Having referenced this mechanic a couple of times in other posts, I figured it was time to talk about it: Icons and their Relationships!
What is an Icon? Basically, an Icon is exactly as defined: “Icon (n) : A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” (per Google’s definition, if you care about sources).
Icons in the 13th Age are the influential figures of their domains, maybe you could go so far as to say politicians. It’s a little more complex than that, considering they’re immensely powerful and shape the world around them. There are 13 Icons as follows:
If you want to know more about them personally, I would have to say check out the 13th Age core rulebook. There’s a wealth of information/story hooks to be had in the book. Best of all, almost everything written in there is a “rumor” so it leaves the whole environment open to GM interpretation (for all you guys that don’t like to be told how to tell a story!) and perfectly malleable to make the setting you want. The Icons basically represent some common fantasy tropes to create a familiar feeling to the Dragon Empire setting. They all intermingle with one another in a way or another, and can really lead to some interesting stories.
Okay, so the mechanics. How does that work? Upon character creation, a lvl 1 PC has 3 points to spend amongst what’s called Icon Relationships. This relationship point can be positive, negative or a conflicted relationship with the Icon of your choice. You can have more than one point with the same relationship, but there are some complex restrictions outlined in the book regarding type of relationship with type of Icon (page 36 of the core rules). So at the start of a session, you roll 1d6 per point, and be mindful of which relationship you’re rolling at a time. You are looking for 5’s or 6’s. A rolled 5 is a use of the relationship to help the story progress but with a drawback, and a 6 is use of the relationship for story progress without one. The most important part of using these points is NOT just what you get out of it, it’s how the relationship affects the situation. What unfolds due to the relationship? If the relationship is negative, how does your 5 or 6 end up posing something constructive for the group’s goals?
More often than not, in my group, it’s basically used as a get out of jail card in a way (see my Invoking Emotion GM advice post). I’m trying to curb this to make it a little more interesting at the table. More often than not, players will say they want to use the relationship they rolled but not why or how it helps. Then again, as GM, it’s my responsibility to help them make it work in context. This story mechanic is probably one of the best things that makes 13th Age so unique as a d20 system, yet it can be so difficult to use. The GM’s resource book (that comes with the 13th Age GM screen) gives some amazing tips on making this mechanic work at the table.
Icon relationship benefits can take many faces: a person (friend or foe), a magic item (preferable not weapon or armor, something more utility based), a burst of power to do something amazing (that doesn’t completely decimate the encounter you spent 3 hours building). The point is: propel the story, make it interesting and moreover, make it FUN!
Stay Metal \m/