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