Another Crack At 13th Age Icon Relationship Rolls
Of all of the Fantasy d20 games out there, I love 13th Age the most. However, I have struggled with the Icon Relationship Roll system. I’ve submitted some ideas about how to change the rules in the past, but looking back, they seem a little too fiddly and, frankly, my thoughts on their place in the gameplay loop have changed dramatically.
So here is a new mechanic that came to me like a bolt from the blue, inspired in part by... Blades in the Dark.
What Am I Trying To Solve?
RAW, the 13th Age Core Rules have some issues as far as Icon Relationship Rolls go.
- The GM has to track them throughout the session (and the GM already has enough on their plate!).
- They are inconsistent (players only benefit 1/3 of the time per die, so there’s no telling how much benefit a player will have per session).
- Complications (the 5 result) are pre-announced at the start of the session (and risk-averse players may find the thought of a guaranteed complication not worth cashing in).
So here are the design considerations I designed under:
- The players should manage their Roll pools. Players generally enjoy some degree of resource management. At least at my table, anyway.
- There shouldn’t be “dud” rolls. Any time a player picks up dice to roll, there should be an actionable outcome that they can use.
- Complications should have a way to be mitigated through strength of relationship – the more investment the relationship has, I feel that the less the relationship should cause issues. On the other hand, divided loyalties, which thematically invite complications, should have their own reward.
So Here’s How It Works
- Assign Dice as normal (if you use the “heroic vs. villainous” limits in the book at your table, still honor them). The maximum you can have per Relationship is 3 dice, and if you want to have divided loyalties of any sort, you don’t have to assign them to just one Icon – split them up if you want. (You still tag them as “Positive”, “Negative”, or “Complicated” as descriptive tags for the relationship.) As you level, you’ll gain more Dice, but the maximum remains 3 dice. (I’d probably keep that maximum in place for abilities that grant Relationship Dice.)
- When it comes time to leverage a Relationship, grab the amount of d6es equivalent to assigned to that Relationship value and roll all of them, taking the highest result.
- I interpret this result as follows:
- 1-3: You get the benefit you wanted and the GM works with you (and the rest of the table, if that’s the style of game you like to play) to come up with a fun wrinkle to complicate the benefit. (If I were the GM, I’d avoid making the complication punitive, but still a little chaotic because I like unplanned and messy hitches in the story.) The dice that I rolled are then expended for the rest of the session.
- 4-5: You get the benefit that you wanted, and the dice that you rolled are then expended for the rest of the session.
- 6: You get the benefit that you wanted and you get to keep the dice to roll again sometime later.
- Dice are refreshed at the start of each session.
Example: my character, Ched-Dar the Sharp, has a 2-Positive Relationship with the Dwarf King and a 1-Complicated Relationship with the Prince of Shadows, and I want to leverage that my allegiance to the Dwarven Kingdom would come in handy. So I spout off the benefit I want to have happen, then grab 2 dice and roll them, taking the highest. I get a 2 and a 4... so a 4! There’s no complication, but that’s all I can leverage that Relationship this session. I still have the 1-Complicated Relationship I can try to leverage though.
Why Do This?
You can see that, no matter how many Dice are rolled, some sort of benefit is guaranteed. What rolling does is determine if complications show up and if the Icon Relationship “recharges” or if it’s a once-per-session expenditure. Even at one Die, it’s a 50/50 chance that it’ll be an unalloyed good.
Splitting Relationships is also an interesting tradeoff. By declaring multiple relationships, you guarantee more than one Roll per session, but make them a little more “fragile” (you’re less likely to roll a 6, and more likely to roll a 1-3).
And why do I max this out at 3 Dice per Relationship? It’s a good cap on the percentages. According to AnyDice, you’ll get at least a 4 about 88% of the time, and a 6 about 42% of the time. These are pretty good odds, and any more dice puts the chance of a 6 above 50%, which I think is a bit too much.
Anyway, let me know what you think. I’m excited to try this house rule out at my tables!