Saturday, November 9, 2013
Icon Relationships: It's Complicated
The icon rules are one of the big selling points of 13th Age. They connect characters to the setting and give first level characters some stake in the way the world works. The relationship roll at the beginning of each session offers an interesting challenge in plotting sessions. The GM needs to leave in some space to play with. If there's a magic item to be found, or a potential foil for the heroes, its best to leave the specifics of one element up to the opening roll.
I wanted some clear difference between a complicated relationship and a complicated connection roll. It is far too easy to make a six on a complicated relationship feel like a five on a positive relationship roll. A simple fix? Rolling a five allows for a benefit from the icon, but one that complicates a relationship with another player. That buddy of yours allied to the Prince of Shadows? Turns out he's on the Crusader's most wanted list. Or the High Druid gives you a magical item originally dedicated to the Priestess.
Using a relationship roll like this also keeps players who whiff on their opening roll from disappointment. Everyone likes plot candy, so no fives or sixes feels like opening an empty wrapper. Whatever players that don't pull anything on the opening roll come into conflict with the ones who roll fives and stay engaged with the icons even if this session started out on an empty tank.
For those cases where a player makes it through a session without cashing in a five or six, they can roll it forward to a later session. In the later session, they can use it to make a fresh full relationship roll at that time. The certainty of help now becomes the uncertainty of more help later. Sometimes the narrative of the episode doesn't quite get to a place where it makes sense for the icon to show up. The GM can still use a banked roll to weave into the story - that icon's true machinations just didn't become apparent until the right moment. How did the Lich King and the Archmage conspire to make the Elf Queen help out the party's wizard? That sounds like a fun exercise for the GM.