BattleCaptDwarf_ThumbAIconic battles!

Battle Scenes for the 13th Age Roleplaying Game is an invaluable GM resource when you’re asked to run a game and don’t have anything prepared; when the icon dice say that a specific icon is in play but you’re not sure where to go with it; or when an icon relationship roll calls for a complication.

Battle Scenes offers 39 sets of challenging and memorable battles keyed to the 13 icons, spanning the three tiers of play (Adventurer, Champion and Epic).

This volume by designer Cal Moore includes:

  •  Battles that pit the PCs against NPCs and monsters that are linked to an icon, or which fall under that icon’s influence.
  • Plenty of new monsters to challenge the PCs, along with new magic items to wield in battle.
  • Optional storylines that link each battle to the ones that come after, so you can take the PCs from one full heal-up to the next using only the battles in the set — with room to expand on these stories to fill multiple sessions of gameplay.
  • Ideas on how to get the PCs into the battle scene story, and possible outcomes that result from their actions.

Status: In playtest

Enter the graveyard of doomed ships

Experienced seafarers know better than to risk the dangers of the Stranglesea: that terrible place where castaways cling to existence in the rotting hulks of trapped ships, and deadly creatures feast on the unwary.

Now a band of adventurers must enter the Stranglesea and attempt to rescue the enigmatic engineer Inigo Sharpe from his imprisonment. But Sharpe is both more and less than they were prepared for — and the forces of an enemy icon want him for their own sinister purposes.

The Strangling Sea is a seafaring 13th Age Roleplaying Game adventure by Robin D. Laws for a party of 4-6 1st-level adventurers.

Status: Art direction

 

thawconMy 13th Age game was prepped, and my old AD&D group were ready for 22 hours of gaming. My prime concern was getting combat to run as quickly and smoothly as possible. I knew the rest would be straightforward.

Mark had printed and laminated a bunch of Status cards from the resource page – these were very useful. I put him in charge of giving them out, so if anyone was stunned, paralysed, or frit, Mark would hand them a card.

I used index cards (per ASH LAW’s suggestion) and wrote the names of the PCs and a few pertinent details about their characters on them – AC, unique things and backgrounds, for example. When it came to initiative, I just wrote the PC initiative rolls on the top right of the card, sorted them into order and added in monsters (usually one card for each type of monster), to make sure everyone acted in at the right time.

So, I ran the ambush scene. It was perhaps a bit ambitious for a first combat and unsual in that breaking through and fleeing the scene was the wise move; but I wanted them filled with adrenaline, on the run but motived for revenge. It took a little longer than a standard AD&D combat, but that was because each player was learning what their character could do. For me though, it was dead easy. The monsters had triggers which caused them to act in certain ways, which alongside GM choice gave an illusion of real choices by their opponents.

Eventually they fled, though the paladin had to be dragged away from a heavily armoured and mounted mercenary’s lance. They were pursued by orcs, and the sage guided them to a nearby abandoned keep. Cleverly (and unexpectedly) they searched for found the secret tunnel which lead to the keep’s cellar (I’d planned this as an exit for them). They even managed to restrain themselves from attacking a sleeping bear which was using the tunnel as a lair.

The keep was inhabited by undead brought to life by a necromancer. The necromancer, acting under secret order, had poisoned his fellow King’s Marshalls, but the dying curse of one means he is holding the Keep against allcomers.

This second combat was very smooth indeed, with the players get a handle on what they were capable of. The PC necromancer repopulated upper level of the keep with minions to make it look as if the Keep was still guarded by undead.

The PCs found information and a map. I gave them a number of options (I’d keyed battle scenes to each location) and I was pleased they decided to sneak out of the keep and divide and conquer the orcs. So, avoiding the orcs who were hunting them down, they took a raft down river to the orcs’ camp to slay those orcs left behind. This was the first adventure of from Battle scene I’d run. The set pieces were great, with each location offering opportunities to use the terrain, and the GM options to combine the many different roles that Bestiary and 13th Age orcs offer. When they asked what was in an orc’s pocket – I quoted from the Bestiary “Half-eaten greenish meat (might be cheese, hard to say), broken parts of a silver statue looted from a temple, unidentified greasy mass, fleas, disease.”

From that I got a tie-in to another Battle Scene adventure set in a looted temple, a potentially unpleasant condition to be treated by an uncooperative NPC, and an ingredient. The Bestiary is great like that.

Then we came to the ritual.

The PCs decided they wanted to disguise themselves as orcs to slip through the cordon without being attacked. The idea is a user of magic who can enact rituals (in this case the wizard) picks a spell as a basis for the ritual (she chose Disguise Self). This is a simple skill check against a DC set by the GM, with an atrribute bonus and suitable background.

The necromancer reanimated some dead orcs; they smeared the “unidentified greasy mass” over themselves and wore some orcish cloaks and helms and enacted the ritual. I added bonuses to their roll for a particularly good job.

So, they cruised past the potentially abseiling orcs with only a face-off with the leader. The orc leader head-butted the paladin, but they realised that this was just a display of dominance and greeting, so the paladin head-butted him right back.

Then we came to the largest and most complex combat bar one I ran – an attack on the half-occupied orcish village. They had surprise, and the ability to add backgrounds meant that the paladin was able to sneak into position behind the leader along with the rogue before it kicked off. By this stage, they’d really got the hang of their characters and had started working together; the Necromancer using his necrotic flunkies to absorb the mooks; the paladin dealing megadamage, the cleric of Justice enabled a vital reroll and the rogue sabotaging the orcs zip line. A few lucky crits helped, too.

Icon Relationship Rolls

As I mentioned in the previous article, I used major NPCs and the players’ own major characters as icons. I made icon rolls at the beginning of the first session, noted the icon results on their index cards, and gave a red Hillfolk token for rolls of 5s and a black one for rolls of 6. They players could throw in a token whenever they wanted to get a bonus on a roll, or invoke the (indirect) help of the icon.

For example, one character took the hat off a crime boss with him they were negotiating and put in on. The heavies pinned her against the wall by her neck. The player through in a red token (a relationship with a slave-taking icon) and suggested that she’d revealed a slave collar mark on her neck, and the crime boss had one too. “You’ve earned that hat, girl,” he said.

As the Battle Scene adventures were all icon themed, this approach worked pretty well.

Next (and final time) – more on each character class and the whining of the fighter.

Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.

Trapped InGodTick_project_1 The Stone Thief

To the Stone Thief, people are the irritating meaty grist in the delicious cities it consumes. Most of the unlucky souls swallowed by the dungeon are crushed to death, or fall victim to one of the many monsters that lurk in the depths. Some survivors, though, still wander the endlessly shifting corridors within the living dungeon. Here are seven NPCs that your players might meet in the Stone Thief. Use them to foreshadow future perils, or to give the players an informed choice about which parts of the dungeon to tackle next.

Beka Salander

She’s human, about eight years old, and she’s survived longer in the dungeon than most adventurers. The Stone Thief ate her village – she doesn’t know what happened to her parents, but they’re probably dead. Everyone dies down here, sooner or later. If the monsters don’t get them, the walls do.

The adventurers encounter Beka close to wherever she’s been hiding all these long, horrific months. Maybe she’s taken refuge in the Chapel in the Ossuary (p. 133), or in the pig caves outside Deep Keep (p. 174), or in the ruined monastery in the Grove (p. 151). If the adventurers show her any kindness – and, more importantly, show her that they can slay the monsters – then she adopts one of them as a foster parent of sorts. She knows how to survive in the dungeon, about the important of Sanctuaries (p. 21) and can describe the biggest threats near her hiding place.

Three-fingered Arix

If you’re desperate and greedy enough, then willingly entering a living dungeon in search of treasure might seem like a good idea. Arix is a former lieutenant of the Prince of Shadows, and he’s heard that the Prince is somehow able to smuggle consumed treasures out of the Stone Thief and back t the surface. Arix hoped to grab a share of the action for himself; now, he’d be happy to escape with his remaining fingers intact.

Arix turns up early in the dungeon, maybe in the Gizzard (p. 80) as a prisoner of the orcs, or slumped at the bottom of the Well of Blades (p. 52). He can tell the players what little he knows of the smugglers in Dungeon Town (p. 98) and that the Prince has an agent among the Orcs of Deep Keep (p. 176). He’s also heard stories about the Stone Thief’s treasure room (p. 277).

Ashbless, the Talking Tree

Ashbless is a magical talking tree – a previous High Druid (or Elf Queen) woke him up long ago. Now, unfortunately, he’s stuck in the dungeon and can never leave. His roots have sunk deep into the tainted mortar and stone, and it’s having a deleterious effect on his mind. About half the time, he’s sane enough to welcome and aid the player characters; at other times, the hatred of the Stone Thief rises through him like hot sap, and he’ll trick or mislead them. Thanks to his root network of spies, he can tell the player characters about nearby parts of the dungeon in great detail. He’ll aid fellow servants of the High Druid freely; other adventurers may have to prove their worth by carrying a cutting of Ashbless back to the surface.

The obvious place to plant Ashbless is in the Grove (p. 137), but he might equally have been shunted to some small lightless room in the Gauntlet (maybe the harpies on page 60 nest in his branches) or transplanted to the Pit of Undigested Ages as a curiosity to be toyed with later (p. 208).

Kalaya the Philosopher

Kalaya seeks to brew a potion of enlightenment, a consciousness-expanding draft of concentrated wisdom. Her experiments in esoteric alchemy proved dangerous, so she left her home city of Horizon and built a laboratory on a small island in the Midland Sea. The Stone Thief swallowed the island, laboratory and all, and she barely escaped with her life. She’s not an adventurer – when encountered, she’s being chased by some dangerous monster that the player characters must slay.

Kalaya can be a useful ally for the player characters, if they set her up with a suitable laboratory. Her old lab is at the bottom of the Sunken Sea now (p. 102, although the players could drain the sea from the control panel at the bottom of the Cascade on p. 121). Possible replacements include Myrdin’s Snail (p. 99), the Blind Spire (p. 145), the Ritual Chamber (p. 236) or the Serpent Temple (p. 210). Once set up in a place where she can work, Kalaya could make healing potions and oils for the adventurers, or set them on the quest for way to poison the dungeon (p. 354, probably involving a Koru Orchid, p. 152, and some Koru Ichor, p. 321).

Facecleaver the Orc

Even monsters aren’t safe in the Stone Thief. Facecleaver’s an Orc from the fortress of Deep Keep who got cut off from the rest of his warband and is now lost and alone. He’s wounded, exhausted, and willing to make a deal with the player characters when they find him. He should be encountered above Deep Keep, perhaps trapped in the Ossuary (p. 123) or the Sunken Sea (p. 102).

Facecleaver’s a follow of Greyface (p. 179), and in his grumblings about Fangrot’s laziness, Grimtusk’s greed and the growing belligerence of the Stoneborn Orcs, the player characters can piece together the complex politics of Deep Keep (p. 160) in time to come up with a plan. For an orc, Facecleaver’s an honourable sort – he’ll murder the player characters once he’s sure he can survive without them, but he’ll tell them that he’s going to kill them first instead of cutting their throats while they sleep.

Crossbow Ben

Like Alix, Crossbow Ben’s another former associate of the Prince of Shadows. In fact, Ben was one of the original gang of thieves who stole the Eyes of the Stole Thief (p. 313) and blinded the dungeon. Unfortunately for Ben, he got left behind when the furious dungeon slammed all the exits shut, and he’s been stuck in the depths ever since. After many years of torment, all he craves is sunlight on his face and maybe a little bit of cheese. Maybe he made it to Dungeon Town (p. 98), but more likely he’s trapped in the Pit of Undigested Ages (p. 208) or even lost in the Labyrinth of Darkness (p. 247).

If rescued, he tells the player characters all about the Prince (as filtered through Ben’s not-especially-lucid recollections) and the powers of the Eyes. He’s also managed to squirrel away a cache of magic items that might be useful to the adventurers.

Rani Silverhair

Rani is a diplomat from the court of the Dwarf King. She was part of the retinue of Lord Sunhammer (p. 235) on his visit to the Artalins of Marblehall (p. 227). Fortunately for her, she stepped outside to take a breath of fresh air during the feast, so she wasn’t placed under a curse by the Witch of Marblehall. She knows she’s trapped in a living dungeon, but has no way to escape it.

The adventurers might meet her in the Pit of Undigested Ages (p. 208), where she can tell them of the importance of the Lost Treasury (p. 216), or maybe she’s making her way up the Maddening Stair (p. 189) in which case she warns the PCs about the duplicitous Maeglor (p. 204) and the dangers of the Shifting Stairs (p. 200). Either way, she begs the PCs to rescue Lord Sunhammer in the name of the Dwarf King, and to slay the perfidous witch who dragged both the dwarves and her family down into this hellish dungeon!

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13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Eyes of the Stone Thief is now available on pre-order in our webstore, and to celebrate this, Will Hindmarch has done a fantastic video trailer for it.

You can watch Will’s trailer below:

Sword-Mages!

by ASH LAW

When Simon offered me a chance to create a pair of fighting wizards I jumped at the chance. Swords and magic, what’s not to love? Sword-Mages, the Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly of the fantasy genre (or if you are British, the Custard-and-Bananas… I’ve no idea what the French would combine, maybe Croissants and Chocolate). Anyway… two great things combined into one.

Combining wizards with a close-up combat class is tricky. When multi-classing casters and hack-n-slashing ‘martial’ classes together weapon damage dice drop, which means that you’ve got to find a way to make the magic work harder and smarter.

My first concern was to up the damage slightly, so that the drop in damage dice would not be felt as keenly at lower levels. The elven racial feat Heritage of the Sword adds +2 damage. Normally a straight fighter or ranger would wield a long-sword and do 1d8 damage at 1st level (an average of 4.5 points of damage)… but a multi-classed caster-sword-wielder with heritage of the sword does 1d6+2 damage (an average of 5.5 points of damage). At 1st level we’re a bit ahead of the curve on something like a straight human fighter.

My next concern was to get a reliable ranged attack. I’m concentrating on sword-play, so I’m heading to the wizard part of the multi-classes for this. Magic Missile! An auto-hit ranged attack that our multi-class characters can use. I’m picturing this attack to be something like a dagger of force thrown out by the sword-mage, striking true at the most vulnerable spots on enemies. Maybe they are actually arrows of force. It all depends on the character, I suppose. It could even be reflavored as some sort of force-damage telekinetic choke or shove.

We know that these characters are elven sword-wielding wizards who create daggers of force and use a combination of wizardly magic and martial prowess to win the day. What sort of elf though? The drow seem like a good fit, and their racial cruelty power could easily be the result of cuts to tendons or quick thrusts to open arteries and blind foes. The wood elves might work well too, with their ability to gain a second attack in some rounds giving the option of casting and swordplay happening at the same time. However, I’m drawn to the high elves. The high-blood teleport gives them a way to close in quickly for the kill, or to withdraw to a safe distance to use spells; there is something as well, thematically, about high elves with swords and spells that appeals. High elves it is then.

So story-wise these two characters are part of a long tradition of high elf sword-mages. They fight with a wand in one hand and a sword in the other, dancing across the battlefield and surprising foes by teleporting in behind them when it is least expected. I might ask the GM to allow me some sort of special effect on my sword, like a blade-less hilt that grows a glowing blade of energy and makes a cool ‘Vrooosh’ sound when activated and goes ‘WhuuumWhuuuum’ when I whirl it around. I’m going to make one character ‘light’ with a strong focus on sword-play and arcane archery and one ‘dark’ with lots of telekinetic choking, mind-control, and lightning shooting from finger-tips.

Now on to the specifics of each character…

Malehea the Guardian, Sword-Mage Consular

I’m picturing this first character as a sort of protector of elves who are far from the Queen’s Wood. She wanders the highways and byways of the Dragon Empire protecting groups of travelling elves. Her motivation for adventuring is protecting her people from threats in a proactive way, killing monsters before they attack travelers. I want to focus on the blending of magic and fighting so a fighter/wizard is where I’m going with this character. She carries a bow and a sword. I’m going to flavor her spells as being mystical arrows that she conjures up. She also wears a large grey cloak that she swirls dramatically when she teleports. This character is our ‘light’ character, a fighter who uses magic to enhance her combat abilities with blade and bow.

For talents I’m she starting her out with High Arcana, which lets her shut down enemy magic via counter-magic, and lets her double up on her daily spells. The doubling-up means that she can have a smaller and more focused list of spells.

The next talent is Evocation. This lets her maximize the damage dice of one spell once per battle.

The third talent is Counter-Attack. This means that enemies need to be careful near me… if they attack me and miss I might attack them back.

As a multi-class wizard Malehea starts with four spells. While wizards can pick and choose their spells each day, I’m going to list her usual load-out of spells. Just remember that this is not a set list, and that we could change it up during play if we wanted to do so. My first choice is a utility spell slot, a general purpose spell that we can use for anything from disguising via illusion to casting feather-fall during an emergency.

The next spell is Acid Arrow. As this character levels up we’re going to keep that spell around with ever-higher level versions of it. As she’s armed with a bow I figure that Malehea creates the magical arrows by pulling back the string and conjuring them up… a sort of arcane archery.

The final spell is Magic Missile. Because Magic Missile. As I said before, it’s a never-miss at-will spell. What’s not to love about that? In situations where she needs to lay the hurt on something that can’t otherwise be harmed, or needs to strike true from a distance, then Magic Missile it is. Her ranged spells are all mystic arrows; these aren’t force daggers or orbs of energy, these are force arrows! If I ever get a magic bow I might ask the GM if it can be used as an implement for her ranged magical attacks too.

For her 1st level fighter maneuvers we are picking Grim Intent and Carve an Opening. These give us a maneuver to call upon every time this character misses with an attack, and half of the time that she hits too. My intent with this character is to build up a set of maneuvers where hitting is its own reward, and missing just increases the deadliness of the character.

At 2nd level we pick up shield to increase our survivability in combat. Shield is going to remain a staple, until we get to high enough level to get Teleport Shield. Heavy blows adds another miss-activated maneuver that increases the deadliness of the character. Grim Intent is the maneuver to use early in battles, and later I’d switch to Heavy Blows. Our 2nd level feat bumps Counter-Attack to full damage.

At 3rd level we add Blur to the roster of keeping-us-safe spells. Brace For It is added to the triggers-on-a-miss maneuvers, and we take the feat that improves the maneuver.

By 4th level we get our 3rd level spells (remember, multi-class characters lag one level behind in certain things). We use that to bump things like Acid Arrow and Magic Missile to their maximum. We use a feat to allow us to split Magic Missile between two targets.

At 5th level we get the Brace For It feat that lets us turn any crit against Malehea into just a hit, provided we triggered the maneuver by missing with a melee attack. We also get Punish Them, allowing us to daze enemies that are hit with Malehea’s sword. Teleport Shield joins the regular roster of spells. As we continue to level this character up this will become an important part of our teleporting-fighting-casting tactics.

At 6th level we boost Magic Missile with the champion feat—allowing us to crit with a spell that has no attack roll. Malehea’s tactics involve rushing in with the sword, then teleporting off to attack with her arcane archery, and if anybody gets too close she stabs them and with a swirl of her cloak sends them away from her (Teleport Shield). We also get Fireball, which I picture as Malehea conjuring dozens of burning arrows for her bow.

At 7th level we get the new talent Power-Attack, and the adventurer feat for it. This new fighter talent lets us make a once-per-battle all-out melee attack with bonus damage (+7d4 hit or miss at 7th level). We also get Hold Monster as a spell, finally dropping Shield. Hold Monster probably looks like an energy arrow that wraps bands of force around the limbs of enemies that it hits. Hero’s Skill, our newest maneuver, turns the occasional miss into a hit.

At 8th level we get a boost to HP and PD due to stat increases, and get a touch more damage based on our key attribute. We use our first epic tier feat to boost the damage dice of our magic missile (which also gets a boost to 7th level).

At 9th level we get Never Surrender, a maneuver that lets us save against effects that keep us from our full combat potential. We gain two new spells in our regular roster: Flight and Dimension Door. Dimension Door is obviousy an extension of Malehea’s cloak-swirling teleportation. The new spell Flight is probably a combination of gliding using her cloak and magically-enhanced jumps, at least that’s how I’ll describe it during play. The champion-tier feat for Fireball increases the number of targets.

At 10th level we level most of our spells that do damage to 9th level, and pick up a new spell Teleport, staying with the theme of battlefield maneuverability. The epic tier feat for Fireball further increases its number of targets. A boost to our attributes increases all our attack rolls.

Praxar the Dark, Exiled Sword-Mage

Praxar is a sword-mage that has been exiled from elven lands. He has been forced to become self-reliant and is much more focused on magic than the sword-and-arcane-archery Malehea. I picture this character enchanting his sword with mystical energy rather than relying on fighter manuvers, so I’m creating this character as a ranger/wizard. Why ranger? Well, for the talents Fey Queen’s Enchantments and Ranger ex Cathedra: access to cleric and sorcery spells. This character is our dark sword-mage, a cackling wizard with a glowing sword and a love of shooting lightning from his finger-tips.

For the Ranger ex Cathedra talent I’m choosing Hammer of Faith but calling it “Sword of Light”. Once per day Praxar can charge his sword up with burning light, increasing his damage dice to d12s! The Fey Queen’s Enchantments’ sorcerer spell gets us access to breath weapons, which I’m picturing as arcs of energy that fly from Praxar’s sword as he swings it. See, for this character these are not ‘spells’, but the fusion of swordplay and arcane power. OK, yes, they are still spells, but we’re going to describe them differently.

The remaining talent is Abjuration. Abjurers gain a +4 bonus to their AC whenever they cast a daily wizard spell. This talent is going to shape Praxar’s tactics: cast a daily spell at range, then close in for melee, then back off for a new daily spell, then back in for another round of slicing enemies apart with his enchanted sword.

Our 1st level spell picks are Magic Missile, Blur, Acid Arrow, and Shocking Grasp. Magic Missile here is more of a force-damage throat-choke that Praxar can perform at a distance… I picture Praxar as a character with a definite dark side, as it were. Shocking Grasp is lightning that shoots from Praxar’s outstretched hand. Blur represents Praxar’s ability to muddle the weaker minds of his opponents. Acid Arrow? Hmm… well I guess Praxar is from the same tradition of sword-mages as Malehea, so it is an arrow made of sizzling acid that he conjures up and launches from his bow. Shocking Grasp will see a lot of use with this character, as any time we are engaged with an enemy and want to not be engaged we can just whip it out and blast the foe away with lightning.

At 2nd level we get the spell Shield, which I’m going to describe during play as a forceful telekinetic shove that he applies to enemies that get too close (and will eventually become Teleport Shield). We’re also going to get the feat for Shocking Grasp that turns it into a quick action to use it… allowing us to blast enemies away from us so that we can use daily ranged attack spells with impunity. Shocking Grasp, however, does potentially damage the caster with lightning feedback, so we might not want to use it every single round.

At 3rd level our two daily ‘sword’ spells that Ranger ex Cathedra gives us boost to 3rd level. This means that Sword of Light (a renamed Hammer of Faith) becomes a quick action to use. We’re also going to get the feat for that talent that allows us to heal like a cleric. Given the dark nature of Praxar, he’s probably not going to share and will end up using this on himself (especially is he takes lots of lightning damage from shocking grasp). A utility spell slot is added to our roster of spells to give us added flexibility. Remember, though we’re listing the ‘usual’ spells that Praxar prepares, they can be changed out each day for a different set of spells.

At 4th level we’re adding three new spells to our roster: Confusion, Force Salvo, and Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is obviously an outgrowth of Shocking Grasp… now Praxar can cackle and attack enemies with lightning shooting from his outstretched hand from across the battlefield. Confusion links to Blur, both forcing the weaker minds of his opponents to his stronger will. Force Salvo I’m going to go ahead and say is Praxar throwing his glowing sword and telekinetically whipping it around the battlefield before recalling it to his hand. We pause to pick up the adventurer feat for Abjuration, applying its bonus to defenses to PD as well as AC.

At 5th level we swap Sword of Ice (actually Breath of the White) for Sword of Darkness (actually Breath of the Black). I like the thematic element of Praxar having a sword that burns with light and darkness. The feat for the Fey Queen’s Enchantments talent means that we can use our key attribute for our attack bonus with Sword of Darkness. Teleport Shield Is added to the roster of spells that Praxar has, though in play I’ll probably describe it more as a huge telekinetic shove against enemies that throw them across the battlefield.

At 6th level we gain the ranger’s Archery talent and the multi-class feat for it that allows us to apply it to ranged wizard attacks; now, once per battle, Praxar can re-roll a missed ranged attack. We also pick up a load of 5th level spells. Denial and Invisibility are extensions of Praxar’s ability to bend lesser minds to his will. Dimension Door is Praxar’s (super-)natural elven ability to teleport, expanded through the use of magic. Fireball is just like Malehea’s Fireball: a volley of burning arrows.

At 7th level our attributes go up enough to give us a boost to all our attack rolls, HP, AC, PD, ad so on. Score! The adventurer-tier feat gives us a bonus to re-rolled attack rolls, and an expanded crit range. The sword spells (Sword of Light and Sword of Darkness, actually a reflavored Hammer of Faith and Breath of the Black) increase to 7th level. The improved Sword of Light lets us re-roll a missed melee attack once per battle.

At 8th level we get the champion feat for Abjuration, which gives us temporary hit points every time we cast a daily wizard spell… and apart from Shocking Grasp and Magic Missile all our spells are daily spells. The spell Blink combines Praxar’s love of teleportation with his ability to force the minds of others to his dark will.

At 9th level we get the last of our ranger talents: Animal Companion. Though it says ‘Animal’, I’m going to pick ‘Bear’ and say that in this case the animal is in fact an elf who has become Praxar’s dark apprentice or sword-mage squire. The epic Abjuration feat means that any time Praxar uses a daily spell he gains +2d12 HP and gains +4 to all defenses until the end of his next turn. The new spell Haste lets Praxar hold back to survey his foes, then burst into a blur of action for the rest of the battle.

At 10th level we’re going to invest in the feat Further Backgrounding. These new background points represent Praxar’s squire/apprentice aiding him. If I were playing Praxar, when it comes time to retire Praxar at the end of 10th level and start a new game of 13th Age I might play the apprentice of Praxar! The apprentice would probably be a sword-mage too, but with backgrounds and an outlook shaped by the epic-tier adventures of Praxar and whatever the stunning conclusion to the previous campaign was. The new spells Disintegrate and Meteor Swarm join the roster. Disintigrate is Praxar using his command of telekinetic force to tear apart a foe at the atomic level, and Meteor Swarm is Praxar grabbing scenery and hurling it about in a storm of destruction.

Other Sword-Mages

Of course that is just two ways to deal with wizards who fight. Using Kobold Press’s Deep Magic (written by me) I could create a fighter with a small roster of spells, including weapon-enhancing spells and arcane archery, yet still firmly a fighter. Picking a class combo from the core book, a Bard/Wizard who concentrates on bardic battle cries would make an interesting Sword-Mage, though I feel the yelling-casting-fighting multiclass might be better described as a dwarven Axe-Wizard. Those interested in heavy-armor wizards might want to look into a Paladin/Wizard with the paladin’s Armored in Life multi-class feats; such a character would benefit from a mix of healing-focused talents for the paladin’s side of things, and Abjuration on the wizard’s side to create a character that is hard to hit and heals itself… a spell-casting tank that wears enemies down through attrition and then blasts them apart with daily spells. A rogue/wizard with the rogue’s multi-class talents and access to Magic Missile can gain momentum when they decide to, and is a fighting character who has access to tumbling, teleportation, blurring, shadow-walking, and so on… the ultimate in battlefield sneaking and mobility. Of course you probably have 13 True Ways if you are multi-classing. Using 13 True Ways I could create a commander/wizard who focuses on reaching into the minds of their allies and offering mystic power-boosts and timely sage advice. Also using 13 True Ways I could make a Warrior Adept Druid/Wizard, a caster who either uses wizard spells or makes melee attacks that trigger mystical effects. The possibilities for multi-classing are near-endless.

Character Sheets

You can download two character sheets from levels 1-10 – one for a skilled swordswoman who uses arcane archery and a load of magically-enhanced leaps and teleports, and a force-choking glowing-sword-wielding lightning-shooting adventurer, with an apprentice – here.

Coming to an audio delivery device near you (very near you) in January 2015

castleonedgecolortestloresEyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.

If your ongoing 13th Age campaign doesn’t have a place for a gigantic megadungeon like the Stone Thief (listen! Can you hear its plaintive earthquake-like whimpering as it begs you to let it rampage through your game?), then the thing to do is get out your shiny +3 Axe of Book Dismemberment and chop the dungeon into its constituent parts. With a few choice hacks and a little sewing of plot threads, the Stone Thief’s thirteen interconnected levels become thirteen regular dungeons suitable for an evening’s delving.

 

The Maw

The Maw, together with the Gizzard, are actually the two hardest levels to convert – they’re both tied to the Stone Thief’s schtick of eating bits of the surface world, which doesn’t translate neatly to a stand-alone dungeon.

For the Maw, drop the Chasm encounter entirely, so the players have to enter via the Front Door. They make their way down past the Ghouls and Spear-Fishing Bridge as normal (optionally, sub in a standard fight scene for the Goblins). Leave the Stolen Palace as a cryptic side quest, then have the Doorkeeper’s door open onto the Gates of the Stone Thief, so the PCs have to surf down a landslide of rubble (that runs under the Spear-Fishing Bridge) to get to a final encounter of your design. Maybe…

  • it’s the lair of an orc shaman with elemental earth powers (explaining the churning landslide, and the orcs)
  • A natural gate to the plane of elemental earth has opened, and must be sealed before it turns half the world to stone
  • A swarm of monstrous subterranean beetles are digging their way to the surface, and the hive queen must be slain before they undermine the city. The orcs and ghouls are opportunistic scavengers, drawn by the anticipation of carnage.

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet’s easy to convert. Drop the Giant’s Causeway and the Belfry encounters, and you’re left with a killer dungeon in the ruins of an ancient dwarven temple to the gods of the forge. The objective of the dungeon is to recover Grommar’s sword from the body of the fearsome minotaur who killed the dwarf master-smith. The party enter by the Falling Stairs… and well, if they survive the traps and trials of the Gauntlet, they deserve a death-slaying sword. You can reskin the Mad Butcher as Grommar’s vengeful & insane ghost if you want to make the place even more dangerous.

Alternatively:

  • Grommar’s buried library contains some fabulous treasure, or lost secret of the dwarven smiths that must be recovered
  • It’s a race against another party of rival adventurers to get through the Gauntlet and recover the sword
  • The Gauntlet is a prison used by the Dwarf King to punish those who have really offended him
  • It’s a competitive dungeon-arena under Axis where teams of adventurers race to complete the course as swiftly as they can

The Gizzard

The Gizzard best pulled apart for parts. You can use Jawgate and the Slaver Camp as part of some other orc-themed saga. The Halls of Ruins and the Gizzard chamber itself could be presented as a weird dungeon where a crazed wizard, the Architect, tries to build a patchwork city out of the ruins of past Ages – the Stone Thief writ small, effectively.

The Ossuary

The Ossuary’s a self-contained crypt dungeon, and requires next to no changes. You might wish to rewrite the imprisoned Gravekeeper as another undead – maybe the Gravekeeper is an emissary of the Lich King, charged with protecting this ancient tomb complex, and the Flesh Tailor is an arrogant, upstart necromancer who’s taken over and is endangering the balance between the living and the dead.

  • The Flesh Tailor can be a recurring villain in your campaign – start off with the PCs encountering his masked undead spies, then they track the necromancer down to his lair and slay him – and only then does he come back in his augmented undead form.
  • Move the Ossuary to Necropolis, and you’ve got a tale of intrigue and body-snatching among the nobles of the Undying Peerage, where the Flesh Tailor stole the palace of the Gravekeeper.

Dungeon Town

Dungeon Town is best pulled out of the dungeon entirely. Reimagine it as a settlement of castaways and survivors – maybe they’re shipwrecked on a monster-haunted island, or trapped on a flying realm, or on the back of a Koru Behemoth, or stuck in some extradimensional plane. The Wild Caves become the perilous landscape just outside this little fortified community of survivors.

If you’re making Dungeon Town the centre of an adventure, then you may wish to make the Provost into more of a villain – perhaps recast him as the Jailor, who deliberately trapped the other survivors here for some mysterious purpose.

  • You can drop Dungeon Town into some other dungeon of your design. Maybe the people aren’t trapped – they’re drawn to the dungeon by the promise of wealth (the dungeon’s a gold mine) or power (it’s a well-spring of magical energy, or youth, or it boosts spellcasting ability) or devotion (it’s a temple taken over by monsters, or a holy site).
  • Alternatively, rework Dungeon Town as a criminal stronghold – a thieves’ city underneath Glitterhaegen, perhaps, or a pirate port out in the Spray.

Sunken Sea

Drop the “sunken” part, and you’ve got a perilous archipelago of mystery instead of a flooded cave network. Swordapus, the sahuagin and their demonic temple don’t need to be changed at all; neither does the wreck of the White Dragon. The Lonely Tower gets teleported here by accident instead of being eaten by the dungeon. The biggest change is to the Cascade – obviously, it doesn’t lead to an exit from the dungeon or to a control room, so you’ll want to put something else at the bottom of that slippery staircase. Maybe:

  • It’s an arcane version of the Bermuda Triangle, and the magical relic at the bottom of the Cascade is what draws all those ships to their doom.
  • It’s a magical lighthouse, built by a former Archmage, and it needs to be relit to re-establish his spells to tame the Middle Sea (or, if the PCs are allies of the High Druid or some villanous icon, it needs to be quenched to free the wild waters).

The Grove

There are two obvious ways to approach this dungeon – make the Elf Tree the centre of events, or put the Breeding Ground as the core encounter. (Or make it into two separate adventures!) If you make the Elf Tree the main encounter, then clearly the High Elves tampered with Things Men (And Elves Too) Were Not Meant To Know, and the Breeding Ground is a hideous magical accident that can only be stopped by closing the magical portal in the observatory. In this set-up, move the Elf Tree so it’s in the centre of the Grove.

If you want to make the Breeding Ground central, then obviously it’s the rest of some evil druid’s machinations, or demonic perversion of natural magic, or the Crusader trying to turn druid magic against demons – whatever works for your campaign. The monsters from the Breeding Ground drove the Elves out of their tree.

When converting the Grove to a stand-alone dungeon, drop The Castle With Your Name On It encounter, and make the Herbarium less of a mysterious ruin – turn it into a ruined Elf stronghold, or a druidic temple. Hag Pheig can be left unchanged, or cast as the villain of the dungeon. Maybe she’s trying to gain control of the Druid Circle, and the horrors of the Breeding Ground are her sins made manifest.

Deep Keep

Drop the Secret Sanctum encounter, and describe Deep Keep as a captured fortress instead of a weird patchwork castle, and you’ve got the front lines of the Orc Lord’s armies. They’ve taken an Imperial fortress and enslaved the population – now you’ve got to take out their leaders and organise an uprising against the invaders!

Take the Giant’s Causeway from the Gauntlet, and Jawgate and the Slaver’s Camp from the Gizzard, and use them as encounters on the way to the castle. Replace the Vizier with some other evil advisor – who’s the Orc Lord working with in your campaign?

  • If you want to keep the deep, so to speak, then make it a subterranean dwarf fortress
  • Introduce a different divide between the orc factions – maybe Grimtusk’s followers want more loot, while Greyface’s are all about honourable conflict. Alternatively, perhaps Greyface is secretly possessed by the ghost of the former lord of the castle, and that’s why he’s willing to rebel against his warlord.

Maddening Stairs

In the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, the Maddening Stairs sets up lots of plots related to the Cult of the Devourer and the ultimate fate of the dungeon. If you’re using it as a standalone adventure, then you’ll need to give Chryaxas and Ajura the Dreamer and Maeglor the Apostate something else to pontificate about. Perhaps the Alabaster Sentinel is an Icon from a previous age, an avatar of justice that once brought unyielding, merciless law to the lands until it fell into this pit and became trapped. Maeglor seeks to restore order to the Dragon Empire by resurrecting the sentinel – Chryaxas argues the case for fruitful chaos and freedom, while Ajura might want to trick the PCs into stopping Maeglor, or perhaps she believes that the resurrected Sentinel will bring about the end of the Age when it decides that the Archmage is too unpredictable to be tolerated.

  • You can also use the Maddening Stairs as a perilous journey – maybe it’s the stairs into Hell, or up to a flying realm in the Overworld

Pit of Undigested Ages

The Pit really doesn’t lend itself to conversion into a stand-alone dungeon. By its very nature, it’s an eclectic collection of weird places from across history. Don’t even try to come up with a linking story – instead, use each encounter on its own. That gives you a buried dwarven treasury, a lost temple of the serpent folk, the ruins of a magical library and a gnoll death cult. The First Master is probably too closely tied to the Cult of the Devourer to make sense on his own, so take him out and drop him into the Onyx Catacombs instead.

  • The dwarven treasury fell into the Underworld during an Age-ending cataclysm. Finding it requires descending into the lightless tunnels and battling past hordes of eyeless monsters.
  • The temple of the serpent folk is somewhere within the jungles of the Fangs; the Black seeks it, with the intent of stealing the primordial magic of the serpents and adding it to her own arsenal.
  • Quillgate was protected by magical wards; when the quake struck, it vanished from this world. It’s out there, somewhere, in the planes of existence. Step into the Archmage’s Faultless And Unerring Dimensional Projector – it’s sure to work this time…
  • And it’s well known that only the Hellpike can slay certain powerful demons. If one of those infernal lords rises to threaten the Empire, then the Hellpike must be found, and found soon

Marblehall

Marblehall’s best used as the result of a magical experiment gone wrong. Instead of getting embedded in the Stone Thief, it’s…

  • Adrift in the skies as the newest flying realm
  • Turning into a Hellhole
  • Spouting elementals
  • About to become a Living Dungeon in its own right

Whatever happened, the Witch and her weird experiments are too blame. Can the adventures save the Artalin family from their own wayward daughter?

Onyx Catacombs

If you take the cult out of the dungeon, then you should also take the dungeon out of the cult. Instead of being a bunch of dungeon-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, make the Cult of the Devourer into a bunch of <insert-dire-noun>-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, and redecorate their hidden city to match. Maybe they’re demon cultists, or shadow cultists, or wolf cultists, or poison cultists, or tentacled alien god cultists, or discordant-music-that-ends-the-world cultists. Turn their dungeon level into a mysterious lost temple in the depths of the jungle, or in a dimensional fold, or across the wastes of the Moonwreck, and you’re good to go.

Heart of the Stone Thief

Like the Pit, this level’s too tied to the concept of the Living Dungeon to make sense as a stand-alone adventure, so it’s best stripped for parts. I’m sure your campaign can find a loving home for a volcano, a crypt of undead adventurers, or a fabulous treasury of epic-level wonders…

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13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

ROB_tileby Rob Heinsoo

A few weeks ago a man in a toga told me that he was considering giving up on 13th Age because it was too complicated. He was two fruity Halloween cocktails away from being staggered, so I pursued quickly to learn what he was having trouble with.

The problem turned out to be the grab rules. “We had a fight the other night and someone got grabbed. We had to page through the book. It was a bit too much. Oh hey, did you write the note afterwards saying ‘you might not want to use grabs?’”

Yes. Yes, I wrote that note. And now I’m going to go a bit further, to explain what I’ve been doing with monster mechanics instead of using grabs, and explain what I’m actually doing in my games when a monster grabs someone. Along the way, we’ll get a vigorous dissent from Jonathan, and you’ll be able to decide which flavor of revision you prefer, if any.

 

The Sidebar in Question

As a starting point, here’s the important part of the sidebar I wrote on page 173 of the 13th Age rulebook after the rules on the Grabbed condition.

Gamemaster

We don’t like using grabs unless it’s the core of what a monster is about, and even then we may opt for different attacks that accomplish something similar. Don’t feel any obligation to allow anyone to make grabs, and don’t use these rules for just any old attempt to hold on to someone. These rules cover serious claw- and tentacle- and pincer-aided holds for monsters that are big enough to pick people up. The rules are more interesting when they are an exception, something that makes some big monsters scary, rather than rules you have to worry about whenever you fight an ogre.

 

This sidebar wasn’t successful. The one person I’m sure understands it? Me. If you run through 13th Age, the 13th Age Bestiary, and 13 True Ways looking for grabs, you’re going to find around five monsters in each book that use the grab rules. Why so few? Because I was the final developer on these books and I did everything I could to find more interesting things for most of the monsters to do with their attacks.

Meanwhile, otherwise well-designed third-party books that handle 13th Age monsters are pretty much jammed with monsters that grab. Grabbing is such a natural thing for monsters to do! With very few exceptions, third party publishers writing 13th Age-compatible monsters have been using grab mechanics on many monsters.

Maybe that’s not a problem for your games, but I’m sure it’s a problem for some people. This problem is my fault. I used the familiar d20-rolling term “grab,” gave it somewhat over-complicated rules, and followed-up with a qualifying sidebar explaining that I recommend avoiding grabs whenever possible. I was talking out both sides of my mouth there.

 

Solutions

I have three approaches worth mentioning.

The first is advice to designers and GMs about how to rephrase grab mechanics as something that’s easier to use.

The second is my still-slightly ticky-tacky rule for how I actually handle monsters that grab in games I’m running.

The third is Jonathan’s rejoinder to my revision.

 

Design Alternatives to the Grab

Grabbing is one of the most obvious nasty things a monster can do to its enemies. My first question whenever I encounter a monster design that involves grabbing is to ask, “Is grabbing really the most interesting thing this monster can do? Isn’t there something more unique or special that this monster could accomplish that would bypass the need for using the grab mechanics?”

Nowadays, if the answer is still no, I try to find another simple way to get the flavor of a grabby monster without directly using the grab rules.

Here’s a simple example, using the stirge from page 197 of the Bestiary. As originally designed, the stirge grabbed people it was fighting. I did not want to deal with the grab rules for freaking stirges. So the finished stirges don’t say anything about grabbing you. But if you stay engaged with them after they have hit you with their claws, their next attack will be to jab you with a draining proboscis. The result is that you probably want to get away from the stirge, or simply kill it.

A lot of monster attacks that might have involved grabs can be rephrased in this fashion. Write the monster’s attack with an effect that will trigger only if the creature it hits is still engaged with it at the start of the monster’s next turn. If the effect is nasty enough, some weak or wounded PCs will do whatever they can to disengage or teleport away. Others who are better in melee will tough it out. In either case, the extra qualifiers that got loaded onto the grabbed condition, and rules about carrying smaller creatures and et freaking cetera don’t need to apply. The simple question is whether you stayed engaged or moved away.

 

How I Play Grabs Now

However, this engaged-or-not effect doesn’t make grab mechanics easier to use for monsters that already have them.

For that, if you like, you can use the variant grab rule I’m using in my games.

The way I handle grabbing now uses the rules on pages 172 and 173 of the 13th Age rulebook, but with fewer fiddly bits.

  • No more -5 disengage penalty to get away from a grab.
  • The grabbing creature doesn’t get a +4 to attack creatures it is grabbing.
  • Instead, if a monster has a PC grabbed at the start of the monster’s turn, the monster deals automatic damage to the grabbed PC equal to half the base damage of the attack that resulted in the grab.
  • Unless you really care, ignore stuff about not being able to make opportunity attacks.
  • And if you feel like making a ranged attack and taking an opportunity attack, well OK, knock yourself out, or let yourself get knocked out.

The big deal, and the rule that matters because it’s what will come up often, is that you’ll suffer automatic damage unless you disengage or find another way to pop free, and we’re ignoring the original rule’s fiddly -5 disengagement penalty.

The +4 attack bonus for the monster that is grabbing is also no longer necessary or desirable because hey, automatic damage! Not many monsters do automatic damage, and in many cases, half the normal attacks’ damage is significant damage that the PC is going to want to avoid. Of course other PCs, who have a lot of hit points, or cunning plans, are going to say, “No, no, I’ve got better things to do with my actions. I’m not even going to try to disengage, I can take it.”

Applying the rule: I’ve looked through most of the monsters that we’ve published in Pelgrane books and the auto-damage variant I use works fine for ankhegs, glabrezou, hezrou, treants, werebears, and pretty much all the other critters with grab attacks we’ve published.

The only grabby monsters that I’ll use the old grab mechanics for are the gelatinous cubes and other monsters that engulf people. The engulf mechanic makes sense to me as something that could use the old mechanics, but really, it’s a corner case and either way would work.

My guess is that most of the grabby creatures in other publishers’ books could also use my variant.

 

Jonathan’s Rebuttal

How are we going to handle grabs in books that Jonathan and I are working on together? Like, say, the 13th Age in Glorantha book.

The answer is: I don’t know!

Because Jonathan surprised me. His simple answer to what should happen when you get grabbed is “You can’t take any actions except trying to disengage when you are grabbed.” He might or might not make an exception for something like rallying. He might let you teleport. I don’t know. He’s like an ogre.

Jonathan is all about simple. Jonathan is also not afraid of being harsh on the players. In fact, he thinks it is fan service to make sure that you care deeply about the die rolls you make. Disengage check when you’re grabbed? Oh, you’ll care.

So what we are doing in the future? That’s to be determined. If you playtest either of these variants, feel free to send me your results at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com.

This past week, as Jonathan and I bid each other good night after a day of working together in my gaming garage, we used some variation of the following shtick:

Jonathan: “And that’s why the Gloranthan monsters should have real grabs. They grab you and that’s it. You’re grabbed! Escape it you can.”

Me: “Get out. Get out now. Get out of my garage.”

Then we say good night for real or make plans for the next work day.

One way or another, we’ll grab you later.

 

thawconMy old-school AD&D players were prepared for 13th Age, and then it was my turn. In the old days, I’d just plot out some locations and wing it when I needed to. I know the AD&D system, creatures and the characters well enough to put together encounters on the fly, and I missed out on the whole monster challenge thing introduced in 3rd Edition.  I could have adapted one of the excellent Organised Play adventures, or the Free RPG Day Make Your Own Luck, but as the publisher I had another option, to kill two birds with one stone.

Battle Scenes

This brings me to Battle Scenes, a new project for 13th Age from Cal Moore.

Like GUMSHOE, 13th Age is a hybrid system, that is, it has two rule sets which interact in play. In some ways, the 13th Age rule set is even more bifurcated than the GUMSHOE one. There are the story game elements, and the combat elements. The combat system is fun entirely on its own, but it’s the the characters One Unqiue Things, icon relationships and backgrounds which make individual combat scenes much more engaging of the combat more than survival and treasure.  Climbing a tree is one thing; clmbing a tree to rescue your kitten is another.

Combat scenes run smoothly when the GM has all the monster stats laid out in an easily accessible format. With AD&D I pretty much know their challenge levels, abilities and stat blocks by heart. With my first 13th Age game I didn’t want to be jumping between pages in the Bestiary or spending time cutting and pasting stat blocks around the place as a new GM.

So my desire was a product which had a bunch of preconstructed and losely-linked encounters with all the monsters stats front and center adjusted for different levels and party numbers. Cal wrote it with feedback from Rob, and that formed the combat core of the adventures I ran, giving me way more flexibilty over the story game elements. I also provided playtest feedback on the Battle Scenes as a result.

If you want to playtest Cal’s Battle Scene’s, you can do it here.

Preparation

I decided to run the game as a sandbox – so I picked printed a detailed area map of the region they’d start in,  a small keep from my Source Maps: Castles set, then added a necromancer and a bunch of leads in it. I linked the leads to the battle scenes, ready to flavour them on the fly depending on the direction the players took. I knew what the major NPCs were doing, but this is less important when the PCs are lower level.

Then I plotted out an opening scene – an ambush, one in which they were acting as bodyguards for a well known NPC, a sage. This sage had his own agenda, but was a useful tool for me to supply PCs with information and adventure suggestions. I was hoping they would flee the ambush and take shelter in the keep.

Would they attempt to find and restore the rightful king (as the sage wanted), the king’s young heir, work alongside their main character’s arch-nemesis, the new King Reknor? Or would they, as was much more likely, follow their own agenda?

More next month…

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