Even as I write this, the indefatigable Chris Huth toils into the Canadian night, putting the finishing touches to The Book of Loot, our upcoming compendium of new magic items for 13th Age. The book’s crammed full of wonderful treasures and potent creations of sorcery, along with several items that we ourselves call out as utterly unforgivable puns.
Not every item written made it into the book for one reason or another. Some were cut for thematic reasons, others for balance. Here’s one that fell early on, on grounds of complexity. It’s an Epic-tier item associated primarily with the Emperor icon.
Chessboard of the Ages: There is no mistaking this item; the board of onyx and marble, and the gold and ruby playing pieces are described in songs and sagas from previous ages. However, the pieces are subtly different each time – the pawns change to resemble the allies and enemies of the chessboard’s bearer, while the features of the Icons of the Age appear on the other pieces.
When you first take possession of the chessboard, the GM gives the role of your opponent to some rival, ongoing villain or even an enemy Icon (GM: roll relationship dice if you want). Usually, it’s the Lich King or Orc Lord. You have the opening move. Once per battle, you may ‘move’ by activating one of the chess pieces as a free action. Each piece has a different ability. You may use each ability once per piece (so, you can use the pawn power eight times total in your life, most of the other powers twice ever, and the king and queen powers once each). A piece disappears when used.
Unlike most magic items, the chessboard doesn’t have a recharge value. Once you use a power, you can’t activate any of the chess pieces again until your opponent takes a move (or until your opponent voluntarily forfeits the chance to use a power – see the King, below, for why that might be a good option)
The powers possessed by the chess pieces are:
- Pawn: One nearby ally may take an extra standard action in their next turn or heal using a recovery as a free action.
- Rook: Cast teleport (as the wizard spell) to travel to any stronghold or flee from a battle without incurring a campaign loss
- Knight: Gain three paladin talents with all associated feats until the end of a battle or call a legendary hero to aid you for one battle
- Bishop: Cast any one Divine spell of up to ninth level or automatically succeed at any one skill check, no matter the difficulty
- Queen: Either copy the powers of any other chess piece remaining on your board (other than the king) or sacrifice the queen to remove any one piece possessed by your opponent, other than the king.
- King: You may only use the king’s power if you have at least twice as many pieces left as your opponent, and your opponent has suffered a significant defeat in the real world outside the chess game. When you use it, the chess game ends and the chessboard vanishes. However, your opponent is magically compelled to perform one task for you as a forfeit for losing the game. You may specify the task as you wish, and the opponent must obey.
Quirk: You share your opponent’s dreams while playing.
I may be mad – no, I am mad – but I can count. Eight pieces for good, eight for evil, that makes sixteen. But they say there are but thirteen Icons in the Empire. Who are the other three? Or do some play both sides, like the treacherous harlots they are?
- Erach, crazed preacher
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.
Now that the 13th Age Bestiary is about to ship, and design on 13 True Ways is finished, we can turn our attention back to other important things. Like announcing a contest winner!
We invited readers to submit captions for Rich Longmore’s great illustration of a bronze golem looming over an owlbear cub. We selected three finalists, which went to Rob Heinsoo for judging.
The winner of the Limited Edition 13th Age Bestiary:
Daniel Gallaher: “Mr. Snuggles Murderton! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Runners up ($20 Pelgrane vouchers):
Jace Parker: “Perhaps a Clockwork Golem could learn to love. An Owlbear, however, will never learn to show mercy.”
Dennis Newcomb: “And what happened, then? Well, in Axis they say – that the Forgeborn’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of love came through, and the Forgeborn found the strength of ten Forgeborns, plus two!”
Daniel, Jace and Dennis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prizes.
Congrats to the winners, and thanks to everyone who sent in an entry!
While the 13th Age Bestiary was in playtesting, we heard some fun stories about groups that temporarily allied with monsters and wanted guidelines about how to handle their unlikely allies. Here’s Jonathan’s advice to GMs on handling this unusual situation, along with a paragraph I’ve inserted that addresses healing. –Rob Heinsoo
By Jonathan Tweet
13th Age campaigns where diplomacy or skullduggery are options sometimes end up with creatures that start as monsters fighting alongside the party. This can cause some problems if all the new ally’s abilities are handled exactly as they were when the creature was functioning as an enemy of the PCs.
If 13th Age were a simulation, then monsters and characters would be interchangeable objects. You would be expected to treat the monstrous ally as written, so it would act, for example, “the way a naga really would act.” But 13th Age is only partially a simulation, and both PCs and monsters are hand-crafted to fit their distinct roles at the table.
GMs, if a monster joins the party, consider each of its special abilities to see whether that ability makes sense for a creature functioning as a PC. Feel free to interpret special abilities loosely. These monsters aren’t like cards in a collectible card game, where you have to follow the letter of the card text.
The goal is to make these temporary alliances fun rather than weird or exploitative. Given how many surprises can lurk within mechanical combinations the game wasn’t expecting to handle, don’t be shy about changing interpretations on the fly. So long as your intentions are good and the results are amusing, the players should thank you.
Here are some example adjustments.
Powerful monster abilities: Certain per-battle abilities, such as demonic teleportation or trollish regeneration, are abusive if they can be used every five minutes. If they are powerful, they might be too decisive and repetitive as per-encounter powers. In such cases, assign the power a recharge roll. 11+ is usually fair, and it provides variation between battles.
Escalation die interactions: Abilities that reduce the escalation die can be thought of as reducing the enemies’ access to the escalation die, if any. Those abilities should work against dragons, but if the party happens to have a frost giant ally, don’t always penalize them with a slower escalation die. Once, perhaps, for dramatic flavor, but as a rule such abilities are meant to be used when the monster is fighting the PCs, not allied to them.
Flying: A monster’s long-range flying ability may be far more limited than its write-up mentions. It may be limited in how far it can fly in a day or how long it can fly without a quick rest. The monster write-ups describe how well a creature flies in a battle, when its life depends on it.
Monsters that are tougher when hurt: If the PCs end up exploiting a monster’s power by dealing it damage, keeping it staggered, putting minor effects on it, or that sort of thing, the power could probably use a re-interpretation. A “when staggered” power, for example, might be re-imagined as “when staggered, and for up to 5 minutes a day.”
Healing: If the PCs want to use precious healing spells, commands, or potions to keep monstrous allies alive, you should probably let them, at least once per battle. Treat the monster as if it has a single recovery that can be used in each battle, regaining 25% of its starting hit points when it does so. Heinsoo’s version would have you roll a d4 and multiply the result by 10% to find out the percentage of the monster’s hit points it regains using the recovery, so do whichever you like. If you want the monster to heal a bit between battles, that’s fine, but you probably want it to heal less than the PCs to help the PCs feel special.
Out of combat possibilities: Certain battle abilities might suggest other capacities that the monster could use while exploring or interacting with people. At the GM’s option, for example, a confusion ability could be used to fast-talk someone. Again, even if that ability is an at-will power in battles as a monster, it probably works best if it’s being used on the PC’s side as a power that only has a chance of recharging. Obviously there could be some extremely surprising stories resulting from abilities used by allied monsters, but if they seem like they’re overshadowing the PCs’ abilities, backgrounds, and One Unique Things, then the recharge on the monster’s ability is too low or the ability itself needs to be toned down.
By Rob Heinsoo
The text below is from a 13 True Ways Kickstarter update I posted yesterday. Since it talks about material that will also interest everyone buying 13 True Ways on pre-order or ordering it from their hobby shop, I’m posting the update here as well.
By now most of you will have seen the 13 True Ways PDF, except for those old-fashioned souls who want to wait for the printed book. I know there are some of you because Jonathan is one! Yes, Jonathan Tweet doesn’t want to spoil the surprise by looking at the PDF. Since I handle art and layout and editing communication, Jonathan still doesn’t know what the final book is going to look like, apart from the text, so if you are waiting for the printed book later this summer you have some good company.
Along with the final printed books there are other backer rewards in the works, such as dice and t-shirts and postcards. Those are all at various stages in the production queue, and I can’t predict when they all will be ready.
For now I want to talk about another aspect of 13 True Ways delivery: the other PDFs that are going to show up on your computer in coming months.
We ended the Kickstarter promising a 180-page book. Once we got into the design phase, our labor-of-love approach pushed us up to 256 pages. And because it was a labor of love, Jonathan and I prioritized the things we thought would be the most fun, and held our work to a very high standard. If we felt meh about something, and believed that you would feel meh about it too, it didn’t go in. We ended up delivering on all the stretch goals in the Kickstarter along with all the backer rewards, but some of our ideas in the original 13 True Ways Kickstarter plan didn’t make it into the book.
So here’s what we plan to do about it.
We’re going to finish those pieces properly as part of the upcoming subscription-based 13th Age annual (name to be determined), along the lines of the excellent Ken Writes About Stuff from Pelgrane Press. I should be clear that the we I’m mentioning includes me, but not always the other members of the original 13TW team. Sometimes I’ll be the designer, other times I’ll act as developer with other talented contributors handling the design work. Sometimes we’ll be completing work that I started on 13 True Ways but didn’t finish to my satisfaction.
13TW Kickstarter backers will have two options when the annual goes live:
- You can choose to get only the issues that contain 13 True Ways follow-up content, for free
- You can choose to purchase the entire first 13th Age annual at a discount which covers all of the free content to which you’re entitled, plus a bit extra
Not every month’s installment will contain 13 True Ways follow-up content, and there’s no set schedule about when a particular piece of 13 True Ways follow-up content will be completed. This may stretch out for quite some time, because during the design phase of 13 True Ways we unexpectedly hit on a few things that could serve as the basis for larger books. If they do get turned into books, when those surprises get unveiled we’ll send a related freebie to 13TW backers. Think of this operation as a purchase that keeps on providing surprising micro-rewards.
With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and list the things that didn’t make it into 13 True Ways and my current thoughts on how they’ll be part of the 13th Age annual subscription, or not.
Appearing in the annual at some point
- Details on forests & woods to make them distinct: This grew into something a bit different than I thought originally.
- More on gladiatorial games: Yeah, there’s some more we can explore here.
- Rules for dragon-riding: I know that a lot of you were really looking forward to this—I was, too—and some of you even backed the project because of it. So I’ll be blunt: so far all the systems we’ve come up with have been worse than no system at all in terms of their impact on the game. I’m not interested in publishing bad systems, and I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in getting them. ASH and I are continuing to work on these rules, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure they get included in the first annual. I can promise that we’re not going to shrug our shoulders and send you something that we think isn’t worth using, just so we can check off a box on our to-do list. We’ll get it to work because I know ASH will kill me if we don’t.
- Illustrated comparisons of the adventurer, champion, and epic tier: We’ll do these, but probably not by Aaron and Lee.
- Some fantastic maps of the overworld and portions of the underworld: Ditto.
- A cutaway map of a typical elven wood: Same.
Partially appearing in the annual after their actual potential is realized in future books
- Racial feats: because they do appear to have a place in the game, but that place may come as a surprise.
- Feats associated with the icons: same story. The obvious mechanics weren’t so good, but there is something interesting hidden behind the idea.
- Stats for the 13 icons themselves: As the game evolved and matured through further development and play, we became increasingly convinced that this was an idea we didn’t want to pursue half-cocked. You can see the care we took detailing the 4 backer-created NPCs in the Gamemasters’ Grimoire chapter of 13TW. In a sense, those NPCs function a bit like mini-icons, and our final approach to this topic may bear some resemblance to the multi-option approach used for the NPCs. But when I say ‘final approach,’ I’m acknowledging that this isn’t something we intend to pursue soon. When we do finally take this path, it’s almost certainly going to be the basis for a book rather than a slice of a different book. In the near-ish future, we will be doing monster-style stats for various servants and followers of the icons. Some of the high-level lieutenants of the icons will find their way into a 13TW-backers update to provide touches of the high-level play people might have been looking for from actual icon stats.
There are also going to be surprise backer freebies along the way, some of which expand on ideas that made it into 13TW.
That’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll be in touch about the annual’s start date and other details once we’ve built the plan out further, probably before or around GenCon.
Yours in the whirl,
Lead Designer, Fire Opal Media
You may recall that the first batch of 100 limited edition copies of 13th Age sold out around this time last year. You may also remember that we printed 200 limited editions in all. We’re giving some away for a secret reward and this month, we’re releasing 60 more.
The books are faux leather with gold foil. Each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by the four creators for you to add to the book.
We are not offering an upgrade version.
The book retails at $100 / £65 plus shipping.
You can order it here under Recent Releases.
Let us have a moment of silence for the defeated monsters.
Now, let us take their stuff.
What’s In This Book
That’s both an answer and an exhortation. Yes, 13th Age is all about the story and the awesome action, but we’ve all got a treasure-hungry munchkin inside of us, and it’s time to let that grubby-fingered kid out to play.
The Book of Loot is full of more magic items to be found, stolen, given as rewards or otherwise looted by the player characters. We’ve also thrown in a short chapter on ways to make mundane treasure more interesting, and a selection of new one-use magic items.
|Stock #: PEL13A06
||Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
|Artist: Joshua Calloway, Cougar George
||Pages: 72 page perfect bound
If you got your hands on a copy of Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Free RPG Day adventure Make Your Own Luck, you may have noticed that it’s a great adventure. You may have also noticed a couple of typos.
Wizard pre-gen: the descriptions for abjuration and evocation are switched.
Rogue pre-gen’s powers: the rogue’s powers accidentally got left off – here’s what should be on the sheet:
Power: Evasive Strike. If you hit with this attack, pop free from your enemy.
Power: Deadly Thrust. If you use this attack, add your Strength modifier (+1) to your attack roll
Power: Sure Cut. If you use this attack when sneak attacking, spend momentum to add your Sneak Attack damage if you miss.
Power: Tumbling Strike. If you use this attack, you get a +5 to disengaging and can move in, attack, and disengage as a quick action.
Power: Roll With It. Spend momentum when an enemy hits your AC to take half damage.
To celebrate Free RPG Day we’ve invited some well-known members of the 13th Age community to play Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s adventure Make Your Own Luck online via Roll20 and Google Hangouts!
We’ll stream the event live here, then archive it on the 13th Age YouTube channel.
On Saturday, June 21st at 3:00 PM EST / noon Pacific join:
You can pick up your own copy of Make Your Own Luck on Saturday (find a participating retailer.)
Many thanks to our GM team and all the players who attended our games at Origins this year. We sold out of all of our games, and even squeezed in some walk-ups in the scheduled games. Kendall Jung did an amazing job of managing our play events at the show. Onward to Gen Con!
Free RPG Day
Make Your Own Luck, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s prequel to the upcoming Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, is our contribution to this year’s Free RPG Day — you can get it on Saturday, June 21 at your nearest participating game retailer. We’ve heard that some stores are giving GMs their copies in advance so they can run the adventure on the day of release, so you might want to ring up your local store and see if they’ve scheduled a play event.
(Because some folks have asked: Free RPG Day is a retailer-sponsored event created to support game stores, so we’re not giving away PDF copies of the game.)
Make Your Own Luck: Live Play Crossover Event!
In much the same way that Nick Fury assembled the Avengers, for Free RPG Day we’ve assembled a team of players to play Make Your Own Luck via Google Hangout and Roll20 on Saturday, June 21st at 3:00 PM EST / noon Pacific:
Join us live on Aaron’s YouTube channel on Saturday, and watch the mayhem unfold.
Domain of the Dwarf King will go live soon. At Rob Heinsoo’s request it features a dwarf centipede. (I guess I know what Dutch horror movie Rob watched last night.)
Domain of the Dwarf King concludes the Orc War trilogy, and will see the final defeat of General Gul. Or not — that’s up to the adventurers.
The next big Organized Play installment after Domain of the Dwarf King is the first of our champion-tier games: Escape from the Diabolist’s Dungeon!
State of Play
We’e now up to 1186 GMs running Tales of the 13th Age worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. If you know anybody in an Antarctic research station who wants a copy of 13th Age let us know!
Here is a pot pourri of previews from current projects.
The Book of Loot
Gareth’s tome of magical treasures with a 13th Age spin. Somewhere there is a forum where all these magic items are posting their opinionated diatribes and whining about their owners.
I once knew this barbarian. Eight feet tall he was, and nearly as broad across the shoulders, eyes like smoldering coals. He comes out of the north, as barbarians do, and does all the things you’d expect a barbarian of that sort to do. He loots dungeons, slays monsters, sacks cities, seduces princes. The Emperor gives him a castle to keep him quiet, and a noble title to go with it. So, now that he’s a respectable noble, our barbarian goes and gets himself a suit of magic plate armor, and a magic shield to go with it.
The shield-maker asks him what the heraldic symbol of his house is, and the barbarian doesn’t know. He thinks about it, and picks the most impressive beast he’s ever seen.
KORU! he says, in this deep booming voice like an earthquake.
So the shield-maker paints a behemoth on the magic shield.
Next time a demon shows up, the barbarian girds his loins, and the rest of him too, and rides out to meet it in battle. He invokes the power of his shield and calls on his heraldic spirit…
You can still see the crater. It’s in the shape of a behemoth footprint. Squished him and the demon flat as two pancakes.
That’s why, if they ever make me a baron, I’m going to rule under the sigil of something small and very safe. I’m thinking goldfish. You?
- Stormcrow Jacen, “Merchant”
Glorious Gladiator’s Blade (standard action – recharge 16+): This weapon is a trophy of the arenas of Axis, handed down from champion to champion. To activate it, the escalation die must be 3+ and you must spend a round showboating for the crowd (even if you don’t have an audience.) While showboating, you may not attack and take a -2 penalty to all Defenses. Furthermore, the other players (and anyone else in the room) must chant your character’s name.
The first attack you make in the round after showboating is enhanced by the sword – you may double the to-hit bonus from the escalation die, and add the value of the escalation die to your crit range. So, if the escalation die is 4, you get a +8 bonus to hit and have your crit range increased by +4. Quirk: Craves the adulation of the crowd.
The Eyes of the Stone Thief
Amazing cartography from Herwin Wielink for Gareth’s epic 13th Age campaign.
“…the Maw is a churning pit of stones that swallows whole buildings. Any adventurer taking the quick route through the Maw by jumping into the pit is unlikely to survive. The safer route is to enter the warren of caves and small chambers that wind around the pit. The Maw is infamously treacherous and unstable. Earthquakes, cave-ins and rockfalls can cut an expedition off before they reach the dungeon itself. Most of the Maw’s denizens are scavengers, parasites and sewer monsters who ride along in the Stone Thief’s jaws, hoping to catch some scraps for themselves.”
Getting Started With Tabletop Roleplaying Games
An excerpt from a new book by Robin D Laws.
Roleplaying games more resemble movies or fiction in that different audience members gain different subjective pleasures from them. You might like a movie for its performances and pacing, where friend A liked all the references to an established continuity, and friend B wants to rave about its themes and nods to cinema history. You maybe responded to all of those elements as well, but you wouldn’t rank them as more noteworthy than the ones you singled out.
In a roleplaying game, you are creating the experience just as much as you are enjoying it. Your preferences come through in the choices you make.
Let’s call these the various facets of roleplaying.
Every player gravitates more to certain of these than to others. On any given evening, you might emphasize one cool sliver of the roleplaying experience over others. One session you might dig into a sense of triumph over the bad guys, and the next the exploration of the imaginary world. But overall, as the other players and GM get used to having you at the table, they’ll start to see that you care about some facets more than others. These might change over time as you grow more familiar with the hobby, or become clearer versions of what you liked from the very first.
By noting the facets of play that you respond to, your GM can tailor what she presents you with to bring these to the forefront.
Ken Hite’s Introduction to the forthcoming Russian version of Trail of Cthulhu
About This Game
Trail of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game using the GUMSHOE engine, in which you investigate and explore occult mysteries in the horrific world of H.P. Lovecraft. With the GUMSHOE engine, you never fail to uncover a clue; you always move forward deeper into the story. In Lovecraft’s world, all the clues you uncover point to mankind’s inevitable destruction and the story you enter is a tale of madness and horror.
GUMSHOE divides your abilities into two groups: Investigative abilities and General abilities. Your Investigative abilities never fail. You never roll the dice for them. Just like the heroes of mystery fiction and procedural TV series, if you have the right ability and the clue exists, you will find enough information to move into the next scene and look for the next clue. Discovering what the clues mean, however, recognizing the hideous portrait they slowly paint – that’s still up to you. You can spend Investigative points to get even more information: some new data will add color or background details to the portrait, some extra clues will get you to the horror faster or more confidently – and some of each might save your life.
Whether or not you deduce what cosmic horror or human insanity lies behind the mystery, you will find it – and it will find you. That’s when your General abilities come into play. You can spend points from them to boost your die rolls – if you have enough, you can even guarantee success! But make sure you really need it that time, because your General ability pools won’t last forever, down there in the dark.
Who Is My Character?
Your character is an Investigator of occult mysteries, a seeker after horror in the dark decade of the 1930s. You might be:
- A professor uncovering ancient secrets — at the obscure Miskatonic University in Massachusetts, or the prestigious Moscow State University.
- A journalist looking behind the story – for Time or for TASS.
- A police detective solving horrific crimes – for the Chicago Police or the Leningrad Militsiya.
- A painter or author dreaming of inhuman worlds – in Paris or Sokol.
- An archaeologist digging up primordial ruins – in Yucatan or the Ukraine.
- A parapsychologist exploring things nobody believes – for the Society for Psychical Research in London, or the Institute for Brain Research in Leningrad.
- A doctor tracking unseen dangers – in Florida or in Georgia.
- A scientist exploring the fringes of understanding – in Los Angeles or Novosibirsk.
What Do We Do?
Whoever your character is, you have stumbled onto the fringes of a horrible truth: the Cthulhu Mythos. The world is older than humanity, and we are not the first species to explore it. Those ancient species are not all dead, and those who will come after are beginning to arrive.
Above them all loom the figures of mighty beings whose very existence violate natural law and threaten to overwhelm our understanding of science. These are the beings whispered of in forbidden grimoires and desolate swamps: Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath. They might as well be gods, and there are living cults who worship Them as such, and try to restore Their reign now, when the stars have almost come right.
You and your fellow Investigators discover traces of Mythos activity in your own lives or the lives of your associates. You track down rumors of Mythos manifestations in newspapers and antiquarian journals. You might:
- Investigate a haunted house once owned by a possible cultist.
- Try to find the last copy of a forbidden grimoire before it can be used to summon one of the Old Ones.
- Fight it out with a race of horrifying alien beings lurking beneath an innocent town.
- Be drawn into a film that drives its viewers insane, and try to trace its unknown director.
- Battle a globe-spanning cult by picking up tiny clues to its activities all over the world.
Wherever the clues lead, you seek out those monstrous beings and their cults and you try to stop them in time. You may travel to strange far places or dig deep into the mysteries of your own home city: the Mythos is everywhere.
You’ve heard its call, and now you must follow its Trail or see the world end in madness and frenzy.