by Mike Shea on 7 August 2014
The monster leveling system on page 253 of the 13th Age book lets you asymmetrically tune monsters around the capabilities of your specific set of PCs to keep the challenge up. High damage output? Level them up and double their HPs. Not enough threat? Level them up and give an extra attack. High PC defenses? Level them up and give them +6 attack. It's a great way to differentiate monsters and break them in all sorts of interesting ways.
When building encounters for six 9th level PCs, build a hard encounter and then throw in two additional double-strength monsters to really increase the challenge.
13th Age lacks environmental effects but makes up for it with a wide range of interesting monster types. Instead of environmental effects we can add "smoke minions" and "sentient flames" that are really just reskinned monsters.
End a campaign with a "five years later" montage that lets players build some fun closure for their PCs. It's a great way to add a final dose of group storytelling to a campaign.
Giving the PCs the chance to plan a multi-group assault is a fun non-traditional activity. Let them choose NPCs to send in as leaders for the assault. Spend time planning ahead so they can make meaningful choices about who should be assaulting what.
The death, birth, or release of an Icon is a great way to end a 13th Age campaign.
Our band of adventurers returns from their hellish adventures in the Underworld after slaying Valak the Demon Lord and recovered the Key to the Obelisk. This key, the physical form of Axxyÿs (one of the PCs), can be used to unlock or destroy the Obelisk, an extra-dimensional portal between the Dragon Empire and a universe of anti-life known as the Dark. Imprisoned in the Obelisk is the Green, once one of the five dragon rulers now known as the Three.
Having returned to their floating citadel, renamed the Spire of Stars b. Kel'tor the Sorcerer, the PCs face a host of dragons and mercenaries loyal to the Three. The Three's forces now control the Obelisk.
With armies of mercenaries and dragons guarding the three bridges leading across the sea of molten rock and iron leading to the island holding the Obelisk, the PCs must decide which of their NPC allies will wage an attack across the bridges while the PCs fly in with the Spire of Stars and teleport into the chamber holding the keyhole of the Obelisk.
The party sends Bulvai the Moon Elf on one bridge with a host of animated skeletons left over by the Lich King's servant, Morgos, in the Spire of Stars. The ogre paladin Guut takes another of the bridges. Silvermane the silver dragon and servant of the Great Gold Wyrm attacks on a third bridge.
I wish I had spent more time setting this up and giving the players better ways to decide who should attack what, sort of like the ending of Mass Effect 2. I could have used the Icon rolls to better determine which champions would have been successful and let this lead into changes in the final battle. This sort of planning is where the concepts of the lazy dungeon master fall down.
Just then, the consciousness of the Spire of Stars informs the PCs that an intruder is on the ramparts of the Spire. Rushing up to the rampart they find an archmage ambassador of the Three who offers a truce. If the PCs give up the key to the Obelisk, no war needs to be waged. The party justifiably tells him to go jump off a bridge. The archmage splits into two clones and the dragons Skybolt and Shadeclaw appear and attack.
An epic battle ensued with the huge blue dragon Skybolt (huge 12th level), the huge black dragon Shadeclaw (huge 9th level), and two Emberscale archmages (reskinned double-strength level 11 Medusa Nobles).
We had six level 9 PCs which should come out to the equivalent of six level 11 monsters. The blue, the black, and one other level 11 normal-strength monsters should have been enough. Instead, knowing the high power of this party, I increased the level of the black dragon to 10 and doubled his hit points using the rules for leveling on page 253 of the core book. This put a total of 3,000 hit points worth of monsters on the table for an encounter that went a full six rounds. Adding two double-strength archmages made the battle quite a bit more difficult.
In a furious and difficult battle, the PCs vanquished the archmages and threw the corpses of both dragons off of the ramparts for the armies of the Three to see.
As the PC-selected NPCs made their assaults, the PCs traveled in to the island holding the Obelisk on the Spire of Stars. The Spire's magic teleported the PCs into the chamber holding the base of the Obelisk. Inside the chamber they saw the Obelisk itself bound by three glyphed chains over a rift between this world and the Underworld, the lair of Valak the slain demon prince. Between them and the Obelisk was Infernus, the ancient red dragon and champion of the Three.
During their battle, Infernus breathed out 1d4 sentient smoke minions (level 12 mooks) and two sentient flames (Reskinned level 9 Fire Giant Warlords). He would respawn 1d4 smoke minions every round putting a lot of pressure on the PCs to kill the minions before they got overwhelmed. This was a fun bit of tactics for the players to worry about. The fire giants never actually hit anything during the fight but their threat was still there. The sentient flame and smoke minions were all tied to Infernus. Kill Infernus and all the other monsters die too. I made this clear to the PCs ahead of time.
Infernus himself was a monster. He would breathe on a pile of PCs for 80 damage and has a chain of up to five claws, bites, and tail slaps for 70 each. This is a ton of damage.
Like the first fight, this one was overpowered in favor of the monsters and there were a few times where I thought a TPK might be on the way. If the sentient flames hadn't missed, I'm not sure the PCs would have survived. A great victory for a challenging fight.
With Infernus slain, the PCs had a big campaign-closing choice to make. What do they do with the Obelisk? Here were the options:
After much debate, the majority of the players chose to release the Green. As the chamber cracked open, a massive green claw as big as Infernus himself broke through. The chamber shattered around them leaving it open to the sky. With a maddening roar, the Green took flight and soared into the sky.
With 1,000 years imprisoned in a world of anti-life, the Green is no doubt insane. We believe him to be chaotic neutral in alignment. He is a risk to all of the other Icons, particularly the Elf Queen and the Three.
And thus ended the campaign of Moonwreck.
With the game ending somewhat late, I didn't have time to ask, but I greatly want to hear the players describe what has happened five years after the release of the Green. A montage like this is a great way to put closure on a game and a great way to add some group storytelling into the final session. You never know what threads may end up starting an entirely new campaign.
Through email, the players in our campaign wrote up short summaries of their characters set five years after the release of the green.
Nialas the Gray
Nialas the Grey scours the libraries of the world, delves into the ruins of lost and forgotten kingdoms, and travels to far flung planes of existence seeking knowledge, secrets, and magical artifacts of great power. Having discovered a taste for the blood of Icons, he yearns to drink more and someday ascend to the ranks of the Icons himself.
The Grey has a nice ring to it. His sphere of influence would extend to the acquisition of dangerous knowledge and secrets, and the unflinching willingness to use it.
Kel'Tor the Sage
After some efforts to refurbish the Spire, Kel'tor takes off. The citadel will need a new source of power eventually - preferrably one that doesn't require souls, as that always gets teams of heroes irritated - but the absorbed demon lord will keep it powered for a good while longer.
For now, he has a more important goal to follow: the Green. He follows the crazed new Icon, in order to perhaps soothe it, to teach it about the current world, and to learn from it.
He has already learned that the body is a flimsy vessel, a poor limiter of power. Now he seeks further transcendence.
Ambros, champion of the Elf Queen
One Thing Ends, Another Begins
Ambos watches the Green race toward the heavens, and wonders what he has done. Subtly, at the back of his mind, he feels the forces of law and order that he has sworn his life to, the source of his power, express their disembodied disapproval of his choice. As he leaves the citadel, he knows he has never been as conflicted as he was this day.
Over the following months, the source of his power slowly abandoned him. His martial prowess grew as he had to rely less and less on the power given him by his devotion. The Elf Queen spoke to him no more. He wandered the lands, well-off from the treasures gained through his career, but with an impoverished spirit.
Eventually, all of his devout, holy powers left him, and he was little more than a skilled warrior. He was down and felt unsupported. He could not return to his Order, as they would surely censure him for his decision. He could not turn to his Icon; she had rebuked him. In the following years, he worked toward physical perfection and battle prowess, but it felt empty, and he was without cause or purpose, a force without direction.
After a particularly difficult battle, he was left as the lone survivor in a field of fallen warriors. He surveyed the destruction and death and wondered if this was all his life had become. He drew his long dagger and pointed it toward his own belly, preparing to end his losses with one last payment. As he was about to thrust the blade toward himself, his vision took on a green tint, and he heard a voice in his mind say, "So, I find myself in need of an Avatar..."
Charisma Jones the Fashion Designer
Now to know what became of Charisma Jones, is a good tale. One you are familiar with.
Today it is well know that until the unleashing of the Green, CJ was bored with the colors of the world. It was the Green and working with the Gray that made him feel inspiration again. He had not felt this for centuries
The glistening of the scales, the madness in the Green's eyes. The sense of impending doom. The lack of color depth in Nialas the Grey's clothing. All of this lead to something the world had never seen. A new wonder.
Today, everyone loves CJ for the beauty he's brought the world. Consumer home jewelry. All sold at at affordable prices.
I know you've seen the advertisements posted on the walls of the your local bazaar.
"CJ's Amazing and Undoubtedly Magical Fear Preventing, Doom Mitigation Line of designer jewelry"
Remember it's not how you feel, it is how you look - and you know you look fabulous wearing a CJ.
Bulvai, the last moon elf
After eliminating the threat of an anti-life pandemic known as 'the Dark' Bulvai, Moon Knight of the 13th Age, and his companions went their separate ways. Bulvai returned to the Court of Stars and told the Elf Queen the Dark had been neutralized, the Green set free, Morgos and his forces were destroyed, and the Three and the Lich King were prevented from gaining control of Obelisk and Moonwreck itself. He also informed the Queen he had convinced the Green it was the Lich King who had imprisoned him, killed the White, and betrayed you and the other icons in a mad scheme become all powerful. Also, that the Three had sought to destroy him so he could not challenge their supremacy over Dragons. Soon after, the Green laid waste to much of both the Necropolis and Drakkenhall in his fury.
The Queen hailed Bulvai a hero of all Elves and granted his long-standing request to marry Kestaria, the Queen's favorite bard and close confidant. Two years later they had twins sons, the greatest adventure of all.
Axxyÿs the Keyholder
Dust choked his nostrils as Axxyÿs came to, flat on his back in the dark. Staring upwards, the drow gradually noticed the rough masonry snaking hundreds of feet up to a pinpoint of light. Another tomb, he thought, but at least this one has a way out.
His memory hazy with images of tormented creatures and unending heat, he reflexively patted his side. Still missing, he thought, must keep searching. Scanning the room, his eye caught a black reflection that brought a flood of memories. His heart, momentarily buoyed, sank just as quickly.
The relic he had carried longer than he knew had been split in two, a jagged slash of incredible force cracking the onyx. Axxyÿs held it in his hands, but the internal power he had once felt was gone. The three signature claw marks - black, red and blue - no longer pulsed with arcane light. He tossed it aside, yet felt little relief.
After struggling halfway up the air shaft, he could finally make out sky and clouds. Reaching for the next grip in the shadows, his hand felt something strangely familiar, resting in a clever niche that even a rogue might miss. Axxyÿs pocketed it without thinking and continued upwards until he breathed clean air and felt the soft ground.
Only then did he realize that the sense of need had finally returned, a haunting weight in his pocket. Turning over his new find, Axxyÿs was amazed at the resemblance to the original. His fingers traced the fresh green claw mark, and he sat down and sighed.
I love 13th Age. After running two half-year campaigns in 13th Age, it is one of my favorite systems. I fully expect to continue playing it, particularly now that we have 13 True Ways and the 13th Age Bestiary in hand. I expect we will rotate between DD& 5th Edition and 13th Age regularly. Both have a firm spot at our table. 13th Age captures our desires for high-powered PCs that feels like 4e without the baggage. D&D 5e captures our desire for the old-school feeling of D&D with greatly improved mechanics. I'm really glad to have both available to me.
As for the adventures of Moonwreck, it goes on the shelf as another fantastic mini-campaign and a great deal of fun.