On All Fronts: Prologue

This is the first Campaign Diary for my 13th Age campaign On All Fronts. This will cover everything prior to the first session.

Quickly: 13th Age is a tabletop RPG based on the d20 system. I like to describe it as D&D, but better. Here is a Twitter thread about why it’s better. I also talk about Icons a lot: Icons are a 13th Age concept, and are the 13 movers-and-shakers in the campaign world.

Narrative will be boxed and italicized, the rest is my thoughts and self-assessment of my GMing.

After running 2-3 times a week in my 20s, I took an RPG hiatus when my first daughter was born, and then got into board games. Over the past 6 years, I’ve played about a dozen sessions of D&D, 13th Age, FATE, and Dragon Age RPG, but nothing serious. I recently got the itch again, and made the jump.

My main love is with GMing, and by reaching out to former players, it was pretty easy to assemble a roster of 4 (anonymized, even though it’s probably unnecessary, but just in case):

  • SL, an experienced D&D player since the early days of the hobby, and still plays weekly, but has never tried 13th Age before;
  • KJ, another experienced D&D player who still plays in a regular group, and who has a handful of sessions experience with 13th Age;
  • MG, who used to play D&D a long time ago, but hasn’t touched TTRPGs in over 10 years;
  • SC, who has never played TTRPGs, but has always wanted to.

After we agreed on the game and a schedule, I offered them four campaign options: either a “dungeon of the week” sort of affair, or one of three long-term themes. The idea is not to railroad them, but to decide what the focus of the game will be. Each narrative was also focused on one of the three pillars of TTRPGs (or, at least, the games I run): Combat/Action; Politics / Intrigue; Mystery / Exploration. Here are the suggestions I made:

  • The Fourteenth: Scholars, sages, wizards and priests all agree: the 13 Icons are as central to the balance of this world as the seasons or the cycle of water. What happens when a group of adventurer find a fourteenth icon? Is all of the existing research false, or is one of the established Icons an impostor? (Focus on Mystery / Exploration, secondary Politics / Intrigue)
  • Coup d’√Čtat: The Great Kingdom has many enemies, and only the Ivory King’s masterful diplomacy holds it together, with 7 of the 12 other Icons on his side. What happens when one of these allies wants to take over? (Focus on Politics / Intrigue, secondary Combat / Action)
  • On All Fronts: While the King has his hands full managing his allies’ loyalty, external threats are piling up. 4 Icons are threatening to tear down the Kingdom, and you’ll have to take the fight to them. (Focus on Combat / Action, secondary Politics / Intrigue).
  • Living Dungeons: All across Hadriel, there are reports of gates appearing, seemingly out of thin air, leading to dangerous complexes, filled with monsters and traps, but also treasures and glory. (Low story, light-hearted dungeon-crawling fun).

As you’ve read above, they decided to go with On All Fronts. I would have liked to run any 4 of them (if I’m being honest, mostly the first 3), but this thread is a very interesting one. I have quite a few ideas to represent these Fronts, using, for example, progress clocks like in Blades in the Dark and Dungeon World fronts.

First, I want to talk about the number 4: why 4 threats? Here’s my process:

  1. One threat makes it about attacking them, not defending the Kingdom. It’s also very straightforward, and will probably get repetitive.
  2. Two threats is suddenly more interesting. The PCs will probably have to alternate targets, and I can make the world seem like a living place because the Icon they won’t go after will make progress.
  3. With 3 threats, we add a few interesting aspects: the PCs can’t just alternate, they have to get intel about each faction’s progress to know which ones are the most urgent; they’ll probably need to get allies to handle some of the pressing needs, which will also allow them some choice about what they do and what they leave for others; it also means that the villains will make some progress at some point, without the PCs feeling powerless: there are just too many balls to juggle.

So why 4 then? 3 sounds pretty rad on its own! To be honest, it might have been a mistake. I was thinking about allies, and using allies to hit the enemy, and then had this idea: what if the PCs manage to infiltrate one of the villain’s advisors, and pushes two of the Icons into confrontation. I mean, they’re villains, and while their goals all threaten the Kingdom, they’re still quite incompatible. I thought that, with 4 villains, I could overwhelm the players early on, and when they either thought of that option, or where presented with it, they’d jump on it. We’ll see how that works…

Maybe you caught that in the description of the scenarios, but I have made my own “pantheon” of Icons, based on the ones presented in the core rulebook, but less generic. This is not a knock on the game’s design: I think like they’re meant to be that generic, exactly for this reason.

With that in mind, the four villainous Icons are:

  • The Wall Breaker, Queen of Giantkind, who wants to lead her people out of the frozen wastelands they’re stuck in;
  • The Untamed One, Wildness personified, who sees civilization as a threat to the natural order;
  • The Bone Weaver, former King and current ruler of the undead;
  • The Herald of Hunger, former protector of the Kingdom, corrupted by one of the Demons he slayed to serve dark masters.

With that information, the players created their characters:

  • Phaldrimi (SL), a Suntouched Paladin: A hermit who believes she is a divine agent, as she hears a constant voice, which she believes to be from a god or long lost Icon;
  • Eliel (SC), a Wood Elf Ranger: Daughter of a famed historian, she used to be a poet, but when her father passed, she instead became an Assassin;
  • Yvarge (KJ), a Halfling Barbarian: Born in a Koru tribe (communities established on the backs of gargantuan behemoths), he eventually became a gladiator;
  • Braeran (MG), a Dwarven Fighter: Adopted into a crime family, he had to do a brief stint in prison, and came out to find his old gang murdered.

What happens then? Tune in next week (probably tomorrow actually), on the next episode of JV’s Campaign Diary of On All Fronts!

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