Rerolling the Escalation Die

The Escalation Die is one of the unique pieces of mechanical design introduced in 13th Age. In the core book, it is described as:

As the characters fight in a battle, they build up momentum and tactical advantages that help them defeat their opponents. This bonus to attacks that increases as the fight goes on is represented by the escalation die. (p 162).

Essentially, it represents the PCs growing to understand the creatures they are facing and the gradual shift in battles to their favor. Now the escalation die has a lot of integration in 13th Age already. Many powers—for both PCs and monsters—trigger off it. And there is a bit of advice on setting the die to different starting values in the Gamemaster’s Resource Book (see page 58 of that book).

We at Iconic have talked about the escalation die in episode 9 of Season 1 (check it out here). Since then, J-M has used the escalation die in new ways, and is sharing them now:

Chaotic Escalation – 13th Age Glorantha introduced two new ways to employ the escalation die revolving around how different categories of monsters—the Lunars and Chaos—interact with it. When fighting Lunars the escalation die advances by two (1,3,5 or 0,2,4,6) and then ebbs back down in a similar manner. Chaos has a 25% chance of stealing the escalation die each round. This gives each of these monsters a unique feel to them and makes them a bit more unpredictable to fight. It also throws the default assumptions out the window for players. That first time the escalation die does not do what it’s supposed to, you can see the players sit up!

Adapting these rules for the Dragon Empire is simple. The Lunar progression easily adapts to fighting lycanthropes or places where magic is out of whack. The Archmage’s wards are failing? Deep in a Hellhole? Traveling to the Overworld but the Djinn are working to stop you? The die advances by two and then retreats, it fits for places where the normal rules of the world don’t work. As for the theft of the escalation die, J-M now uses it whenever the Prince of Shadows is involved. After all, the Prince can steal anything right?

Horrific DE-escalation – The escalation die gives the players a sense that they are in control. Eventually that die will start triggering all of the cool powers and that +3 in the fourth round is super nice. It represents the heroic fantasy nature of the game. But, what if you want a fight to be a bit more scary. Try starting with a double strength (or because J-M is evil, a triple strength) battle, and starting the escalation die at 5 or 6. The PCs will feel like Big Damn Heroes, until at the start of round two, the escalation die drops by one…and continues to drop. In this case, the die is a timer. The heroes will grow weaker as they face the magic/life draining forces of the BBEG, or just succumb to the horror of what they are facing.

Escalation Timers – We touched on this one in the episode, but J-M loves using this. Using the escalation die as a fight timer for when events in the battle trigger. Use the different values to see when things happen. For example:

  • Every time the escalation die reaches an odd number, more reinforcements arrive on the scene, giving the battle the sense of unstoppable waves of minions flooding into the fight.
  • The area of the battle is unstable, and if the escalation die gets to 6, before the heroes defeat the monsters and get out, the ceiling collapses causing major damage.
  • Events—traps, magical rites, healing, summoning, etc—which trigger on certain numbers.
  • Villainous soliloquies spaced out throughout the round!
  • The classic ‘stop the ritual’ quest becomes more interesting if it goes off when the escalation die reaches 2 and gets worse the longer the heroes take.

Escalation Trade Off – J-M is a big fan of consequences in his games. He will often negotiate with players or plan in scene effects which will grant the players a boon at the cost of the escalation die. In exchange for what the players want—or as a consequence of them calling in a ‘5’—the escalation die may freeze for several rounds at a specific number—usually 0. This represents the fact that the monsters had a plan or more time to prepare. In one case, the cost was that the die started at 1, but the monsters got it the first round! Then it dropped to 0, and then increased as normal. Escalation die trade offs are the perfect consequence for a 5 on an icon relationship.

Those are just some of the new ways Iconic are using the escalation die. What are some unique ways you have used it? Let us know!

Written by J-M

S4-E16: Giants – Live Episode Part 1

We did a live (video) show with our patrons on the topic of Giants! We talk through some of the history through F20 games and how they’re portrayed in 13th Age and 13th Age Glorantha.

If you would like to participate in future live shows like this, please consider becoming a patron!


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

S4-E15: Escalation! Fanzine

This week we bring Tim back onto the show to talk about the 13th Age fanzine, Escalation! It’s a wonderful publication that is well worth picking up and reading!

(Be aware that we experienced some intermittent, technical difficulties while recording the discussion; please forgive the sections of poor audio quality.)

You can access the eight Escalation! volumes, the two 13th Age Glorantha adventures, as well as send in your own submission, by going to https://escalationfanzine.blogspot.com


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron or by using our Amazon referral link to do your online shopping.

Your Guide to Being a Better Montage Player

“You walk through the Desolates, the sun beating down on your back. It is montage time! Who wants to start?”
Crickets echo through the room. No one makes eye contact. The Game Master sighs and gestures to the poor soul on their right.
“You go first. What is the first thing you all encounter?”
Player A looks around the group and blurts. “Bandits?”

 

It’s always bandits. Does this sound familiar? Your group encounters the same things every game session. Your players solve the encounters with little difficulty and it’s all rather boring. No one knows the cool things that one character can do because the encounters fall flat. 

If that is familiar, it is time to have a sit down with your players. Whoa! Not to chide or berate them, but to brainstorm together things everyone can have on their montage cheatsheet. 

Sometimes players have a hard time thinking up something to add to the montage. Most people aren’t used to thinking up problems for others to solve on the spot. That’s a GM skill many people have to develop. It is better to encourage the players to co-create lists and options for montages outside of the game. Here are several lists to get your party started. I highly recommend that you create your own lists with your players. They will have a lot of bright ideas, but probably need time to think up the montage. 

13 things to encounter in…

City

  1. Two people are arguing loudly in the street, blocking traffic. 
  2.  Overturned cart of cabbages with the owner bemoaning his loss of profit.
  3.  A gang of street thieves threaten the group. 
  4.  Urchins steal a magical item causing mayhem in the streets.
  5.  A building is burning along your route.
  6.  A child is in a locked cellar.
  7.  Giant rat is chasing villagers.
  8.  Cultists surround the group and demand they sacrifice to the gods.
  9.  A freak wind storm blows over a tall building trapping the group.
  10.  A circus group has set up camp on the entrance to the sewers.
  11.  [Insert your favorite monster here] is following the group.
  12.  The only way through the village is over the rooftops.
  13.  The roads are too confusing to figure out the correct direction and the group continues in circles.

Forest

  1. The sun seems to disappear in the middle of the day.
  2. Howling sounds in the distance as wolves chase the party.
  3. Overgrown bushes create an inescapable maze. 
  4. Thorns scratch the group and poison seeps in.
  5. Stepping on mushrooms on the forest floor releases toxins that cause hallucinations. 
  6. Rainstorms cause flash floods.
  7. Giant mosquitos attack, attempting to drain the group of their blood. 
  8. A magical pond lures the group in and the possibility of drowning is real.
  9. Flying monkeys appear, chattering about the Icons.
  10. Voices echo through the forest, insulting the PCs, causing the group to turn on each other.
  11. A group of bandits hiding in an outcropping ambush the group.
  12. An empty clearing ringed with stones shoots darts at anyone trying to cross the clearing.
  13. Ruins rise up from the ground and most of the group feels a sense of misgiving about it.

Desert

  1. The party runs out of water.
  2. Sand worms! Run!
  3. Raiders appear on the horizon, chasing down the group.
  4. Deep canyons criss-cross the land, blocking the path.
  5. Sandstorm sweeps over the land.
  6. Giant beetles swarm the party.
  7. An oasis mirage causes the group to waste time chasing the fantasy.
  8. Giant dried bones rise up out of the sand, calling out to the group.
  9. A tomb of an undead lord is releasing mummies to chase the group.
  10. Quicksand! It’s everywhere.
  11. Fire sprouts out of the ground.
  12. Sand collapses beneath the party, dropping them into a deep cavern.
  13. Lightning strikes from a clear sky, striking the ground around the party. 

Dungeon/Sewer

  1. Poisonous gas fills the tunnel.
  2. Bioluminescent mushrooms give the party hallucinations.
  3. Deep canyons cut off the path of the party.
  4. Any torches are magically put out and the party is left in darkness.
  5. A sudden earthquake causes a cave-in.
  6. An underground river blocks the party.
  7. A group of dark trolls ambush the party.
  8. Flying bats harass the group.
  9. The tunnels turn into a maze making the group completely lost.
  10. Quicksand tugs at the feet of the party, beginning to drag them down. 
  11. Monstrous rats surround the group.
  12. A dead end blocks the obvious route for the party. 
  13. A pit filled with spikes opens before the group in the path.

We hope this helps! Encourage your party to come up with their own montage ideas, but give help when they need it! If they want to make it random, they can roll on the tables you create. As a GM, it is important that you give your players creative license for their choices. If your players don’t want to roll random numbers, then allow them to choose. Reward their creativity, in problem creation and solving. We believe in giving players rewards in the narrative, allowing them to solve the problems in a way that benefits them more because of their creativity. With any luck, your players will be able to figure out how to best showcase their character’s cool traits, abilities, and one unique thing.

Written by Becca

S4-E14: Class Acts – Zorak Zorani

In this episode, we give an indepth look at the 13th Age Glorantha class, the Zorak Zorani Berserker! A special thank you to Bryan for the suggestion and to Evan for joining us! Evan was a great asset as he was able to give some of the Gloranthan lore behind the class and revealed the myriad of ways that lore shines forth through the talents, features, and powers of the class.


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!

S4-E13: Mosaic Books – Part 2

In our last episode we interviewed Ben and Becca, two contributing authors of the up-and-coming Mosaic books, one being Drakkenhall: City of Monsters, and the other a yet-to-be-named book on the Koru behemoths! This episode we bring two other contributing authors, Liz Argall and AnnMarie Boeve, onto the show and get their perspective!

If you want to find Liz online, her websites are lizargall.com and thingswithout.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Patreon.

AnnMarie can be found on Twitter and WorldAnvil.


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!

S4-E12: Mosaic Books – Part 1

This week we interviewed two contributing authors of the up-and-coming Mosaic books, one being Drakkenhall: City of Monsters, and the other a yet-to-be-named book on the Koru behemoths! We get to hear from Ben Feehan and our very own Becca on what sort of perspective they brought and a few teasers of the things they are including!


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!

S4-E11: Class Acts – Earth Priestess

This episode we take a closer look at one of the 13th Age Glorantha classes, the Earth Priestess! We talk about the key features of the class and how it ties so well into the lore of Glorantha. We also discuss some of our favorite Features, Talents, and Spells are, and how we might port it into a more traditional F20 world.


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!

S4-E10: Live Episode – Part 3

We did a live (video) show with our patrons talking through some of our most memorable campaigns and answering the questions our patrons had submitted. We had a great time, and we will be releasing the recording of that as our next few episodes. You can go back and listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

If you would like to participate in future live shows like this, please consider becoming a patron!


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!

Sub-Par Characters

Have you ever had an idea for a character that you knew didn’t quite fit the mold? Perhaps you had an idea for a Fighter who is way past her prime and just can’t quite swing her sword the way she used to. Her One Unique Thing might be ‘Last Survivor of the War of the Stalking Trees.’ Or a Wizard who had an accident and can no longer concentrate on magic the way he needs to; this could have resulted from being the ‘Creator of the Burst of Devouring.’ These sorts of character ideas can end up getting translated onto character sheets with low scores in the attributes that are typically high for the class. So the elderly Fighter might have a STR of 9 or the Wizard an INT of 8 as a result of their backstories. These are ideas of what I like to call ‘sub-par’ characters…..characters whose stats don’t quite line up with the underlying math or expectations of the game.

Alternatively, you could fully embrace the thought that ‘the dice tell a story,’ and fate may create a sub-par character for you, if, after choosing your race/class, you let the dice reveal what your stats are. Start at the top of the list and roll your 4d6 (dropping the lowest), and what you get is what it is….no shuffling the numbers around to make things work optimally for you. Of course, you still get the +2 bonuses from your race/class, but sometimes even that won’t be enough to bring it up to where it’s ‘supposed’ to be.

13th Age makes it easier to run with this sort of idea, because of the narrative flexibility it has in the use of Backgrounds, the fact that even when you miss your attacks, you’re usually dealing some damage, and the Escalation Die gives you a bonus as well. Other things like magic items and other players’ (depending on their class choice) ability to provide bonuses makes it possible to play a sub-par character without being completely ‘worthless.’

Creating a character like this can be a lot of fun as it lets you color a bit outside the lines and forces you to lean more heavily into the role-play than the roll-play. But I must caution you, it can also be quite frustrating, not just for you, but for those you’re playing with….especially if your group is relying on your Fighter to be able to land a hit on that owlbear! When your attack modifier is a +1 instead of a +5, it makes a big difference, and not in a good way! Your attacks are going to be less effective, both to hit and in the amount of damage dealt. The combat system in 13th Age is dialed in pretty tightly, so if you do bring a sub-par character to a fight, the others at your table are going to notice!

Your skill checks will be affected by reduced bonuses too, though this is more likely to resolve itself in narrative form and may not present as much difficulty as combat will. For example, if your Fighter has an STR of 9 but a CHA of 16, chances are you’re going to have her try to coerce the guards to open the portcullis instead of just attempting to lift it by herself. Any skill check that requires STR will certainly be done with a disadvantage, but there is rarely a single path forward. Player creativity will oftentimes balance this limitation on skill checks.

And yet it’s these sorts of skill checks that serve to highlight the underlying idea you have for this sub-par character. Having your Wizard be asked to make an INT check to determine which vial is poison only serves to emphasize that he’s no longer the sharpest knife in the block.

13th Age sets the expectation that the characters players create are heroes who know how to get the job done and who are experienced enough to do just that. Creating sub-par characters messes with this expectation, because your character may not be the hero that everyone thinks they are. While this makes for interesting storytelling and requires creative problem-solving, it does fiddle with many of the underlying assumptions in a 13th Age game. If this is something you want to try, definitely discuss it with your GM and the rest of your group first; doing so will minimize the frustration when it becomes apparent that this washed-up Fighter really can’t hit the broad side of an ogre!

If your GM and gaming group is on board with it, give it a go and lean into the role-play required of having a sub-par character and see what sort of great story comes out of it! But if they’d rather not adjust for such a ‘weak’ party member, remember, you can always roll the idea up into your character’s backstory; perhaps the Fighter in this example used to deftly wield a sword, but in retirement learned how to strum a lute, and now shines as a Bard!

Written by Nick