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 In 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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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, 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’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.
- 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 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’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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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’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?
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…
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.
by 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.
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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…
My original roleplaying group began 35 years ago. I received the AD&D Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide for my birthday, learned the game from there, and ran it for my friends. People left and joined the group, set in the same campaign, over the years, but none of them ever played in any other game group, and while they tried Traveller for a while, AD&D was it. I didn’t play with anyone I didn’t know until 2001, when we playtested the Dying Earth, and we formed a new game group.
In 2007, after a break of many years, I met one of the old group and they asked to play the original game again, so every year we get together for a weekend to play with their original AD&D characters who have reached the giddy heights of 25th level or higher, destroy huge quantities of food and drink, hoot, yawp, mock and laugh – ThawCon
This year, one of the players, whose son is a big 13th Age fan suggested we play 13th Age instead. I was up for this, no problem, but some of my original group are quite conservative and sceptical, and so began a campaign or gradual persuasion. “Do we still roll d20s to hit?” “Yes.” “If we roll a 20, do special things happen?” “Yes” After a bit of back-and-forth, they agreed to try a single session. I said we could switch back to the original campaign if they weren’t enjoying it.
This is how I gently lured them into it.
The original email pitch:
13th Age is a D&D-like game set in the current campaign world. Your existing characters get to be Icons of that eg The God Assassin, The Viridian Mage, The Dark King, The Wizard of the Interstices, The Renowned Illusionist, An Awesome Name For Whoever the Hell Chris Currently Is, plus some major NPCs.
Your new characters have an indirect relationship with one or more of these Icons (you really, really wouldn’t want to actually meet any of them) which can be positive, negative or conflicted. You can make an Icon roll to call upon the knowledge, resources or network of the icon.
It’s AD&D, but with extra options. If you think of how your magic items currently work (especially Andrew’s sword) the characters work like that. So you get multiple choices for you actions which can sometime trigger off die rolls – so 20s can be awesome for example, but every class is different. You can always do a basic attack (what you currently do).
Some are complex to play – some are very simple – all are equally powerful. I am running it for the first time next week to see how it plays out.
Character classes, increasing order of complexity. I’ve played a wizard, and it’s about as complex and has as many options as playing say an 8th level AD&D Wizard. I can give recommendations to suit players. I’ve asked Rob Heinsoo, designer of the game and of the previous version of D&D to come up with an Assassin class or bolt-on if anyone wants one George?
[I described each class here, and did recommendations]
Advantages: familiar background, familiar premise, familiar setting, roll d20 to hit and get extra stuff happening on high rolls, reasonably familiar rules, quick combat, characters have lots of choices even at low levels, can survive without a cleric, Steve and Chris know it. I can link the narrative into the main game. Rapid and incremental level advancement (eg you can select a feature of the next level up every now and then). Suits large parties.
Disadvantages: I’m not so familiar with it, requires more effort on my part (don’t mind), it will require some brain work from you to work to learn and take advantage of all the options. Linking to the other campaign might put your new characters in the shadow of the old ones.
I sent them the PDFs, and the details of the One Unique Thing and background and the following reading instructions. You might be able to tell they are quite combat-oriented.
The book is big, but you can miss most of it. Much of it is background specific to the game, which we won’t be using.
The glossary/index is pretty good.
I’d suggest you start with combat, page 159-174.
Then read p29-31 for the character creation overview.
Classes – read p 74-75 then scan through the ones you are interested in. There is all sorts of info elsewhere in the book about feats and all that sort of stuff, but most of it is repeated in each class.
Races follow on from class choice.
I set the game 15 years in the future from the AD&D campaign. This was short enough for familiarity, but distant enough to allow me to make changes.
There original characters had gone missing ten years ago, accused of regicide. I gave them the option of using their original characters as their icons (you couldn’t chose your own character as an icon). This gave them a link to their characters, without their new characters being dominated by the old ones (dealing with the disadvantage I mentioned above).
I recommended each of them a class. The most difficult choice was for George, the eponymous Thaw of ThawCon, our host. Originally, I spoke to Rob Heinsoo about doing an assassin character or bolt-on power. He came up with some good ideas, but in the end George (with assistance from Steve Dempsey) built a horribly min-maxed paladin, Gilfyn, with backgrounds which added assassin-like stealth. His Smite is terrifying, and his chose a form of synaesthesia as his One Unique Thing – to see lies and evasions as a cloudy emission. (I treated this like Bullshit Detector in GUMSHOE). He rolled his stats, and his reputation for incredible rolls from previous years continues. He ended up with a 19 Charisma and a couple of other top stats.
To Mark Fulford (of ProFantasy and Noteboard fame) I suggested a wizard. I said “To be the destroyer wizard, choose Evocation and High Arcana as class talents, then throw Acid Arrow (40 damage for an individual) or Shocking Grasp (18 damage for a group). At third level use Force Salvo (40) and Lightning Bolt (56).”
That picqued his interest. He replied the next day “An evoked meteor swarm in a small space does 160 minimum, 640 maximum on 1 to 4 targets. My kind of spell.” Sold. He decided to roll for stats, which I witnessed over Google+. So Coyote was born – a former slave – and character from the subconscious mind of Tarantino, who sees everything in filmic terms and has a soundtrack. Mark figured out quite how powerful the Wood Elf racial ability is (the potential to earn extra actions), so he took that.
John Scott I know loves his gothic horror. What better than a Necromancer? To prevent him being just unpleasant, he took the Redeemer feature, which meant that his undead minions, when slain, exploded i n burst of holy energy and went to a bad place. He decided to roll his stats, and got the very worst results I have ever seen in a character (in AD&D I do 4d6 relroll 1’s and one stat must be 15 or higher). He got a 6, an 8, and no other stat above 12. Luckily, the Necromancer can take advantage of a very low Constitution using a feat. Beremondo’s mother gave birth while a vampire was feasting on her. Interrupted by his true father, then vampire fled. His mother died, and while his father funded his way through college, he would not speak to him.
Chris Godden, with the help of his son Jay, built another assassin based on the rogue, Zati. He used the point-buy option for his stats to ensure he got exactly what he wanted. This is a second character whose mother died, this time under mysterious circumstances, possibly assassinated by a rival faction. with an inexplicably good sense of smell. Drow cruelty suited this PC.
Andrew Burnford I thought would suit a fighter or commander. I was nervous about the fighter as a fit for Andrew because of flexible attack options at 1st level, and that the damage to start with appears mediocre compared with the paladin, particulary a min-maxed one. Histill was a former Master of Fireworks for the King, and with an incredible display he unwittlingly provided cover for the regicide. Andrew rolled for stats, too, despite our best advice, and did not do well. His One Unique Thing has not yet come into play, and I’d best not mention it.
Steve Dempsey, an experienced player, rolled for stats and built a cleric, Sythiros, happy to boost others power subtly, while not dishing out too much damage himself. He is a Keeper of Dead Knowledge and became a cleric when a dying woman whispered his like to him. He took the Knowledge, Death and Anti-Undead domains. He works with the Necromancer only because the Necromancer is a redeemer of the dead.
So how did it go? Tune in next time…
Next Time: Preparing for and Running 13th Age for the new GM
Continuing Ken’s theme of looting 13th Age for GUMSHOE twists, let’s talk about monsters. In 13th Age, monsters have a sort of rudimentary AI – instead of the GM deciding to use their special abilities in advance, they’re triggered by the result of the attack roll. So, for example, if a ghoul gets a natural even hit, it gets to make its target vulnerable. If a frost giant rolls a 16 or higher when attacking, it also gets to freeze its foe.
For example, here’s a basic human thug:
13th Age Human Thug
1st Level troop [Humanoid]
Heavy Mace +5 vs AC – 4 damage
Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming; it’s not a secret.)
PD14 HP 27
Automating monsters like that makes the GM’s life easier. Instead of having to make decisions before rolling the dice, the GM can just attack and let the triggered abilities make the fight more interesting and complex. The thugs, for example, encourage the player characters to focus their fire or dodge away from the ones who have extra damage lined up for next round. Some of the work of making the monster cool gets shifted from the actual play part of the game to pre-game preparation, leaving the GM free to concentrate on evocative descriptions. tactics and other immediate concerns. (Triggered powers can also surprise the GM, which is always fun.)
GUMSHOE monsters and foes have a limited number of points to spend on their attacks, possibly mediated by an attack pattern. While the attack pattern does take some of the heavy lifting away, the GM still has to make decisions about when to spend the bad guy’s ability pools. Let’s try taking away as much resource management as possible from the GM. For general abilities, for every 4 points a creature has in its pool, give it a +1 bonus, to a maximum of +3, and modelling special abilities as special-case rules or powers triggered by a dice roll instead of the GM having to make a choice. Health, obviously, is unchanged.
Obviously, GUMSHOE’s smaller range of random results means that you’ll have to be a little more restrained when it comes to special powers – there’s a big difference between a power that triggers on a natural 20 in 13th Age and a natural 6 in GUMSHOE. Possible triggers for powers include:
- Natural even or odd rolls – good for alternate attacks or special effects
- Natural 1s or 6s
- 5s & 6s – generically ‘good rolls’, useful for foes that have a chance of doing extra damage or inflicting some special condition, like stunning or knocking prone
- Health reaches a certain threshold – perfect for countdown mechanics, where the fie gets nastier towards the end of the fight
- The attacking player character has no points left in a pool – if you’re out of Shooting, the alien monster breaks from cover and rushes towards yo
You can also have a power be limited to a certain number of uses – a ghoul in Night’s Black Agents might get an extra attack on the first three times it rolls a natural 6, but no more.
All these rules are just for monsters and NPCs – player characters still get to juggle points and manage their resources as per the standard GUMSHOE rules.
Esoterrorist Security Guard
General Abilities: Scuffling +1, Shooting +2,
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
Damage Modifier: +0 (Pistol), -1 (nightstick)
Freeze!: +2 bonus to Shooting in the first round of combat if the security guard isn’t surprised.
Natural 1: The guard calls for backup. If help’s available, it’ll arrive in the next few minutes. The guard misses his next attack. Treat further natural 1s as simple misses.
Night’s Black Agents Thug (pg. 70)
General abilities: Athletics +2, Driving +1, Hand to Hand +2, Shooting +1, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +0
Stealth Modifier: -1
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), +0 (club), +1 (9mm pistol)
Wall of Fire: If three or more thugs shoot at the same target, the last thug gets +1 Shooting
Gang Assault: If three or more thugs attack the same target with Hand to Hand or Weapons, they all get +1 damage.
Night’s Black Agents Bodyguard (pg. 69)
General abilities: Athletics +3, Driving +2, Hand to Hand +3, Medic +1, Shooting +2, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -0
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), -1 (flexible baton), +1 (9mm pistol)
Armor: -1 vs bullets
Protect the Principal: On a natural 5 or 6 when making an Athletics, Driving or Shooting test, the Hit Threshold of whoever the bodyguard’s guarding increases by +2 for the rest of the round.
Stunning Blow: On a natural 6 when making a Hand to Hand attack, the target loses their next action unless they spend 3 Health or Athletics.
Ashen Stars All-Shredder Klorn
General abilities: Athletics +3, Scuffling +3
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -3
Damage Modifier: +6
Natural Even Roll: +2 bonus to Scuffling
Natural Odd Roll: Smash! The klorn destroys some obstacle or object nearby – it breaks through a wall, kicks over a computer console, smashes its spiked tail through the engine coolant tanks, knocks over a nearby ground car or something equally cinematic.
Natural 6: The klorn’s target is impaled on its spear-teeth; +4 bonus damage
Frenzy: When the klorn’s reduced to 10 or less Health, it immediately makes a free Scuffling attack on the nearest foe.
Special: Refreshes health pool when struck by non-lethal disruption fire
by Rob Heinsoo
Jonathan and I had two overarching goals when we designed 13th Age. First, we wanted to create the game we wanted to play together, and hoped that other people would want to play it too. Second, we intended to give people who were already busy playing other games new tools they could use to improve their games. Examples of the new tools include the escalation die, the One Unique Thing, and icon relationships.
What may not be readily apparent about the upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha supplement (presently in Kickstarter mode) is that it maintains both of our original goals for 13th Age. First, 13th Age in Glorantha (13G) is our ticket to enjoy Gloranthan gaming in our preferred d20-rolling/indie-storytelling style. Second, some parts of 13G will be phrased as notions that people playing other games could loot. Glorantha is very much its own world, and the focus will be on presenting Glorantha, but there are aspects of Glorantha that other games could have figured out how to loot a long time ago, and somehow didn’t.
This article takes one of the key elements of Gloranthan adventure, the forays into the world of myth known as heroquests, and explains how heroquests can play a role in 13th Age games played in the core setting of the Dragon Empire . . . . and by extension, any 13th Age games played with their own unique icons.
When in Glorantha . . . . .
In Glorantha, heroquesting takes you across to the Other Side, the timeless world of the gods, the Godtime in which the world was created and nearly destroyed. When things are going right, you tap into a story in which your god (or perhaps just an ancient Godtime heroine) gains power, or wisdom, or accomplishes some great thing for the world, or at least for your clan or for your river valley or maybe just for the magic shield you discovered in a ruin that you think might be connected to a story of the great guardian god Elmal! (When things are going wrong, you aren’t quick or powerful or knowledgeable enough and some aspect of the heroquest kicks your ass and punts you out of the Godtime damaged or disturbed or dead.)
. . . and in the Dragon Empire
The Gloranthan version of heroquesting doesn’t translate directly to the core setting of the Dragon Empire. We deliberately set the gods far away from the world to make room for the icons. No gods in the Dragon Empire heroquests then—but the icons work perfectly as the central characters in the stories that will supply the Dragon Empire’s heroquests.
There were two reasons we chose the 13th age as the setting for our game. The first, of course, is that 13 is ominous, 13 is the number that tells you that the player characters’ lives will be complicated. The second reason is that setting our game in the 13th age of the world gives gamemasters and players almost unlimited freedom to invent stories about what happened in the world’s past.
Heroquesting in the Dragon Empire isn’t about intersecting with stories of the gods. Heroquesting in the Dragon Empire is about using the power of an icon you are involved with to cross over into legends involving the earlier incarnations of your icon. In the world of legend, you interact with the stories that shaped the icon’s power, you participate in battles that shaped the world. As in the bizarre environments of our setting’s living dungeons, heroquests don’t always follow the logic that governs the rest of the world.
I suspect that Dragon Empire heroquesting usually involves performing a ritual at a location tied to the original legend you are trying to quest into. The location requirement is important to the GM, because it sets up plots in which the characters need to travel to specific locations, clean them out, and keep them secure long enough to perform the ritual. Heroquests may occur in the world of legend, but you’ve got to set them up specific locations in the land, the underworld, or the overworld, wherever the legend holds its power. (Gloranthan heroquests have similar geographic variables that may require dangerous adventuring before you can even cross into the dangerous world of the myths.)
This isn’t the place for a heroquest system. That’s coming in 13th Age in Glorantha. For now, here is one outline of the type of fun heroquesting will add to Dragon Empire campaigns that want to cross over there.
The Emperor’s Winter
In some campaigns, the strongest imperial legends concern the Blessed Emperor, who threw down the Wizard King and who tamed the Midland Sea. In other campaigns every Emperor’s reign is notable for the legends he emphasizes to reinforce the power of his rule.
Here’s an example of a powerful legend from the middle centuries of the Empire, a story from the 7th Age known as The Emperor’s Winter.
Sometime in the 7th Age, the frost giants invaded the Empire by freezing all the rivers that came down from the mountains. The giants followed their new roads of ice, advancing ever closer to the Midland Sea. The Empire fought back but was defeated again and again by the frost giants on the rivers the giants had transformed into glaciers.
(Station One: Ice Rivers is a ritual that must be performed on a frozen river, preferably in the mountains. You and your allies slip into the world of legend and fight an ever-escalating battle down advancing ice-rivers against frost giants and their allies. The legend expects you to lose this battle, so even death in this battle doesn’t harm you much so long as you give a good account of yourself and slow the giants.)
All seemed lost, but the Emperor (some versions of the story say it was actually the Emperor’s champion, a bastard son who’d entered the legions as a paladin) donned magic shoes created for him by the Archmage and skated up the worst of the rivers of ice, catching the frost giant king (who has many diverse names, often depending on local encounters with frost giants) in the midst of a great feast in which he was dividing the sections of the empire between the strange members of his own court.
(Station Two: The Magic Shoes can follow immediately after station one or be started later at the mouth of any river that spills into the Midland Sea except the Bronze River that runs past Axis, because everyone knows the Emperor had to travel to get to the worst of the frozen rivers. Everyone knows that the magic shoes are in fact ice skates, but any participant in the ritual who misses a chance to talk about the magic shoes or slips up by using the word ‘skates’ greatly endangers the quest (increasing DCs by 5 and all defenses by 3). Note also that trying to use magic shoes/skates in the first station of the heroquest ruins the quest completely. This station of the quest is a sort of obstacle and endurance and evasion course. The central actor representing the Emperor must wear heavy armor as they move (skate!) up the frozen river of legend. Everyone else can wear what they like, except that all heroquesters must wear ‘magic shoes,’ and anyone flying generally also spoils the effect of the quest.)
One of the Emperor’s traveling companions used magic, or tricks, or god-gifts, to make the frost giants think that the Emperor and his party were also frost giants, come from far away to join the feast. After initial greetings and toasts, the Emperor asked if he might also have a share in the spoils of the Empire. The frost giant king grew churlish and refused him, saying that the victory was his alone. The Emperor dropped the magic concealing his identity and replied that the giant was no true monarch, but that it was just as well that he had not dared to try to make a gift of something he did not own to the land’s true owner. They fought and the Emperor slew the frost giant king and most of the giant’s followers. The rivers of ice melted and until the end of the age, the Emperor could summon or banish winter as he wished.
(Station Three: Winter’s True Ruler must follow immediately after station two. Its first passages require trickery and illusion. No one likes to mention it to the current Emperor, but it’s likely that followers of the Prince of Shadows are extremely helpful in this portion of the heroquest. They might have been around from the beginning. The finale is a perilous frost giant battle enlivened with ice party extravaganzas, and characters who take a moment to loot instead of fighting with every breath can sometimes find treasures that the frost giants never meant for tiny mortals.)
Succeed with the quest and you increase the Emperor’s power over giants and the natural or supernatural forces of winter. Fail and relationships that should have remained strong grow cold, both in your lives and and between pieces of the Empire that should have remained in contact.
Why might the quest of The Emperor’s Winter come to matter in your campaign? Perhaps it’s simply that the Archmage’s failing wards against the worst of what nature has to offer need help. Or perhaps the PCs have taken a campaign loss, allowing the frost giants to complete a great magic spell that ushers in yearlong winter. Or perhaps the icon/dragon known as the White has resurfaced in Moonwreck and something has to be done to put a stop to the great icesheets creeping down from the north.
Back in Glorantha
In the 13th Age in Glorantha book, heroquests like The Emperor’s Winter will appear complete with playable stats, variants, rewards, navigation challenges for performing the stations of the myth out of order, and the myriad surprises and special wrinkles that make each myth special.
Some Gloranthan quests will translate easily to the Dragon Empire. Many others won’t translate so smoothly. But every Gloranthan heroquest will contain elements that could be used inside quests or adventures of your own composition. You can use 13th Age in Glorantha as a key to open your version of a wonderful game world, or you can use even Glorantha’s unique heroquesting as a toolbox to tinker with your own campaigns and worlds.