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.
The upcoming Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign pits the player characters against a vengeful Living Dungeon that steals things from the surface. Castles, mostly, but also wizard’s towers, druid circles, enchanted waterfalls, dragon’s lairs, unholy temples, kobold-infested gold mines or unattended oceans. One of the amusing consequences of this is that the GM can throw in almost any sort of encounter in the dungeon; the player characters turn a corner in the dungeon, and find themselves clambering through the branches of a mile-tall oak tree stolen from the heart of the Elf Queen’s lands.
On one of the deeper levels, the Pit of Undigested Ages, the PCs may come across one of the Dwarf King’s treasure vaults, stolen long ago by the dungeon. We’re going to do that particular section as a homage to classic dungeons of yore, complete with compressed monster write-ups (7th level wrecker [Hm]; Init +10, Hammer +12 vs. AC, 30 dmg; nat even hit gain esc. die next round, n/s gain extra att when at ½ hp; AC24 PD20 MD18 HP 110). So when it came time to actually stick some treasure in the treasure vault, I reached for my trusty D&D Rules Cyclopedia (purchased, according to the annotation on the flyleaf, on the 23rd of November, 1991) and rolled up a pile of Treasure Type H.
Looking through the Cyclopedia, I was struck by how it resembled the 13th Age rulebook.
Both are single-volume tomes, covering character creation and class abilities, combat, gear, adventuring, magic, monsters and setting details. (13th Age has a starting adventure, but the Cyclopedia has rules on time-travelling forward to ensure your descendants stay on the throne of the giant empire you create in order to become a god, so we’ll call that a draw.) Parts of the two games are so similar that it’s easy to convert material back and forth – I rolled a Staff of Striking in that Treasure Type H, so there’s a 13th Age version of the staff in there.
Other elements of the game, though, have fallen by the wayside. Dungeon crawls rarely involve hiring dozens of porters, henchmen and hirelings, and it’s no longer common practice for player characters to build strongholds and rule domains.
This makes me sad: I love political games, intrigue, and domain management. More to the point, if the player characters don’t have strongholds and domains, I can’t have the Living Dungeon steal them. This month, let’s look at strongholds in 13th Age.
Barbarian Ring Fort– 2,500 gp
Shrine to the Ancestors in a mountain shaped like a skull – 25,000 gp
(Bards don’t usually build strongholds, but 3,000gp should buy you a luxurious townhouse in Axis or Concord, and 30,000gp gets a palace that’s both sybaritic and acoustically perfect)
Cleric’s Shrine – 5,000 gp
Cathedral to the Gods that attracts pilgrims from across the Empire – 50,000gp
Fighter’s Castle (small keep and wall) - 4,000 gp
Mighty Fortress against whose walls the armies of the Orc Lord might contend in vain – 40,000 gp
Paladin’s Temple – 4,000gp
Great Temple-Fortress of the Order – 40,000gp
Ranger’s Hidden Sanctum – 2,500 gp
Secret Valley in the Mountains blessed by the spirits of nature – 25,000 gp, and it probably has dinosaurs.
Thieves’ (Rogues’) Guildhall – 4,000 gp
Network of secret passages linking half the cellars in a city to the underground kingdom of thieves – 40,000 gp.
Sorcerer’s Tower – 5,000 gp
Tower that channels the fury of the elements through your wild soul – 50,000 gp
Wizard’s Tower – 6,000 gp
Wizard’s Academy – 60,000 gp
Barracks – 500gp
Cellars, fully stocked for a siege – 1,000gp
Chapel – 500gp
Gatehouse & Drawbridge – 500gp
Library – 500gp
Luxurious Furnishings – 500gp
Moat – 200gp
Ornamental Gardens -200gp
Servant’s Quarters – 200gp
Arcane laboratory – 5,000 gp
Barracks of elite Crusader-trained warriors – 2,500gp
Dungeon full of interesting monsters – 5,000gp
Chapel blessed by the Priestess – 1,500 gp
Flying Fortress – 25,000gp
Magical wards and spell-guards – 2,500 gp
Library of Blasphemous and Forbidden Lore – one soul, payable to the Diabolist
Library of Arcane Secrets and Erudite Tomes – 5,000 gp, more if you get into a bidding war with the Archmage.
The finest luxuries in the Empire – 10,000gp, and you owe the Prince a favour.
Skymoat – 2,500gp
Ornamental and Carnivorous Gardens – 1,000gp or a favour for the High Druid
Hunting Forest That Wasn’t There Yesterday – 2,000gp, payable in elven triunes only
Servants Quarter’s, Unseen – 1,000gp
Smithy, Dwarven Masters – 2,000gp
Stables, Dragon – 2,000gp (riding dragon not included)
In addition to these costs, assume annual running costs of between 5% and 20% of the building price, depending on circumstances and numbers of staff. That’s a lot of money – in fact, more than most adventures can afford. If you want the prestige of having a stronghold, then you’ll need to either rob richer tombs, or have another source of income…
Benefits of a Stronghold
Lording it over your neighbours and living in luxury isn’t enough? Depending on the campaign…:
- Your stronghold is a place of refuge. If you take a quick rest there, you get to recharge all expended powers automatically, and your companions get to automatically succeed on one recharge roll each. The stronghold also absorbs one campaign loss per level – you can take a full heal-up there when you need it, regardless of circumstances.
- When you’re at home in your stronghold, you get an extra ‘wild’ relationship die. Each time you roll your relationships, choose which Icon that die is for. You can only choose Icons you have a normal relationship with, unless you can come up with a good reason why agents of another Icon might visit your stronghold.
- Your stronghold has a bevy of servants and guards. They’re too low-level to go adventuring on your tier, but they can run errands and gather information for you. They’re also generally loyal and trustworthy, which is more than you can say for a mercenary off the streets of Shadowport.
Next month – domains!
Call me Bargle.
Eyes of the Stone Thief started out under the working title of Moby Dungeon, which rather gives the game away. It’s inspired by Moby Dick, with the whale swapped for a dungeon full of traps and monsters. The characters must hunt the living dungeon as it swims through the Underworld. When it surfaces to feed, they’ve a limited time to delve into it and find a way to destroy it.
They won’t succeed the first time they try. It’s a campaign, not an adventure, so the player characters will return to the dungeon several times. Each expedition brings them deeper into the Stone Thief. The dungeon can rearrange its layout, so the player characters won’t often find themselves going through familiar areas – and when they do, it’s probably because the dungeon has restocked those levels with new traps and dangers. The shifting labyrinth fits with the 13th Age ethos, too – it’s not a dungeon crawl, it’s a dungeon stride boldly forward and don’t worry about mapping every 20′ x 20′ room.
The campaign also takes place outside the dungeon. Factions within the Stone Thief have agents on the surface, clues found in the dungeon point to other adventures, and of course, the Icons have their own schemes and agendas involving the Stone Thief. Also, the dungeon can eat places and turn them into new levels. That wizard’s tower you just visited? That city where you grew up? That castle the Emperor just granted you as a reward? They’re all targets for the Stone Thief. Think of it as a rampaging, power-hungry, city-eating monster that happens to be shaped like a dungeon.
Currently, I’m working my way down through the levels, cramming each one full of the nastiest traps and fights I can manage, while preparing notes on the surface side of the campaign. I’ve got my list of inspirations and aspirations beside me as I write, covering everything from Piranesi’s drawings of Carceri to House of Leaves and Gormenghast to photographs of abandoned buildings in Detroit to classic dungeons like Undermountain and the Tomb of Horrors to Knightmare.
And back again to Moby Dick. If the dungeon’s the White Whale, then the player characters risk becoming a band of crazed, vengeance-seeking Ahabs…