Monster Design the Easy Way – Reskinning Monsters

Since the beginning of D&D, monsters have been a staple of the game.  Dragons, orcs, trolls, and other beasts of myth and legend. Owlbears, black pudding, and other things from Gygax’s mind have filled the days and nights of gamers’ minds for years.  Books are filled with many fine examples to throw at your game group, but what if they are just not quite what you are looking for? Tired of the band of orcs led by an Ogre mage? Not thrilled about the blue dragon about to descend upon the brave adventurers?  Let me help you out. Now I am not an expert or all knowing game designer, but I have run a game or two and sometimes you just need to shake things up. I don’t think I have ever come up with a truly NEW monster to challenge my players. I have taken ideas from novels and movies or just “re-skinned” an old monster into something new.  I first got this idea from an old 2e adventure where the heroes went after a white dragon that turned out to be an albino red. WOW that was great fun as they had potions of frost resistance and fire spells all prepared. Needless to say I got cussed out that night, but the players really enjoyed the challenge of overcoming that foe on the fly.  It spiced up the game night. Now you don’t have to change every monster every time, but it does help when the group becomes jaded and has memorized the whole list of monsters.

Re-skinning a monster or coming up with your own really is not that hard. 13A does a great job of giving guidance for building battles (page 186 core rules) that helps that fight be challenging without becoming too easy or too hard.  Chapter Seven (Monsters) gives great advice on how to spice up monsters by borrowing “bits and pieces” from other monsters. This is a great very quick way to a wrinkle to that same old kobold.  If you want to start from scratch, use the baseline stats on page 254 to get started.

When I want to reskin a monster, I try and figure out what do I want this “new” monster to be able to do. Fly? Spit acid? Be really tough? After I know what I want it to do I peruse the monster listings and find similar powers.  I figure the guys at Pelgrane have already done the heavy lifting for me and play tested it. In the Bestiary 2 Appendix, there is a list of monsters by level, which is great when you need to scale the monster you are looking for. You might need to look at a higher level monster and tone down the damage or ability so look at lower level monsters with similar abilities and adjust accordingly.  You can also look at higher level monsters and “level up” your 1st level kobold wizard into something truly terrifying! After I have re-skinned my kobold (I love kobolds) I try it out on one of my old PC characters to see if it works like I want. Is it too weak? Too powerful? I run a few combats just to make it’s not the dice. 

Now a word of warning.  It’s Ok to come up with a power/ability to counter something the PCs can do, just don’t do it for every fight.  Otherwise the players will get frustrated. Once in a while it is good to make the group squirm a little as they need to come up with new and interesting ways to slay your beasties when the tried and true is not available.  Just don’t overdo it.

So I want to use some kobolds in a future encounter.  The kobolds in the bestiary are too weak and my group would just mop the floor with them.  Mmmm, what to do? Looking at page 237 and the kobold warrior, I notice just next to the listing, Lizardman Savage.  Oh look it has a special trigger that gives it a nasty bite. Perfect! I will level up my kobold troop to a wrecker and give them that ability.  See! it’s that easy. Give them a better attack, a few more hit points and a new ability and presto chango a new type of kobold that can add just a bit of new flavor to an old “monster” and keep my jaded players on their toes.

Also look in the 13 Age Bestiary 1, page 228. It covers reskinning, tweaking and creating new monsters.

I hope this inspires you to dig out your favorite novel or movie and “create” a new monster for your players to fight.  Or talk to. Or get eaten by. Your choice.

Written by Mark

S3-E16: King of Dungeons Review

In our last episode, we had Baz Stevens on the show, and this week we open the covers his The King of Dungeons and share our thoughts and reactions to the book. We talk about the new mechanics that are introduced, the things that were changed, what we liked, and what we didn’t like.

If you’re wanting to pick up a copy of the book, you can do so at DriveThruRPG.


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And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S3-E15: Interview with Baz Stevens

This week we bring Baz Stevens onto the show to talk about his gaming background and experience as well as his recently-released book, The King of Dungeons. This kickstarted game is a simplified version of 13th Age that can be picked up at DriveThruRPG.

If you want to tune into Baz’s podcast, you can find it at  www.whatwouldthesmartpartydo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter!


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S3-E14: That Iconic Look: The Archmage

Back in Episode 7 of last season, we talked through various ways to use the Diabolist in a campaign, and this episode, we do a similar thing as we take another close look at another Icon of the Dragon Empire: the Archmage!

However you pronounce it, he’s a magical force to be reckoned with, and we discuss how he’s portrayed in the books, some ways to align him differently, and even some campaign ideas with him as a focal point.

If you have used the Archmage in your campaign, we’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment on who the Archmage really is!


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And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

Icon Status – A Different Use for Relationship Rolls

When running 13th Age, we GMs often search for the best ways to make those 5s and 6s rolled for Icon Relationships a meaningful part of the ongoing story at the table.  Inspired by a classic setting, I offer below a new mechanic to provide another tool to use to make those rolls have lasting impact.

One of my favorite campaign settings ever is Planescape. A key part of the setting were the diverse and competing factions which could provide the context for numerous stories and adventure hooks.Then, years later, along came 13th Age.   One of the exciting things about 13th Age is that, as a game born of two designers’ homebrew, it provides the building blocks for systems to support interesting and innovative play. Blending the great ideas of the Planescape factions with the mechanical storytelling support from 13th Age seemed like an exciting idea.  

I started my thought process, like a good completist, with an attempt to purchase all the Planescape products with the idea of bringing the factions of Planescape to 13th Age. I also wanted some other mechanic to hang on Icon Relationships, an so I fleshed out a series of ideas to use at the table for how the rolls could influence a character’s status in a faction long term. These rules can be used for really any faction-based game or even just in your core 13th Age game to represent how noticed the characters are by their Icons. The goal here is to provide a framework for GMs to use in their games to represent factions and Iconic organizations. 

Faction Status revolves around the idea that the Icons (whether they are true factions or not) have a power structure that they influence and control.  The Icon Organization paragraph from the 13th Age Core Book shows this to be true for the Icons of the Dragon Empire, “Most of the time that you’re interacting with an icon, you’re actually interacting with his or her lower-level functionaries, acolytes, disciples, bureaucrats, lieutenants, barons, or priests. Functionaries are the GM’s best friends, and they can be your worst enemies (page 38).” 

Characters can interact with these organizations (which for our purposes will be referred to as factions) during the course of play as their Icon dice show 5s and 6s.  This idea asks the question ‘what if these results are moments where the characters stand out and gain status with the Icon’s organization?’

Full disclosure, this requires that someone (probably the GM) keeps track of the total of 5s and 6s the players rolled with their Icons over the course of the game.  The total represents their current status within the faction. As they trigger interactions with their Icon, the character climbs in their Icon’s organization. As they crossed certain thresholds, gain benefits from their status.  This would be in addition to any session bonuses they use these 5s and 6s for.

False Heights & Sudden Crashes

Let’s talk about those pesky 5s for the moment.  5s represent a complication to the interaction with the Icon.  In terms of Faction status, this represents an inflated standing in the organization.  Perhaps it the character’s actions were inflated or secretly the Prince of Shadows used them to hurt the faction in the long run.  The next time a PC takes a campaign loss, the bubble bursts, and they lose all the points they had with the faction that were generated from 5s.  Harsh, but a faction’s love is fickle, and rising stars can come crashing down.

Tiers and Rewards

Rewards are static bonuses as well as additional ways to spend for characters to spend their 5s and 6s. I am going to give some ideas as guidelines. In the end, it is your game, and you can riff of this how you like. 

Tiers

“Who Are You?” Rank 0 – (0-5 Status)

The Adventurer solely known by their Icon dice.  The Icon reaches out to them or they can draw on the connection for knowledge, but no real benefit is gained beyond the basic rules.

“Initiate” Rank 1 – (6-15 Status)

At this level, the Icon’s faction become aware that the adventurer exists.  The faction can be sought out, and basic aid will be rendered.

Faction bonuses can include:

Faction Safe House – The adventurer can access the faction’s base of operations and procure safe lodging or passage for the group.  A 5 could represent that the term ‘safe’ is relative.

Faction Goods – The adventurer has a sure source of replacement or new gear, as well as access to 1d6+1 potions or oils per level.  For a reasonable price, of course. 

Specific Icon bonuses include:

Power of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Emperor, Dwarf King, Orc Lord) – Short term tactical knowledge gives the PC a +1 to hit or damage with weapon attacks (+2 at Champion, +3 at Epic) for a battle. 

Wisdom of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Archmage, Diabolist, Prince of Shadows) – Using the wealth of information available to such Icons, the PC gains a +2 to background rolls on a specific subject for the session.  Like how to pick the locks within the Stone Thief, or riddles in the dark.

“Up and Coming” Rank 2 – (16-25 Status)

By this point the adventurer has established herself with word and deed.  The Faction is willing to take some risks in dealing with them, as they have proven that their relationship with the Icon is not just a passing craze.

Faction bonuses can include:

Faction-Specific Ability – The adventurer is granted an ability that is iconic for the faction.  Taking a page from Planescape’s Dustmen, maybe the Lich King’s Faction provides that the adventurer will be ignored by undead until they take a hostile action. Perhaps Kobolds will default to a positive disposition to an adventurer strongly invested in the Faction of The Three.

Faction Background – The adventurer gains a +2 background that is faction based. 

A Sure Source of Aid – The adventurer at this point counts on the faction to provide aid beyond just shelter.  The resources and manpower of the faction may be put to use for short-term gains.

Specific Icon bonuses include:

Specific Gear Loans – Need a flaming sword to clear out a troll den, the Emperor has you covered.  Or perhaps the crystalized soul of a dead god of light for a ritual, the Santa Cora Choristers have just the one for you.

Power of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Emperor, Dwarf King, Orc Lord) – The adventurer is granted a martial bonus appropriate to the Icon for the rest of the session.  Perhaps the Orc Lord grants Dangerous to his followers or the Emperor provides a buffer of ‘fake’ HP that exists only for the purposes of resisting fear, shoring up the PC’s defenses with righteous fervor.

Wisdom of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Archmage, Diabolist, Prince of Shadows) – The adventurer is granted, through research or interaction with the great minds of his faction, the answer to a question he seeks.  Perhaps a campaign goal is now understood, a riddle is solved, or a word of binding sends the rampaging demon back to the Abyss.

Face of the Faction” Rank 3 – (26 – 35 Status)

The adventurers are the movers and shakers of the faction.  While there are those higher up in the organization, the adventurers have become powers in their own right within their Icon’s faction. However, 5s may mean that other adventurers are calling on the adventurer to aid them in their problems.

Faction bonuses can include:

Faction Background – The Faction background increases to +4.

Specific Icon bonuses include:

Henchmen – The faction sends out a junior member with the adventurer to accomplish a specific task.  The Henchmen functions as a slot-less magic item. They provide a bonus to hit and damage equal to twice the adventure’s tier (+2 at adventurer, +4 at champion, +6 at epic). It has an appropriate background at +8 (they use the adventurer’s level when rolling for it). The Henchman can be directly attacked if the story warrants it (only has 30 HP per tier) and if they die, the adventurer loses 1d6 faction points (x2 at champion, x3 at epic). 

Faction Assault (1x per tier, subject to GM approval) – The power of the faction is at the adventurer’s disposal.  Rather than deal with an encounter, the adventurer can have his faction handle it.  Narrate how the adventurer is sent this aid, butdo not count this towards the group’s four-battle total needed to earn a full heal-up.  Also, make sure to let the Faction grab what it can for itself in the way of gold or treasure from the encounter. After all, this kind of aid is never cheap.

Resurrection (1x per tier.  Costs 10 status points) – The faction protects its own at this level.  They have invested a lot in the adventurer and don’t want to see all that effort go to waste.  But getting killed is a huge drain on their resources, so expect it to burn some bridges.

Gift of the Icons – Whether a piece of sacred knowledge, magic token, or insightful training, the PC gains the use of a daily power from another class or may cause a power they currently possess to recharge as a save one step easier (hard becomes normal, normal becomes easy).

Note: This list of powers and Ranks is not supposed to be exhaustive.  It is but a sample to be expanded and built upon.

Consequences

In my Ta’nar game, I have a nice web of how the Icons interact with each other.  This is important, because as the adventurers gain status with their faction, opposing factions begin to align against them.  Also, no one rises high in an organization without stepping on some toes. The adventurers’ rise to status can be seen as happening at the expense of others.  This framework provides some interesting interpretations for 5s as well. Are the adventurers’ plans opposed by a rival faction or sabotaged from within by rivals jealous of their status?

Written by JM as an update to an article he originally wrote for his now-defunct blog – Origins of a Dark God.

Announcing Iconic Production!

We are pleased to announce the formation of Iconic Production! Not only will we be continuing to deliver you a great 13th Age podcast, but we’re expanding our repertoire to include live streaming of games and other podcasts too!

In two weeks, keep an ear out for the inaugural launch of Dames & Dice! Led by our Iconic host, Becca, this will be a podcast about women in gaming and gaming with women. All RPGs are on the table as Becca and her friends give their own perspective and stories about the games they’ve played.

And as always, thanks for listening!

S3-E13: Starting a Campaign

This week we do a bit of a follow-up episode to the one we did on Ending a Campaign and talk about various things to keep in mind when starting one. But it’s not just about what to do with the setting or story, but we also dive into what Session 0 might look like.


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And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S3-E12: Random Encounters: Monster Fight!

For this week’s episode, we get together to brainstorm our first adventure of the season!  It’s an Adventurer-Tier encounter about stumbling into some Monster Fights in the town of Karrax.

Who’s organizing the Fights? To what end? What are the PCs going to do about it? We discuss various options on how to handle these sorts of questions and more!

And while we placed this in our world of Ta’nar, we also provide some insight on how or where you could alternatively use this in the Dragon Empire.


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And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

Similar Classes, Unique Characters

As long as TTRPGs have been around, it’s been the accepted practice to have varying classes in the party. Wizard, Rogue, Cleric, and Fighter are the four original classes and it was believed that you shouldn’t double up on classes until you have at least one of each four.

This is not the case any more. Games have expanded many classes to allow for the same class to be played by multiple people, yet still have flavor and make sure each character is unique. 13th Age is no different. In fact, 13th Age has mechanics built in to the system to allow for class repeats and still feel fresh.

Any character you create will be different solely based on background and your One Unique Thing. Collaborate with the other player on your characters. Together, you can decide how dissimilar or similar your characters will be. If you collaborate on your background, perhaps even coming from the same Order, you will be instantly invested in each other’s stories.

Moving beyond that, it’s the Icons, talents, and feats that make a character mechanically different. Let’s take a look at the Paladin Class. The first question you could have for any character that you build is the question about Icons. If you are going to follow a typically good Icon, like the Great Gold Wyrm, you will probably take the Path of Universal Righteous Endeavor, or PURE talent. If you decide to follow the Crusader, an Icon that is dubious at best, you may take the Way of Evil Bastards talent. From this one choice, you have given flavor to your Paladin that can be polar opposite to any other Paladin in your group. In the Paladin class, there are nine talents and you choose three to begin with, presenting the opportunity for two paladins to play mechanically different characters. While there may not be more options within the Paladin’s feats (Paladin is a class that doesn’t have feats beyond Smite Evil) there are still feats to choose from the extensive list of general feats.

We, at Iconic Production, recently talked to Ben Feehan, who presented the campaign idea of Gygaxian Rock Opera. A party of bards setting out to make their name in the Dragon Empire or your own world, encounter monsters and dungeons and towns that just need their help. Ben discussed how his groups have multi-classed as bards as well as found unique ways to distinguish their characters from each other. You can listen to that podcast episode at iconicpodcast.com.

On the surface, it may seem redundant to play a similar class to another person in your party. Yet, as any player digs deeper into the classes, you will find the options and opportunities give you the ability to play wildly different characters. And remember, detecting someone’s alignment is infringement on their privacy.

Written by Becca

 

S3-E11: Antagonists and Villains

This week we discuss antagonists and how they’re different from villains. Antagonists aren’t just the ‘Big Bad Evil Guys;’ they’re the NPCs who are set alongside or against the PCs to add depth to the campaign and bring more out of the characters and your campaign world.

Why you should put effort into creating them? What makes a good antagonist? What are some things to avoid? Listen in as we give our perspective on these questions and more!


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And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!