[Let’s Study: 13th Age] Part 2 – Icons

Posted: September 17, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Let's Study
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As I mentioned in yesterday’s Introduction to 13th Age, the 13 Icons are central to the game’s setting. According to the book, the 13 Icons represent the movers and shakers of the setting, NPCs of such power and influence that the state of the entire setting relies on the careful balance of power between them.

Icons are also meant to be factions, each one being the figurehead and leader of a vast organization of individuals who work towards that NPC’s cause. As such, player characters in the default 13th Age setting are assumed to be aligned towards (and against) these Icons in some way, shape or form.

This isn’t to say that you’re personally known or acknowledged by the Icon in question, only that you believe in what they stand for, and work to further their agenda.

The 13 Icons of the setting do not have canonical names. Instead, they are known by their archetypes. These archetypes are: The Archmage, The Crusader, The Diabolist, The Dwarf King, The Elf Queen, The Emperor, The Great Gold Wyrm, The High Druid, The Lich King, The Orc Lord, The Priestess, The Priest of Shadows and The Three.

Each of the Icons is given a detailed writeup, explaining their role in the world. Starting with a basic skeletal concept of what the Icon is, the book continues to flesh it out by providing the usual location of the Icon, what people commonly know about the Icon, how Adventurers commonly run into the Icon, the Icon’s Allies, Enemies and even History. One nice touch in the writeup is the last portion, labelled “The True Danger.”

Each of the Icons is a ticking time-bomb. One way to think about it is this is some sort of reverse-Exalted. Where the Adventurers are common, heroic individuals who work to further the agendas of extremely powerful entities whose potential for greatness and destruction are so great that any of them (even the good ones) can prove to be an antagonist, or at least a source of conflict.

Icons can also be mapped out to the traditional Lawful / Chaotic vs Good / Evil matrix of D&D, though that distinction isn’t necessary in the game. It’s provided to help those who are used to the traditional OGL d20 games get a handle on where these Icons (and their factions) fall under… at least in theory.

The Icons of 13th Age are an interesting core element to the OGL pool. On one level, they’re central NPCs to a setting. On another, they’re representative of common powers that exist in many D&D settings. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to think that some icons map extremely well to well known powers in other d20 settings such as Bahamut, the good dragon god of D&D, and his not-so-good sister Tiamat.

This makes is extremely easy to adapt 13th Age’s Icons to any existing fantasy d20 setting. Their descriptions are generic enough to seed a setting with an agenda, though the specifics, like their names and how they look are generally left for the GM. There’s a certain amount of freedom afforded to GMs here, and I feel that this is certainly a good thing.

A part of me chafes at the idea of NPCs as factions, but I can see where this is coming from. Rather than an ideology, these NPCs are living, breathing personifications of that ideal. As such people rally to their cause simply by virtue of their force of personality and influence.

Each of the Icons drops a few hints about the setting, with a few specific details peppered in their description, before fading back to general-ness, teasing bits of a setting that up to this point, hasn’t been discussed.

Tomorrow we take a peek at character creation, where I’ll try to go over the process and put together a character on the fly.

  1. Dariel says:

    I think there’s more potential springboards for a story in having the Icons be people, rather than alignment to abstract ideals. Complicated, dysfunctional relationships can be created easily and could be fun to play through. Oddly enough, I may have done something rather similar (and well before I read anything about 13th Age) with Hari Ragat, in creating ‘keystone’ characters within the PCs’ hometown that they can all have Ties with.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      Icons should have remained as such – intangible and mysterious figures – that cannot directly affect the world.

      I have an issue with Mentor characters that are in the same Campaign / World as the Players since they easily outshine the Players in terms of skill and feats. There’s no satisfaction in completing a quest if you know that the Icon / Mentor could have easily done it all along.

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