campaign preview & Session Zero plan

My gaming group includes veterans of other systems and relative roleplaying newbies. All of us are still learning to lean into 13th Age's narrative foci--icons, one unique things, and backgrounds.

I ran our first 13th Age campaign. which grew out of a one-shot adventure. When it started, I gave players no guidance.

Throughout the campaign, I felt like I was struggling with character cohesion. For example, their icon relationships were all over the place. The players gelled and have been having fun throughout our 2+ years of campaigning. But I always felt the characters' connections to each other and the setting were weak. That in turn seemed to make everything harder: creating memorable NPCs, creating interesting icon benefits and complications, exploring OUTs.

Part of the challenge was simply me being a brand new GM. Another part of it, I've been telling myself, could be improved with a better start.

One of the hardest parts about dungeon mastering is...letting go of the story.
— Mike Shea, aka Slyflourish, "Random Creativity in Dungeons & Dragons"

Letting go of the story to make room for players to contribute... this was the most important thing I learned while creating this preview.

Originally I identified demons as the main threat. But I eliminated all those references, so the players could decide. In the first draft, I pinpointed the location of the Goldenfields on the Dragon Empire map. I ditched that too.

I included brief descriptions of a handful of NPC residents of Riverborough. I took them out, so they wouldn't take up narrative space the players might want their characters to occupy. I replaced it with a generic list of Riverborough backgrounds to inspire players for creating their own NPCs. Then I took that out too.

 CW's  Supernatural . Artist unknown.

CW's Supernatural. Artist unknown.

I also described in more detail the "vestiges of ancient magic," the racial make-up of Riverborough, and pika. But I took that out, so the truth could be determined by the players' character-creation choices.

In other words, the map image above and the pentagram at right...they both have nothing to do with this campaign.

I'm excited for session zero! I'm eager to be surprised by where the players take it!

Slyflourish's Lazy Dungeon Master helped give me confidence to start GMing 13th Age. My campaign preview is indebted to his "Session Zero of Tomb of Annihilation."

The 13th Age G+ community gave great feedback on the first draft.

Mother Wyrm: Icon of the Radiant Empire

I never appreciated more what 13th Age designers created in the Dragon Empire icons than when I tried to write up my own custom set. This is my favorite of what I've created.

It's unfinished. For example, I'm considering "Wyrmskald," instead of "Mother Wyrm."

And I wonder: does it work to combine singer of the song of creation with the fool? What works about it is this ambiguity--does Mother Wyrm really sing the song of creation? And why would she want you to think she does? A secret search for fragments of creation opens interesting possibilities--the real deal (or a real threat) hiding behind a mask of theatrics or an impostor desperate for legitimacy? Then again, maybe creation's song is a distraction while she pulls the rug of mass public support out from under the serious icons.

Let me know what you think.

Mother Wyrm

Mother Wyrm is the white dragon songmaster with a cunning intuition for captivating the masses. Her laudators claim she sings the very song of creation. That she sang kobolds and draconic peoples into being and even now prepares to sing a new song. But does she?

Quote

“The truth? I always sing truth—the truth they will remember.”

Usual Location

Wyrmsong, an island in the Noxious Sea.

What Everyone Knows

Songs are sung with resonance and dissonance. So also, Mother Wyrm’s song.

Take for example, her dragons. Many dragons respect and freely follow Mother Wyrm—white dragons, of course; but also, other chromatic dragons: blues who turn from the Lightning Witch, greens independent of the Stewardship, blacks undominated by the Queen of the Deep; and those metallic dragons who want to participate more deeply in the world than the detached Noble Eyrie. Among these dragons are what many would call “good” and others they’d call “evil.”

Mother Wyrm’s bardic academies are no different. Vivacity, for one, has no less than 31 academies. Some large and well-respected, producing composers and playwrights noble houses compete to sponsor. Others are no more than one half-drunk “songmaster” with two or three orphaned “apprentices.” Academies split and reunite. Great poets feud in public. It’s all quite entertaining. And somehow, it all serves Mother Wyrm’s ageless song.

Of course, there are those who claim she is a charlatan, a liar and manipulator. Creation's song is lost, or is what the Stewardship stewards, or is not a thing mortals can master, only surrender to. When the subject comes up, some of Mother Wyrm's own followers flash a wink and a grin. Is it a joke? And if so, who is it on?

Adventurers

Many bards have a relationship with Mother Wyrm, for or against. They need not be trained in one of her academies. In fact, she often favors the street busker over the classically-trained.

Adventurers who serve Mother Wyrm and her song gain celebrity, whether they want it or not. Or infamy if not fame. Sometimes her agents masquerade as agents of other icons. After the mission goes dramatically off-script might adventurers suspect Mother Wyrm. Or maybe only when they hear tell of their own exploits from her bards. Especially when her factions clash, they hire hapless adventurers.

When Mother Wyrm’s agents properly hire adventurers, the task tends toward theatrics. Recovering lost fragments of creation may be her only quests that don’t involve playing to an audience. Otherwise, it’s whatever makes for better stories.

For

Once, Mother Wyrm and the Lightning Witch competed like the sisters they are. But now some say Mother Wyrm sings her sister’s comeback..

No one seems to know whether Mother Wyrm and the Sister of Secrets are allies, rivals, or enemies. Perhaps all three.

And it’s said, Valkyrie laughs at none but Mother Wyrm’s jokes.

Against

When it comes to Mother Wyrm, the usually-affable King Hammerhelm loses his sense of humor and the serene Silver Master loses his cool. The Noble Eyrie distains Mother Wyrm’s chaotic, undisciplined interference in the world, while the Stewardship resents her claim on creation. The Divine Empress' theologians also take issue, but some say their clash is about power, not doctrine.

Every tale needs a good villain, which is why Mother Wyrm loves the Vampiress.

The Real Threat

What would happen if Mother Wyrm began the song of creation’s grand finale? Or if the fool became king?

Why 13th Age

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"You guys play D&D?" A friend asked me and another friend. He was new to town, still playing a 4e game online with the group he moved away from, but interested in gathering a new group to play in person.

"I'm in," I said. When I was in middle school, the satanism scare led my parents to forbid D&D. But I loved the art, the imagination, the chance to be with my friends in the kind of stories in the books and movies I loved. I played anyway: a handful of sessions. In high school, another handful of sessions. We spent more time creating characters than playing. I wanted more.

"D&D is out. Pathfinder is in!" said the owner of our local game store, the very next day. My friend and I were convinced. We left with a Pathfinder starter box, and started a campaign. He GMed. I played an elven cleric. It was a blast, except for all the time we wasted looking up rules and modifiers and shuffling 10 pages of character sheets.

"There's gotta be a better way," I thought. I started researching other systems. I discovered Mike Shea. He was running his 13th Age "Moonwreck" campaign and blogging about it. I bought Lazy Dungeon Master and the 13th Age Core Rulebook. I listened to 13th Age co-designer, Rob Heinsoo GM. The 13 True Ways Kickstarter had just concluded: the community was energized. I was hooked.

What I love about 13th Age is the balance of story and math--icons, one unique things, backgrounds, and d20 mechanics with just enough crunch.

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What was hard about 13th Age is that it was designed for experienced GMs. When I started GMing 13th Age:

  • I didn't know when a background check should be based on Intelligence vs Wisdom. 
  • I was not ready to improvise (and neither were my players).
  • I didn't know how to use icon relationship dice.

I played through the awkward and relied on Mike Shea, Rob Donahue, Wade Rockett, and the G+ 13th Age Community. It was worth it.

Now the characters built for a 2015 St. Patrick's Day 13th Age one-shot are just about to ascend to 9th level. One of those players is GMing a level-five 13th Age campaign, the first I've ever played in. Running a session is now easier than the logistics of keeping a gaming group going over time--a pretty good gauge of GM competence and confidence.

It's a great way to waste time with your friends. And if I can give anything back to the community or help someone else get into it, that's icing on the cake.

Creating NPCs in 13th Age

I've been playing with ideas for creating NPCs from 13th Age characters' one unique things, backgrounds, and icon relationships.

I created a chart, inspired by the "Icon Relationship Master Chart" on page 36 of the 13th Age Core Rulebook (or pages 13-14 in the SRD version 3.0). It's a nine block grid--heroic, ambiguous, and villanous icons crossed with positive, conflicted, and negative relationships. Each block offers a handful of seeds for growing NPCs, starting with a character's icon relationships. That seed really comes to life when added to character OUTs and backgrounds.

You can download the chart here. Examples are included.

I wonder, what if NPC creation was part of a "Session Zero" or "Character Creation Session"? Players could be involved in the process too. A chart like this could be really useful.

I haven't playtested this, so I'm open to feedback.

Chasm: dwarf underworld city

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A special offer for blog visitors.

Four pages of adventure-inspiring fun!

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  • a description of the dwarf underworld city of Chasm
  • reasons your player characters might go there
  • a couple of icon-influenced adventure seeds
  • a few NPC sketches
  • a handful of tavern names
  • options for travel scenes
  • three magical items
  • a wondrous item, and
  • a unique potion.

The true nature of the Chasm adventure(s) is up to you, dear GM, and what suits your campaign. You also get to build your own battles!

The dwarf underworld city of Chasm is compatible with The 13th Age Roleplaying Game and is easily ported to any other fantasy RPG system.