Skin-changers in the 13th Age

On the 13th Age Facebook group, there was a suggestion by Simon Rogers to do a post about “re-skinning” enemies into “normal people”. In interests of full disclosure, Simon has paid me to write 13th Age things in the past, and therefore, if he says it’s a good idea, I’ll probably do it. So that’s what I’m going to do here. If you came for shape-shifting shenanigans, there’s one in there, I promise.

“Reskinning” is as old as RPG’s itself. You take one set of stats and use it to represent something else.  Sometimes it’s built in, like in the Lions & Tigers & Owlbears: 13th Age Bestiary 2 entries for the Fey and the Fauns. (Shameless plug for some of what I wrote). But most often you’ll turn a Bugbear into a back-alley mugger, or a Human Thug into  Town Militia. Simple coat of new paint and off you go. Sometimes you can use the same entry for many different creatures, especially if there are already variations. I’m going to work similarly to my other post, Iconic Weapons of the 13th Age. Giving 13 variations on the same mechanics with different flavors.

Thus we have the Dire Bear. A mainstay of classic fantasy with extra spiky danger because real bears aren’t scary enough.  I was going to copy excerpts from the SRD, but it really messed with the flow and you know how hyperlinks work. The salient features are that it’s a large or double-strength 4th level creature that has a better attack against staggered enemies and deals more damage on natural even rolls. It also has a random or semi-random dire feature that I’ll leverage for all I can. All of these are going to be humanoid, so they have that creature type instead.

These are also less distinct than the main entry, so maybe use them as general troops around champion tier. They count 1:1 on 5th level PC’s.

The factions here are totally not analogues for the official ones listed in the original alphabetical order. Not at all.

Mage’s Guild

Wards of retribution guard these spellswords. They use incantations on their blades to take down errant arcane experiments and other threats. Disciplined and relentless, their mandate is to slay any target to which they are assigned.  Use the “Spiky Bits” Dire Feature.

Black Knight

From behind their thick armor and closed helmets, it’s hard to tell if they are big men, or small ogres. But you can be assured they likely smell the same.  They relish in putting down demons, “demons”, and alleged “demons”. Use the “Armor Plates” Dire Feature

The Cabal

Supposedly servants of a “respectable family”, these people are really vessels for incubating demons. When in danger, they lose all pretense and hit harder than anyone would guess. Use the “Fury” Dire Feature.

Lord of the Dwarves

Liquid courage and ancestors’ blessings are the main theories on the legendary stamina of the dwarven vanguard. Just don’t denigrate the latter theory when any are around.  Use the “Dire Regeneration” Dire Feature.

Elf Court

There are shadows in the forest that remain unacknowledged in public. They are the knives in the dark, disavowed agents of their liege. Success is less important than secrecy, but they rarely fail. Use the “Fury” Dire Feature.


Rigid training is core to the Imperium’s armies. These soldiers don’t have it yet. They likely enjoy fighting, but aren’t good enough for the arena. Reprobates and washouts from the main corps find their way into disposable expeditionary forces.  Reports of a living dungeon breaking through near the trade road? Send them in first. Use the “Spiky Bits” Dire Feature.

Golden Order

The ranks of the Golden Order are popular among those seeking stability and purpose, as well as a bit of adventure. Many would otherwise become “free-lancers” or “troubleshooters”, or whatever euphemism for wandering ruffians. Use the “Carnage” Dire Feature to make them feel like not-quite-PC’s.

The Circle

Gruff and kind, the skin-walkers of the Great Forest try to maintain a balance because people are natural creatures too. Mostly loners unless pressed, they tend to prefer to drive threats off rather than kill. However, they will kill if it’s necessary, as violence is just as much a part of nature as the dawn. Their malleable skin is a bit stronger than most folks’. Use the “Armor Plates” Dire Feature.

The Undying

Death is the constant companion of warriors. Some rash mercenaries try to make friends.  Vicious soldiers with a looming debt to undeath have bargained for just a little more time.  Use the “Dire Regeneration” Dire Feature.

The Horde

There’s a saying among the nomadic tribes west of the Imperium, “Kru’gal fartan oh, thannaki bey”. I don’t know what it means, it’s just something they scream when charging into battle. Their warriors are practiced at striking unpredictably, tempering parries and getting cheap shots.  Use the “Carnage” Dire Feature.

The Divine

Burly monks from a pacifist god have doubled down on the paci-fist pun and only fight unarmed. Their faith is rewarded with spiritual combos pummeling their foes further. Use the “Poison” Dire Feature, but make it force or holy damage instead.

Thieves’ Guild

Bruisers, bouncers, and muggers with less subtlety and brains than most cat burglars, but they’re good in a fight. Their knuckle dusters and practiced punches from years on the wrong side of every dock make them scrappy and dangerous in close. Use the “Spiky Bits” Dire Feature

The Dragon Kings

Assassins who have the favor of the Scaled Lords are often gifted special daggers to improve their efficiency. They often bear the insignia and a little bonus from their patron. Use the “Poison” Dire Feature, and change the damage type if their dragon master would find it appropriate.


Go forth, and change things up. Revel in narrative opportunities with minimal math homework.



Iconic Weapons of the 13th Age

Magic weapons are cool, and can be a nice character hook for ongoing campaigns.  But sometimes you want more connection than the stat block.  Here I’ll give you 13 variations on the same weapon to spark your imagination in your own game. (Icon names are fillers).

The weapon I’ll be using is the “Weapon of Abandon” from the 13th Age Core Rulebook and SRD.  It’s a straightforward weapon, dealing bonus damage on the first attack each battle. But why it deals extra damage on only the first attack is a more interesting question.Sword Blade Weapons Hilt

Mage’s Guild

This dagger absorbs ambient chaos magic while sheathed, releasing it in a multi-colored display that might also cause high weirdness if you’re that kind of GM.

Black Knight

Carved into the tip of this pike are runes of blasphemous power, calling upon the dark gods to aid your battle. However, the Dark Gods are a fickle lot, and you must prove your worth by finishing the battle unaided.

The Cabal

Ancient hungers from the dawn of time are held within this staff.  While not the wizard’s implement, it craves power nonetheless. Between battles, the yearning for the flesh of enemies ratchets to a fever. A critical hit might even take a bite out of your foe.

Lord of the Dwarves

A simple smithy hammer radiating the heat of a well-stoked forge. Contact with an enemy quenches the fire for a time, but it is never doused.

Elf Court

Small grooves down the blade of this small sword are perfect for the poisons favored by the dark elves. Unfortunately, they don’t cling to the blade for long.


A massive executioner’s sword that is typically reserved for nobility.  The force of law resides in this, and a good executioner should never need a second swing.

Golden Order

Gleaming bright, this holy sword shines in the darkness.  When sheathed in its mirrored scabbard, it absorbs the excess light reflected back upon it.  The first attack releases a bright beacon of hope for you fellow warriors, and an omen of doom for the unrighteous.

The Circle

Festooned with totems, this spear channels the spirits of panther, asp, and snapping turtle to strike first and fiercest.

The Undying

The head of this flail exists between worlds, an apparition. Only when swung does it return to reality, striking the soul as well as the body.

The Horde

Like most barbarian weapons, this is made from crude, yet effective steel.  The edge of this ax is extremely sharp when honed, but easily blunted. A few minutes with a whetstone is enough to bring it back to shape.

The Divine

This simple mace looks like a common cudgel, but the sacred oil transforms it to glory.  The oil is most potent when first used, but the lingering blessing is quite powerful.

Thieves’ Guild

Nobody expects a weapon they can’t see. They may see the punch, but they’re not prepared for the cloaked knuckles that come with it. Heavy and studded, they are a con man’s last resort.

The Dragon Kings

Long and curved like a dragon’s wing, this blade echoes its master’s ego. It must be dominant. Strike hard, make an impact, make them fear you. This is the only way to true victory.


This is just one weapon. How many more can you reflavor to make them memorable?




Image courtesy of

Narrative Uses of Relationship Dice

Relationship Dice can feel…a little odd. Many games use them as plot aids for the upcoming session or a loot distribution system. This is fine. However much narrative control you want to give to the fickle fancies of fortune is a GM’s prerogative. But there are other ways to use them.

Here’s how to make it feel better.  Use them more.

Embrace the randomness. Let go of tight control of every NPC the party comes across. I make up everything on the fly anyway, but this makes it feel like those choices matter in small ways as well as the campaign arc. If no results come up, another Icon is involved. It doesn’t have to be all of the dice either. Icon-specific dice are there to be used when appropriate. If you use the complications Rob Heinsoo and I wrote up in Home Bases this really helps make the Icons a political minefield.

Don’t be afraid to use them in lieu of ability checks, especially if there’s an established Iconic connection.  When the party needs information from an enemy who serves an icon with whom they have a negative relationship, players will often try to interrogate them with whatever ability score is their strongest.  Try having them roll that Icon relationship first. On a 6, the enemy’s heard rumors of the PC and is scared. A 5 may take a bribe or promise of immunity. A 1 (if you’re using complications) may indicate that their reputation among their enemies is either weak or so ruthless that talking is pointless.  If no result comes up, other tactics may come into play.

3-dice   In circumstances where things are truly out of the player character’s hands, “luck checks” are common. Icon Dice can be even more effective at making those relationships feel real and pervasive.  Whether it’s random encounters, the allegiance of a traveling merchant, or a gut feeling that randomness should be involved but an ability check isn’t right, Relationship Rolls might just be what you need.  The dice should likely be from a single player (or all involved in a particular activity), to differentiate from more formal rolls.

Another side effect is that it makes certain player options more impactful. Bards, Rogues, Occultists, and a number of magic items all have temporary Icon Dice. These choices are characterized as “weak” or “not as fun”.  The Rogue’s Smooth Talk talent is a lot more potent if you’re doing more rolls before the dice run out. Balladeer is a calculated choice if the Innkeeper you’re bargaining with just heard you insult her patron Icon from her own stage.

This thought came up in a game session where my players wanted to have a drinking contest. Fine, it’s standard within the genre and a great way for everybody to blow off steam. Traditionally in F20 games, these are often adjudicated with Constitution ability tests to see who stops or passes out last.  Great, grand, but not narratively interesting. You can use it for somebody to steal the party’s stuff, a plot hook more tantalizing than any other, but the interpersonal relationships in the contest are ripe for plunder.

Gut instinct had me ask for relationship rolls (and I figured out why while they were rolling), and the results were a delicious surprise.  The party’s barbarian rolled poorly, a near-impossibility in traditional methods. There was some narrative about how he forgot the cardinal rule of drinking games (never use stronger drinks than your opponent), and I now have these relationship dice waiting to be used.  I decided that those relationship rolls reflect the reactions of the other patrons. Drunken bravado leading to insults against the ruler. Braggadocio of past deeds getting the attention of local quest givers. Slurred laments bringing sympathy from like-minded people. Intra-party Iconic conflicts resulting in an argument (or avoiding one). Lots of fun to be had here.

I encourage you to try it for yourself, and if you need narrative reasons mid-campaign just blame the Prince of Shadows.


Image from of wikimedia commons.

Shifting Backgrounds in Play

Character growth is a cornerstone of all fiction, and the collaborative fiction of roleplaying games is no exception.  Normally, new combat options are the mechanical expression of growth in Fantasy D20 games, but 13th Age gives us another option to describe change in a game mechanism.  The character’s backgrounds.  I think that a level-up is a great place to allow a character to move around points, maybe adding a new background or re-naming an existing one to reflect a new paradigm.  Similar to Fate’s aspects being modified after certain milestones.

Now, this has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and I think it’s best explained through another pop culture property with adventure and a group dynamic.  The original Star Wars trilogy. A true space fantasy with dashing rogues and secret wizards in a galaxy far, far away.  The main characters (Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca) each have different expressions of character growth.  Their one unique thing stays the same, but their skill set changes as they surpass the challenges of the narrative.  I’ll take each film as representing a different tier, and talk briefly about the changes therein.

*Disclaimer: I am a bit of a Star Wars nerd, so some of the terminology might be a little esoteric.


First we have Luke Skywalker.

  • One Unique Thing: Secret Son of the Emperor’s Right Hand
  • Backgrounds (Episode IV: A New Hope)
    • Beggar’s Canyon Barnstormer +4
      • Reflecting his piloting skills
    • Backwater Tinkerer +3
      • His mechanical prowess
    • Force Sensitive +1
      • An unknown factor of luck and intuition at the start

Even without a class or talents yet, we have a smart man with good reactions and the potential to wield the force. Now let’s take a look at the next narrative phase.

  • Backgrounds (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
    • Rogue Squadron Commander +3
      • Reflecting his piloting skills and his role as an officer in the Rebel Alliance
      • But loses a point as he’s devoting less time to flying, and more to learning the force
    • Backwater Tinkerer +2
      • This loses a bit as his Jedi training intensifies
    • Last of the Jedi +3
      • Having embraced the Force, he now steps on the road to become a true Jedi.

So now that Luke has learned to harness the Force, that is taking over more of his time and the responsibilities of the rebellion are less important to him. Now for Jedi.

  • Backgrounds (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
    • Rogue Leader (on leave) +2
      • Having stepped aside from the Rebellion’s military hierarchy to focus on becoming a Jedi and rescuing Han, his skills are still there, but a little rusty.
    • Lightsaber Builder +1
      • Still good with tools, but tinkering for fun is no longer part of his life.
    • First of the New Jedi Order +5
      • Fully embraces his training, and prepares to confront his father and the Emperor.

We have a complete character arc of a bored country pilot realizing his destiny as the rebirth of an ancient order expressed solely through backgrounds.  Now, they don’t have to change as drastically as this, as we’ll see with Han Solo. I’ll skip most of the commentary this time.

  • One Unique Thing: Legend of the Kessel Run (12 Parsecs!)
  • Backgrounds (Episode IV: A New Hope)
    • Silver-tongued Smuggler +5
      • Smooth-talking and rough around the edges
    • Luck and Hydrospanners +3
      • Not a catch-all, but a description as how he keeps the Millennium Falcon from falling apart. Hydrospanner being an in-universe kind of tool.
  • Backgrounds (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
    • Jabba’s Most Wanted +4
      • Now that bounty hunters are after him, he’s lost some credibility in the underworld, so a point gone there.
    • Luck and Hydrospanners +3
      • No change here.
    • Reluctant Rebel Hero +1
      • After saving Luke in the battle over the Death Star, he’s now thrown in with the Alliance, but not fully.
  • Backgrounds (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
    • Former Smuggler +3
      • Now that his career as a smuggler is toast, his contacts are fewer, but the skills remain.
    • Luck and Hydrospanners +3
      • No change here.
    • Secret Rebel General +2
      • Now that the rebellion’s the only place he has left, and the location of the woman he loves, he might as well join up for real.

This is a subtler change, but it shows his movement from Outlaw to Rebel in discrete stages.

Now, Icons can also reflect this sort of character growth, especially with the additional dice granted at 5th and 8th levels. But not as central to the character and mechanics as backgrounds.  So Han’s relationship dice with The Hutt Clans would shift from positive to conflicted to negative as time goes on. Luke’s relationship with the Galactic Empire is even more tumultuous. Positive to Negative to Conflicted to Negative to Conflicted to Negative as the story goes on and the Emperor alternately tries to recruit him and kill him, and remember that Luke was applying to the Imperial Academy as the first film starts.

Here’s hoping that this helps you reflect you character’s journey on the character sheet as your game goes along.

Dragon Empire Avengers Assemble!

So, Tim Baker prodded me to finally write out my version of Marvel’s The Avengers as 13th Age characters. I do this with them, and other pop culture properties when learning a new system to see how I can replicate the effects in these mechanics. I’ve done it for most F20 systems, and FATE (easy), but here’s the 13th Age versions. Note: I won’t delve into mechanics, but I will cite the official products used to create them.  Oh, and they’re all 8th level because that’s Epic. Also, I’m going mostly off the film versions because there’s less continuity to slog through. Minor spoilers for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.



Anthony Stark, Human Sorcerer 8 OUT: Slowly dying from his own inventions

Backgrounds: Genius Millionaire +4, Playboy Philanthropist +4

Talents:Arcane Heritage, Metallic Protector Heritage, Spell Fist

Notable Spells, Burning Hands, Scorching Ray, Dragon’s Leap

Notable Gear: Self-made armor (Re-skinned Sorcerer’s Leather)

Source: Core Rulebook, Book of Loot


Bruce Banner, Half Orc Barbarian 8 OUT: Science Experiment Gone Chaotic Good

Backgrounds: Super scientist +5, Hulk SMASH!, +5

Talents: Unstoppable, Strongheart, Building Frenzy, Violence, Relentless

Notable Feats: All the rages, Further backgrounding

Source: Core Rulebook



Clint Barton, Human Ranger 8 OUT: Dumb/brave enough to use a bow against aliens  aberrants.

Backgrounds: Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Assassin +4, Secret Farmer +4

Talents: Archery, Double Ranged Attack, First Strike, Favored Enemy [Humanoid]

Source: Core Rulebook


Natasha Romanov, Human Rogue 8 OUT: Spy who went out into the cold.

Backgrounds: Red Room Trained Assassin +3,  Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D +5,

Talents: Improved Sneak Attack, Tumble, Swashbuckle

Notable Powers/Feats:Tumbling Strike, Flying Blade w/ all feats.

Source: Core Rulebook (However there is an argument to use the Rebel from Glorantha)


Sam Wilson, Human Ranger 8 OUT: A true Airborne Ranger

Backgrounds: Former commando +5, Civilian re-entry therapist +3, Avian scouts +5

Talents: Animal Companion Adept (Redwing the “Falcon”), Tracker, Double Ranged Attack, Ranger’s Pet (Another bird)

Notable Items: Cape of Flight

Sources: 13 True Ways, Book of Loot


Steve Rogers, Human Monk/Commander 8 OUT:Defrosted Hero of Yesteryear

Backgrounds: Just a guy from Brooklyn +4, Punched out Hitler +4

Talents: Battle Captain, Combat Maneuver, Heaven’s Arrow, Shielding Sun (G), Sunrise … (G)

Notable Feats: Precise Shot, Monk Shield Talents/Forms

Source: 13 True Ways, Playtest of 13th Age in Glorantha


Thor Odinson, Aasimar Paladin 8 OUT: Crown Prince of the realm of Asgard

Backgrounds: Champion of Asgard +5, Sibling Rivalry +3

Domains: Cleric Training, Fearless, Divine Domain (Justice), Bastion, Implacable

Notable Spells: Hammer of Faith


Vision, Forgeborn Wizard 8 OUT: Synthetic Humanoid that doesn’t want to kill everyone

Backgrounds: Former Butler +3, All human knowledge x Infinity +5

Talents: High Arcana, Abjuration, Divine Domain (Sun)*

Notable Spells: Flight x2, Utility Spell (Levitate and Feather Fall

Notable Feat: Deeper Change

Sources: Core Rulebook and 7 Icon Campaign (13th Age Monthly)


Wanda Maximoff, Human Chaos Mage 8 OUT: Infinite unstable power.

Backgrounds: Orphaned Refugee +3, HYDRA Experiment +5

Talents: All 3 Warp Talents

Source: 13 True Ways


Image by Daniel Kamarudin

Big Things Coming!

So my Character Folio that I’ve been working on is making great progress, now just to figure out layout and how much I need to write in the sidebars.

This has been in the works for a while, along with a couple other 13th Age -related bits, I hope to get the others in a point I can announce or release very soon.