A couple days ago I briefly considered using something like 13th Age-style icons in a sandbox setting. Having had a couple days to let it sink in, I still like the idea and I’m ready to develop it further.
Icons in 13th Age are powerful NPCs. They are personally powerful and capable (that is, high level), but that is not the important thing about them.
Each icon has an agenda, or several, that to some degree defines the icon. The Archmage isn’t simply a powerful wizard, but a powerful wizard dedicated to preserving the Empire… and performed experiments that put reality at risk. The Crusader isn’t just a powerful warrior or even a holy warrior, is the fist of the dark gods against a greater threat. The High Druid isn’t just a nature priest, but the champion of the wild and liberator of nature chained by the Empire.
Many NPCs have agendas, but the icons have the wherewithal to bring them to fruition… but are balanced closely enough that none dares risk direct confrontation. Instead, they act primarily through intermediaries, relying on intrigue and agents to advance their plans and achieve their goals.
Shadowy figures with broad, contending agendas manipulating things from behind the scenes? Yes, This could be a useful thing in a sandbox setting,
The icons hold relationships with each other, but they are rarely simple. The Archmage is dedicated to preserving the Empire, so it seems the Emperor would be an ally… but what happens if the Archmage decides the Emperor is not the best for the Empire? Or if the Empire decides the Archmage, staunch ally or not, is too great a threat to leave alone? The Crusader and the Great Gold Wyrm are greatly opposed in alignment (LG vs. LE) but fully committed to preventing demons from overrunning the land and might find themselves allied out of necessity.
In 13th Age, PCs are expected to have ‘three points’ of relationship to icons. Each PC’s relationships might be with a single icon or several, and might be positive, negative, or conflicted. The relationships are sometimes used by the GM to determine the course of an adventure (each player rolls their relationship dice, and if the relationship comes up the GM might incorporate elements of that relationship into the adventure).
PCs might also find themselves in a position where their relationships may be of use. A PC might be able to find allies (a positive relationship with the Great Gold Wyrm might find allies among a paladin order, while a negative relationship with the Diabolist might find the same with followers of the Crusader), or be able to use the relationship to gain a boon in a similar way.
Creating Icons for the Sandbox
The 13th Age core rulebook presents the icons in a fairly abstract manner. The goals and a description of each is provided, but they are not even personally named. In a way they are institutions rather than people — indeed, some have had several people take their roles — defined by their agendas. In the setting they occupy a place somewhere between normal mortals and the gods.
While not deities, icons do represent major elements or themes of a setting. In the 13th Age setting there is a great deal of emphasis on demons from the abyss: the Crusader is committed to destroying them, the Diabolist to outperforming them, and the Great Gold Wyrm’s very body seals the abyss as best it can to prevent them from escaping. ‘Demons’ are a Big Thing. The Archmage, the Diabolist, and the Lich King are all powerful arcanists. The Dwarf King, the Elf Queen, and the Emperor are all rulers. The Great Gold Wyrm, the High Druid, and the Priestess are all powerful divine figures.
It seems unlikely that an icon could exist without aspects of that icon being significant themes in the setting. It would make no sense for there to be a Pirate Queen icon in a setting without piracy, or at least ships and sailing, being important. Important elements don’t need to have icons, but icons represent important things.
So. Each icon represents several things important to a setting. Important things can be represented by several icons. Each icon representing an important thing might have a different view on it, or represent a different aspect of that thing.
Planning Polyhedral Icons
I think for thematic reasons 13th Age presents thirteen icons. It fits thematically, but the core rulebook does mention that historically the icons have changed from time to time. This is usually a significant event (the last time the Orc Lord was present the Lich King fell). The characters who take on the roles change, the natures of the icons change, and even the number of icons change.
I’m going to stick with thirteen icons for now. This is a large enough number that different subsets of icons might be interested in a particular event. That is, there are enough icons that adventures can each be linked to different icons without involving others. I think I’ll want to keep a trickster icon similar to the Prince of Shadows present, and having one more icon than can be comfortably rolled on a single die is helpful.
This leaves twelve icons, each with several interests, with each interest shared (or contested) with others. This sounds like a good fit for a dodecahedron (d12), but I’ll need twenty campaign elements to fit the points. I will not assign campaign elements to the faces at this time. I expect to focus on the ‘face icons’, without exploring at this time the creation of secondary icons on the points.
I will explore the creation of the icons in my next post.