13th Age House Rule: Icon Rolls, Revisited
I love 13th Age. It’s my favorite fantasy d20 game to run, and though I haven’t played it yet, I think it would be a hoot to play (I’m looking yearningly at you, Occultist and Chaos Mage). One thing, however, has vexed me as a GM, and that’s a core concept of the game: Icon Rolls.
For those unfamiliar with 13th Age, Icons are the NPC movers and shakers that war for power and control behind the scenes – you know, your Elminsters and whatnot. The game gives them a way to influence the game through the Icon Roll – roll a number of d6es equal to the number that the player has allocated to that particular relationship, and count fives as benefit with complication and sixes as benefit. I’ve tried a few approaches but neither worked for me or my table particularly well over a campaign:
- GM control of the results produces a more “traditional” game, where the GM uses these ideas to guide the narrative. I don’t like this approach because it increases my GM workload, and I try to keep as low-prep as I can. I also feel the need to use every triggering roll, and that is overload for me.
- Player control of the results produces a more narrative game, which some of my players liked and others didn’t so much, as they were not so keen on treating their relationship with their character as a detached author. I think a lot of it is how the rolls were handled – I got them to roll at the start of the session, so they knew how many “story points” they had going into the session, but more importantly, what type of story points they were.
So here are some options I’m mulling over:
- The players roll them when they want the chance to have the roll change their fortunes. Pro: this gives more surprise at the table. Con: there’s no guarantee that the player will roll a hit.
- This is more complicated, but interesting nonetheless: the players roll at session start, but fives and sixes both count as potential story points to cash in at the appropriate time. Upon point expenditure, the GM rolls a single die – odds add a complication of the GM’s choosing. Pro: this encourages the players to use their “story points” more confidently, since the possibility of complication is not already declared. Cons: this still keeps it more in the “narrative game” camp, which has mixed results at my table. It also introduces a tiny bit more stuff the GM has to do.