Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mystery: The Emperor’s Assassin

Mystery: The Emperor’s Assassin

The Emperor has been slain in his bed! Thousands will mourn him, but your job is not to weep for him. You must find his killer and bring him to justice.

This is a long mystery. Answering each question takes 4 clue points per character.


Here are the questions, with a default set of answers.  Use these answers, tweak them, or create your own.

How did the Emperor die? The emperor was killed by drowning in his sleep.  His killer managed to feed him a potion of water (known on the black market as a potion of drowning) in his sleep, which was a passive enough effect to slip past the many magical effects placed on him for protection.

When this question is answered, the killer sends one of his agents to kill one of adventurers or a contact in the same way!

Why was the Emperor killed? The Emperor has many enemies, but what ultimately got him killed was a crusade that the Emperor was to lead against the weakened forces of the Abyss.  Recent upheavals amongst the demons lead the Emperor to believe (correctly) that a decisive campaign could expel demons and devils from affairs of mortals for several ages.  Such a campaign could usher in a 14th age of peace and prosperity.

When this question is answered, it’s probably time for the players to meet a few demons.

Who killed the Emperor?  Sven Goodrich, one of his attendants, who is also the Shadow Prince’s most inventive and successful assassin.  The Shadow Prince had the Emperor killed, because, well…I’ll use his words:

“Personal? No, it’s never personal.  It’s just that an age of peace and prosperity free from any influence from the Abyss would be extremely bad for business.  The Emperor was entertaining, but even a jester needs to know his place.”

When this question is answered, it’s time to talk to the Shadow Prince and make a deal…or prepare for a fight.



Assign clues as loot.  If you want, you can let characters choose to have a clue instead of standard loot when you assign it. You can also create clues appropriate to your campaign as needed. It’s also possible to assign a clue via a relationship roll. You can roll a d3 for the clue’s strength or assign it. If a player did a lot of work for a clue, best to assign it a high rating.  If it was just a skill check or relationship roll without much work, a low clue rating is OK.  

  • He has many enemies
  • Killer has strange tools
  • Secret crusade
  • Diabolist uninterested
  • He trusted the killer
  • The Abyss at a crossroads
  • The 14th age
  • Shadow Prince’s letter
  • Emperor’s protective spells
  • 1,000 servants, 1,000 alibis
  • Disorderly court

How would you tweak this mystery for your campaign?

Ephemera: Clues

Ephemera: Clues

So we are back to working with ephemera.  I hinted at the clue ephemera last week, but I wanted to come back to it explicitly and also to offer up a system I have for making mysteries in 13th Age that use it.  Of course, like much of the mechanics I’m offering up here, little to no playtesting has happened.  YMMV.  The basic concepts should be sound, but the numbers may be off.

I explain what ephemera are in a previous post.


A clue is an ephemera that describes information an adventurer discovers when investigating a mystery.  Clues are not applicable to anything unrelated to the mystery, and dissappear when a mystery is solved.  When noting a character’s clues, you might want to organize them under the heading of the mystery they relate to.  Make a section for “Who Kidnapped The Mayor’s Daughter”, for instance, and right all clues that you pick up related to that mystery under there.

Using Clues

Clues can be rated from +1 to +3 .  When making a skill check where a clue would apply, you can use the clue in addition to your applicable background and attribute to make the roll.

As your party collects clues, they can be pooled together to make  an insight. Whenever the characters can discuss the earned clues, they can put together a specific amount of clues to generate the insight, which is the GM filling out the information they’ve acquired.  A typical mystery will need several insights to solve.

When the insight is used, all the clues that were used to generate the insight are used up and removed from the sheet.  You don’t always have to use the clues you have on your sheet!  You can save clues and bring them out at different stages.

Earning Clues

The GM can basically assign clues as “loot” in your story. Investigating different angles and areas will provide you opportunity to find clues that you have.  Once per mystery, you can declare how your background gives you special insight into a mystery, and earn a clue (GM’s discretion) of half the background, rounded up.


Here is a way to run a mystery investigation.  It’s a light bit of structure and mechanics, but I’ve tried to keep it idiomatic, using conventional 13th Age elements in different contexts.

So,  every mystery is really a question.  Actually, a mystery is a set of questions.  Who did this? Why? When? How?  When you make a mystery, you first make a list of the relevant questions that make up the mystery.  One to three questions should do it.  Decide the order that the questions will be answered in.  When you introduce the mystery, you can introduce the first question.  When the first question is answered you can then introduce the next question for them to answer.

Once you’ve made the questions, assemble short phrases that indicate information that the players can acquire.  A list of about a dozen is a good start, but you can make up clues as necessary.

Once you’ve created clues and questions, you need to discover how much insight is needed to answer each question.  When characters spend a certain time of insight, you can provide them with the information for the current question.

A short mystery requires 1 clue point per player. (so 4 points of clues for four players). This is a great length for a one session mystery.

An average mystery requires 2 clue points per player. This can be good for a one to two session mystery.  If there are many other factors going on, the mystery could take 3-4 sessions instead.

A long mystery requires 4 points per player.  These are larger, sometimes campaign-long mysteries that run concurrent with many other story elements and plot.

You can tell the party how much insight they will need when a mystery comes up.  Whenever the characters have enough clues and want to trade them in for insight, proceed as follows.

Have each character with a clue state what clue they discovered and are using.  As each character announces his clue, you can provide any additional detail that you think is relevant, representing new conclusions that they can draw.  After all characters have announced their clues, you’ve got two options:  you can answer the question for the party, letting them know what their clues have revealed to them, or you can let the players answer the question in accordance with their clues.  I trend towards the latter option myself, but either can work.

Another staging trick here is to set up some story trigger that happens as characters answer a question of the mystery.  When the party finds out the cause of death (“How was the priest killed?”), the killer sends an agent against them using the same murder tactic.

I’ll draw up an example mystery so you can see how this works in practice.

[Adventure] Wrath of the Demiurge : Blasphemies

[Adventure] Wrath of the Demiurge : Blasphemies

We now know what the Demiurge has done (or what we think she has done).  Now that she is returning, what is it that she wants?  The first aspect of her scheme that we know is that she needs all the player characters. In each character is a fragment of her essence that has ‘ripened’ to be ready to bring her back into the world.  What we also know is that she can not simply be brought back.

The Demiurge must bring all the characters together and get them to commit a Blasphemy.  The Blasphemy is an act  against the current mythological “status quo” that will create the energy to bring the Demiurge back to this realm of existence.  Example Blasphemies include:

  • Desecrate a church (or multiple churches) with symbols and rituals of the Demiurge
  • Assassinate an important representative from the pantheon that “killed” the Demiurge
  • Sacrifice important people in the character’s life (not necessarily friends/family)
  • Be sacrificed by the cult of the Demiurge
  • Steal several sacred artifacts and destroy them

The Demiurge always keeps the Blasphemy a secret until the final act.  She first tries to help characters with the problems in their life and get them on her side as much as she can.  She tries to build her influence with each character as much as she can before announcing what they must do. She has a means of forcing a character to do what she wants, but her ability to do that is limited.  She would rather conserve her energies and convince characters to help her.


The Demiurge’s Will

The Demiurge can take over her vessels for short periods of time to make them perform anything that she wishes.  The Demiurge  has one token for each player.  During the adventure she can use a token to use her Will on a player.  The character can resist.  If she does resist, the Demiurge must roll a die.  She has a 60% chance to enforce her will.  Increase this chance by 10% for each favor the Demiurge has performed for the character.  If this chance is 100%, then the character the Demiurge tries to control can no longer resist.

The Demiurge uses her Will to make characters do things they might otherwise balk at, or to create situations that drive a character into her service (control a character and make them commit a murder, so they must flee and join her cult, for instance).

When the Demiurge’s Will is enacted, the GM takes control of the character’s narrative and describes what happens.  Sometimes the character is cognizant of what happens; sometimes she is not.  The GM can determine this as part of the description as well.

Another important detail: You do not tell players about the Demiurge’s Will until the first time you prepare to use it. If you want to be foreboding, place the tokens publicly but do not explain them.


The Demiurge’s Favor

The Demiurge can also grant favors.  In the early part of the adventure, where she is helping a character solve his problems, she can offer favors to characters to help them.  These favors will manifest as generous die bonuses if they are minor.  A major favor will grant the player narrative control over a scene and decide what happens.  A major favor counts as two favors.  The  Demiurge can do no more favors than she has Will; any subsequent favors will require a character to boost the Demiurge’s Will.  She will make the request (“Lend me some of your energy and I can do this for you”) and if the character agrees, add more Will tokens  to the table equal to the favor asked for.


Typed Backgrounds in 13th Age: Concepts

Typed Backgrounds in 13th Age: Concepts

Back to backgrounds again! I was chatting with Ryven about a project he’s working on, and in discussing that I came up with yet another way to deal with backgrounds.

First, let’s think about temporary backgrounds.  If a “real” background represents training, skills and experience that can’t easily be taken from a character, a temporary background represents a specific, recent condition or experience affecting your character now. We can’t get out of control representing these ephemeral moments, though.  We should only use temporary backgrounds to represent things that our story cares about. We don’t have to document every hurt feeling or bruised bone.

But…say we are involved in a mystery. A strange being is attacking folks around the village. No one has been killed yet, but the attacks are becoming increasingly violent. We have to find the being and what it wants, and put its attacks to a stop.  In addition to the skills and experiences we bring with us (our normal backgrounds), our current story makes clues a relevant part of our experience.  After interrogating a barkeep, I gained Clue: It Strikes at Dawn +2 for a temporary background which, since I like terminology as much as anyone I will call ephemera. I can use my clue where it is relevant in the story.  Ephemera bonuses usually stack on top of a normal background (and therefore are usually smaller bonuses), but of course require more specificity.  I can’t just use my clue for any old thing.  It has to pertain to this mystery somehow when I use it.

But why do we need to have a type (“clue”) for our ephemera? What does that give us?  The driving concept here is that each type of ephemera has some set of rules that govern it. Let’s say that clues can combined to make an insight roll.  The roll determines what additional clues and information the GM reveals to you. If you roll high enough, you get the “final” reveal, in this case “what is this creature stalking the town?”  If you have enough clues, you can combine and consume them to avoid the roll and just get straight insight into the case.

Another type of ephemera could be a memory. Let’s call a memory a vivid experience that is important to your character.  A memory always stacks with a background when making a skill check. When you use a memory, you must “link” it to the current moment.  How is now similar and relevant to this vivid experience? A memory is consumed immediately when you use it.

These are just concepts right now; still hammering out details and implementation thoughts right now.  The goal isn’t to make a million different types of backgrounds that you have to tack at once, but rather to introduce subtle mechanical changes that you use for different parts of your story.


Five Fires: “Tribe”, the Quest System.

Five Fires: “Tribe”, the Quest System.

So on thing I’ll include with Five Fires are pre-made “quests” for players that they pick during character creation.  That gives players some initial problems to solve and to drive play with.  Eventually I feel that players will want to make their own quests though, and I want to give them the tools for doing that.  Here is the the rough system I developed for it, codenamed Tribe (“called Quest”, get it?).  I’ve done some basic tests with it that show promise so I’ll refine further.



The “Tribe” system is all about letting players determine what they want to do, and giving them steps with how they get there. It provides basic steps and lets you fill the specifics in for your character and game.  The GM can then focus on making trouble for the players as they try to complete their chosen quests.

Players make quests by declaring something they want, (“I want to save the princess”), picking a scale (“it’s really a major thing”), how hard it will be (“It will be really difficult”) then deciding a reward (“My character will become a hero and earn the “famous” trait.”).  That’s it.  The scale of the quest will determine how many successful steps you need to take (Failing a scene means you suffera asetback, and have to do something else to get on track).  The difficulty determines how much trouble the GM can make for you in different scenes.

There are three basic types of “Quests”.

  • Quick Quest: 1 -2 steps temporary reward. can get some big but ephemeral boosts from these.
  • Minor Quest : 4 steps.  minor permanent reward.
  • Major  Quest:  8 steps. major permanent reward.

In addition, there are certain “Quests” and events that will insert steps for you. Sometimes the GM can put special obstacles in front of you that force you top do something else before you can complete a specific quest.  Other times you might have a class related quest with some special instructions.  Whenever a quest varies from using the steps here, it will be explicitly called out to you.

Your last step of the quest always has to deal with the object of your quest.  Choose where that will happen, and write what you’ll do in the last step.  Roll on the charts below for each other step.

You the player will know the steps in advance, but the character you control won’t know.  Your character will be learning what he needs to do after each step.  Make sure to work that into your descriptions of the scene.

For each step:

  1. Roll on the Actions Table
  2. Roll or choose from other tables the action tells you to.
  3. Roll difficulty.  Note whether the GM can make trouble (T) or make double trouble (TT) at this step.

Tribe Charts

What to do?

1.find guidance (where & who)

2.gather clues/information (determine from where and

3.deliver something (determine for who, to whom, and to where)

4.overcome a personal problem (determine what it is, who it involves (can be yourself, and where it is).

5.get assistance (from who or what?)

6. recover an item (from where?)

Who ( pick one)






skate punks

graff Artist


street sage

street samurai

info broker


or pick someone from your contacts list.



1. Brooklyn

2. Queens

3. Manhattan

4. Bronx

5. Staten Island

6. The Dungeon (the underground)




1-5 The GM can make trouble

6 The GM can make double trouble.



1-4 The GM can make trouble

5-6 The GM can make double trouble


Really Hard

1-3 The GM can make trouble

4-6 The GM can make double trouble.


When you fail the roll for a step, you suffer a setback.  Your step is not completed, and you must also do something else in replacement of that step.  Roll that step over, and then complete that step to progress.

[Adventure] Wrath of the Demiurge: What Did She Do?

[Adventure] Wrath of the Demiurge: What Did She Do?

What did the Demiurge do?  This is critical to determine not only her relationship to the world, it might also determine the player’s sympathy to her cause. The Demiurge wants revenge, and is always some version of evil, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a valid reason for wanting revenge.

There are three basic stances to take.  I’ll talk about them generally, and you can fit them into a setting you already have.

One is that the Demiurge fought some injustice of the Gods and lost.  Maybe the Gods were lying to their followers. Maybe the Gods were hatching a scheme to put their followers in a more subservient role than they were already in. The Demiurge discovered the plan, confronted the Gods, and was cast down for her trouble.

Another is that the Demiurge tried to gain the power of the Gods.  Tired of being a lesser being, she had concocted a plan to gain more power and barge her way into godhood. Her plan was thwarted by either Mortals or Gods, and she was “destroyed” for her treachery.

The last is that the Demiurge broke a cardinal rule. There are rules that Gods of any power must not break. Maybe the Demiurge fell in love with a Mortal?  Maybe she did not make a proper offering to a God further up in the Hierarchy?  Whatever the rule is, the Demiurge actively defied the rest of the Gods in not following it.

What stance would you choose for your setting and why?  Feel free to give some world background as well.

Lastly…I’m considering building a sample framework in 13th Age when I’m done.  Any interest in this? Please raise your hand in the comments if so.


How to Be a Fraud

How to Be a Fraud

How to be a fraud is to tell people to not be in their head and to get it on screen or paper as soon as possible, but to get stuck in your own head in the process.

Funny isn’t it?  i had this idea about Wrath of the Demiurge and it’s so good, so damn good, so incredibly awesome that I can’t even write it down.  So perfect it can’t even live on this earth with me.  Did I not just tell you to avoid this?  This whole past week I’ve been letting this thought noodle in my head while





So I’m a bit of a fraud!  The good news for you is that I have battle scars, and I have a recent story to share with  you! Yay!  On the bad news, I am a fraud and I’m not eating my own dog food in terms of advice.  You can see how hard this trap is to avoid as a creative.  When I noticed that I was in this bubble, I laugh-cried to myself.

So what do I do now? I’m doing what you should be doing:  I’m acknowledging my mistake and forgiving myself. I’m then going right to the action I need to be taking, which is to do more writing.  When you find yourself in the “perfect world” trap, please do this!

More tomorrow.