some of them, really. Only two PCs, so only six dice to distribute for this initial run. Still, they worked just about how I’d expected.

The Game

PC #1: a tiefling relic thief, of the sort discussed in this book here. Lifted a skull from a temple, turned out to not be a saint, but a devil’s skull from the 999 — a concubine of the Slumbering King, and as it turns out one of his ancestors. Said skull was his One Unique Thing, and she was also his greatest burden.

Relationship dice: Slumbering King (2 dice, conflicted); City of Thieves (1 die, positive)

PC #2: an air genasi sailor and former handmaiden in the Queen of Birds’ court. Her backstory suggested two major ties: the Queen’s Court, obviously, and one of the Serpent Emirs (a feathered serpent who also attended the court). I had also swapped out the Lawgiver for the spicier Ascending Flame — an organization of mages trying to bring magocracy to the land — and that appealed to her player as well, as she likes the paradigm of “wizards are jerks and you need to punch them.”

Relationship dice: Queen of Birds (1 die, positive); Serpent Emirs (1 die, positive); Ascending Flame (1 die, negative).

The game itself was profoundly entertaining in a number of ways. Far too many to go into here. But the icon rolls seemed to hit the right notes.

  • Slumbering King (5): The villain of the piece turned out to be bonded with an imp that was another of the 999, and PC #1’s ancestor-skull was able to give him some advice, though she was also less than helpful in various ways at key junctures.
  • City of Thieves (6): Once the relic thief got his assignment, he asked around. A colleague was able to point him toward a failed thieves’ expedition to the island, which wound up letting the players find an abandoned base camp and loot the potion satchel there.
  • Queen of Birds (6): In classic fairy tale form, the PCs eavesdropped on a pair of talking birds who were discussing whether or not the PCs would in fact fall victim to a particular trap, or if they’d find the way around. This allowed them to neatly avoid the trap, of course.

All of those relationship dice functioned exactly as I’d hoped they would. It was pretty great; everyone was on the same page re: expectations of what a relationship die might mean, so that seems to mean the icons are solid. And speaking of:

The Heroic Icons:

The Enlightened Caliph: A hero in his youth and a pious, compassionate man in his middle years, the Enlightened Caliph wishes to see Khavayin grow past its petty hungers and bloody feuds. His city is one of the finest in the land, and his agents — loyal soldiers, cunning spies, righteous priests and forthright paladins first among them — support those who work for peace and prosperity.

The Immortal Sage: This benevolent archmage works quietly to keep ancient evils bound deep in the earth or confined outside the mortal realm. He shows interest in adventurers who seek knowledge for the right reasons. His influence is felt in summoned spirits, agent-adepts, even intelligent magical treasures.

The Prophetess: She is touched by the gods, or perhaps even the voice of Fate itself. She calls on heroes to help fulfill the brightest visions of the future, and to keep her darkest nightmares from coming to pass. Anyone, from beggar to noble champion, could be working for the Prophetess’s dreams — in extreme cases, her influence can be mistaken for purest coincidence.

The Serpent Emirs: A race of intelligent, benevolent serpents, the various Emirs take an interest in rewarding the virtuous and courageous. They have many mortal allies and fey servants, making them one of the subtlest of icon influences.

The Ambiguous Icons:

The Ascending Flame: Khavayin was once split asunder by a war fought between wizard-tyrants, as well as the rebellious people they’d oppressed. Wizards have been since kept from positions of temporal power, but the Ascending Flame wishes to change that. They are an order dedicated to bringing Khavayin back under the rule of mages, whether the people accept it or not. Some agents of the Flame truly have the best interests of the people in mind, but the group as a whole is not interested in sharing power.

The Beasts of Stone: The spirits of the wild are numberless, and concerned with their own business. But some will speak to mortals they find worthy. The Beasts of Stone are the primal spirits who take interest in people, either as followers or as enemies. Each one is tied to an idol of some sort, its primary means of communication with the physical world. Some are predatory, some benevolent, some dispassionate. But they all have an interest in the natural world, and a distrust of growing civilization.

The City of Brass: All genies have an interest in Khavayin, but the ifrit in particular have plans. They offer meticulously worded bargains to those who impress them, and may the heavens help anyone who tries to evade payment. Ifrit, like any other genie, are also not above taking more personal and sometimes even romantic interest in mortals of especially notable quality. Their collective resources and agents are almost innumerable, though any ifrit’s influence is more limited in the mortal world.

The City of Thieves: The most widespread organized crime syndicate in Khavayin are those who know the secret name of a city that does not exist. Its streets and districts are laid out in their organization, its culture formed by their activities. All classes of criminal may claim to be residents of the City of Thieves, from the cruelest cutthroats to the noblest liberators.

The Queen of Birds: Of the many fey monarchs, the Queen of Birds has the greatest interest in Khavayin. She is enthralled by beauty, art, music, gossip, and secrets — all of which are in great supply. She can be kind, as archfey go, but she is fey after all, where compassion is more of a challenging exercise than an inborn urge. Her subjects range from bird maidens and elementals to talking birds of all sorts, giving her eyes and ears anywhere she might find interesting.

The Villainous Icons

The Brotherhood of Vipers: There are many orders of assassins in Khavayin, where assassination is often seen as more pragmatic than open war. The Brotherhood of Vipers are the most feared of all, for they have no master but their Ancient One, and no cause save avarice and spite. They have made themselves snake-blooded through dark rituals, the better to advance their agenda of toppling the old ways and watching the land writhe in chaos.

The Ghul Queen: She is ancient, cunning, and a master of sorcery. The Ghul Queen is said to have eyes in every cemetery, and knowledge of every catacomb. Her hunger for power is stronger than her hunger for flesh, though they are often the same. She savors devouring the corpses of particularly strong or knowledgeable fallen, so that she can add their experiences to her own. Her network of ghuls, specters, scavengers and necromancers is larger than anyone would like.

The Ogre Khan: A great lord among ogres lives in the wastes beyond, and he has cast his eye on the fine cities of Khavayin. His raiding parties seek out the treasures and luxuries of the civilized world. He has many children, some of them brutish chieftains and some of them clever sorcerers — and almost all of them dedicated to earning their father’s favor by taking some portion of Khavayin in his name.

The Slumbering King: A great shaitan who ruled in the mortal world long ago, with his court of 999 other devils, the Slumbering King was overthrown and bound into sleep long ago. Even his name was lost with the realm. But certain of the 999 remain in the world, and both they and power-hungry madmen work to locate and wake the Slumbering King once more.

And there we go! I imagine if this gets turned into a campaign proper, more will be said about all of them. I do like campaign wikis, and it seems appropriate to write them all up in standard format (or something close to it), with more detailed discussion of the allegiances and rivalries between them, among other things. We’ll see if that happens. But for now it does seem that I have more than enough to work with — they worked before, and I think they’ll work again. The game was a solid hit, and now I’m pledged to run a second session for these two over Thanksgiving.

They insisted on rolling relationship dice well in advance, to see how I could use the results with more prep time. Looks like it’s Queen of Birds (5) and Ascending Flame (5).

Should be interesting!

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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


Let’s Make Icons! (Arabian Fantasy Edition, vol. 2)

Last time I went through the process of brainstorming some possible icons for an Arabian fantasy-styled 13th Age game. (Let’s call it 13th Night to be cute.) Next phase: building them out a bit.

In order for icons — or any characters, really — to fill up half a damn’s worth of interesting, they have to want things that they don’t yet have, or that they’re in danger of losing. Similarly, for players to care about their connections to these organizations and entities of power, they need to know what an icon is worth. What are their shared interests? What are the toys that might come into play? What are the fun conflicts? How do they go after what they want?

Brotherhood of Vipers: Aileen said that she felt assassins should be more morally ambiguous. I do get the point, but I actually wonder if it might not be more interesting to have assassins be something available to every icon, separate loyalist brotherhoods, and this particular icon is the “creme de la creme” of murderers-for-hire. Borrowing from an existing goddess in the realm, there’s the double motivation of hatred and greed. Spite also seems appropriate; and a certain love of destabilization, watching a city writhe and collapse after you kick out its linchpin. If they show up in an adventure, it’s not so much that they’re after a Macguffin — it’s that I need to figure out what personage in the adventure has been marked for death for some reason.

City of Brass: Ifrit are one of the main reasons I like messing with this subgenre of fantasy, so I really want them to be able to play a part indirectly even if they don’t show up to fight low-level characters. At every turn they’re about bargains. They want luxuries, singular goods, unique and interesting and powerful objects, entertaining people and beasts. They also demand respect: insult an ifriti, and they’ll make sure that insult’s paid for.

The City of Thieves: Two “city” names in a row… is that bad? But I love the idea of the secret code language, where members of the organization are the only ones who know its secret name. Their motive is obvious: avarice. They’ll show up trying to steal all manner of treasures, kidnap interesting people, uncover lucrative secrets.

Enlightened Caliph: I see the setting as a collection of city-states, emirates, caliphates, wild wastes, and nomadic protectorates, so our Haroun al-Rashid analogue clearly isn’t The Caliph that oversees all. Unifying the realm is a solid goal, but if he’s a benevolent-themed icon, then he probably shouldn’t be a warmonger. (That’d turn the setting into a Sengoku/Three Kingdoms setup anyway, and although that would be interesting, it’d also be super distracting.) But let’s go with the idea that he’s interested in reform, and that he participates in various intrigues and sponsors efforts to influence other cities. (Edit: He should also be religious, come to think of it, so he can be another strong option for PCs whose faith is a key part of their concept.)

Ghul Queen: Hunger comes to mind immediately. But it’s not enough for someone with icon-level influence. I’m going to assume she’s a sorcerous sort, and her influence is as widespread as it is thanks to magic. There’s a Nights story that involves a demon or jinn that lives in a graveyard, and travels to another graveyard at night. So the Ghul Queen has eyes in every cemetery (or close enough). That conjures the idea of interest in the dead — she collects the most interesting corpses, to devour them and consume their knowledge, or to resurrect them for her growing organization. Add to that an interest in old magic and she’s got the story-driving punch she needs.

Immortal Sage: Benevolent Solomonic figure, though not a worldly king. Concerned with bindings and conjurations, old curses and places of power. That’s plenty for a mysterious occultist attempting to keep the world running, but he needs that extra bit of something. I think he’s not entirely ascetic — he has some lost love, beyond the reach of all his magic. That gives him an extra motivation to pull out just when players figure him for nothing more than an archetype.

Lawgiver: Very easy. A figure that wants the more ambiguous form of unification, less compassionate than the Enlightened Caliph. Easy to see nomad and other freedom-loving PCs opposing him; who would want a positive relationship? Perhaps the Lawgiver’s an abolitionist, liberating slaves in the places that fall under his sway. Or “liberating”; he drafts them into new roles, a better lot but still on the ambiguous side.

Ogre Khan: The ogres in these parts are pretty monstrous and varied: elephantine ears, Harryhausen cyclops-types, tusks, apelike builds, and all other sorts of various standouts. The Ogre Khan, like his parent inspiration, is the force outside civilized lands. Like the Ghul Queen, he needs influence throughout the adventuring territories. In this case, I favor making him a “family man,” with dozens or hundreds of ogrish offspring scattered throughout, vying to become the favorite of their father the Khan. Ideal mini-bosses and lieutenants for a game.

Prophetess: I’m still tempted by the thought of having the Prophetess being a stand-in for a rather benevolent version of Fate. As such, I think she’s the exception to the rule. Nobody’s sure what her true motivations are: her influence is as Fate decrees, and her workings aren’t always recognizable as hers.

Queen of Birds: A proper fey entity is interested in passion, beautiful things, singular experiences, esoteric secrets and perhaps romance. All of these things drive the Queen, but I’m particularly interested in gossip. I like the thought of talking birds bringing news and demanding to hear things the Queen doesn’t know in return. Bird maidens and simurghs: also interesting.

Serpent Emirs: The serpents are more classic benevolent fae entities. They repay favors for favors, and have a vested interest in seeing the success of virtuous and honest people. I’d probably encourage anyone with relationship dice with the Emirs to define a particular relationship with a given serpent noble. Probably many of the emirs are religious to boot, as divine-powered PCs could use another icon with that hook. Oh, and also they hate the Brotherhood of Vipers. True snakes hate mock snakes. I’m pretty sure that’s a rule.

Slumbering King: The King himself and his motivations aren’t really the issue, unless we look at high-level play and the players wrapping the campaign around him. It’s the motivations of the 999 shaitan (or whatever’s left of them) and the mortals who want a measure of his power. Plenty of retribution, pursuit of relics from the King’s age, and whatever individual quirks seem likely for your local representative.

Voice in the Wilds: And here’s where it’s time to lock this thing down into something not so generic. Reassessing, I know I want something for the primal characters, an icon couched in the terms of protecting the wild spaces. The main issue here is that when you’re dealing with an incarnation of the primal wild, it is by default (and appropriately) shown as being larger than most human motivations. But an icon? I recall living idols being a thing in Al-Qadim, and they might make good mouthpieces for a vibrant spirit world. Serpents and birds are both representing other icons; other appropriate fauna would be lions, hyenas, crocodiles, scorpions, jackals… hm. Al-Qadim offers the kahin idol-priests, and those work well in the “druid” slot — some might be shapeshifters to boot. I like it. We’ll change this to either the Beasts of Stone or the Stone Beasts. Each idol might have different demands, so there’s that locally personalized feel. I like this take better already.

Second pass down! Am I ready to start writing them up? Could be.

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized