Rewarding Loot with Icon Rolls

by Mike Shea on 29 June 2014

Icon rolls are one of the hallmarks of 13th Age. By tying PCs to powerful political forces in the gameworld and rolling to see which of those forces might be active at the beginning of every game session, we have a whole new way to watch the direction of our game weave through the campaign. If you're not familiar with icon rolls, here's a quick summary:

Every PC has three ties to the campaign's major political forces. Think Elminister, Drizzt, Szass Tam, and Fzoul Chembryl if you're a Forgotten Realms nerd. Think Aragorn, Galadriel, Saruman, Sauron, and Elrond if you're in a Lord of the Rings campaign.

At the beginning of each game session, players roll 1d6 for each icon connection. If they roll a 5, there's a complicated connection to that icon in this game. If they roll a 6, there's a positive connection to that icon in the game. How these threads manifest is up to the GM, although a lazy GM might figure out ways to pass that bit of storytelling over to the players if they're crafty.

In today's article, we're going to look at a way use the icon rolls to make the GM's life easier and also draw the players more into the story at the same time. We're going to learn how to use icon rolls to distribute loot.

Let's have a look.

The Fundamental Rules

As normal, at the beginning of each session, each player rolls 1d6 for each of their three icon relationships. If the player rolls a 6, they are potentially eligible to use that 6 to earn a magic item during the game.

Using open-ended story-based questions, the GM can leave open opportunities for that player to identify a piece of loot dropped from a monster, found in a horde, or in the possession of a defeated villain. The GM might say something like "Valorix the Blue falls! In his vast treasure horde you discover ... " and then points to the player who says something like "a magical shield of the Elf Queen lost for centuries!" and then checks off the 6.

Limiting Power Creep

We can limit power creep by giving out only once piece of loot per level in this method. This way lucky players don't load their PCs down with tons of items while other PCs receive hardly any. In 13th Age, the limit of one item per level should keep PCs in line with their expected overall power.

We can also keep things under control by not letting 6 rolls carry over from session to session. It's up to the players to use their 6 during the game. They're not allowed to horde 6s for those perfect times to acquire powerful loot. Likewise, players can't hand over their 6 roll to another player. Over the course of a few adventures, the odds are good that every player will roll a 6 eventually. If a player does find themselves totally hosed on 6 rolls we can award loot in the normal method but normalizing loot across all PCs isn't the overall goal.

When everyone DOES have an item from a 6 roll, it might be a good sign that it's time to level up.

Handing the Story to the Players

Simply awarding fancy magical items for a 6 roll isn't in line with the spirit of icon rolls. It isn't enough for a player to roll a 6 and acquire a magic sword. When a player decides to use their 6 roll for an item, us lazy GMs can attach a small pricetag in the form of an interesting story.

When a player describes the item they acquire, they should also describe a bit of history of the item and, in particular, how this item ties with the iconic roll they rolled. If they rolled a 6 on a negative relationship with the Lich King, the item might be specially designed to fight the undead servants of the Lich King. If the 6 was on a conflicted relationship with the High Druid, maybe it is a lost weapon forged naturally in the heart of a tree that the agents of the High Druid desperately seek. Whatever item the player chooses, we can use the opportunity to hand part of the story over to them.

Worldbuilding With Loot

We can even take this a step further. As we GMs become more comfortable with collaborative storytelling, we can start to use these item-focused stories to build out our adventures, our campaigns, and our world. These items can become entirely new seeds of stories to come, stories forged right at the table by the combined imaginations of both GM and player. What seemed at first to be a system to make loot distribution a little easier might become an entirely new way of expanding the story we experience.

Transferring to Other RPGs

Like the Icon system itself, this loot system can work with any typical fantasy RPG. The Icon system is completely transportable from one system to another and this loot system can follow along with it. If you're looking for a new way to distribute loot and tie loot to the world of your campaign, give it a try.

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