S3-E23: Interview with Martin Killmann

We finally got our schedules aligned to get Martin Killmann onto the show to talk general gaming stuff (he’s a fan of The Dark Eye! Who knew?!?) as well his 13th Age books “Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets” (reviewed in Episode S2-E25) and “Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths.”

Be sure to check out his great books using the links above, and join in the 13th Age Discord server he hosts!


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

Homebrew Monsters

It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of Season 3 and our first Patron Game. Mark and I (J-M) were talking about the next season and game (both are going to be great!) As we chatted, Mark asked for my monster stats for use in Ta’nar. The problem with that is that I always make the monsters the day of, on the fly, scratched out on a piece of paper, which inevitably gets trashed after the game. That is, if I don’t just re-skin another monster for my purposes.

But easy monster design is one of the great things about 13th Age. The advice the designers give in the books (13th Age Core (C) and Bestiary 1 (B1)) make it simple, but if you are new to running the game, you might not think so. We at Iconic chatted about it for a bit and I decided for this month to look at my process for monster creation, in hopes that it will help you. 

 

Concept

Like much of 13th Age, I start monster design with the narrative. What place does the creature serve in the world or the story? To help Mark out, I am writing up one of the Var (a spider-like race from Ta’nar) for this example. Looking at the Var which are unstatted (all of them), I decided on writing up the Var-Nul. My concept at this phase is:

The Var-nul are upper echelon members of the Var society. These Var have dedicated themselves to the study of dark magics which they rain down in corescating waves on valiant heroes.

Simple and to the point. For me, the concept feels like a One Unique Thing for my monster. It should give me or other GMs just enough to figure out what to do with the monster. In this case, they are Var nobility with magic. 

 

Search

The simplest thing to do here is to just find a monster that is close enough and reflavor their abilities. However, when you are looking to design a monster, you can also keep an eye out for abilities to steal for your creatures. I start looking through the Bestiary for powers which feel magical and refined. In this case, I really like the feel of the Ogre Mage’s Prismatic Blast (B1 p. 153) and the Lich’s Shadow Ray (B1 p. 135). They give the GM choices and add some depth to the creatures. Keeping those in mind, I head to the build section.

 

Build

When building, the first thing to consider is the tier of the monster. To me, looking back at my concept, the Var-Nul do not feel like an adventurer or an epic tier monster. They are the nobility of the Var, so they should be more than an adventurer can handle, but in the world of Ta’nar, the Var are not the epic threats of the world. So, these guys are solidly in Champion Tier. 

Looking at the champion tier stats (C p. 254), level 5 feels right. Low enough that the Var-Nul will appear at the end of adventurer tier and a solid choice continuing through the levels. Just picking our level gives us most of what we need, and in a pinch, you can just run with the base stats and still have a great encounter with flavorful descriptions.

But…. I like tweaking. The first thing I do is lower the Var-Nul’s HP from 72 to 65. They are frailer on average than a standard 5th level monster, but they will make up for it with powerful attacks. I keep the AC where it should be, seeing in my mind the Val-Nul wrapped in robes invested with powerful magics, and assign their better defense to MD but drop it by one to increase their PD by one. They are spidery after all. They are also slightly faster than the average monster, so I give their initiative a bit of a bump, setting it to +7.

Right, now to powers. Like all var, the Var-Nul have multiple limbs, so I think they should have two attacks. But as they are casters, I drop their to-hit and damage a bit, to represent that these are not their primary attacks.

The Var-Nul’s primary attack is a venom spell, which lances out to envenom their targets. Again, the spell can target two targets, but in the interest of spreading the damage, they cannot target the same two targets. This means that instead of halving the damage they can do in a round, we can afford to up it a bit, as they have to make two attack rolls. Some added ongoing poison damage based off the die roll is always needed, so you can check that out below.

When should you add d20 mechanics to a power? I tend to want to use it when it is the monster’s showcase power. For these venom bolts, it makes sense that they should do ongoing damage, but I want to limit that trigger. Looking at B1 p. 230, the designers give us great guidelines on when and how to use the d20. Looking there, I settled on two effects. One being ongoing damage if the Var-Nul rolls a natural 16+ as a strong hit gets the venom into your system. But I decide to add a miss effect, so that even if some of the venom gets on you, you still take a bit of damage. I don’t want a lot of this type of miss damage, so it only triggers on an even miss (50% of the time) and because it was a miss, I feel like making the save easy makes sense.

I wanted one more attack. These guys are sorcerers, so they should have something else in their repertoire. I want that classic area effect spell but one they can only do once or twice. Looking at the Ogre Mage’s Prismatic Blast power, I like the idea of a chaotic invocation. It works with the Var-Nul and their place in Ta’nar. But I do not want just extra or different damage and decide this power should represent all the myriad ways a spider or spellcaster can incapacitate a foe. This power applies conditions instead of a lot of damage. You can see below which conditions I chose for the power. In my mind, the Var-Nul lets out the chaotic nature of its magic and essence and a lot of strange stuff happens on the battlefield. I limited its use to once per battle. I thought about letting it do it twice, but concluded it downplays what I feel is the main role of the Var-Nul, the envenomed ray. Plus, if you were to field 2 or 3 of these at a time, each with two uses of the power… it would get crazy very quickly.

 

Var-Nul

The spidery-humanoid grins with its mandibled mouth and begins chittering in arcane tones. A pale green light begins to surround it, and you wish you paid more attention in Varthen as a Second Language. 

5th level Caster
Initiative: +7

Surprisingly nimble striker limbs: +9 vs AC (two attacks) – 8 damage

Eldritch envenomed ray: +11 vs PD (two different nearby targets) – 15 damage

Natural 16+: 5 ongoing poison damage (save end)
Natural even miss: 5 ongoing poison damage (easy save ends)

Chaotic invocation: +10 vs PD (1d3 nearby targets) – Roll 1d4 against each hit target to determine the effect of this spell

  1. Darkness of the Deeps! – Target is vulnerable and dazed (save ends both effects)
  2. Web – Target is stuck and hampered (save ends both effects)
  3. Chaotic Convulsions – Target takes 15 ongoing damage (save ends both effects)
  4. The Mark of Unlight – Target is vulnerable and takes 8 ongoing damage (save ends both effects)

Limited use: 2/battle

AC 21
PD 16    HP 65
MD 18

 

There you go. That is how I create monsters from scratch. It took longer to write up the process than it took to design the Var-Nul.

Now, I am not usually looking to publish my monsters, so I tend to make them a bit tougher than normal. If you are looking to publish monsters, you need to keep an eye on how they will scale. What works for an equal level encounter (where the monsters are the same level as your PCs) at your table may be wildly unbalanced when another GM fields them en masse against higher level parties. Playtesting is key.

Finally, did you know we are streaming games now? You can check out Becca on Twitch running 13th Age in Ta’nar on Monday nights or get caught up on our YouTube channel. And if you liked this article, let us know. We may do a whole episode on this topic!

S3-E22: Interview with Wade Rockett

In this episode, Wade Rockett graces us again with his presence (he was on the show back in S1-B07). He catches us up on what he’s been doing gaming-wise then we dive into a discussion about some of his 13A products, specifically Wreck of Volund’s Glory (which we reviewed in S1-E15) and his upcoming Crown of Axis.

As mentioned in the show, be sure to check out his Soldiers of the Wizard King article, and shortly after we recorded, Kobold Press released its 13th Age Midgard Icons article.


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-E21: Random Encounters: The Mines

This week we pick up from where things were left off in Episode 19 and head into the Dwarven city of Gatekeep and the mines it connects to. For deep in the mines, a portal to the Planes of Dust and Ash awaits. What will the party encounter along the way? Who will they interact with? What are some unique features of the area? We hash out these questions and more!

The setting we’re using is Ta’nar (which you can hear about in Episode 9, but this could be ported into the Dragon Empire or your own campaign world without too much difficulty.


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!

My GM Hates Me!

“They only give me problems! We never win, even if we defeat the monster. Everyone I meet in the game is an enemy. I view my GM as someone to beat. My GM hates me!” 

Have you ever thought or even uttered those words? You are not alone! But those thoughts are not necessarily true to life. As a GM, one of my players has told me, “I see you as the person to beat whenever we play games.” Ouch. This statement struck me deeply. A friend and fellow GM heard from their player, “You are always out to get me. You ruin everything.”

Between the two of us, we were devastated. Here’s what you, as a player, need to know about your GM.

  1. Your GM is human. That means we make mistakes and forget the rules. It also means we get to feel all the feelings. If you cast Zone of Truth on city council leaders, we will feel the frustration those leaders feel. In our frustration, we may retaliate and cast a spell upon you as well. Should that happen? Maybe not. But we are creating a world for you to play in and within that world, when people get frustrated, they will react. 
  2. You are a hero, but your PC is not the only hero of the story. Many GMs keep the world moving outside of your group. The Icons can use any of their followers and some of those followers may be better than your PC. NPCs have goals and weaknesses, but they also have strengths. Sometimes your PC is not the smartest person in the room. When that happens, as a player, it is up to you to come up with a creative solution. In some sessions that means a clever bargain and in other sessions, that might mean all you can do is run. 
  3. If all NPCs you are meeting are enemies, take a look at your attitudes. The GM should be creating opportunities for players to find allies and story hooks. They should be encouraging you to use your background and one unique things to conjure up you own side characters and friends. As stated above, your GM will feel the feelings of the NPCs. If you are treating each NPC as an enemy, that is what they will become. In a game of mine, a player talked about her estranged relationship with her father. Another player then took it upon themselves to charm and use Suggestion on the father so the party would get what they wanted. The party was furious when they were barred from returning to the fortress ever again. 
  4. Problems make better stories. Any story that doesn’t have conflict loses meaning. Life has difficulties, which if you are able to overcome, lead you to feel the sweet taste of victory. We remember the moments inevitable doom was averted. No problems mean no victories. 
  5. You need to have a discussion with your GM. This should happen one-on-one and away from the table. Grab a coffee with them and voice your concerns or irritations. Hopefully, your GM will address the concerns you have and together, you will come up with a creative solution. It is important through this process that you keep an open mind. You will need to be able to own up to your own behavior at the table and learn to change.

Role-playing games are great spaces to tell stories with your friends. They are also spaces to discover skills and language of diplomacy and problem-solving. Your GM wants to tell a story with you. They don’t hate you. 

Written by Becca

S3-E20: Interview with Cal Moore

For this episode, we brought Cal Moore, author of Shadows of Eldolan and the Battle Scenes books, onto the show. We had a great talk with him about the things he’s worked on in the past as well as the new book, Elven Towers, he’s working on now!

And if you haven’t had the opportunity yet to pick up the 13th Age Bundle of Holdings yet, you should check them out! There’s not much time left before the offer expires!

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-E19: Random Encounters: Into the Tomb

This week we pick up from where things were left off in Episode 18 and explore a newly unearthed temple deep in the Desolates. Why did the temple appear? Who’s interested in what’s inside? What will the party encounter along the way? Listen in to find out!

The setting we’re using is Ta’nar (which you can hear about in Episode 9, but this could be ported into the Dragon Empire or your own campaign world without too much difficulty.


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!

Adapting 13G Runes into 13A Icon Relationships

When 13th Age Glorantha (13G) was released, Rob and Jonathan made a number of changes to the game’s mechanics to better reflect the world of Glorantha. One of those changes was how to handle rolling for Rune benefits. In one sense, rolling for a Rune is similar to rolling for an Icon Relationship in 13th Age (13A), but in Glorantha, Runes are more than just a person that is a mover and shaker. Runes are the cosmic forces and the core building blocks of the world, magic, and the gods of Glorantha. Having an attuned or empowered Rune is like having a 5 or a 6 with an Icon Relationship. And while it gives a player a similar narrative advantage as an Icon Relationship, it tends to be a bit more powerful in nature and leverages ‘agents’ less frequently; the effect is also a bit more direct instead of indirect.

There are a couple of differences in how 13G handles this narrative mechanic, and I’ll cover them briefly then present a couple of ideas on how to port this into 13A and why you might want to. Here’s a synopsis of how the 13G Rune system works:

You roll for Runes at every heal-up

Instead of rolling for runes at the start of every session the way you do for Icon Relationships in 13A, you roll for Runes at every heal-up. This will always result in you getting a rune you can use, even if it’s one that you weren’t expecting or one that might be very interesting for your character to have a connection to.
(You also get to roll for your Runes at the start of a Heroquest, but we’ll save that topic for another time.)

You roll a d6. If you get a 1-3, you get one of your runes. If it’s a 4-6, roll a d20 for a random rune. If this random rune is one you have, it’s not just attuned, it’s empowered!

During character creation, you will end up with three runes, and those are the ones that you will be attuned to when rolling a 1-3 on the d6. But when you roll a 4-6, you then roll on the random rune table (or this handy die sold by Q-Workshop) and are instead attuned to that rune. But if your random roll comes up with one of your three runes, it’s empowered! An Empowered Rune functions like an Attuned Rune, but you also get the equivalent of a permanent magic item when you narrate it.

Narrating a rune, and rolling for complications (d20. 1-5 a complication is presented)

Narrating a rune affects the story in much the same way that narrating an Icon Relationship does. You are able to find something you were looking for, travel long distances quickly, gather more information, or do something incredible.

In my 13G game, one of my players narrated an Empowered Water Rune to purify a creature they had captured that was infected by Chaos, and was thereby able to gather more information than they would have otherwise. In doing so, they also established a grateful NPC who may make future appearances in the campaign. The player also received a Runic Gift that will, for the rest of the game, give him an extra power and a bonus to one of his stats.

Once a player narrates a rune, the GM rolls a d20 to see if a complication arose. On a 6-20, no complication comes up, but it does on a 1-5! The GM gets to narrate what that is, and it could happen immediately or come into play in a later session.

Narrating a Rune is explicitly prohibited in combat

Narrating runes is only to affect the story, not the game. What I mean by that is that Runes are not to serve as a power, and they cannot be used to affect combat. If your idea for narrating a rune seems to be touching on the game mechanics at all, then it’s best to think of how you might tweak it a bit so it steers away from that.

Those are the basics of how Runes work in 13G, and I’m sure you can see the similarities and differences to how Icon Relationships operate in 13A. There are enough differences though that it’s worth considering porting them into your 13A game.

The main downside I see in porting the new rules over would be the Random Icon and how you’d narrate that. As in 13G, you’d roll a d6, and you’d get one of your Icons on a 1-3, but instead of rolling a d20 for the random rune, you’d roll a d12 (or use the Icon Die from Campaign Coins). But 13A Icon Relationships have two aspects to them – one is the Icon and the other is the Relationship (Positive, Conflicted, and Negative). Rolling a d6 and getting one of you selected Icons is simple enough, but how do you characterize your relationship with the one that comes up randomly on the d12? The two options I see are to randomize the relationship as well through an extra d6 roll (1-2 Negative, 3-4 Conflicted, 5-6 Positive) or chart out your relationship with all the Icons during character creation.

That latter option appeals to me, even if you don’t port the rest of the 13G Rune system over. The points you assign with the Icons is a reflection of how tangibly useful that relationship is, but it makes sense that your character would at least have an opinion on the rest of the Icons too. I can also see everyone giving their entire list to the GM being very helpful in crafting a campaign world! But if tasking your players to define their character’s opinion on all 13 Icons seems like too much, running a 7-Icon campaign would simplify things considerably. If you don’t chart this out in advance and the relationship is determined randomly, then it would create some very interesting story hooks if a particular Icon kept coming up but the relationship changed each time.

Alternatively, you could eliminate the Random Icon entirely and have your roll result in one of the Icons you have selected. For example, at Adventurer Tiers, you’d roll a d6 and have 1-2 be your first Icon, 2-3 be your second, and 3-4 be your third. At higher tiers when you gain additional Icon Relationships, you can simply increase your die size to accommodate the additional Icons; roll a d8 as you’d have 4 Icons and a d10 as you’d have 5.

The Random Icon and its relationship is really the only downside that I see to porting the 13G Rune system into 13A as a replacement for handling Icon Relationships. A couple of advantages to it is that everyone is guaranteed to have a Relationship to leverage each full heal-up, and because it’s determined at a full heal-up, you’ll be less likely to have to come up with something on the fly on how to use them. Guaranteeing that each person has one prevents those sessions where nobody rolls a 5 or a 6 as well as those sessions when everyone is rolling 5s or 6s; it can get wearisome whether you’re having to juggle too many Relationships or too few. The 13G method evens all that out.

You also won’t have to deal with complications nearly as frequently. With the 13A method, whenever a Relationship is available to leverage, there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll bring about a complication, and players frequently hesitate before using a 5 for fear of what the complication will be. The 13G method gives only a 25% chance of a complication, and the determination of whether or not one exists comes after the player has narrated the effect, not before.

There’s a thematic difference between the Dragon Empire and Glorantha, and each system’s unique mechanic does a good job handling that difference. But there is room for bringing the newer 13G method into core 13A. The longer my 13G campaign goes, the more I am liking the way the Runes work. When I pick up my next 13A game, I’ll be trying out some of these porting techniques. If you have any other suggestions or advice on this topic, leave a comment below!

Written by Nick

13th Age Bundle of Holding

If you’re just starting out with 13th Age or have any gaps in your 13th Age book collection, then you’ll be sure to want to check out the Bundle of Holdings that are available this month!

13th Age: https://www.bundleofholding.com/presents/13thAge2019
13th Age Adventures: https://www.bundleofholding.com/presents/13Adventures

 

S3-E18: Random Encounters: Into the Desolates

This week we pick up from where things were left off in Episode 12 and head out into the Desolates to discover what else the Red Alchemist may be up to. In this brainstorming session, we create a town, some NPCs, some hooks and conflicts, and some unique features of the lab that has sprung up here.

The setting we’re using is Ta’nar (which you can hear about in Episode 9, but this could be ported into the Dragon Empire or your own campaign world without too much difficulty.


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!