by Mike Shea on 7 July 2014
Though icon rolls are one of the most unique factors in 13th Age, it isn't always the clearest rule to implement. The 13th Age core book describes the use of icon rolls for guiding the story, giving out information, and providing advantages to the PCs. The GM's job is already hard, though, and figuring out how to incorporate icon rolls is an added responsibility we have to juggle. If players don't see you incorporating their rolls, they might feel cheated, yet figuring out how to bring every icon roll into the story can be daunting when piled on with everything else and it isn't very clear how to do so.
In this article, we're going to describe a more refined use of the 13th Age icon dice that hands control and responsibility of icon rolls over to the players. It clearly defines what a player can do with an icon roll of 5 or 6 and gives risk adverse players more options for 5 rolls instead of a strict "benefit at a cost".
This method isn't intended to replace the use of icon rolls defined in the core book. Consider it a set of optional rules you might use if you're having trouble figuring out how exactly to reward icon rolls.
At the beginning of the game, the GM has players roll 1d6 for each of their icon relationships. On any 5 or 6, the GM gives the player a token. 5s should have one type of token while 6s should have another. These might be multi-colored poker chips or silver and gold fantasy coins. You can also hand out 3x5 cards with the relationship and the roll written on it.
When you've handed over the physical token for the icon roll, you're making it clear that it's something the players control. Now they just need to know what they can do with it.
Give the lists below ahead of time to your players so they know the sorts of things they can acquire with their icon roll tokens. Then, during the game, they can toss in a token to acquire one of the following benefits.
Iconic 5 Roll Benefits
Iconic 6 Roll Benefits
Iconic 5 Roll Costs
Some uses of 5 rolls come at a cost, complication, or penalty. The list below are examples of penalties PCs might accept.
13th Age designer, Rob Heinsoo, is famous for "making deals" during his games and icon rolls are perfect examples of the deals one can make. Think of the descriptions above as parts of this negotiation. When a player wants to use their icon roll of 5, it begins a negotiation. The player wants something and the GM determines the cost. The effects above outline the sorts of things that might be negotiated, although negotiations in the story are also perfectly acceptable. Once a deal is made, everyone walks away happy, if more complicated.
It's not enough to simply acquire one of the benefits above. The player who chooses the benefit must also describe how the iconic relationship created that benefit. This is where GMs can turn the story back to the players, letting them alter a piece of the world to fit the insertion of the benefit. It may be directly or indirectly tied to the icon. Perhaps an agent of the High Druid gave the PC a strange herb that lets the group redistribute recoveries or maybe it is simply the PC's ties to the natural world that allows it. Whatever they decide, this is a great opportunity for the GM to "say yes" and open up the world to the interests of the players.
Even if you're implementing this system it isn't the only way icon rolls can affect the game. You can still use icon rolls to steer the story of the game and also use 5 and 6 rolls to determine whether or not PCs acquire information you want them to have.
Like many of the philosophies of the Lazy Dungeon Master, this list of benefits is intended to expand the responsibility of the game to the players while, at the same time, making life easier for the GM to run the game. It also adds some substantial mechanics to the system, making it easier to understand for both you and your players. Give it a try and may the icons smile upon you.