Category Archives: 13th Age

The Icons of Maia, Part 2

Last week, I looked at how I was adapting the Icons from 13th Age to my specific campaign setting of Maia, an series of island nations separated by elemental flux due to experimentation with planar magic. Here’s the second half of the movers and shakers of the campaign setting.

Sometime in the 3rd Age, the elemental forces coursing through the world due to experiments in planar magic coalesced into sentience. Fire and ice mixed with storm and muck and from the mingling energies the first dragons were born. These dragons had not divided into color or metallic sheen at this point, but were merely mighty beasts of fell energies and the world shook with their roars. As they grew, they eventually turned on each other and were divided. The five strongest dragons in bright elemental colors took leadership of one faction of the dragons. Of these five original dragon leaders, only The Three remain. One was lost in battle against the metallic forces and another has been taken captive by forces The Three are unaware of. The Three rule a nation of draconic-like beings, some of whom are their creation and others who merely flocked to them. They built cities and strongholds and hold one of the largest, most prominent sections of land in Maia. They keep mostly to themselves, but if their wrath is raised, the rest of Maia should beware.

As the great chromatic dragons were consolidating their power into separate chromatic hordes, the metallic dragons were in deep discussion deciding who would lead them. When one metallic dragon killed another in a trial of combat and absorbed his spirit, the metallic dragons realized that their conductive nature allowed them to receive and channel each others’ power and that they could present one united front against their enemies, the chromatic dragons. Some submitted willingly and others were hunted down, but as the metallic dragons fell their concentrated power grew as well. The last metallic dragon is now known as the Great Gold Wyrm and he holds the collective power of his race. It has been long since the mighty champion of order was last seen. Legends tell that the Great Gold Wyrm went raging into the Tempest to fix the world and was never seen again, but orders of warriors have sprung up in his name and stand for everything the Great Gold Wyrm held dear: justice, order, law and peace. The great castle fortress of Wyrmlock holds a host of loyal warriors who would ride to the gates of hell to stand with their master in battle.

In the Savage Lands, a jungle land separated by mountain ranges buried deep in the plains of a lost continent to the southwest of Maia and as the waters rose, this hidden land was protected by the mountain ranges. Here unknown magics raged and warped the natural creatures giving rise to the intelligent bestial races of Maia. Minotaurs, wolfmen, satyrs, centaurs, frogmen, along with many more developed tribal societies in this primeval place. Over time a guardian emerged, a caretaker of all things wild. That guardian was known as the High Druid. In this Age the High Druid is a young elf who was chosen by the primal spirits to guard all natural life on Maia. She resides in the Savage Lands, but has been known to travel the rest of the world over. With growing cities and larger nations pushing back the wilds in so many places, the wrath of the High Druid is a very real threat.

In the shamble and threat of all the dangers that have befallen Maia, the cities took a long time to rebuild an resettle. When they did start coming back together, the criminal element always resurfaced. Many would quake in fear of a figure supposedly working behind the scenes, one who many would simply refer to as the Prince of Shadows
. Very little is known about the Prince, but someone is taking credit under that name. The deeds of the shadowy elements in cities are often connected and there is a great opportunity to find resources, information or merely to find a way to disappear, but do so at your own peril.

There were three human nations in close proximity to each other: Baen Nerath, Baen Arkon, and Baen Turath. These nations were constantly in competition with one another and eventually this competition led to war. Baen Nerath tried to remain neutral in the combat as Baen Arkon and Baen Turath worked against one another from their flanking position. As the war escalated, the people of Baen Turath grew desperate and turned to forbidden magics to seek allies from beyond. The leader of the Turathi led her people to pledge their lives to demonic forces and were warped by the infernal magics that changed and empowered their race. The people of Turath became the tiefling race, gifted with elemental fire and able to summon infernal allies, and their leader became the Diabolist a terrifying personality and a devastating beauty whose machinations have now sold her entire race to demonic overlords. Even should they win the war, will the world ever be the same?

The gauntlet thrown and the Turathi empowered, the people of Arkon were limited with their choices. They went from winning the war to very suddenly finding themselves outclassed and outgunned. As the war shifted and battle was joined on the shores of Baen Arkon, a low acolyte of a religious sect turned to the rituals of dark gods and elicited their aid. He was surprised when the ritual actually summoned a member of the dark gods host. Bringing the leadership of his nation into contact with the dark angelic being, the acolyte led the people of Arkon into a pact with the long forgotten, dark gods and became their champion, their Crusader in Maia. The people of Baen Arkon were also transformed and became the assimar race; gifted with incredible strength and the divine power of the dark gods, but have sacrificed the ability to bear children. Every Arkon death is a loss to the entire race. The Crusader has become more and more like his dark masters and more cruel and grim. Would he drive back the forces of Baen Turath, what would his dark masters want of him and his people?

The Dragon Emperor is dead. The war that enveloped the nations of Baen engulfed the entirety of their three nations and while Baen Nerath tried to stay neutral in the conflict, they were eventually consumed in the crossfire. The last of the Dragon Emperors who ruled the nation of Nerath for Ages was killed and with him ended any hope of the Nerathi people rising again. Or did it? Many wonder if a hidden heir was able to survive. Could there be a chance that the great Dragon Empire of Nerath could be reborn and end the countless years of war between her sister nations? There are many who quest after the potential lost emperor and an elite guard of Dragon Knights waits at the great flame, waiting to see if one could arise who could light the beacon and reunite the lost empire of Nerath.

That’s what my Icons look like. The ideas built upon in the 13th Age canon lend themselves to adaptation and wide sweeping notes that can fit in any campaign and I’m excited to see just what mischief my players get up to and how they involve themselves in the works of these Icons.

The Icons of Maia, Part 1

For some time now, I was kicking around a campaign setting for our 13th Age game and using the features of the Icons and their dynamic relationships fit really well as I integrated them into my game world known as Maia (from the Hebrew word for seas or oceans). In Maia, we are only in the 7th Age and there have been some world-altering catastrophes in the Ages prior. Planar magic cause tremendous changes in the world whenever they have been used. Magical experimentation in the 1st Age opened an elemental rift and caused a tremendous storm to overwhelm many islands and over the Ages past, the sea levels rose dramatically leaving small land masses behind, which the civilized races have all worked hard to carve out for themselves. Planar magic is largely forbidden because of the strict consequences that have arisen over the years, so summoning and teleportation are taboo and the practitioners of this magic are hunted by many for the good of all.

Leader of a magical academy and master of all the schools of magic, the Archmage presides over the Academia Arcanis and his towers rises high above the raging waters not far from the tempest that dominates Maia. All wizards and other students of magic are under his supervision. The Archmage maintains the wards that hold back the Tempest and is also researching the means to eliminate the storm entirely. There is rumor that a great deal of previously forbidden magics fall under his “experimentation,” but none would dare bring light to this accusation.

Once the leader of the Academia Arcanis, in an Age long passed, and then the ruler of the Dragon Empire of Baen Nerath before his “death” to an unknown assassin, the Lich King was banished from his positions of power, but not truly defeated. Now an undying ruler of the dead, the Lich King has fled from the face of civilized races to continue his quest for greater power and influence. None have seen him for some time, but his presence is felt in every necromancer and wight that functions within the world. Some say that he extends his web of influence by spreading himself out through his evil phylacteries, but they may be mistaken.

Most assume the gods left Maia to its destruction as punishment for their lack of faith. The Priestess heartily disagrees. The Priestess holds that the gods attention must be earned and so do all those who follow her lead. The benevolent gods of Maia chose their Priestess for centuries, but when they all went silent the role of Priestess began to be passed down through a sequence of mentorship and trial. The current Priestess is a half-elf maiden who has served as the voice of the gods for five years. She is based out of the city island of Atminster in the Seven Island Nations (where the PCs start the campaign) and has established  the temple services there. Many wonder to what length the Priestess would go to prove that the gods still care for the world.

Dwarves are one of the oldest races in Maia, but no one realized it. They mined underground for an Age, oblivious to the happenings above. But when the waters began to rise, the deep places began to fill with the new raging seas and the Dwarves were forced above ground. They discovered many strange races and in order to better stand as one, a particularly strong Dwarf took on the mantle of Dwarf King. When the Orcs burned the Dwarven nations, the Dwarf King forged the very first iron men and gave birth to the dwarforged race. Using their new metallic army, the Dwarf King drove back the Orc hordes and began to establish a peaceful kingdom. Since that time in the 2nd Age, there have been many Dwarf King’s all who rose to champion the causes of the Dwarven people and to establish the great mechanical city known as Grogan’s Gem. This metallic wonder is a mechanically powered vessel that stretches for miles that can surround a smaller land mass allowing the Dwarves who reside within to mine the various small islands of Maia. Many islands have been stripped bare by the Dwarves love of precious stones and some fear the approach of Grogan’s Gem and the bellowing forges of the Dwarf King.

It is the Orc Lord who strikes fear in the hearts of the civilized. A raging horde of orcs was the bane of the early Dwarven empire and their fearsome leader was the instigation of the massacres that led to the formation of the dwarforged. Having been repulsed by the revitalized Dwarven armies, the Orc Lord was lost to history. Gone far out to sea, many wondered if the barbarian lifestyle could be maintained. Did the Orc Lord become one of the pirates who sail the seas of Maia or was he truly killed off by the dwarforged army? If he were to return, many fear it would be at the head of a massive navy ready to wipe the dwarfs of the face of Maia.

Some planar mishap caused an inversion in the dimensions themselves and as a result, land masses shifted position from worlds much like Maia, but subtly different. From a land of brightness and magic, the people of Faed were drawn into the world. The gnomes, the bright elves, and the changekin were astonished at how mundane this new world was. Likewise,  from a land of shadow and darkness, the people of Shaed were also brought into Maia. The duergar, the dark elves, and the shaar were aghast at how free and bright everything was. Large segments of populated cities, mere twists on what could-have-been, shifted into place in an amalgam-island city. The people of Faed and Shaed bonded together to face the new dangers of this strange world and established permanent peace between their peoples in the marriage of their two rulers, a bright elf prince and a dark elf queen. Intermingling that bloodline, the rulers took on the qualities of both their parents. Today, the child of Faed and Shaed is the Elf Queen. Depending on the time of day, she appears as either a bright or dark elf. She is mysterious and whimsical. Her mood is both ephemeral and ethereal and treating with her and her people requires care.

So that’s the first half of the Icons as they appear in my campaign setting. Next week I’ll have the second half!

Character Flaws

Finishing my epic D&D4e game, I felt awesome for winning D&D, but at the same time felt really sad because it marked the end of an age. Things got really complicated in my life personally, with my seminary grad school taking a turn for the hectic and time consuming as well as taking on extra work hours at the church I work at (fortunately with increased pay). So yah, life is a little interesting. This unfortunately meant that my gaming has taken a back burner, which is fine, but it is still something I really enjoy, but my old gaming group has jumped into a Mouse Guard campaign while my wife and I have stepped out of playing with them. It’s awesome that they are still gaming (since our D&D campaign was their first experience with tabletop RPGs), but now I have a gaming itch and am trying to figure out what will scratch it.

Given the playtest nature of D&Dnext, I have had a hard time wanting to jump back into a full term D&D4e campaign. I like shiny new things. I admit that freely. It’s hard for me to stick with something for a long time. I gave the playtest for D&Dnext a whirl while I was on vacation and really enjoyed it (I liked what I saw too), but it was really more of a one shot and that just doesn’t fit what an ongoing campaign provides for me. With the fluctuating nature of a playtest environment, I don’t think the time for D&Dnext as a long term game is in my future…YET.

So I’m systems shopping. Right after my 4e game ended, I picked up some new game rulebooks just to get a feel for what else was out there not because I was dissatisfied, but because why not? This became my new problem and a couple of weeks ago, I sat down with a group of guys (actually the first group of players I ran through Keep on the Shadowfell almost 4 years ago) to discuss starting a game and specifically what system we wanted to explore.

I brought D&D4e (because it is still special to me), the D&DNext playtest, 13th Age, Dungeon World, Savage Worlds, and the Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game to the table as options to explore and try out. Several of the guys knew I was already working on a campaign setting (originally to be part of 4e) that was largely inspired by Chris Perkins’ Iomandra setting (there is something about a nautical exploration that really gets my imagination turning). High adventure on the sea just lends itself to interesting story and situations, plus the constant change of new islands to explore and conquer. So with ideas of exploring my custom medieval fantasy setting, we crossed out Marvel and most the guys weren’t particularly interested in fiddling with 4e or Next. We got excited about Dungeon World, but the limitations on races and classes shelved it for another day. So that left Savage Worlds and 13th Age. I was excited about both and see some really cool possibilities in each, but it was the imagination-inspiring Icons of 13th Age that pushed us over the edge. Even though 13th Age is still in Escalation Edition and still very much being playtested, it has some really fun mechanics for combat and conflict resolution that just clicked for us.

So we started character generation (and I realized just how much I had to learn about the system still) and this is where things got interesting. We decided to roll ability scores instead of using an array. As a group of self-professing, former power gamers they all expressed the need for as much help as possible in avoiding the roadblocks of min/maxing. Rolling stats is something I’ve NEVER done in a game before and I was anxious to see if the risk in straying from the array would be as worth it as everyone has told me.

Everyone started the process rolling pretty decently. Not quite as high as the point score array, but not terrible. That is until one of the guys rolled a 4. Yup. Three 1s and a 2. Wow. Almost as low as he could possibly roll. After we stopped laughing, the poor guy (who also had the only 17 in the group) started figuring out just what to do with that tremendous liability. As we were deciding classes and races, he decided to play a halfling sorcerer with a Strength of 4. He figured he would embrace the concept of the glass cannon and run with it. That’s when things started to get weird/fun. He decided that his halfling was born with no muscles, almost jokingly, and we ran with it. What if when he was born due to his disability, his parents made a deal with the Lich King (one of the powerful Icons in the 13th Age setting) and his body was infused with a necromantic brace system made of bones that give him the ability to walk and function, but also mark him as the Lich King’s? Dang. That is one interesting unique thing.

As I thought about it, I realized that the flaw this character had and the story possibilities that arise from his attempt to overcome it are going to become one of the biggest parts of our campaign. Not only is this amazing for our game, but it’s huge in life. Walking through the difficulties in life is one of those things that we play games to avoid or to walk past, but I have found that in games having a defining flaw or struggle can create those awesome moments that live on in your stories. What’s really cool about this benefits of having this unique character flaw is that this is something I believe is incredibly important in real life as well as at the gaming table.

As I’ve mentioned before here, I am a Christian and contrary to popular belief that doesn’t mean I think you have to live a perfect life. In fact, I find that it is the imperfections and weaknesses in myself that make my faith all that more real. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is a section from the second letter to the church in Corinth (in Greece). Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament) wrote the letter and in it he said this,

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)

Paul was one of the most educated Jews of his day. He was a teacher and incredibly well respected. He actually had a lot to boast about, but he mentions in his letter that there was a “thorn in his flesh,” that would not leave him alone. Despite all the incredible things he had come to believe about himself, he lacked control of himself. And even though he asked God to take it away, it remained. Paul asked God to do some pretty incredible stuff and his letters are full of how God answered those prayers, so why didn’t God remove this physical ailment/problem/struggle from him?

Having a struggle in life and overcoming it on your own strength is a huge testament in the depth of your character and your own personal strength and perseverance. In real life (and even at the game table) there come times where the problem is deeper than we can handle and we begin to lose hope. In that place of weakness, when Paul was frustrated and feeling weak, the things that God was doing through him were even more visible. Because he was weak, he had to depend on a God who was not.

So how is that going to look in my 13th Age game? I’m not entirely sure. There isn’t going to be a miracle cure (i.e. stat raising potion or boon) for my player with the 4 strength. I want to see just where this takes him and in what ways he is able to overcome his own weakness. Suffice to say, it should make for some interesting storytelling.