Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quick 13th Age thought

The obvious hack for 13th Age + Eberron is to make the 13 Dragonmarked houses into the icons.  Yeah, sure, you'll want some feats for Dragonmarks[1], blah blah blah, but that's the easy part.  I'm more curious what happens when you refocus Icons in this fashion.

The most self-evident change may be the least important. Yes, replacing the Icons as individuals with organizations removes the possibility of a personal relationship, but as I've noted before, Icons are also their organization, and that organization is the part players will usually interact with. With the switch to houses, that part remains the same.  Now, you'll probably need to populate the houses in a way that interests your players (since names and faces are still critical) but that's a good practice anyway.

What intrigues me is that in doing this you are explicitly *not* encompassing the world with the Icons.  The Dragonmarked houses are just one axis of the setting, and using them (rather than, say, the various kings and such) makes a statement about what kind of game this will be.  That is, it is a game that is going to center around the intrigues, conflicts and alliances of the great houses. The other setting elements still exist, but they will be encountered through this lens.

This fascinates me.  It takes the broad, kitchen sink nature of the average setting, and pare it down to a thematic core.  Want to use the setting again for a different type of game?  Use a different set of icons!

Now, there's something similar that happens when you look solely at the subset of icons that players choose, and one might argue that you could offer any number of icons in a setting, then focus on using only the ones that players choose. This definitely makes for a strongly player-directed game, but I don't like it quite as much as the great houses approach because it produces too clean a dataset.  There's nothing thematically tying the players interests together, and there are no rough edges of things that are important to the game, but not personal to the players.

Why does that matter?  It provides a necessary contrast.  When a setting revolves too strongly around players, it can start to ring false.  One good safeguard against that is to make sure that the setting has elements that are important, but not personal to the PCs.  Not too many, of course, but enough to make the world feel alive.

Anyway, I keep thinking of other ways to apply the Icons model, and for some reason, Eberron popped into my mind today, and I figured I'd capture it.

1 - And while we're at it, make them cool. Dragonmarks were always much more interesting as described than as mechanically implemented.


  1. I've had similar thoughts in regards to this. For example, a Planescape game that uses the Factols as Icons is a very different game than one that tries to convert some of the planar powers into Icons.

    I think the setting re-usability is a fascinating one that designers/DMs can get a lot of mileage out of.

    1. Yeah, this is a great angle to take to Planescape. The game where the Icons are the factions is a very different game from the game where the planes of existence are the icons is a very different game form one where the members of a given pantheon are the Icons. But they're all very Planescape.

      That's kind of awesome.

  2. The convenient thing is that Eberron has a number of elements that revolve around the number 13 doesn't it? The other one that stands out is the Planes of Existence but you could narrow it down so much that you're just dealing with the 13 Dwarvish Clans of the Mror Holds.

    Rolling the Icon die could be fun just for randomly rolling up a manifest zone.

    1. Yeah, the numerical convergence works out very nicely.

    2. Now that I think about it. Vampire: The Masquerade had 13 vampire clans too... hmmm.

  3. Hmmm.. Chaos Focused Amber Game. Icons are Houses of Chaos rather than individuals in Chaos...

  4. I'm considering using some kind of kit-bashed 13th Age Iconic mechanism in my next Eberron game, but there are a whole lot more icon-able elements than just the Houses. There are the religions, the countries, the supreme leaders of the villainous secret societies...


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