Last month, I compared the 13th Age rulebook to my beloved Rules Cyclopedia, and talked about how cool strongholds were and how they’d work in the looser, more narrative Archmage Engine style. This month, it’s Dominions.
There comes a time in every adventurers’ career – sometime between slaying that first dragon, and well before going toe-to-toe with demon kings – that a hero’s thoughts turn to ruling a dominion. Having your own fiefdom has its appeal. Conan had his throne, after all. It’s good to be the king.
Dominions don’t have to be fiefdoms or landholdings, of course. A wizard might prefer a pocket dimension filled with weird experiments, or a private flying realm in the Overworld. A thief might have a merchant shipping fleet that conceals a spy network, or run the thieves’ guild in a prosperous city. A druid’s dominion might be a wild forest where no man dares trespass. In each case, the player character is the acknowledged ruler of that territory, and has to defend it from external threats.
Acquiring a Dominion
Only Champion or Epic-tier characters can have dominions. It’s a matter of tradition, like ghouls with paralyzing touch or clerics with blunt weapons. Ideally, the would-be ruler should also have a stronghold.
There are three routes to a dominion.
First, your character can inherit a dominion. Just take the One Unique Thing ‘Heir to the Duchy of Fullcatch’ and wait for anyone else in the line of succession to drop dead.
Second, a character can carve their own dominion out of the wilderness. There’s plenty of wilderness to be carved, but said wilderness is full of things that may also need carving. There’s gold under the Giantwalk Mountains, but to get it, you’ll need to drive off the giants who live there.
Third, you can beseech the most appropriate Icon for a dominion. Usually, this is the Emperor, unless you have your heart set on a territory within the demesne of Drakenhall, Horizon or Santa Cora, or you’re an Elf in the Queen’s Wood or a Dwarf in the dwarflands (or a Lich in the Lich King’s realm, or planning to live in the Wild Wood, or…). Doing so requires a triple-strength Icon benefit – rolling three fives or sixes on your Friendly or Conflicted relationship with that Icon.
What’s that you say? You don’t have a 3-point relationship with that Icon? Well, you can curry favour by going on quests and performing needful services, or battling that Icon’s enemies. (Or hiring a bard with Balladeer and Storyteller, because they’re favour-currying machines!)
Ruling a dominion has fringe benefits, in the form of a bonus Background. As lord of a small dominion, you’ve got a +1 Background (usually “Baron of such-and-such”); a medium dominion gives a +2 Background, large +3 and huge +4. Normally, this background comes into play when making Charisma checks to represent influence and wealth.
Designing A Dominion
Once you’ve got your dominion, the next step is assigning Resource Dice. Different dominions offer different sorts of resources. A resource can be almost anything – farmland, a gold mine, a market, a seaport, a guild of weavers, a wizard’s school, a magical font of wisdom, a nest of tame dragons, a well of arcane energy, a hellhole (assuming the ‘resource’ you’re interested in is demons), a Imperial Legion camp, tribes of barbaric half-orc mercenaries, the relics of a dead saint, a trade route, Koru Behemoth dung-enriched soil.
A small dominion (Barony) has 3 Resource Dice to allocate. A medium dominion (County) has 4; a really big dominion (Dukedom) has 5 and an Imperial governorship or princedom has 6. You can double up on a resource if you wish; for example, a dwarven barony might have an Iron Mine (1 dice) and a Smith’s Guild (2 dice).
Under normal circumstances, the dominion provides enough income to pay for its own upkeep and running costs, as well as keeping its ruler in a suitable manner in the suitable manor. There are good years and bad, but by and large things even out. Exceptionally good or problematic years are represented by resource benefits.
When the GM allows it (usually between adventures, or once per game year), the player rolls any available Resource Dice for their dominion. These dice work like Icon Relationship dice – a 6 means the player gets a benefit without any problems and a 5 means there’s a benefit with a drawback or cost. For example, in the case of our dwarven barony, rolling a 6 for the Iron Mine means the miners hit an especially rich vein of iron, and produce more raw metal for trade than expected. A 5 means that especially rich vein runs through a monster-infested cave network, or the iron was cursed by a witch and will make cursed weapons. Or maybe the best market for iron right now is all the way across the Midland Sea in Newport, and to get the benefit, the ruler has to find a way to transport the goods safely.
Rolling a 1 means the Resource is imperilled in some way, and unless the local ruler takes action, that Resource becomes unavailable for 1-5 years (roll a d6; on a 6, the Resource is lost for good). A 1 for the Iron Mine might mean the miners were attacked by monsters, and can’t go back down there until the monsters are slain. A 1 for the Smith’s Guild might indicate that a thief stole their secrets, and all the current guildmasters consider themselves dishonoured and fit only for stoking fires until those secrets are recovered.
A resource benefit can be:
- Cashed out as gold: one benefit gives around 500 gold pieces on average; more if the resource is especially fungible (it’s a lot easier to cash out ‘Gold Mine’ than it is to cash out ‘Sacred Wilderness of the Druid’).
- Expended to temporarily increase your noble background by +2 until the next time you roll for Resource Benefits.
- Spent to restore another Resource that was imperilled by rolling a 1, assuming the player can justify it with narration.
- Traded to another ruler.
- Used to pay the cost/drawback when rolling a 5 on an Icon benefit roll
- Used by a creative player to overcome some other challenge in the game. Instead of slaying the army of ogres that threaten your western border, spend your Rich Farmland benefits together with a really good Charisma check and hire them as mercenaries. Instead of using that Meteor Storm spell to power a ritual, use your Arcane Wellspring benefit and keep the spell for blowing up bad guys.
An example from my campaign: Findel’s the representative of the Elf Queen in the Priestess’ court in Santa Cora, and through recent political machinations he’s also the spokesman for the elven clergy and the owner of an estate just outside the city. He’s got the Resources Tower of the Stars +1, Wizard’s Guild +1 and Country Estate +1. He’s also got the +1 background Elven Ambassador in addition to his regular backgrounds.
At the start of the next adventure, he rolls his resource dice. He gets a 1 for Tower of the Stars, a 3 for Wizard’s Guide and a 5 for his Country Estate. The 1 means that his control of the high elven temple in town is under threat; he’s been controlling it through a proxy cleric called Aritu, and it looks like Aritu’s no longer loyal. The wizard’s guild is quiet this year, and his Estate is threatened by a pesky flock of owlbears.
Findel calls his adventuring buddies together to go owlbear hunting to secure the resource benefit from his estate. He then uses that to temporarily increase his Elven Ambassador background to +3 – he justifies this in the story by inviting various dignitaries from the Priestess’ court to his country manor, where they admire his fine owlbearskin rugs, and listen to his concerns that the cleric Aritu is working far too hard, and would benefit from a less stressful assignment – say, a temple in peaceful Concord. Why, Findel can run the temple of the stars until they appoint a replacement cleric…
Of course, rolling a 1 might also mean that resource has just been stolen by an ancient, vindictive Living Dungeon – in which case, the only way the ruler is ever going to get that resource back is by hunting down the Stone Thief. Now there is a real test of leadership.