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.
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!