This is the tentpole-megadungeon* game I hoped to run before I turn 50, trying to use all the gaming skills I’ve developed since 1982 to run the sort of game I was trying to run in, well, 1984. A Tentpole-Megadungeon is a game set in a dungeon so big it’s not reasonable to expect the PCs to clear out every room as it has internal ecologies, cultures and agents that keep it a living rather than static environment. Tentpole versions of these are campaigns where what the PCs uncover in that dungeon influences the whole setting and can keep the players occupied for the whole of the campaign, with trips to places outside the dungeon to break up the action or pursue clues.
13TH AGE GAME MECHANICS
I am suppressing my tendency to wildly edit game mechanics. The only change is that High Elves no longer have a Teleport power because it’s not in keeping with the AD&D 1E aesthetic of the game setting. It’s been replaced with “Thou Shall Not Hinder Me”, which are flashes of badassosity that throw your opponent off stride, letting you disengage from close combat without a chance of getting hit. Otherwise, all the mechanics in the 13th Age core book stand as written.
ICONS OF THE CIRCLE SEA
I’m ditching the default setting for an updated version of my High School D&D game. This meant changing up some of the Icons to fit the setting.
(The original icons are here http://site.pelgranepress.com/files/13thAge_Chapter_One.pdf)
Player Characters start with 3 points of Icon relationships that determine how often the character gets a benefit from their relation to the icon. These relationships can be positive (the Icon or its agency actively helps you out because they like you), mixed (they help you out but maybe just because you share the same enemies) or negative (other people who hate the icon help you out, or you know enough about the Icon to have an advantage in thwarting their schemes). Obviously, the PC heroes have more positive relations with the Good icons and negative relations with the Bad ones. In any event, here are the Icons of the Circle Sea
Archmage: High Elf wizard & adviser to the True King; he left for an age and it all fell apart. He's trying to rebuild it, chasing rumors of a lost heir and looking for new Valiant for the Isles. He's a Merlin figure, with a bit of Gandalf mixed in - capable of vast power, but relying on subtlety. (Good)
Crusader: A Paladin of the Last King (and the True King before that), he will cross any line to hold off chaos in the Isles of Humanity, and builds a new Valiant in his soul-scarred image. Imagine if Sir Agravaine was Camelot's last survivor and guiltily overcompensating to make up for his failings. (???)
Dwarf King: The Guildmaster has enticed the Dwarves from the Underdark to again have wide trade relations with the Isles. This brings great wealth, old resentments and new risks. Deals made with Dwarves are almost always profitable, but they are demanding employers. (???)
Elf Queen: In the North she weaves the three strands of Elves and an alliance with Humanity, but the pattern is tangled with no True King and the Drow carving a new empire in the Northwest as the Western Empire collapses. She needs reliable agents, but sometimes mortals are sacrifice pawns. (???)
Grandfather of Assassins: The name is a lie; the Old Man and his disciples are willing to take anything, including your life, if the price is right. The only thing they won't steal is your freedom. The Guildmaster hopes that the Grandfather can be bribed to oppose the Slave Guild. The Slavers would buy his neutrality. (???) [replaces Prince of Shadows]
Great Gold Wyrm: Since the time before time the Wyrm has sealed the Rift that both fuels all magic and would destroy the world if opened. Its dreams inspire all mortals to make a better world. Alliance with his Icon allows both following a generic 'good' but also getting involved in the affairs of dragons. (Good)
Guildmaster: When the Last King's deception was revealed, the Guilds took the reins of government in the Isles. Some say it is better, some worse; all agree it is better than chaos. Mankind is in a transition from Feudal Monarchy to Guild Capitalism; whether is stops before brutal oligarchy is unclear. (Good) [replaces the Emperor]
High Druid: Three Ages ago the Druids were driven from the Western Empire, which has now suffered ecological collapse. The High Druid needs agents to keep the Isles stable as she deals with this crisis (which is already feeding a Drow empire to the Northwest) (???)
Lich King: A threat for Ages, his destruction ended the 11th age. Now, with the Valiant destroyed, there are troubling signs that either other Evil Undead and Wizards view for his title, or the Original Lich King is reformed and awakening his cabals, cults and agents. (Bad)
The Slave Lords: This guild trades in, and profits by, mortal misery. They have many customers: secret plantations and mines on the Isles of man, the Southern Orc tribes of the Pirate Queen, the growing Drow empire. Their ultimate goal is corruption of the Guildmaster to an oligarchy of mortals as property. (Bad) [Replaces the Diabolist]
Pirate Queen: An Orc Maid who hears the voices of the gods of chaos, her fleet comes from the South to plunder the Isles, divide them an ultimately destroy them. She's an Orcish Joan of Arc being advised by demonic forces to destroy Mortal civilization. (Bad) [Replaces the Orc Lord]
Priestess: A lifetime of revelations united the voices of the Gods of Light - the elvish Ancestor-Spirits, Baldur's kin in the East, Kukulcan and others in the West, in one woman. Her devotion holds the Circle Sea together in this age, but she has no heir. Will one be found? Or the Priestess reborn? (Good)
The Three: Ages ago the greed and power of Dragons drove the Dwarves under the Circle Sea. With the Dwarves returning, the Dragons stir as well, searching for gold and power. The Red will rely on brute force, the Black on its cults, the Blue on sorcery, but all have their greed. (Bad)
The Circle Sea isn’t exactly a circle, but cartography isn’t a developed science yet, so the circle idea holds.
To the North are the Elven lands, where the Elf Queen tries to hold together an alliance of her ageless and sorcery-fueled High Elf brethren, the Wood Elves who are weighted down with divided loyalties with the High Druid and doomsday-laden prophecies, and the Dark Elves, who are carving out an empire in the chaos to the Northwest.
To the West is the Western Empire, a land populated y elves, orcs, half elves and half orcs that built a technologically advanced culture of cities and agriculture that thrived in part by ignoring the High Druid. Facing starvation and ecological collapse as their overworked land gave up any hope of crops, they are fleeing to the Northwest, into the arms of the Drow. The High Druid and her allies have bent almost the whole of their attention on saving the land, if not the people.
To the South are the Orc Lands, chaotic and wild jungles, unforgiving pampas and fierce diseases. The Orcs were driven here by the elves in the first Ages of the world, and many hold deep grudges. An Orcish Maid is hearing voices of chaotic gods and is leading many of her people to form a Pirate Army to scourge the Circle Sea. Many suspect they are being aided by the Slavers Guild, who are profiting mightily in these chaotic times.
To the East are the Isles of Humanity. In the 5th age these Isles were the landing place of Those From Beyond The Sunrise, men with skin like bone and metal, most of whose faces were wreathed in flame. A renegade had stolen the wife of one of the Sunrise People’s nobles, and the chase ended in these isles with their dragons sunk into the sea and no way home. The Sunrise People took brides from those of the isles, and they became Humans. The noble, called Courage, and his wife, Grace, were the first True King and Queen, and they shared the gifts of Those From Beyond The Sunrise - wheels, horses, pigs, the language of Wizardry, and many others. This was the True Kingdom.
THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY
Humanity came to the Circle Sea in the 8th Age, (as the Western Empire measures the ages) with the arrival of those from the Lands Beyond the Sunrise. The quest to recover the stolen Grace brought Courage and his followers here, but in the chase their dragons were sunk into the sea. With no way home Courage’s men took brides amongst the Shankill Isles folk, and thus started the race of Humanity. Courage had assumed the features of the Isles Folk, with raven-black hair and a visible face, but his men had faces wreathed in fire, and Grace was surrounded by a halo of sunlight. All had skin the color of bone, and skin that could not be pierced by blades.
Their son (the first True King, Arn) and the children of the other unions, looked more like the elves and orcs with every generation, but as they often sport ice blue or verdant green eyes, pale or ginger hair, and beards among the men that rival a dwarf’s, you can always tell a Human. (And if their skin is no longer invulnerable, their armors are superior...)
Courage and Grace brought with them many things - the secrets of wheat and the wheel, the pig and the horse, riddles of steel that rivaled a dwarf, and most importantly a new language for Wizardry. The Archmage had been a Sorcerer among the High Elves who had developed wizardry as an art with the Western Empire as they developed the first language of wizardry, being able to bind their memories so that other wizards can see what they saw, learn what they learned, feel what they felt even when the wizard was ages dead. When the Archmage met Courage he learned that the Blood Bay Prince had studied with the Archmage of the Sunrise Lands. Courage taught the Archmage the new language of wizardry, and the Archmage put it to good use, spreading this new power among the isles so that Human Wizards kept as great an edge as Human fighters did with their weapons and horses.
Courage also treated with the Dwarf King, and the trade of wheat and ale for masonry and metal brought the isles castles and cities, blades and armor, gold and prosperity - this treaty lasted until the Dragons drove the Dwarves back into the Underdark to avoid their depredations. He made alliances with the Elf Queen with the Archmages aid, trading promises of mutual protection and the two cultures sharing their arts magical and musical. The Half Elf Bard is the child of this union. Courage made treaties with the Orc Chiefs, but none would last with those chaotic people. There was always the risk of war with the Orcs.
And so the True Kings ruled wisely and well for the 8th through 11th ages. Then, in the 12th age, while the Archmage was away, a courtier at King Gawain II’s court swapped his child for the rightful heir in the hours after birth. The poor child, not of the true blood, faltered as king, ruling unwisely. Only one of the Valiant, the True King’s knights, discovered what had happened, but held his tongue as he feared the revelation would split the Valiant, the courts and the country. Perhaps he made the right decision. But the kingdom fell, the Last King engaging in a litany false ideas compounded by bad judgments and concluding with treasonous acts against the Kingdom. The Last King sundered the Shankill Isles government, and of the Valiant only the one who held his tongue, now called the Crusader, survived. He is now, perhaps, mad and will save Humanity even if it means burning down every village in the isles.
The Guildmasters seized control to hold the chaos at bay, and the 13th age has seen their rule fo the Shankill Isles, some good, some bad. The Guildmaster has enticed the Dwarf King back to the surface for the betterment of both races, which may again draw the Dragons to end them both as well. He has ships trading among every isle to improve every distant outpost, but there are so many that the Pirate Queen has arisen among the Orcs to prey on them. The guilds try to govern with the best of intentions, but the Slavers Guild now entices them with the high profit of human misery. And in all such times, there are rumors of the heir, the lost True King or his children, somewhere in the Isles. The Archmage, the Crusader and the Guildmaster all search of that child, and all for their own reasons.
And this is the history of the Five Ages of Man in the Circle Sea, and of the Islands in which we set our tale.
THE ISLES OF HUMANITY, SHANKILL ISLE AND MORDHA TOWN
The Isles of Humanity are a temperate to tropical island chain where each island has variations on a shared culture and language. To the north are the Elvish lands (where non-elves do not go) and to the south is a vast desert empire. The Isles trade between these powers and amongst themselves. Once each island was its own dutchy with dynasties of knights and wizards but with the fall of the Last King wealth comes from trade, fishing and some farming. Family manors, crypts and castles of the large islands interiors are left to rot in the pursuit of trade.
The second largest isle, Shankill, is a trade center, a city state with an extensive fleet, a sizable military force and the oldest church on the isles. It also has the most abandoned properties on the interior which many a rogue and sell-sword have looted over the decades. The mythical crown jewel of these is the ruins of Mordha Castle: once home of the isle’s ruling dynasty, built over the mine that was the Mordha‘s source of income. This was wounded when the Dwarves withdrew, and weakened again when the Lich King, to whom there were rumors of Mordha allegiance, died at the hands of Cathoris of Haven,
The Mordha, led by wizard Malcolm, tried many stratagems to prevent a loss of familial power all to no avail. Mordha Castle fell from the mountain in an earthquake after decades of scrambling for power. This was the end of the Mordha family’s struggle to keep power even as their chivalry fell to rot. The debris of the castle flattened much of the surrounding city. Now just a small town, Mordha Town, remains, trading goods from the encroaching jungle to the harbor cities. While treasure hunting bands have sought entrance to its secrets they have all either failed to gain entry or failed to return.
Mordha’s Town contains about 300 citizens, not a backwater even if it’s not huge. It survives based on three factors:
First, it’s on the overland route between Shankill and Alboling., another major settlement on the island, and there are still some people or objects that are better transported overland; Mordha’s town is a logical stopping point
Second, there are jungle-provided products that are hunted and farmed here and sold to the coastal cities. Several other inland towns also act as aggregating points for the hunters and small plantations (here they’re banana farm, or more precisely plantain plantations, plus some chocolate). This gives the town a second income stream rather than just being a way-station.
Third, there’s inertia in that the town was here, has an existing infrastructure (including sewers) and enough natural resources to support a population. People are nothing if not resistant to change, and this is as good a place as any.
Given that, the rest of the town is easy enough to fill in. We have three different business sectors:
The people who cater to overland trade: there is an inn, a tavern, a small house of negotiable comfort, tradesmen to repair wagons and tend to pack animals and a place that sells cured rations and watered wine.
The people who tend to the outlying farms and hunters: a general store that takes credit from established farms, a place that rents long term flops to hunters; people who tend to what the hunters bring in (those PCs with hunting/cooking background will get some data on what there is to hunt/cook around these parts), , warehouses for the plantation goods before they move to market and probably a guild hall/clearing space for the plantation farmers to air our their grievances.
The people who have lived here forever as social and physical infrastructure: there is a mayor of some sort, masons, guards (supplemented by the guards of caravans and planters are certain times of the year), sanitation workers, a teacher or two, tradesmen for a town, priests, spouses, children and so on..
It’s a small, unexceptional place in many ways, but much of its livelihood is dependent on the trade from Shankill to Alboling. As such the bandits are a real problem, which is why so many Icons have sent PCs to the area to put a stop to it.