The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games


May 2016

May the Gods Watch Over You

The Divine have forever been a part of the fantasy genre. Even in our own times both ancient and modern, divinity has been motivation for people and groups of people to do a many number of things. In our fantasy worlds, the gods exist but religion is rarely, from my experience, role played. Worship of gods merely becomes a mechanic and fades into the background of things. It seems as though the guys over at 13th Age seem to agree.

So what do they say? To hell with making a whole pantheon, that’s what! In 13th Age there are vague references that people do worship gods, that they are clearly a structure within society. Otherwise we wouldn’t have clerics or paladins… or the Crusader, for that matter. A Dragon Empire without the Crusader is simply a little less interesting, I believe. Since there is no set pantheon outlined in the book, it might be a little confusing and/or overwhelming when considering gods and religion in the 13th Age. At my table, any class who is religiously focused simply gets to make up their own god. They tell me about the basic idea of the religion and what the god represents, and bam! There it is.

Beauty in simplicity.

I’m not a huge fan of making religion a focal point in my games regardless, but it’s not about MY story. It’s about the story your players write with you. If they want gods, then damn it, you better give them gods! Some people tend to argue the point that Icons can be considered gods, and to a degree, I stand with that. The Icons themselves are insanely powerful beings in the world, however, I don’t think that they should be explained as gods to a new player.

The biggest point to iterate in regards to the Icons is that some people worship them as if they were gods. NOT that they are gods in actuality. For a religion based class such as the cleric and paladin, I would bar a character from choosing an Icon as their god. However, any other class, sure. The reason behind this philosophy is that those religion based classes draw every aspect of their power from their god. Since icons aren’t gods, clearly, you can’t do that.


Now there are a couple of rare exceptions here, and honestly I find them interesting to explore: The Crusader and the Priestess. What’s that all about? With these two we clearly have the fantasy trope of light and dark, good and evil.

“The Priestess hears all the Gods of Light and speaks for those who please her. She is part oracle, part mystic, and part metaphysical engineer, since she created the Cathedral, an ever-expanding temple with rooms or entire wings for each of the faiths she favors.”

pg 24 of 13th Age

A very interesting take for an Icon, especially in regards to religion and worship. So what about revering the Priestess as a god? Well, the person can believe whatever they so choose. But a cleric or a paladin of the Priestess, well, not being a god, it’s not entirely possible. Unless…

What if a cleric or paladin uses their Icon relationship with The Priestess as a conduit to get in touch with the Gods of Light? If a player put it to me that way, not only would I be impressed, but I would totally go along with that.

“The Crusader is the armored fist of the Dark Gods. So long as followers of the Gods of Light stay the hell out of his way, the Crusader turns his wrath against the demons that would destroy the world that his gods want to rule. Follow the Crusader if you must win at any cost”

pg 15 of 13th Age

The same philosophy could be assigned to someone who wants to create a more ambiguous character that follows the Crusader. The shaky ally can be an interesting dynamic to have in a party, so long as everyone’s on-board. Using the Crusader as a conduit of the Dark Gods can become a little tricky though, since he fancies himself more of a ruler than the voice of his gods. All the more interesting, no?

So by the end of all this, what do we have?

  1. Players who are clerics or paladins should be able to make up their own gods.
  2. Players dictate how important faith is in the campaign.
  3. Icons aren’t gods, but can be worshiped as such by non-divine classes.
  4. The Crusader and the Priestess could possibly be considered divine conduits.

Stay Metal \m/

Roll20 Con! Come Play!

Hey everybody!

So I made a last minute decision to run a game at Roll20 Con to meet some of you and have some fun playing 13th Age. I will be running The Gauntlet from the amazing campaign book Eyes of the Stone Thief. As a disclaimer, I think it’s fair to mention that I actually don’t own the book, but Cat Tobin was kind enough to provide me with some stuff for Gen Con 2016, which I will also be running games at. If you’re attending Gen Con this year, be so kind as to not join the game and let someone who can’t make it play this wonderful module!

The game is designed for 6th level and I haven’t really given much thought on pregens. If you guys have me on my Twitter, send me a tweet if you’ve joined the game and would prefer a pre generated character. I’d be more than happy to do that for you. If you want to build your own character but don’t know how, also shoot me a tweet! Maybe we can work something out to Skype in the coming week and build a character together. Well, until then…

Stay Metal! \m/

KICKSTARTER REVIEW: Murders & Acquisitions RPG

This game sounds ridiculously funny, fund it if you can!

Melvin Smif's Geekery

Hey all! I’m deeply embroiled in board games today at Geekway to the West but through the magic of computers I’m speaking to you about yet another excellent Kickstarter run! This time it’s something most assuredly a bit more “indy”. Speaking of Kickstarters though, the Acadecon 2016 Kickstarter has run its course…and FULLY FUNDED! So I will hopefully see you in November. If you missed the Kickstarter have no fear, you can still get a badge and attend. Just head over to the website and buy one. It’s also a good place to check out details for Dayton, look up hotel rooms, check the special guests, and even the schedule of events.*


The Murders and Acquisitions RPG comes to us from Craig Cambell, you may have seen some of his work as a freelancer for various RPGs like D&D, Iron Kingdoms, or Gamma World. M&A RPG is his first foray into publishing…

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Things That Jingle: A Double Feature!

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock in regards to 13th Age for the past month has surely seen the amazing work of Campaign Coins and their Icon Tokens kickstarter. The fantastic work has inspired Rob Heinsoo and Lynne Hardy to cook up a special edition of 13th Age Monthly talking about currency! I figure, since these two pieces go hand in and, why not cover both?! Make sure your reading glasses are clean, because this one is going to be a doozy.

Mark Morrison over at Campaign Coins was more than generous to send me a review sample of the Icon Tokens with one of each of the Dwarven Tower Coins to review on here (seriously, I can’t thank you enough) although I had already backed the kickstarter and planned on doing a review anyway.


As a first impression, all I can say is one word: Wow. The detail on these is simply amazing. It’s a little difficult to tell from the picture, but there’s little bits of the work metal-type finish even within the colored surface of the actual icon symbol, giving the image this really amazing depth to it. The detail on the scale of The Three is so intricate and small that if you don’t have this thing under a big light, it’s almost easy to overlook it. As my girlfriend had pointed out, as a mother of her late lizard, the similarity to an actual scale is quite striking.

The Dwarven Towers, the pieces I will probably never use in-game, are actually my favorite pieces. I’m a bit of a sucker for dwarven art and these really smash my soft spot. These coins are split into three different tiers:

  1. Soldiers
  2. Captain
  3. General


Each coin represents a different value in dwarven society, much like we have pennies, nickels and dimes (if you live in the U.S). But the beauty in these in both the rule book and the real life manifestation of the Dwarven Tower does not lie in the parallel to reality, but to how they relate to dwarves culturally. They stack perfectly, with each other and with their larger/smaller counterparts, thus earning the name towers. Campaign Coins knocked it out of the park bringing this idea to life.

At first, when I stacked my Towers, the fact that they didn’t fit snugly kind of bothered me. I almost expected them to be expertly machined by a computer, but then it dawned on me. Even dwarves are mortal and can’t craft as perfectly as they lead us to believe. The small, and I mean small, amount of play between the stacked Towers really brings to life the idea of these being crafted by the calloused hands of dwarven craftsmen.

Craftsmen they certainly are, might I add! The Towers have very Tolkien-esque artwork on them depicting typical geometric patterns associated with the race, but with a helmet as well symbolizing the rank of the Tower. This makes them recognizable beyond their size, and is very visually appealing to the one who is looking closely at their Tower. Too bad Peter Jackson couldn’t get in touch with these guys, because if Erebor had been full of these coins, MAN that would have been awesome!

This being a review piece, I almost feel obliged to point out some negatives in this product. If I’m being completely honest with everybody who is reading, however, these “negatives” are complete and total nit-picks on my part. Firstly, I wish that some of the Icon Tokens had stayed true to the color scheme of the original artwork. If the Emperor token had the purple on the outside, the star remained gold, and the dragon symbol on the inside had been the red or green toned piece, it would even further capture Lee Moyer’s art. Or if the scale of The Three had been a blue with the fade to white towards the center as opposed to the copper color it is. Like I said, total nit-picks. I understand why it wasn’t made this way, considering it would likely drive up cost and/or make the green/red lacquer hard to see. However, I still would have liked to at least seen it either way. Perhaps it was there in the initial design of them and the team decided against it, who knows, but the visual would have at least been nice to choose between. Secondly, I wish that the scale of The Three was a tiny bit bigger, so that we could see the lacquer a little better since the logo itself is so large to fit on such a small piece.

So! In essence:


  • Detailed
  • Accurate design to original art
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Double sided for a 5 Icon relationship or a 6
  • Dwarven Towers stack


  • Not 100% accurate to original color scheme
  • The Three symbol seems a little hard to determine color due to size

This may be updated once the kickstarter is over and I get my full set of Icon tokens, so keep an eye out for that! If you check back and this message is gone, my opinion stands as is.

Coin Tricks

The newest edition of 13th Age Monthly, Coin Tricks, is a clear companion piece to this marvelous kickstarter. As a person who doesn’t use currency in his game, I almost overlooked it at first, if I’m to tell it true. But I figured, hey, what the heck, I bought the subscription and these guys rock so I might as well read it.

Boy, am I glad I did! Coin Tricks is less about currency than you would expect. Overall, it touches on how currency effect culture in the Dragon Empire and the realms of dwarves and elves. Not only that, but how they intermingle with one another. The subject was touched upon in the core rules on pages 56 and 57. We see a refresher at the beginning of this edition of 13th Age monthly before is spins in a downward spiral to the interesting world that is the Dragon Empire.

However, it is noteworthy that the big Icons talked about in this edition are:

  1. The Lich King
  2. The Emperor
  3. The Dwarf King
  4. The Diabolist

and how they handle currency and make each others lives miserable, in essence. As standard with their products, everything is presented as rumors or possibilities rather than cold, hard fact. Furthermore all the ideas presented can also be made as reality together, though that approach would be very politically complex. If you and your players like that sort of complicated structure in your games, let’er rip!


What would an edition of this fantastic product be without some form of monster/adversary? Coin Tricks doesn’t fail to bring the heat. We get two new monsters that pertain to the theme of the piece; Coin Zombies, a creation of the Lich King in order to trap the weak willed and simple minded and New Imps, a joke created by the Diabolist to get under the skin of greedy adventurers or get into the minds of wealthy merchants.

Both of them come with a write-up on perhaps how they came into existence in your campaign. Again, the beauty of this is that you can use all of them at once if you so choose. These new creatures have such depth and use outside of just being something to absorb hit points that they may be among my top 5 monsters in all of the 13th Age Monthly editions.

So, there you have it! A great physical product and another fantastic supplement to the wonder that is 13th Age. Here are some links to go a-searchin’ for either Campaign Coins or this edition of 13th Age Monthly:

Once again, a huge shout out goes to Mark Morrison for giving me a sneak preview of the product I backed on Kickstarter. Words can’t describe my gratitude and I’m more than impressed with the product.

Stay Metal \m/

Get Some Class!: The Wizard

Masters of the arcane, a life devoted to the study of all things magical and mystical. Such is the path of a wizard. The Wizard is no stranger to the world of fantasy, often depicted as a bearded old man with a pointy hat (thanks Tolkien) both wise and cunning. The 13th Age Wizard can be no different, or if you are truly a creative soul, a vastly different character from all the wizards of the past!

According to the layout of ease of play as seen on page 75 of the rule book, the wizard is the most difficult to play. I say sucks to that, it’s probably the most difficult to build but not necessarily to play. A player who decides to play a wizard has some options laid out for them…

  • Power: A Wizard can be built to be a dangerous adversary in combat, so long as his/her allies can keep the physical heat off of them. Really no different from a wizard of any other system, especially with spells like Magic Missile and Fireball. Pair those with the Evocation class talent and you have yourself on gigantic vessel of pain.
  • Utility: Cantrip spells (Knock spell, Mending, Spark, Mage Hand…) come as an inherent bonus for the Wizard class. The class can be used further to cover a plethora of out of combat scenarios by swapping damaging spells for Utility Spells. Some of these include Disguise SelfWater Breathing, and Scrying.
  • Role Play: The Wizard  is a great class for someone who enjoys role playing. Having the Wizard’s Familiar talent allows you to have some sort of bond with an NPC of sorts right out of the gate. Vance’s Polysyllabic Verbalizations is also a great talent to take if you enjoy vocal implements in regards to spells, allowing you to repurpose a spell at the GM’s approval due to a fun name you give the spell as you cast it.
  • Self Defence: The beauty of this class is the option of giving your character the opportunity to defend itself. Talents like Abjuration and even High Aracana help make your Wizard not complete schlubs at the business end of a blade.

So perhaps High Arcana is a bad example because it’s a “best of both worlds” type of talent, allowing you to choose a daily spell twice but also gaining the Counter Magic spell. There’s an infinite number of wizard builds that you can make and that definitely is an element of the class that makes it uniquely fun in relation to other systems.

What’s very nice as well is that the Wizard allows you to take on a similar role in combat to blocker or spoiler monsters. In essence, this means that you can prevent the enemy from imposing its will on your allies with spells like Invisibility Purge or Hold Monster. But you can also put debilitating effects to overcome the adversary such as Overcome Resistance or Rebuke.

The class does rely on its spells to keep it going, but don’t let that stop you from building a wizard with a big, honking sword! As I described in this post, it’s entirely possible to do without making your character 100% ineffective. It’s always a good thing to do something different, and yet again, 13th Age encourages you to do so.

Stay Metal \m/

Gen Con 2016 Events!

I woke up to a pleasant surprise this morning, I hadn’t realized that the Gen Con event list had been released! Referencing my own GMing schedule, I was trying to get a basic outline of what my con experience was to be like. Have to admit though, I’m pretty sad that I’m missing a lot of school stuff, like the 13th Age Monster Building seminar.

But hey, I’m also running some sweet games! Since the event schedule is out, I’ll post what I’m running up here now:

  • Into the Underworld: Lost in the Dark Part 1: Friday 4pm-6pm (ID: RPG1688397)
  • Into the Underworld: Lost in the Dark Part 2: Friday 6pm-8pm (ID: RPG1688367)
  • Into the Underworld: Lost in the Dark Part 3: Friday 8pm-10pm (ID: RPG1688366)
  • The Gauntlet: Saturday 10am-2pm (ID: RPG1693211)
  • Into the Underworld: The Undying City Part 1: Saturday 4pm-6pm (ID: RPG1688392)
  • Into the Underworld: The Undying City Part 2: Saturday 6pm-8 pm (ID: RPG1688393)

There was supposed to be one more adventure I was running called Swords Against Hell but I didn’t see it on the event list. I sent an email to Cat Tobin to see what’s up so as soon as I know, this will be updated!

Besides this stuff, I’m not entirely sure what my con schedule looks like. I’d love to meet up with some people who follow the blog at the con, so please, reach out to me!

Stay Metal \m/

Roll Initiative!: Building Combat

Conflict, whether physical or social, is the complete epicenter of telling a story and thus playing a role playing game. 13th Age is no different. Social combat is a completely different animal to handle, and heavily depends on how your group does role play. Today is addressing the nitty gritty, building physical battles!

For starters, the core rules has a great section in the back about building battles with a really nifty table. The table includes character tier/level in relation to number of monsters and recommended level. This is only just scratching the surface of building the best 13th Age combat you possibly can. The guidelines stated in the table are for what they call a “worthy fight,” which for the most part is true. As a GM, it’s your job to tinker with things to make them where you want them. Me personally, I find that the table makes things a little easier than I would like. However, I do use this for my standard benchmark for battles. A battle built with the table is one that isn’t too difficult (i.e not a pivotal story point) but isn’t too easy either. After explaining how to gauge how things work, they do talk about unfair encounters, about how monsters with special abilities, nastier specials, overwhelming your PCs with numbers, enemy reinforcements and advantageous terrain can change things a bit. Great segments that give some insight with examples.

But what is missing from this section of the book, although I understand why, is the fact of monster roles. I’m making mention of this because I didn’t put those pieces together until later, when I was trying to figure out why my players were stomping all over all of my encounters. In the monster section, monster roles are briefly, and I mean briefly, talked about. Balancing monster roles in your battle structure is probably THE most important aspect of building your encounter. Each monster has their own “class,” if you will. They are as follows : Archers, Blockers, Casters, Leaders, Mooks, Spoilers, Troops and Wreckers.  All are pretty self explanatory except for mooks, which are the shining star of building 13th Age combats and making your players feel annoyed, heroic or even both! But, from my personal experience, the more types incorporated with the table in mind, the better the combat.

Simply as an example; If I am planning a big and important fight with a small-time villain they have been pursuing for a while, I’d probably start with my villain. What kind of creature is my villain? For this example, let’s say my five PC’s are level 4 and I want my villain to be a vampire. The level gap here is huge, the vampire is a 10th level Spoiler. So the job of a Spoiler is to inflict conditions on the PC’s and hinder them from being effective. Even with the level gap, you have to consider action economy. The vampire gets to have a single hit (or some extra damage if the target is successfully confused using Nastier Specials) for their four hits. Pretty rough for him. I had three Paladin characters playing at the time, so it was hard for the vampire to hit them, making this basically a walk in the park for the players. By the table, this one monster accounts for four of my players. But I’m smarter than the table, and I know that because I have three Paladins, it’s going to be a breeze. So here’s what I do: Add some distractions! I took two Iron Ghouls (from the Midgard Bestiary) and slapped them on either side of their vampiric master. Iron Ghouls are actually double-strength 4th level wreckers, thus making this a VERY dangerous fight for the PC’s. The story warranted this, and I felt it was appropriate. The result was a very vicious and brutal encounter, where the PC’s took a lot of hits. But just the two minions of the vampire alone bought him some time to show the PC’s how truly powerful he was. The 13th Age vampire does 50 hp damage in one go, almost killing a PC of 4th level depending on their robustness. But I knew my table, and no chart in a book and replace using that knowledge to your advantage when building an encounter.

Now with this in mind, this makes for a challenging combat, not necessarily a memorable one. Memorable combats are usually made with interesting monster abilities (like the Kobolds with the trapster ability from the Bestiary) or some really epic setting for the fight that usually interferes with the tide of combat.

Setting time limits for interesting things to happen also makes combat more memorable, which is especially where the Escalation Die comes handy. Escalation die 3? Well, guess what, the caretakers of the city’s waste management system (the Gelatinous Cube that you accidentally ran into) is coming to check on it, four Half-orcs come charging around the corner, horrified that you are trying to kill the trash collector. Perhaps at Escalation die 2, if the battle is going poorly for the enemies, the villain tries to make his escape leaving his mooks behind to cover his retreat. It really helps to organize your battle by time frame. In the example above, I didn’t use the escalation die to warrant a retreat from an intelligent enemy because I had something else in mind hinging off of one of the vampire’s abilities. Sadly, I can’t really talk about it because one (or all) of them may be reading this. Stop trying to get one leg up on me, you scoundrels!

Hope this was helpful and as always….

Stay Metal! \m/

On the Other Side

Switching roles is something we’re supposed to learn as role players, isn’t it? But then there’s the problem: humans are creatures of habit. Jumping from being a GM to being a player can be a difficult transition, as well as vice versa. Sitting on the other side of the screen can be excruciatingly difficult. The mystery has all but dissipated, you know all the monsters and recommended DC’s. Whoever is stepping behind the screen to give you a break has to be one crafty bugger. We know how to be a good GM, but how to be go back to being a good player?

Well, easier said than done there, my friend. Have no fear, because here are some guidelines! I have been lucky enough to have been the GM on the other side of the screen and seen another GM play alongside me in the same seat. Having two different gaming groups certainly comes in handy, especially when observing situations such as this. One thing that I had noticed in the group that I typically play in is that the stand-in GM tried his damnedest to not use any monsters from the book, nearly everything was a reskinned version of another monster. A true stroke of genius, if you ask me. However, if you’re the GM facing the wall, and your stand-in is using a monster that you know everything about, well… it can be difficult to not just say “I hit” or “I miss” or maybe for you crunch masters out there, to keep track of the damage and know when it’s going to die. For your stand-in, this can be very frustrating, especially if you interject and run the combat basically from the other side of the screen.

It’s tempting, I know. I’m sure my stand-ins hate me because sometimes I do this. Keep quiet, let the game roll and focus more on role playing what’s happening. However, even role playing as a GM can have its pitfalls. Again, from my personal experience, I find that stealing the spot light is all too easy. Worst of all, it’s fun! As GM’s, we are used to slipping into the skin of a fictional character and thinking differently and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, for any players who may be reading this, GMing can help you improve your role play game for when you’re running a PC. Striking the balance with the rest of the table can be difficult with this honed skill at our disposal. Be reserved, only role play when you’re called upon or you feel there’s enough space in the moment. Try to read the table and take your now fellow players into consideration.

The Dragon Empire: A Setting of Mystery

Rumors and mysteries shroud the history of The Dragon Empire, instilling a ravenous hunger for information in all who read about it. Twelve ages of the world have passed, many of their events forgotten. As adventurers it is your duty to dig and find the lost relics, find the truth of legend and even create your own history of this world. Strap on your creative caps, because you’re going for a ride with this campaign setting!

The Dragon Empire is masterfully created by the people over at Pelgrane Press. In many ways, it reminds me very much of Tolkien’s work in Middle Earth; A rich history with many things to discover and explore, but just enough to keep you interested. Both settings encourage creating your own stories to fill in the gaps. It goes without saying that these two settings are insanely different, but as we all know clearly interplay off of one another. Thanks again, Tolkien, for creating fantasy as we know it.

But enough praise for him and back onto the subject. The structure of the Dragon Empire’s history in the 13th Age core rules is amazingly done by listing almost every nugget of information as a rumor or legend rather than cold hard fact. There are some, yes, but for every one fact there are ten rumors. The Dragon Empire is a game master’s gold mine, whether you run the actual setting or not. You can pick this setting apart and build your own Frankenstein campaign setting, meshing it with any other enjoyable fantasy tropes of your choice. That said, 13th Age as whole plays on fantasy tropes, particularly apparent in the Icon system. Even better is that the book includes three maps throughout and if you buy the GM’s Screen and Guidebook, you get a stand alone version of the map, inflated to 10″ x 17″ in all of it’s amazing and colorful glory. Pretty sweet, huh?

Truth be told, it’s very hard to find a frame for. Map aside, this world has more integrated into it than some pretty imagery. The setting itself is deeply tied to the idea of Icons, though only in the lore talking about three Icons that aren’t major forces in the 13th Age: The Wizard King, The White Dragon and The Green Dragon. However, they do go into some small amount of detail as to how those Icons fell from power, and it is again done through rumors and legends. Except for the Wizard King, we know what happened to that creepy bastard. Much to my disdain, most of the parts of the map that I find most interesting actually aren’t covered in the book (i.e Creel, the Stalking Trees, Torin’s Glory, Bitterwood) that I really want to know more about. The flip side of that is that it almost seems like it was done intentionally. Simply for the purpose of giving you some names to imagine your own definitions and history as to why the said areas hold those names.

In and of itself, that is an amazing stroke of brilliance, whether the areas have history or not. Things like this add to the arsenal of a GM for an open world sort of setting. As for points that they cover in the book, almost nothing is set in stone. Details for notable points on the map are nothing more than ambiguous musings of NPC cartographers and historians, speculating the historical significance of any given point. Pretty much, the descriptions are described to serve as adventure hooks and plot seeds for GM’s and players alike to utilize in creating their game within the Dragon Empire. I can’t praise it enough, beautifully done, gang.

Expanded greatly in 13 True Ways, the major cities of Axis, Horizon, The Cathedral and Drakkenhall are amazing places to perhaps even hold a whole campaign, start to finish. 13 True Ways takes the descriptions provided in the original rule book and zooms in ten fold on them to really paint a beautiful picture of what these cities are like. Hint: They’re vastly different and all have something to offer. Axis, being the domain of The Emperor, captures a Rome-esque feel, Colosseum and all., carved out of a hollowed out volcano. Segments in the book hold true to the original writing style of 13th Age and play masterfully on rumors and speculation, making the possibilities open and endless for any campaign.

Stay Metal \m/

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