Monday, October 9, 2017

Character Backgrounds, the OSR Way

It was really hard for the me to sell any OSR or retroclone-style game to my current table. They were coming from heavier games (Pathfinder, Warhammer 3rd and 2d20) or from FATE. All their previous campaigns were strongly character-driven, with complex PC backgrounds and a certain degree of plot immunity against sudden death (usually through the use of Fate/Destiny/Hero points). Even when I tried Midnight with them, the table insisted on a character-driven game, which made me hack the 3.5 rules.

I guess that DCC RPG worked for them because of the Funnel*. It was fun and easy to run. I’m sure that at the time my table only accepted DCC because it was a good change of pace. Lots of characters died and lots of (otherwise) unoptimized character survived. That’s when the DCC magic kicked in. After three to six sessions playing with those survivors, the players started to get used to them, to plot goals and to imagine all kind of perks and… finally!... backgrounds.
*OK, I also used a little bit of Destiny Points, after the Funnel, but that is for another post.

Image result for fantasy reading big scroll
I still have nightmares with 4-8 pages PC backgrounds...

Character Backgrounds aren’t something you start with, but something you earn...

I can’t remember if I read it at Matthew Finch’s excellent Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, but one interesting aspect of OSR-style campaigns is that most PCs start without detailed background. Actually, most start without any background, having only a perk or two (boisterous, grim, lordly etc.) or basic concept (drunken dwarf, elf minstrel etc.). That’s because in older campaigns a PC’s background was a result of surviving long enough the campaign… each PC was a blank sheet until returning from the dungeon and spreading his tales of adventure. A character’s background was - basically - his campaign log. That is an awesome concept, very different from modern games, but hardly something that I could sell to my table.

So, at my DCC RPG campaign, I tried something slightly different. After all the gore and fun of the Funnel passed, when the party was reaching 2nd level I started to poke my players with questions: why you decided to go adventuring? Are you mad? Do you have a family? Enemies? Any tragic past?

For example: one of the PCs that survived our first Funnel was a lowly gongfarmer. During Sailors on the Starless Sea, his player made a really good argument at the table, telling us that his PC wasn’t just a gongfarmer - he was only pretending to be one. That PC was actually a chaotic cultists running from the Law Churches. He journeyed to the dungeons of the Starless Sea to find a Chaotic relic, restore his powers and get revenge! (all this just to roll a d20 in a Int check instead of a d10… those players...). In the end, it was so cool that the entire table (and me, the judge) bought it (I also believe a force him to roll a Will save or suffer Corruption).

Image result for DCC RPG reaver
Go to a Funnel! Become a Badass!
Later, another PC that survived both Sailors on the Starless Sea and a homemade adventure was facing the deeps of The One Who Watches From Below. He was a squire or maybe even (another!) gongfarmer. I can’t remember. He became a mighty 3rd-level Warrior and his player proposed that his PC was actually the last scion of a fallen noble house, blamed unjustly with acts of witchcraft and black magic. We loved it and I already created a connection between that fallen noble house, a cult of Bobugbubilz (for The Croaking Fane) and the module Bride of the Black Manse.

The idea here is that a PC’s background is something that is built during the campaign as it progress, with a few bits of information provided by the player as a reward for surviving. Unlike “classic” Old School, a PC background isn’t just his adventures since 1st level, but also additional hooks crafted by the player as allowed by the game. The best of this “edited” background is that it allows a PC to play, for example, the (otherwise nigh unplayable) cliché of the Chosen One - the twist here is that it will make perfect sense only at higher levels. After all, if that PC survives to 7th or 8th level and only then reveals that he’s the Chosen One, that may sound true (after all, he survived this far). That way the Gamemaster avoids the classic problem of a 1st-level “Chosen One” that dies when facing his first orc.

Image result for Prydain oracular pig
No Chosen Ones at 1st level.

An organic background, developed during the campaign, also allows the PC and the party to better declare what types of adventures they want, thus reinforcing agency. If, after surviving a battle against orcs, one of the PCs declare that his parents were taken by an orc chieftain with red skin, then the Gamemaster just got a free hook to insert in future adventures a tribe of “red orcs” (if your players are really open minded with their intents, you can work with them, offering background “revelations” that better suit your material).

A good start here is allow each player “one true fact” about his PC after surviving an entire module or two (not just one game session!). The entire table and Judge must accept the “new” fact about the PC and the revelation should not be used to gain free access to magic items or power, but to provide hooks for greater adventures (that, in the end, may grant the PC access to magic and political power).

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fear for (and from) 13th Age

Last year I did a short post on using the Entropic Gaming System’s excellent Fear rules for Pathfinder (and technically for other, similar, d20 fantasy games). Here’s my attempt to expand it to 13th Age. The idea came from a good discussion at the Forge of the 13th Age Facebook group.

As mentioned in my older post, those rules create a FEAR POOL that the Gamemaster can use to trigger all sort of cool effects. In 13th Age, each PC that fall below the Fear Threshold automatically add +1 point to the FEAR POOL (add +1 if the monster is double-strength/large, +2 if triple-strength/huge and +1 if it is an elite). If the monster is of a different tier than the party, please add +2 points. Finally - and that’s the catch - the Fear source (i.e. the scary monster) gains automatically +1 point to the FEAR POOL every time the Escalation Die goes up (yes, they’re that nasty).

A beholder in 13th Age?! FLY YOU FOOLS!
The Gamemaster can use the FEAR POOL in 13th Age to trigger the following effects:
- inflict the Shocked condition on a PC (i.e. roll twice and pick the worst result, check the amazing 13th Age’s Bestiary 2). A PC can roll a save to remove this condition, but see below about “Facing your Fears”.
- force a PC to go last in the round, or to go after the scary monster (Gamemaster’s choice).
- weaken the PC’s resolve against the monster (treat all the PC’s attacks as if the Fear source had Resistance 21; if the Fear source has Resistance against the attack, roll it normally and if it is successful the PC deals only ¼ damage).
- cancel a PC’s Rallying action (the PC still get his turn normally, but he must change his Rallying attempt to another action).
- if a PC’s attack miss, spend 1 Fear point to automatically inflict normal impromptu damage against him (for example, if the Fear Source is an Adventure-tier monster, deal 2d6/3d6 damage). This damage reflects the PC’s desperation or the monster’s powers.
- spend 3 Fear points to force the party to spend 1 Recovery for each PC. If they can’t spend that number of Recoveries, they must retreat and accept a Campaign Loss (OK, this is a Nastier Special).

Facing your Fears

13th Age is all about heroism, action and risk (and doing all that looking cool). But facing any creature that has Fear should be a tough call. When facing a Fear-inducing monster, the Escalation Die isn’t a gift. It must be earned. Every PC can declare that he’s “facing his fears”. If the PC wants the Escalation Die bonus he must roll a d6 at the beginning of his turn. If he rolls equal or above the current Escalation Die bonus, everything is fine. If he rolls below, the Fear source gains +1 point for the FEAR POOL (the PC can still use the ED’s bonus).

Finally, any PC inflicted with the Shocked condition by the Fear source can try to get rid of it at the end of his round by rolling a save (11+ if the monster is of the same tier, 16+ if the monster if of a higher tier). If the PC fails his rolls, the monster gains +1 point to the FEAR POOL.

Yup, these rules give a clear advantage to the monster and maybe are better suited to horror campaigns. But let’s give the party a bonus: if the monster is of a lower tier (i.e. an Adventurer-tier creature facing Champion-level PCs), than the Facing your Fears rules don’t apply.

Those damn Paladins...

What?! You have a Fearless Paladin in your party? Congratulations! The Paladin don’t count as a PC and don’t grant points to the FEAR POOL. Also, he can’t be affected by the FEAR POOL. Please, dear Gamemaster, concentrate fire on those holier-than-thou bastards.

Image result for paladins d20
I'm Old School... Paladins MUST have Char 17+

Enough with proselytizing about the awesomeness of 13th Age.

I don’t play 13th Age

Now, for those of you who don’t know 13th Age (are you mad?!), I talk about it at this post and you can check their official page (and the Archmage SRD). 13th Age, in a nutshell, is an awesome toolkit of ideas for d20 (and non-d20) fantasy. For example, their Fear rules.

Fear in 13th Age don’t make the PCs run away screaming in the night (which is cool in fiction or movies, but absurdly boring in RPGs). PCs affected by Fear in 13th Age can’t use the Escalation Die, which (again, in a nutshell), is a progressive bonus granted to the party during combats to simulate the action-driven heroism of that RPG. In other words, frightened PCs in 13th Age lose their edge and have a harder time facing monsters, which is a great way of simulating - mechanically - a Fear-effect (the dramatic part, including running away, can be perfectly roleplayed by the party, especially considering that 13th Age has other rules, like Campaign Loss, that work just fine for those horror encounters). The second aspect of 13th Age’s Fear rule is that it is triggered not by a failed save or attack, but when a PC falls before a certain HP threshold. The HP threshold is based on the monster’s level, which on 13th Age go up to 14th (that would be CR 20+ for most other d20 games I guess). When a PC drops below that mark, he’s instantly affected by Fear and can’t use the Escalation Die bonus on his attack rolls (until healed above the HP threshold).

That's the Fear Threshold Table

That’s a damn cool rule that could be adapted to other d20 games like Pathfinder, D&D and various retroclones. You just have to create a HP threshold. Because 13th Age’s PCs are really over-the-top heroes (Wizard or Rogue easily starts at 1st level with anything from 18 to 24 HPS), you have to adjust the threshold totals. In Pathfinder, for example, I would suggest the awesome (and unfortunately underused) Monster Statistics by CR table, available in every Bestiary. Just use half the table’s recommended Hit Points as a threshold. For example, a ½ CR critter usually has 10 hit points, so it provokes Fear when an PC has 5 or fewer hit points.

What happen when you’re affected by Fear? Well, if you don’t want to use my FEAR POOL rules, the there’s a simpler solution: PCs below the Fear HP threshold suffer Disadvantage (i.e. roll twice any check and pick the worst). If you’re playing DCC RPG, instead of Disadvantage, inflict upon the PC a -1 Die penalty (i.e. instead of a d20 for attack rolls, he now rolls a d16).

Cthulhu have stats! So it can be beated!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Scouts for DCC RPG (a Thief variant)


I probably spend more time reading RPG books and customizing stuff than actually playing… it’s that much fun for me, I guess. What I like more is customizing standard classes, races and other character details for my table, usually based on their backgrounds and character concepts. For DCC RPG I’ve tinkered already with variant Dwarves, small but vicious dogs, a Sage class, a Warrior Princess variant class, my Berserker class from the last post, a small hack on the Alice/Fool class (from A Red and Pleasant Land), and a post about using your Bad Luck as a weapon.

The Scout

In my current DCC RPG table, one of the PCs that survived the Funnel was a Hunter. The character was almost a Ranger in concept, but both me and the player didn’t want the old two-weapons-D&D cliché. Actually, the player was satisfied in turning his 0-level Hunter in a normal Thief - the idea was to use the class’ Luck Dice to execute deadly ranged attacks (spending Luck on damage). But the player didn’t mind me tinkering with the traditional Thief’s skills, so I came up this Scout variant:
- the Scout attack as a Thief but uses the Warrior’s Crit progression.
- the Scout loses Backstab, Disguise Self, Forge Document, Hide in Shadows, Pick Pocket, Pick Lock, Read Languages and Cast Spell from Scroll.
- instead of Backstab, the Scout gains Ambush (same progression). Ambush works like Backstab, but it can only be used right before a combat encounter, while the Scout is sneaking upon his enemy. The Scout can suffer a -1 penalty to his Ambush check for each ally going with him; he also suffers a further penalty on his check based on the heaviest armor used by his allies (i.e. the highest armor check penalty in the party). If a Scout succeed at this Ambush check, he and every ally accompanying him gains the benefits of Backstab for their next attacks (i.e. bonus to attack roll and automatic crit).
- a Scout gains Hide in the Wilds (same progression as Hide in Shadows). Hide in the Wilds works as Hide in Shadow but only on natural terrains (forests, plains, caves etc.) and the Scout can try to hide allies using the modifiers from above (see Ambush). The Scout is a master of camouflage and can hide even in places most people would deem impossible (like on a plain). The idea here is that Scout’s skills are like Thief’s skills - you just don’t hide, but you hide perfectly in shadows, becoming almost invisible; you don’t climb a tree or mountain (anyone can do that), but sheer surfaces etc. Following that line, a Scout using Hide in the Wilds is like Aragorn’s hiding his party in the Lord of the Rings.
- a Scout gains Track (same progression as Find Trap). The DC for following an easy trail is 5 (anything on soft ground, life after a rain or snow). The basic DC is 10 for most tracks on normal terrains, like forest, plains, deserts mountains etc. If the scout is trying to find/follow tracks on hard terrains like deserts or streambeds (or when the followed party is trying to hide its tracks) the DC is 15. Really hard or almost impossible tracks (like trying to find tracks after a snow or heavy rain, or in bare rock) are DC 20. If the Scout beat the DC by 5 or more, the Judge is encouraged to provide additional details (Aragorn-style) like “it is a group of 6 orcs, bearing 2 prisoners and the orcs are bickering among themselves because they’re short on food”.
- a Scout gains Set trap (same progression as Disable Trap). Ok, here we are entering non-OSR mechanics, so please bear with me. The entire idea of the Set trap skill is that a Scout always checks and prepares any place where the party stays for longer than 1d4 hours (or where the party decides to set camp). As always, the Judge has the final word. If the prerequisites are met, during any combat in those places, a Scout can spend 1 Luck point to declare that he had set a trap just where an enemy or monster is. Let the Scout make a special attack roll using his Set trap skill bonus (this is a free action). If he hits, the target must succeed at a Refl save (DC equal to the Set trap result) or suffers 1d6 points of damage. The Scout can spend more Luck points before the target rolls his save (+1 Luck for a +1 to the trap’s DC or +2 Luck for +1d6 to the damage). Instead of dealing damage, the trap can have other effects (like entangling the target) - these special effects are adjudicated by the Judge and can increase the Luck cost.
- a Scout can use Sneak Silently to benefit his allies, like Ambush and Hide in the Wilds above.
- the Scout can use Climb sheer surfaces, Find trap and Disable trap like a Thief.

Finally, because the Scout only use some of the Thief’s skills, I recommend that every Scout (no matter his Alignment) follows the Path of the Boss bonus progression (i.e. the Lawful Thief progression).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Berserker (DCC RPG Class)

Howdy folks!

A few years ago I did a Barbarian class for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - you can check it here. The design behind that class is that a Barbarian could be something other than the traditional "lots of hit points + rage + wilderness warrior". I wanted something more open so I came up with the concept of the "Barbarian" as a class that could react rather than act, besides resisting stuff that would drop other heroes (which is not necessarily more hit points). From that S&W original idea and DCC RPG's lovely tendecy to use random tables I made this Berserker, a class for players who don't like do make plans and who appreciate discovering new abilities every round (if you play 13th Age, this is the same principle behind the Bard's and Fighter's Flexible Attacks).

In fact, others had the idea of a different Barbarian before. If you like to dig for desing ideas, here are some suggestions. I first remember seing a new take on the Barbarian at Kolja Raven Liquette's site Waking Land (for D&D 3rd, you can still check his Berserker class and Savage template here). Basically, Kolja proposed that the Barbarian class for D&D was just an example of a Savage Berseker. You could create Savage Fighters, Clerics or even Wizards. It's a great idea and a better design for a class system IMHO. Other influences are D101's awesome Crypts & Things and Tales From The Fallen Empire.

One last commentary: I like classes that play (mechanically) different at the table. So, if you just want to play a slightly different Warrior or Rogue, I always suggest "reskinning" some abilities or just swapping one or two abilities (I hope to post soon how my DCC RPG's Scout and "Dwarven Tarzan" are). Finally, it's important to mention that lately I've been playing lots of 13th Age and The One Ring, but unfortunately no DCC RPG, so this Berserker isn't playtested yet (and I'm afraid it's a bit overpowered).

Here's the Berserker.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A review for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells – Addendum

One the best aspects of the OSR movement is the DIY attitude. In the last years, this principle gave us not only excellent retroclones but also original games; some of those are of particular interest to me because they’re clearly “built” from pieces of other RPGs, but in a very interesting way. Examples are Aspects of Fantasy, Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book and, of course, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (or SS&SS) came to my interest originally because the author is a fellow brazilian – and the one responsible for translating to portuguese DCC RPG (one of my all-time favorites RPGs). However, after reading SS&SS I became instantly a fan of this little gem. You can see my review here, but the elevator pitch (in my opinion) is that SS&SS is a variant of Black Hack that incorporates a lot of cool rules in order to create a light Sword & Sorcery game. Its classes take the best of others games that I appreciate and its spellcasting system seems to me almost like a lite version of the DCC RPG casting system.

OK, enough for introductions. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum is about? First, it is a B&W PDF with 90 pages (the original SS&SS is just 50 pages). Like the core, the Addendum is available as PWYW product at DriveThruRPG.

The Addendum opens with guidelines for using Vocations (the hero’s open concept, like “Barbarian from the Iron Horde”) almost like FATE’s Aspects. This is something that I already did, but it’s great to see the author defining it with more concrete (but simple) rules. For those that don’t like Aspects, there’s no problem: the rules just show you how to use Vocations in a positive or negative way (with Advantage/Disadvantage), also allowing the hero to recharge his Luck.

Next topic is Multiclass. Here SS&SS takes my favorite approach: instead of pre-build kits, it provides simple rules for mixing and matching all Archetypes (Warrior, Specialist and Magic User). Actually, it goes further and lets you built different heroes, like nonhumans. I loved it. My only worry is the balance factor. Multiclass heroes usually requires more XP (game sessions) to advance. I’m not sure that’s the best approach and I’m tempted use in my tables something involving a few “free” Negative Die/Setbacks/Complications per session (or maybe something making Luck harder to recharge, I’m still not sure).

The next topics are a few guidelines for Languages and rules for Zero-level PCs (this last one clearly inspired by DCC RPG). Also inspired by DCC are the Learning New Abilities section, which show us how heroes may gain specific new abilities (like fighting techniques, mystic powers, etc.) and even list a few examples. It’s my favorite approach to PC development and I’m glad to see another RPG embracing it.

Next we get the Blood rule. This basically matches a PC’s Physique ability score as his hit points, which is nice because the game (like many D&D-derived RPGs) is very lethal at lower levels.

The SS&SS Addendum also provides a Sanity & Madness section. I missed more concrete rules here. I believe Madness could be faithful recreated in SS&SS by giving the poor hero a “Madness Vocation”.

Resources & Treasures gives you abstract rules for money and rewards and is another awesome example of the versatility of the Usage Die (I hope to write a review of Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book, which is a game that really shows you how far you can push the Usage Die). Of course, Resources & Treasures is followed by a now classic “Where did my gold go?” table, in perfect Sword & Sorcery fashion (although I missed a gamble aspect to table, like Jeff Rients’ carousing rules).

Next topic is Quick Equipment. It may seem silly, but ready-to-use equipment kits are in my opinion one of the most important rules for any game. Most of my tables hate to buy equipment and when you’re introducing the game to new players (or just want to get direct into action), things like skill/feat/equipment lists are true let downs.

Drunken Luck is our next academic topic, and it’s an awesome variant rule for heroes that bet in their liquor to keep kickass-ing (which reminded me of the equally great rule from the D&D 5E playtest).

Adventuring Companions is a rule to form bonds between the PCs.

Journeys and Travels is a good cut-scene rule, for when you the party must get to the next spot, but the referee also wants to keep verisimilitude – so the PCs make a Luck check to avoid hazards.

After travel hazards we get rules for ‘Strange Effects of Ancient Spellbooks’, 20 new spells, True Names and True Sorcery. This last one is where you get those earth-shattering spells and dooms usually employed by the Evil Wizard of many S&S sources. Here are the guidelines for spells that target armies and affect entire fortifications. While the SS&SS Addendum does provides concrete rules for using True Spells (including the caster sacrificing ability score points permanently), I prefer the old Swords & Wizardry approach, where you basically threat high-level (or epic) spells as unique magic items.

Still talking about the arcane, we get a lite but very flavorful rule for Arcane Corruption, where the more spells a Magic User knows the more inhuman he gets. The next wizardly topics are Rare Ingredients and Drugs & Other Preparations (yes, lotus dust is here).

All those variants and additional rules don’t encumbrance the game and rarely occupy more than a page or two. In fact, it’s amazing how broad the SS&SS Addendum is, because we just reached the middle of the PDF.

Next part is a Monster Generator. This is the supplement’s biggest section and is mostly covered by system-neutral tables with basic ideas and descriptions for monster (aberrations, animals, beings from the future, undeads etc), although at the end we get a list of 100 special abilities (with rules), besides suggestions for monsters’ Weaknesses and a rule for Mooks.

After the monsters we get an excellent rule for creating Rumors, in which the entire table participates. This is a brilliant way of engaging the players, besides helping the referee. I’m extremely tempted to use it in all my tables right now.

SS&SS Addendum isn’t done with us yet. So we get tables and rules for Forgotten Artifacts, Random Life Events, “What Has Changed Since We Left?” (a table used when the PCs return to a town or outpost they’ve visited before) and an Adventure Title Generator.

The SS&SS Addendum is a perfect example of a supplement that highlights its’ Core Book without changing the game’s strong points. There’s so much stuff you can use here that I can’t recommend it high enough – be it for SS&SS, Black Hack or other similar fantasy games.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stealing from the 13th Age - The Icon Relationship Rolls

OK, time to steal the Icon Relationship Rolls from 13th Age (the Archmage Engine) to DCC RPG. In case you’re wandering what I’m talking about, check my 1st post here

Icons are basically 13th Age’s way of dealing with factions. In that game’s standard campaign setting (The Dragon Empire), the Icons are the highest-level NPCs of the world, its movers and shakers. All PCs in 13th Age are linked through their backgrounds to 1-3 Icons, already at 1st level. Usually this relation is through proxies, groups and followers of an Icon, but because 13th Age is all about high fantasy, it isn’t that rare for a 1st level PC to actually have met and interacted with a powerful Icon (it’s already a cliché in 13th Age community the idea of PCs that are bastard children of Icons – especially the Emperor, the Diabolist or the Archmage).

Icons are an excellent way to “ground” the PCs in the intrigues, plots and events of the setting. Instead of placing those NPCs as distant characters, forever busy with ineffable agendas, 13th Age links the PCs directly to them. And the PCs are not random wanderers and tomb raiders, but character linked with the most powerful and influential forces in the world.

The Icons are thus used as building blocs for the setting and also as a great tool to build adventures/campaigns. Each PC starts with 1-3 points of Icon Relationships. These relations can Positive (the PC is an ally of the Icon), Negative (the PC is an enemy of the Icon) or Conflicted (it’s complicated; for example: the PC is a hero, but from a bloodline known to serve an evil Icon). Because the PCs pick Icons at the beginning of the game, the GM knows which NPCs the players want to see in their games. At my table, for example, there is a lot of points invested in The Three – the villainous blue, black and red great wyrms of the Dragon Empire – so I knew that the party would be interacting and facing lots of draconic foes and themes.

OK, how does an Icon Relationship works? At certain times – usually at the beginning or end of a session/adventure – the PCs roll 1d6 for each Iron Relationship in their character sheets. Each ‘6’ means that the PC gets a special advantage due to his/her relationship with the Icon. Each ‘5’ means an advantage, plus with a complication (to make it clear, the PC must still get good stuff).

What is an advantage exactly? In 13th Age that usually means a one-use magic item (potions, runes, oils etc.) or maybe a true magic item if you PC is running low on them. An advantage could also mean some NPC help in a scene or maybe an extra clue/information, or even a bonus to a specific challenge. However, the 13th Age Core recommends that Icon advantages should be narrative in nature (a good place to pick ideas for Icon advantages is by reading D&D 5E’s Backgrounds, especially their special features… things like military rank, access to temples, secret hideouts, alternative identities… all are great examples of benefits derived from Icon rolls).

Big Emp, so metal!
 So, an example: you have 2 Dice of Positive Relationship with the Archmage (the uber-spellcaster of the Dragon Empire) and 1 Negative Relationship with the Emperor (the awesome and probably dragon-rider Melnibonean ruler of the aforementioned Empire). First, that basically means that you have connections and are in good standing the Archmage; at the same time you’re on wrong side of the fence with Greatest Human Nation of the world. Why? I don’t know, that for your PC background. At the beginning of the session you’re lucky and roll a ‘6’ for the Archmage and a ‘5’ for the Emperor. That means your PC has 1 advantage with the most powerful mage in the world and 1 advantage with complications regarding the fact that the Dragon Empire doesn’t like you. What could that mean? Well, it depends on the PC’s level, background and the adventure itself. If you’re our usual low-level dungeon-crawler adventurer, that ‘6’ with the Archmage could mean you found a chest warded by agents of the Great Wizard that only you can unlock – by opening it you find some valuable healing potions. That ‘5’ with the Emperor could mean you found an unlikely ally in the dungeon – an evil humanoid that also deeply hates the Empire! Because this is a ‘5’, you only get his help if the party can help him face a rival tribe of humanoids.

Elminster here is your drink buddy.
If you like improvisation, then you’ll roll Icon Relationships at the start of the game session or adventure; if you prefer to plan the results ahead, then it’s best to use Icon rolls at the end of the session (then you’ll have the time to write all those benefits in the next session). There’s a lot more to the Icon subsystem, especially if you hunt for material created by the 13th Age community, but those are the basics.

As you can see, it’s ridiculously easy to change Icons to Organizations, Churches, Nations, Cults, Clans etc. (I would dearly love to use them in Planescape, to represent the Planar Factions of Sigil) Because the Icon Subsystems is so modular, it can be imported to other RPGs without any modifications (And I’d would run Planescape for AD&D 2nd, of course)


Icon Relationships are a great way of giving more flavor and versality to the Patron Bond spell, especially for non-spellcasters. Allow those bonded to a Supernatural Patron to gain Relationship Dice with their otherworldly masters. Here’s a suggestion for the spellcasting table:

Spellcasting Check
When Cast on Self
When Cast on Other*
As written.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. Instead of that, you gain 1 Relationship Die roll/week with your Patron.
Besides the usual benefits, you gain 1 Relationship Die roll/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 2 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron.
Besides the usual benefits, your Patron grant to you a total of 2 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 3 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
If any of your Relationship Dice comes up with a ‘1’, the enemies of your Patron take note of you (you lose Luck, suffer a mishap, an extra encounter etc.). Yes, that’s a bad thing, spellcasters already have a lot of mojo with invoke patron.
As above (3 Dice and ignore the part about Luck) and you can choose to reroll 1 of your Relationship Dice. However, if the reroll is a ‘1’, the enemies of your Patron take note of you (you lose Luck, suffer a mishap, an extra encounter etc.).
Besides the usual benefits, you have 3 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 4 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
As written.
As above (4 Dice and ignore the part about Luck), but you gain 1d3 extra points of Luck each time a Relationship Die shows a ‘6’ (besides the usual effects of the Die).
Besides the usual benefits, you have 4 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
As above, but you can reroll any of your Relationship Dice. If any ‘1’ shows up you’re screwed.
Besides the usual benefits, after rolling, chose 1 of your Relationship Die. You gain the result as extra Spellburn points.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 5 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
*I usually interpret this as “casting this spell on a non-spellcaster”, that’s why I granted him/her more Relationship Dice. If that isn’t the case with your group, use the “When Cast on Self” part of the table, but always a step worse (if the Spellcheck Result was 28-29, use the 24-27 entry).

On the table above, where you read “per week”, you can instead use “per adventure/module”.

The basic premises are the same: if you roll a ‘6’, your Patron will help you in a small way. For example: you gain 1d3 Luck Points, you find a potion/scroll/one-use magic item, a helpful bit of information regarding the adventure (maybe about a trap, a monster or a secret passage), a friendly contact, a temporary hireling etc.

If you roll a ‘5’, you get the same thing, but your Patron is more demanding or there’re strings attached to the “gift”. For example, you find a lesser magic item, but it’s cursed/stolen; your party is healed but your Patron will revoke the effect if you don’t find that special artifact until midnight etc.

If you want a more universal approach to Relationship Rolls consider linking the Dice to major factions of your DCC RPG campaign. What factions? Well, if you don’t have any, try those implicit in the Core Rulebook. For example:

At the Cleric Class…
- The Churches of Law (the gods Shul, Klazath, Ulesh, Choranus, Daenthar, Gorhan, Justicia and Aristemis);
- The Old Gods (Ildavir and Pellagia);
- The Mysteries of Balance (Amun Tor and other philosophies);
- The Dead Gods (Cthulhu and his ilk from the Void);
- The Cults of Chaos (Ahriman, Azi Dahaka, Bobugbubilz, Cadixtat, Nimlurun and Malotoch).

At the Thief Class…
- The Mob (time to work for the Godfather of Thieves);
- The Beggar King (the disposed, the pariah and all their all-seeing spies);
- The Warren (leaders of the poorer wardens/districts and underworld of cities);
- The Twelve Spider-Assassins (a clue: there’re more than 12).

At the Warrior Class…
- The Order of the Dragon (high-born monster-slayers);
- The Order of Saint Stephen (protectors of pilgrims and the realms of Man);
- The Fraternal Company of the Black Swan (guardians of the borders, used to fight against savage humanoids and demihumans);
- The Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady (a romantic and chivalrous order);
- The Order of the Golden Spur (templars!).

At the Wizard Class…
- C’mon! Look at all those cool and dark Patrons!

The Dwarf, Halfling and Elf Classes are factions into themselves in my opinion.

I'm sure I'm not the only one reading those wonderful boxes after each class!

Note that theoretically there’s nothing forbidding a Warrior from having 2 Relationship Dice with the roguish Mob, for example. Especially if you consider that option of Positive/Negative/Conflicted Relationships.

Each PC that survives the Funnel starts with 1 Positive Relationship Die and 1 Negative/Conflicted Relationship Die (to make things interesting). The PCs gain a new Relationship Die at 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th level.

You might be wandering how to use Negative Relationships? Well, there’s that old proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If you roll a ‘6’ with a Negative Relationship, that could mean that you get help from a monster to defeat another monster. A ‘5’ could mean that your new “friend” wants something in return.

If you use Relationship Rolls during the sessions and run out of ideas, remember that DCC RPG already has a generic reward to use: Luck Points! When in doubt, if a PC rolled a ‘6’, grant him anything from 1d3 to 1d6 Luck Points, explaining it through his Relationships. For example, a Warrior with 1 Relationship Die with the Elves/Positive (either he’s a half-elf or was raised by them) rolls a ‘6’, but the Judge is out of ideas. Well, the Judge could describe a Tuk-Man or Sprite showing up to guide the Warrior through the next encounters. The Tuk-Man/Sprite’s effect is represented by the extra Luck Points.

If you want a third option for Icon Relationship Rolls, here it is: use them to map factions in an Adventure/Module. It’s the same thing but on a smaller scale. For example, let’s imagine a dungeon populated by an evil druid cult, goblins and kobolds (yup, I’m talking about the Sunless Citadel). The entire PC party can gain 1 Relationship Dice at the end of a session for every faction they meet. So, after meeting a few kobolds and helping them, the party gains 1 Relationship Die (Kobolds/Positive). Later, they face the goblins and, at the end of the session, gain another Relationship Die – this time it’s 1 Relationship Die (Goblin/Negative). I suggest capping this at 3-4 Relationship Dice. The result of the rolls can represent hirelings from a faction, supplies, sidequests etc.

For Pathfinder RPG

Most of the ideas above (except the Patron spell) can be used directly in either Pathfinder or D&D 5E.

In Pathfinder you already have a lot of subystems for organizations, contacts and reputations, so the GM will have to think if the Icon Relationship Rolls are necessary. They can be a good alternative as a “lighter” take on factions for Pathfinder. Maybe you can link the Relationship Die effects to Hero Points, or to bring extra NPCs from the Gamemastery Guide or the various Codices.

For D&D 5E

For D&D 5E things are simpler. You can grant each PC 1 Relationship Die, linked to their Backgrounds at 1st level, and grant a new Die every time their Proficiency bonus goes up