The Secret of Secrets

Imagine if you will that Star Wars was a role-playing game – the movies, not the actual roleplaying game. There you are sitting around the table, having split the party (never a good idea). While you are running through Cloud City trying to escape, your buddy, let’s call him Chris, is battling Darth Vader in the bowels of the city.

Natural 1.  Chris fumbles his defense roll and Fweem!! There goes Chris’ character’s hand. He makes his save and is holding onto the railing about to fall down a giant shaft. You are completely engaged with the dialogue flying back and forth between Chris and the GM, then this happens:

GM: If only you knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

Chris: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!

GM: No… [whispers something into Chris’ ear].

Chris: [shocked] No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!

You sit and wait for the reveal, but it never comes. Weeks go by. After the campaign ends, the second Death Star destroyed, complete with many inside jokes between the GM and Chris, you finally ask, what was said back there?  Oh, that? The GM told me that Vader was my father.

How anticlimactic would that be?

Secrets (campaign or character) Are Only Awesome When Revealed!

Personally, I think that secrets are only cool when they are revealed. I have had players who come to the table with a cool character secret and expect to ride across the campaign with their secret intact. What is the point in that? RPGs are a social, co-operative game. Secrets, either the GM’s or the PC’s that are never revealed run counter to that. If your character is a dragon, hiding in a world where dragons are feared and hunted down, that is some great story material!! But don’t expect to not be put in situations where that will be revealed. I am not saying that secrets should be revealed in session one, but eventually they should come out.  Because when they do, they tend to be explosive.

A recent, nearly deadly, example:

In one of my 13th Age games, the party had been hired by a being of power, who had been bound to a graveyard and stripped of her name for an unknown crime against the gods. The players had been able to discover that although this entity had done the crime, the punishment was, after many eons, exceeding the crime. This entity was slowly being pushed beyond repentance into madness. The twist was that someone had assassinated all of the gods of knowledge to prevent anyone else from discovering this creature’s name, for true names hold power. The group was searching for the last of these slain gods, Azometh. They had discovered that he was not truly dead, but being held and tortured somewhere in the Land of the Dead.

In a recent session, two new players joined the group right before everyone descended into the underworld to free Azometh. The old group decided they did not entirely trust the new characters and kept the scope of their mission hidden from the new players. When they finally found Azometh, being tortured and repeatedly questioned by a Big Bad Evil Guy from my world for ‘THE NAME’, the truth came out. What happened next was an epic night of gaming. The new characters felt betrayed and could not understand why anyone would risk saving such a bound entity. One of the new players decided that no one should have the name (which would control the entity) and slew Azometh. One of the original players managed to contain some of the god’s essence within himself, while another (a forgeborn who sought to raise Azometh to worship him) went berserk and attacked her god’s slayer.

Suddenly, I had PVP in my game. The Fighter going after the cleric, the cleric trying not to die. The Sorcerer trying in vain to maintain his own identity while absorbing the power of a god. The players had a great time working through their character’s choices and the fallout of the revealed secrets.


I am not saying don’t have secrets in your game. I am not saying don’t come to the table with character secrets. But if you horde them and only reveal them after play is over, you are the only one who cares. If you take the risk of letting your secret come to light, not only do you get that enjoyment of a pertinent reveal, but the rest of the group gets to share in that. And your secret has the potential to change the scope of the game for weeks to come.  Which is more satisfying?

As a GM, present opportunities for secrets to come out, but if they are not yours, let the character decide whether or not to reveal them. They should have the final say, but giving them the opportunity or creating consequences for keeping the secret is fair game!


Jadepunk review is still in the works.  Between work and sickness, it has been a rough couple of days.


Running Your World in Multiple Systems

Welcome back! Are you all still there?  Good.

Today, with my triumphant return, I want to talk about settings. During an interview (coming to the internet later this month) with Rich Baker and Dave Noonan for the Iconic Podcast, Dave explained how Primeval Thule developed and how building for the 13th Age rules influenced the design of the world. This articulated an idea that has been rolling around in my head as I continue to build out Ta’nar.

You should be running your setting in multiple systems.

That seems counterintuitive, I know.  We, as GMs, pick a ruleset that fits with the style and genre of game we are going to play.  Some of us even develop a setting specifically out of a game we want to try.  And all that is ok.  But there is something very beneficial to viewing your world through the lens of multiple systems.

When I started Ta’nar (back when it was Ta’an Nar), I was writing it for the Hero system.  This was fantastic as I was able to build anything I wanted.  Yes, it was time consuming, but it was also freeing.  The world was my limit. And I ran a number of great games with that iteration. Ta’nar was a world I wanted to keep playing in, so when I became intrigued with ACKS, I started a conversion of the world to that system.  ACKS, as you may already know, is an OSR game that has a heavy focus on Domains. While I was trying to convert Ta’nar, I discovered that the ACKS ruleset add a lot of verisimilitude to the world.  Suddenly, I had a mechanical reason to look at the nations, the towns, and even the map of the continent.  This is content that I might not have gotten around to writing for years, but ACKS forced me to dig into it.

13th Age forced me to take a good look at developing the movers and shakers of the world and the conflicts I wanted to explore.  DnD Next/5e helped me define the new races I wanted to incorporate.  And RQ6 is guiding me through establishing the pantheons, cults, and magics of the world.

Again, this is all material I might have eventually come up with.  But by interpreting my world through different systems, the content is developing in ways I could not have imagined.

Some of My Icons

In response to some inquiries about my home world, I thought that today, instead of a review I would post my icons from my Player’s Guide.

Icons of Ta’nar –

The Black Duke – Yizgarth

hails from the island kingdom of Yalith and is lord of the soul-stealing Banetal.  He has sent his agents and thralls southward where they scour the Desolates searching what the Duke desires.

The Condemned – The Rivener

is a mystery from a previous age.  The wight travels about Sentali, seeking out the gnarls of fate that would cause global upheaval and ends all involved with amoral brutality.  Constantly seeking absolution for an unknown crime, his bloodstained trail crisscrosses the continent.

The Dracolich – Zenhir

born from the ashes of the Fifth Age, the Dragon Emperor has risen again, set free by the deeds of foolish mortals. The dread Zenhir seeks to reclaim what was taken from him at the turning of the Sixth Age. Namely, the world and all within it.

The Empress – Reayne of Kardane

is the ruler of the largest empire on Sentali. Ensconced the north of the Desolates in Mo’zanbaal, her eyes and agents are focused southward pursuing the stability of Grand Empire.

The First Born

is a presence that forms foul cults dedicated to those beyond the wall of time.  None know who or what the First Born is, but daemons answer the call of its faithful.

The Grasp of Vengeance – Hystal

is more than just the first among equals in the hierarchy of the Cult of Shadow’s Reach.  The priest is rabid in his devotion to the goddess Ganagal, Mistress of Vengeance and will use whatever power, born within this world and without, to assure his mistress’ dominion of Ta’nar.

The Guild of Falling Leaves

is ostentatiously a trading guild with routes that spread like a web through Sentali.  However, the Guild also trades in contraband products and deeds, guided by the enigmatic Father of Acquired Gain.

The Hosts – The Pantheons of Sentali

contain a myriad of Immortals, Celestials, and Empyreals. Many worship the whole of a pantheon or focus their efforts towards the cult of a single god.

The Lord of Undeath – Demoloth

is a name still feared in Sentali.  A Daemon Lord from a previous age, its touch was never truly scrubbed clean from the surface of Ta’nar, and its presence lingers in the dead places of the world and within the bodies of the Pale Elves.

The Keeper of the Sands – Ullia Stonehoof

watches over the independent town of Wildcove.  More than that, the Auxeness has formed a bond with the lands of the Desolates, and seeks to preserve its identity in the face of those who would claim it.

The Magistier – Berilond the Wise

ruler of the High Elf sky city of Innoril, Berilond is heir to a legacy of Elven magics that stretch back to the dawn of time.  He is consumed by the desire to see the High Elves reclaim their relevance in the 7th Age.

The Possessed King – KurNokThal

is blessed or cursed by the near constant presence of Dwharven god, Mogondral.  The heir to the lost throne of Draggnaul, the Dwharven god-prince serves as banner and warning to his kin in the Desolates.

The Spellqueen of Estaliin – Shajell Jaluth

rules the hidden refuge of the Wood Elves.  Aware of all that occurs within her demesne, the Spellqueen senses the encroachment of ancient powers that seek to consume her people in chaos and fire, and plots to end them.

The Wanderer

crops up in the myths and legends of Sentali.  It is his lawful guidance that keeps the world from falling into darkness.
For this post, I am just shared the overviews of the icons.  In October, I plan on posting the full page write-ups. Let me know what you think.

Book of Loot Review

One of my many purchases at Gen Con and the first in a long list of products that I plan to review is the Book of Loot for 13th Age.  I immediately started reading it on the long drive back home.  The Book of Loot was a book I had been eagerly awaiting.  I really wanted a larger range of items to hand out to characters; I am running three 13th Age games, and certain items keep showing up in every game (like the Wand of the Mage’s Invisible Aegis).  Add the crazy nature of 13th Age True Magic items to Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s creativity (Gareth is quickly becoming one of my favorite RPG writers), and you are left holding a damn-fine tome of magic items.

Book of Loot Review


The Book of Loot is a 72-page, black and white softcover.  One of the first things that stands out to me about the book is the paper quality.  It is thick and glossy and much nicer than what I am used to seeing in a splatbook-style publication.  You can buy a copy at the Pelgrane Press site (here) which includes a copy of the PDF, or you can support your local FLGS by purchasing it there.


The book opens with a brief overview of what the book contains (Loot!) and a reprint of the default item bonuses from the Core rules.  Just like in the 13th Age Bestiary, we also have a number of fun lists of entries that demand to be looked at in-depth.  Check out Items that Demand a Story and Campaign-Defining Artifacts.  They practically write your adventures for you.

The Icons

The bulk of the book consists of the magic items listings.  But Gareth puts a 13th Age spin on the layout by organizing the items by Icon.  So when you are planning your game or when you have to pull an Icon connection out of a hat, you can just flip to the Icon you need and find a plethora of themed items.  And themed they are: the Crusader’s items are cruel, the Orc Lord’s brutal, and the Dwarf King’s are….well… dwarfish, just to mention a few.  Finally, each Icon’s section ends with three adventure hooks.

I will be honest, in most game systems, I don’t read the magic item books.  Oh, I buy the book, but I don’t like reading them.  I might skim through them, but I usually trust the random table or search for a specific item.  But the quirks for each item, as well as their descriptions, make this book a fun read. Not only did I read the Book of Loot cover to cover, but I read a significant portion out loud to my wife and our friend while we drove across Kansas.  We were laughing so hard it made Kansas bearable.  KANSAS!

The book wraps up with some new one-use items and a summary table of the items found in the book by item type. I originally wished that this table was comprehensive, ala the Bestiary, but as I was writing this review, I remembered how quickly the Bestiary’s table was rendered obsolete.  Here’s hoping that Pelgrane puts a magic item list together on their website, like they did for the monsters.


At $17.95, this book is a steal.  You greatly expand the scope of the True Magic items for your 13th Age game, receive at least 39 adventure ideas, and will enjoy the time you spend reading the book.  Honestly, after realizing that Gareth made my journey through Kansas enjoyable, I might just go out and buy this book again.

Faction Status – A Parallel Use for Relationship Rolls

Recently, I bought a number of Planescape products.  These books and box sets were thoroughly scoured and have been sitting in the back of my mind.  I have been slowly churning them around with the various other gaming products I have been reading, which have been mostly 13th Age related (as I have been working on the Iconic Podcast).  It seemed pretty clear to me that the Factions of Sigil would be a great place to start looking for Icons within the setting, and with the recent posts on the G+ community on alternative uses for relationship rolls coupled with the fact that we are looking at doing an entire show on these rolls, the following idea hit me.

Version 0.1


The ideas laid out here will be fleshed out and revised through use, but this seems like a solid first pass.  Or at least enough of an idea to share.  The GM can (and probably should) limit the Icons for which these rules apply on a campaign basis.  While any of the following ideas could be simply used as a variety of options for Icon Relationship Rolls (IRRs), my goal was to provide a loose framework for a GM to use within their games to allow for factions and Icon organizations.  I tend to be an improvisational GM, so loose frameworks like this provide me a lot of aid at the table.

Faction Status revolves around the idea that the Icons (whether they are true factions or not) have a power structure that they influence and control.  The Icon Organization paragraph from page 38 of the 13th Age Rule Book shows this to be true for the Icons of the Dragon Empire, “Most of the time that you’re interacting with an icon, you’re actually interacting with his or her lower-level functionaries, acolytes, disciples, bureaucrats, lieutenants, barons, or priests. Functionaries are the GM’s best friends, and they can be your worst enemies.”

The PCs, therefore, can interact with these organizations (which for our purposes will be referred to as factions) during the course of play as their Icon dice show 5s and 6s.  What if these successful IRRs represent moments where the PCs stand out and gain status with the Icon’s organization?

The GM would keep track of the total of 5s and 6s the players rolled with their Icons over the course of the game.  The total would represent the PC’s current status within the faction.  PCs, as they triggered interactions with their Icon, would climb in status with their Icon’s organization and as they crossed certain thresholds, gain benefits from their status.  This would be in addition to any session bonuses the players & GM used the IRRs for.

False Heights & Sudden Crashes

Before I get into the tiers of rewards for faction status, let’s talk about those pesky 5s.  5s on an IRR represent a complication to the interaction with the Icon.  In terms of Faction status, this represents an inflated standing in the organization.  Perhaps it was exaggerated in the telling or was secretly a plot by the Prince of Shadows that turns out to hurt the faction in the long run.  The next time a PC takes a campaign loss, the bubble bursts, and they lose all the points they had with the faction that were generated from 5s.  Harsh, but a faction’s love is fickle, and rising stars can come crashing down.

Tiers and Rewards

Ideally, each Icon would have a tailored list of faction rewards by tier, and if this idea takes off, I may further flesh out this idea on the blog.  Rewards are static bonuses as well as additional ways to spend IRRs(e.g. ways for PCs to use their 5s and 6s during a session).  But for the purposes of this post, I am going to give some general ideas as well as some themed examples.  These would be in addition to any faction specific story bonuses that the GM would want to exploit.

“Who Are You?” Rank 0 – (0-5 Status)

The PC is defined solely by their Icon dice.  The Icon reaches out to them or they can draw on the connection for knowledge, but no real benefit is gained beyond the basic IRR.

“Initiate” Rank 1 – (6-15 Status)

At this level, the Icon’s faction become aware that the PC exists.  The faction can be sought out, and basic aid will be rendered.

Static bonuses include:

Faction Safe House – The PC is able to find the faction’s base of operations and procure safe lodging or passage for the group.  A 5 could represent that the term ‘safe’ is relative.

Faction Goods – The PC has a sure source of replacement or new gear, as well as access to 1d6+1 potions or oils.  For a reasonable price, of course.

IRR bonuses include:

Power of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Emperor, Dwarf King, Orc Lord) – Short term tactical knowledge gives the PC a +1 to hit or damage with weapon attacks (+2 at Champion, +3 at Epic) for the session.

Wisdom of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Archmage, Diabolist, Prince of Shadows) – Using the wealth of information available to such Icons, the PC gains a +2 to background rolls on a specific subject for the session.  Like how to pick the locks within the Stone Thief, or riddles in the dark.

“Up and Coming” Rank 2 – (16-25 Status)

By this point the PC has established himself by word and deed.  The Faction is willing to take some risks in dealing with them, as they have proven that their relationship with the Icon is not just a passing craze.

Static bonuses include:

Faction-Specific Ability – The PC is granted an ability that is iconic for the faction.  Such as the Dustmen’s ability to be ignored by undead until they take a hostile action in Planescape.

Faction Background – The PC gains a +2 background that is faction based.

Sure Source of Aid – The PC at this point counts on the faction to provide aid beyond just shelter.  The resources and manpower of the faction may be put to use for short-term gains.

IRR bonuses include:

Specific Gear Loans – Need a flaming sword to clear out a troll den?  Or perhaps the crystalized soul of a dead god of light for a ritual?

Power of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Emperor, Dwarf King, Orc Lord) – The PC is granted a martial bonus appropriate to the Icon for the rest of the session.  Perhaps the Orc Lord grants Dangerous to his followers or the Emperor provides a buffer of ‘fake’ HP that exists only for the purposes of resisting fear, shoring up the PC’s defenses with righteous fervor.

Wisdom of the Icon Rewards (e.g. Archmage, Diabolist, Prince of Shadows) – The PC is granted, through research or interaction with the great minds of his faction, the answer to a question he seeks.  Perhaps a campaign goal is now understood, a riddle is solved, or a word of binding sends the rampaging demon back to the Abyss.

Face of the Faction” Rank 3 – (26 – 35 Status)

The PCs are the movers and shakers of the faction.  While there are those higher up in the organization, the PCs have become powers in their own right within their Icon’s faction.

Static bonuses include:

Faction Background – The Faction background increases to +4.

IRR bonuses include:

Henchmen – The faction sends out a junior member with the PC to accomplish a specific task.  The Henchmen provides a bonus to hit = to ¼ of the PC’s level (rounded up) and a bonus to damage of 1d6x ¼ the PC’s level.  It has an appropriate background of 6+¼ the PC’s level (round up).  The Henchman only has 20 HP per tier, and if he dies, the PC loses 1d6 faction points (x2 at champion, x3 at epic).

Faction Assault (1x per tier, subject to GM approval) – The power of the faction is at the PCs disposal.  Rather than deal with an encounter, the PC can have his faction handle it.  Narrate how the PC sent this aid, and do not count this towards the group’s four-battle counter.  Also, make sure to let the Faction grab what it can for itself in the way of gold or treasure from the encounter.  After all, this kind of aid is never cheap.

Resurrection (1x per tier.  Costs 10 status points) – The faction protects its own at this level.  They have invested a lot in the PC and don’t want to see all that effort go to waste.  But getting killed is a huge drain on their resources, so expect it to burn some bridges.

Gift of the Icons – Whether a piece of sacred knowledge, magic token, or insightful training, the PC gains the use of a daily power from a class, or may cause a power the currently possess to recharge as a save one step easier (hard becomes normal, normal becomes easy).

Note: This list of powers and Ranks is not supposed to be exhaustive.  It is but a sample to be expanded and built upon.


In my Ta’nar game, I have a nice web of how the Icons interact with each other.  This is important, because as the PCs gain status with their faction, opposing factions begin to align against them.  Also, no one rises high in an organization without stepping on some toes.  PCs’ rise to status can be seen as happening at the expense of others.  This framework provides some interesting interpretations for 5s on IRRs.  Are the PCs’ plans opposed by a rival faction or sabotaged from within by rivals jealous of their status?

It would also be possible for this status to represent a more nebulous “enemy of my enemy” rank.  PCs could be calling on these favors from factions opposed to the Icon in question.  For example, if you are gaining ranks in Opposition to the Lich King, the faction benefits could represent aid from the servant of other factions.  The PCs status would be representative of their resistance status in opposing a Negative Icon.


Hope this provides a basis for an interesting use for IRRs as well as some great story fodder for your campaigns.  Any thoughts or feedback would be greatly appreciated.  Let me know what you think.  Would you use this system?  If so, how?


13th Age Bestiary Review

Bestiaries.  Books of monsters that are available for most game lines are among my favorite RPG products.  I enjoy reading adventures more than bestiaries, but bestiaries are a close second.  A good bestiary sparks my imagination and provides me with hours of enjoyment from behind the screen.  And, enjoyable is the word I would use to describe the 13th Age Bestiary.  The pure fun of this book is evident on every page and can be seen in the design of the creatures in this book.  The authors clearly had fun as they created this book and had fun as a goal.  They succeeded, and for me, have raised the bar on what I consider a great bestiary.

The 13th Age Bestiary


This bestiary is a gorgeous 240 page book with 202 monsters for use in your game.  You can snag a PDF preview here.  I would recommend purchasing the hardcopy (which you can buy through your FLGS or here).


The book begins with a brief introduction on what you will find within.  Then we are presented with a unique set of encounter lists.  Rather than giving us lists by environment, the 13th Age authors give us lists of monsters who might negotiate, ransom you, lay eggs, etc.  My favorite list is ‘Monsters Voted Mostly Likely to have Slain an Icon’.  The introduction wraps up with some advice on building interesting and unique encounters.

The Beasts

Like the Numenera Bestiary review, I will be focused more on presentation than statistics.  This goes beyond just not wanting to spoil the monster line up for the readers.  Some of these monsters, the ones that really capture my imagination, have mechanics whose fun could be ruined if revealed.  In 13th Age, the designers have given us beasts that are as fun to run for the GM as the classes are to play for the characters.  So make sure you read through the mechanics as you are skimming the book; there is a lot of humor and cleverness buried within this book.

Each entry has a brief introduction of what a campaign’s take on this monster could be.  You are actively encouraged to make each monster’s story your own for your campaign.  Monster stats then follow in typical 13th Age format.  Included with some monsters are nastier specials, which really turns their difficulty up.

Advice is given on how to build battles with the creature.  This includes where they are found and what other creatures they would work with.  With the importance of Icons in 13th Age, it is no surprise that typical Icon relationships for the creature are touched on.  Some monsters have a section on what players might find on the bodies, which is usually humorous.  The monster entries wrap up with adventure hook ideas.

The monster mechanics bear mentioning.  We find typical RPG fare coupled with 13th Age-specific mechanics (using natural d20 rolls to trigger powers).  There are, however, some great mechanics that break the rules of the game.  Whether the breakage is of a specific rule found in a 13th Age book or the implied rules of how RPGs work, you will find some unique monsters that play with players’ preconceived notions (check out the Redcap).  They also simplified some standard fantasy tropes, making them easier and more enjoyable for the GM to keep track of.  Kobolds, known for their penchant for trap creation, are just one of the creatures that spring to mind that received this treatment.

Monster Creation & Appendices

The Bestiary wraps up with advice on monster creation, everything from tweaking existing monsters to building them from scratch.  The authors give some advice (as well as design insight) to the use of abilities that key off of natural d20 rolls and the escalation die.  It is a nice peak behind the curtain to view the design ideology behind these mechanics.

The appendices collate the random ability rules for demons, dragons, and dire creatures as well as an unified monster table.  This is already obsolete with the release of 13 True Ways, but Pelgrane provides an updated monster table on their website.


If you are running a 13th Age game, go get this book.  Beyond the ready to use monsters, the book contains a lot of abilities and design methodology that you can steal for use in creating your own beasts.  The 13th Age crew did a fantastic job expanding the creatures found in the basic book into realms both familiar and strange.

Iconic Announcement

After weeks of dropping hints about a secret project, I get to pull the curtain back today and share the news with you all.  I am starting a podcast!  It is called Iconic and you can find the website here.  My co-hosts (Nick and Mark) and I will be bringing you 13th Age goodness twice a month starting on the 21st.

On the 14th you can download our Episode 0, which will serve as a brief introduction to the show’s hosts and format.  We have already recorded an interview with Rob Heinsoo as our third episode, and we are lining up interviews with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (author of the 13th Age Free RPG Day adventure, the upcoming Eyes of the Stone Thief living dungeon, and the Book of Loot) and Tim Brown (of Dragon Kings) as well.  The plan is to also do bonus episodes unrelated to 13th Age.  Currently we have plans to talk about ACKS, Cypher, DnD Next, Mice and Mystics, and my world of Ta’nar.

So tune in, leave feedback, comments and, ideas for the show here or at

Below is the announcement that we will be plastering over the internets:

Greetings, 13th Age fans.  On July 21st, we are launching the Iconic Podcast, a show dedicated to 13th Age and gaming goodness.  We will be posting new episodes every other week, and each will spend around 30 minutes looking at different aspects of the 13th Age system.  On occasion, we will also have interviews with contributors to 13th Age (eg Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan).

Part of what makes 13th Age so great is the fan community.  Because of this, we plan on reviewing fan-created resources and sites and would love to interview you about your 13th Age game.  If you are interested in appearing on a show, or if you have an idea for a cool segment, a question about the game or rule, or just want to tell us about your game, please email us ( or call us (720-924-1706).

As a preview, we will post our Episode 0 on July 14th, where we introduce the hosts and show. Be sure to tune in!

Bonus Content:  Domains at War, Autach’s mass combat system for their game Adventurer, Conqueror, King (which I reviewed here) is available for sale now at  Go check it out, the playtest rules were fantastic and promised to be easily adaptable to any d20 style game.  I am planning on writing reviews on both books in the upcoming weeks.