13th Age-Style Icons in the Sandbox, Part 5: The High One

In drafting the other twelve icons, I had in the back of my mind a thirteenth icon similar to 13th Age’s Prince of Shadows. This is a compelling archetype, the ambiguous figure that has his (her? their?) fingers in everything, and it’s never quite clear if it is for weal or woe.

I still want a thirteenth icon that acts in a role like this, but I think the Prince of Shadows suggests a different culture than I’m looking for.

I considered the primary influences on this sandbox setting to look for a new icon. I’m hoping to find someone who might interact with all the other icons, but be somewhat ambiguous

  • Eighth-century Scotland doesn’t give me any clear ideas.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain has Arawn, lord of Annuvin, the land of the dead. He mostly acts through others, agents who serve him, and leaves Annuvin only when the reward is worth the risk. So far a good fit, and I was tempted to use him, but he’s cast as entirely evil. I’m looking for something with more ambiguity, so he’s not a good fit.
  • The Riddle-Master series has the High One, who holds the land law of the entire realm. He is held up as one to be respected by all in the realm, and acts entirely through his Harpist… but isn’t what he seems. And what he seems to seem, isn’t even what it seems.

Ah ha.

I wonder if the Arawn and the High One can be merged somehow?

The High One is a legendary figure of history who has not been seen in ages, and yet still has (one or more) representatives known to serve him. He is responsible for the well-being of the realm as a whole. People, even whole kingdoms, can fall without his intervention if it is needed to protect the rest; the War-Torn Cantons are testament to that. However, despite how often civil war washes that region, it does not overflow into neighboring regions.

Arawn… in Prydain, was a mighty warrior who insinuated himself into the service of Achren, queen of Annuvin. After he learned enough from her, he deposed her and took the Iron Crown of Annuvin. He is a shapechanger with the ability to take the form of any creature, but this is also his weakness because he has the same limitations as that creature, and thus can be slain. He has the Black Crochan, a cauldron that lets him make silent, deathless Cauldron-Born; he created the Huntsmen of Annuvin, unnaturally strong and capable hunters who gain further strength from the death of their comrades; he twisted the gwythaints to serve as aerial spies; and his power seduced other lords to his service.

This shouldn’t be difficult at all.

High One

The High One is a remnant of a former age, a being who helped shape the realm itself and exists to promote the realm’s well-being and keep it sound. He is served by several itinerant agents, each of whom are famed across the realm and known to the various rulers. The agents are personally capable, but in the High One’s name work through the various rulers and landholders.

In the last century or so, the High One’s agents have not intervened as often, or when might have been expected. The rise of the foreign icons — the Radiant Lady, the Exemplar, even Lord Seacrest and the Hound — has brought unprecedented change. That the Mountain King lays waste to his mountainous land without sanction might be understandable because it is already constrained to his own land, but the curse of the Unthroned King and the interruption of his wedding to Queen Underhill baffles many.

Design Notes: In this take, a character or creature similar to Prydain’s Arawn traveled to the High One’s seat of power and found it vacant, and had the temerity and gall to usurp it. Somehow the agents of the High One accepted this — perhaps they tired of working in the High One’s name without direction and found that the usurper at least provided them with guidance and goals beyond doing what they thought best for the realm. None of this should be evident to the PCs, of course, or even almost all NPCs. The important bit is that a powerful figure is tampering, increasingly and less understandably, with things across the realms.

Closing Comments

The Prince of Shadows in 13th Age is a deliberately ambiguous and undefined icon that acts primarily as a foil for the others. This icon exists mostly to tamper with the plans of the other icons, and with such complicated and hidden goals that it is not necessary for them to make sense.

The High One, on the other hand, is a trusted icon that works for the betterment of all. Even when the actions taken by the High One’s agents don’t make sense to others, surely the High One has a deeper understanding and longer view than other people in the realm. His agents are implicitly trusted because of the long ages of service and oversight of the High One.

It’s a shame so many are mistaken…

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