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.