In the Worldbuilding Tool post here, I detail the benefits of the Icon system used by 13th Age. But due to not owning the content, I had to be purposefully vague about what the whole thing looks like. Within this post is a full blown set of Icons I made up for a tabletop campaign set in the world of one of my (mostly conceived, barely written) novels. And also the though processes I used to come up with them.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, then by all means, keep reading…
The original story was conceived as “Let’s follow your typical Dark Lord around as he TAKES OVER THE WORLD!! *thundercrack*” with us watching as young fallen Prince Thaniel gradually rises from nothing, builds his power base, gains minions and allies, subdues treacherous supporters and otherwise has a grand old time conquering the forces of “goodness”. So one of the first things I had to come up with (once I hammered out where exactly the story was going) was a magic system that allowed for the forces of darkness to have just as legitimate a claim to rule the world as the so-called forces of light.
What I came up with essentially was that the world in question was originally jointly created by two deities–who had a falling out after everything was said and done and now fight for control of their toy with armies of men and monsters as their chess pieces. This allowed me to have several “ages” of conflict, with a golden age of magic and technology somewhere in the distant past, and our actual story occurring with a bronze age “Conan the Barbarian” aesthetic.
Now, the game I wanted to run was online, so I didn’t want to post anything that had to do with the actual novels. So I decided to set the campaign an age or two removed from that stuff. When the world was more traditionally high-fantasy and the PCs could be easily tricked into following the side of “light” into a good old fashioned witch-hunt. And of course pull the rug out from under them when they realized they were committing atrocities simply because they thought they had permission from the good people.
So I needed 13 icons to replace the ones usually used in 13th Age: 4 good, 4 ambiguous, and 5 evil. (remember kiddies, evil starts the story with all the advantages)
There were a few I knew I needed right from the start
From the novel portions of my story I knew I needed a “DARK LORD” who sets off this plot, a group called the “DARK HOUSES” to lump the other lesser evil lord types together and at least one “Avatar of the Goddess” type character to serve as the rallying point of the witch hunt–this guy quickly got locked down as THE PROPHET.
So…what else do we know we need?
Well this game’s plot is all about witches, so we’ll need one of those in the icon list. Let’s call her “THE WITCH OF THE SANDS” (hehe…it’s an evil Elsa from Frozen, we’ll have the final confrontation in her palace of glass)
So three out of five evil icons, and one good icon down. Let’s focus on the good icons for a bit–they’re technically more important since presumably the players will be picking them.
We have the religious element down, so what secular elements do we have? Well everything is pretty much small little fairy tale kingdoms right now, but presumably every time a Dark Lord rises, they all band together to try and stop him…nominally band together that is. Let’s call their choice of figurehead THE HIGH QUEEN (poor girl can’t catch a break…unless the Players do something about it). So religion, nobility, and…ah, the army. Let’s make this guy the actual “reasonable” one amidst all the religious fervor. We’ll call him THE WISE PRINCE. And one more…one more.
Oh crap, I forgot! Since this game is running off essentially DnD rules, there’s going to be elves and dwarves and such as character options. I DON’T HAVE THOSE IN MY WORLD! Crap, what do I do? Forbid them? No…bleh, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Say they’re just odd humans? No. Just no. Palette swap them for something else? Sure…that could work. Since I’m aiming for something kind of mythic…let’s have Dryads/Nyads replace the elves, and Satyrs replace the dwarves. Gnomes and halfings can be other sorts of nymphs or fae…fine, sure great…that will do.
Well since we’ve got a whole group of inhuman fae-types let’s add a fae icon. Something like Oberon, alien and powerful, but fascinated with the comings and goings of humans. Let’s call him THE FOREST LORD (I can kill him off before the novels start).
So, all four good icons, three evil ones, making good progress. What else can I grab from the novels? Well, there’s the COUNCIL OF BELLS (neutral city state noted for fairness). That’s a good neutral icon. And there’s that plot point about the last dragon. When this story happens, presumably there are more of them. The probably don’t organize very well and don’t care a fig for the games of men, but there ought to be at least one worth talking to. Let’s call her THE BIGGEST (since dragons never stop growing, so the biggest dragon is also the oldest, and therefore the wisest).
Hang on, we have a good monster icon and a neutral monster icon, why isn’t there an evil monster icon? Let’s make one up. Something from the foul laboratories of the Dark Houses that got just smart enough to sway other foul things into its influence…THE GRAND HORROR. That will do.
So, all that’s left are two neutral icons, and one evil one. Let’s start with the neutral ones. We don’t have a merchant yet…the flow of trade and money doesn’t really matter to this story in particular, but it does matter to the world. Let’s make it another “her”. The MISTRESS OF ROADS, queen of the highways and procurer of anything no matter how rare or sleezy. Fun stuff.
Ah crap, I forgot about wizards. Again, DnD rules, and again, my rules make it really hard for a good guy to be one. And you gotta have a wizard. So…okay, how’s this. One of the Dark House chaps is closer to a mad scientist, more interested in learning about the world and its long forgotten history than conquering it. As such anyone who wants to learn from him, can. Great…sure…that explains good-guy wizards and gives us another neutral icon. THE SCHOLAR.
So…one more evil icon. Hmmmm. Well, we don’t have any specific representative from the Dark God of Evil yet. I suppose that guy should exist. Let’s just call him THE ARCHBISHOP and call it a day.
So we have
THE HIGH QUEEN
THE WISE PRINCE
THE FOREST LORD
THE COUNCIL OF BELLS
THE MISTRESS OF ROADS
THE DARK LORD
THE GRAND HORROR
THE DARK HOUSES
Once I had the list I proceeded to give them all names, DnD style alignments, and a little blurb of backstory–which hopefully would have been enough for the Players to pick the ones they liked. Sadly I never got enough planned to actually run the game. But the experience of hammering out the icons for a world of my own creation was helpful enough that I suggest it here and now to you.
Go ye and do likewise…and as always, keep writing.