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…

Smoother Damage Progression

Some time ago I explored damage progression, how various things that increase damage might be represented with different roles. Much analysis happens there of various options and what they mean, I won’t repeat it here.

I recently had cause to look at the Pathfinder equivalent of the RSRD progression shown in that post, and it exhibits the same things that bothered me there. The Pathfinder table went a little farther than I initially did, so I decided to extend my table and see if I could make something that suited my taste better.

New Damage Progression

The table below presents a new damage progression that provides a smoother mean increase in damage rolls. Not only do the values always increase, but the amount increased never gets smaller from grade to grade, though it does sometimes remain the same for two or three grades in a row.

Grade Damage Mean Delta Mean Min Max
1 1 1 1 1
2 1d2 1.5 0.5 1 2
3 1d3 2 0.5 1 3
4 1d4 2.5 0.5 1 4
5 1d6 3.5 1 1 6
6 1d8 4.5 1 1 8
7 1d10 5.5 1 1 10
8 2d6 7 1.5 2 12
9 2d8 9 2 2 16
10 2d10 11 2 2 20
11 3d8 13.5 2.5 3 24
12 3d10 16.5 3 3 30
13 3d12 19.5 3 3 36
14 5d8 22.5 3 5 40
15 5d10 27.5 5 5 50
16 5d12 32.5 5 5 60
17 7d10 38.5 6 7 70
18 10d8 45 6.5 10 80
19 8d12 52 7 8 96
20 17d6 59.5 7.5 17 102
21 15d8 67.5 8 15 120
22 17d8 76.5 9 17 136
23 19d8 85.5 9 19 152
24 9d20 94.5 9 9 180
25 19d10 104.5 10 19 190
26 11d20 115.5 11 11 220
27 20d12 130 14.5 20 240
28 14d20 147 17 14 280
29 16d20 168 21 16 320
30 30d12 195 27 30 360

The minimum and maximum rolls do not progress as smoothly as the mean. This is mitigated by the number of dice involved: by the time it becomes significant the number of dice is large enough that the rolls will usually be nearer the mean than the extremes.

The number of dice gets pretty silly at the top end, but they are only likely to come up when you’re dealing with a truly big source of damage. I’m pretty sure the spectacle of 19d10 damage (I’m not even sure how you’d get there!) will be memorable.

Pathfinder Damage Progression

This damage progression is taken from the Pathfinder FAQ. The mean values do not increase in as smooth a manner, but unlike the damage progression above neither the minimum nor maximum values never decrease from one grade to the next. This does have value, but I think less than having the mean — which will come up more often as the number of dice increases — rising smoothly is more important.

Grade Damage Mean Delta Mean Min Max
1 1 1 1 1
2 1d2 1.5 0.5 1 2
3 1d3 2 0.5 1 3
4 1d4 2.5 0.5 1 4
5 1d6 3.5 1 1 6
6 1d8 4.5 1 1 8
7 1d10 5.5 1 1 10
8 2d6 7 1.5 2 12
9 2d8 9 2 2 16
10 3d6 10.5 1.5 3 18
11 3d8 13.5 3 3 24
12 4d6 14 0.5 4 24
13 4d8 18 4 4 32
14 6d6 21 3 6 36
15 6d8 27 6 6 48
16 8d6 28 1 8 48
17 8d8 36 8 8 64
18 12d6 42 6 12 72
19 12d8 54 12 12 96
20 16d6 56 2 16 96
21 16d8 72 16 16 128
22 24d6 84 12 24 144
23 24d8 108 24 24 192
24 32d6 112 4 32 192
25 32d8 144 32 32 256
26 48d6 168 24 48 288
27 48d8 216 48 48 384
28 64d6 224 8 64 384
29 64d8 288 64 64 512
30 96d6 336 48 96 576

The rows in italics are my extension to the published table. The pattern is consistent: at every grade starting with the 12th, the dice rolled are twice as many as four grades earlier.


The tables above show the numbers, but I think the charts below make it even more evident how the new progression suits my taste better.

Pathfinder Damage Progression

Pathfinder Damage Progression

New Damage Progression

New Damage Progression

It’s pretty easy to see that the new progression is much smoother in how the mean (blue line) and maximum (yellow line) damage increase. The delta in the mean (orange line) increases more smoothly as well. The minimum (grey) damage is less smooth, but I’m not particularly interested in that.

It is also evident that the new progression is shallower than the Pathfinder progression. I actually like that, and expect it will work better for me when I finally reach into that range.

Closing Comments

Both damage progressions are workable.

The Pathfinder progression is designed so that minimum and maximum values never decrease as the grades increase. It also sticks to more regular dice, using primarily d6 and d8. However, the change in the mean swings back and forth through the grades, so the expected improvement from grade to grade might not be all that much.

The progression I present is designed so the mean values and the delta between them, the expected improvement from grade to grade, never decrease. This requires use of a broader range of dice (d10 and d12 show up almost as often as d6 and d8, and even d20 shows up) and the number of dice will vary from grade to grade. As a result, the minimum value that can be rolled swings back and forth, but while the maximum value that can be rolled always increases, the amount of this increase is not always growing (from grades 15 through 18 the maximum grows by 10, then at grade 19 it increases by 16, then at grade 20 it increases by 6). On the other hand, it swings less than the Pathfinder progression (grade 16 increases by 0, but grade 17 increases by 16… then level 18 increases by 8, and grade 19 by 24).

Another significant difference lies in the values themselves. The Pathfinder progression runs consistently higher in mean, minimum, and maximum values at higher grades. They stay fairly close until grade 20, and then the doubling really starts to have effect and the results diverge. I’ll see if it makes a difference if I’m ever in a position to roll 96d6 damage for something, rather than 30d12.