13 Icons of Undeath

Written by Martin K.

The Emperor has fallen. Axis is in ruins. The dead have risen from their graves to battle for control of the world.

Welcome to 13th Age and Zombies. This is Gothic Horror.

Whether you are planning to throw your players into a greywashed mirror universe where all there friends are undead, whether you are looking for a dystopian future as a what would happen when the heroes fail, or a dark age of the past that the world is slowly recovering from, with these icons you can present a what if that will send your party scrambling for a portal back.

Of course, you can always just cherrypick one or two favorites for your next campaign.

 

The Red Lich

(The Archmage / Lich)

Even as an Icon, the Archmage was still mortal. The fate of his predecessor was a fair warning. It takes just one failed experiment, one careless teleport, one sabotaged potion... You are gone and the backstabbing of the arcane colleges to elect your successor will send Horizon into a tailspin.

Without immortality, the Lich King will always have the last laugh. What does an army of golems mean when your enemy will just watch as you scramble to keep them from catching dust and growing creaky.

To even the odds, the Archmage understood that he had to become what he set out to fight. Unlike the Lich King, he has never limited his powers to necromancy in the afterlife. He has remained the most powerful elementalist even in undeath. He has literally risen above the realm of mortals by creating a mobile empire of flying fortresses. His airborne armies of winged terrors can strike any time, if only to mop up what rain of fire and decay have not already swept away.

And the Lich King was defeated.

Quote: “Don’t consider it a tax. But just imagine what would happen to this beautiful castle if a mountain should happen to drop on it, my dear Duke. Think of it as an insurance.”

The True Danger: The Red Lich’s vast magic undertakings drain the Overworld and limit the arcane energy that can trickle down to the necromancers below. His schemes and occasional conquest are mere necessities to ensure a steady flow of resources to fund even stranger experiments. He is an ever-present threat, but his allegiances shift at whim and convenience. Should he ever decide to ally with any other icon below, the ensuing balance shift would cause a war that would never end.

 

The March of Bones

(The Gold Wyrm / Skeleton)

Not much was left of the Great Gold Wyrm when the demonic hordes were finished with him. Trapped between this world and the Abyss, he his magic was still strong enough to hold them back and prevent them from coming to this world, but the demon princes changed tactics. Instead of wasting their best soldiers, they sent the lessest of demons. Tiny as cockroaches and many times as numerous, they nibbled at his flesh and consumed it piece by piece, gnawing if off to the bone.

Trapped between worlds, the most ancient and glorious of dragons could not die in peace. His bones rattle as he tries to escape his invisible chains. Every spring, when the mists of twilight weaken the boundaries between the spheres, his rattling can be heard all over the known world. This is the time when the dead rise from the graves, and a silent march of skeleton begins. They walk day and night without tiring, marching along the arcane traces of the ancient Imperial roads, looking neither left nor right. Their sheer numbers make them unstoppable, filling trenches, scaling walls and forming bridges over rivers.

Slowly, the masses of bones have filled the hot gaping pit to the abyss. In its place is now a giant fortress of bones. Only a faint red glow in the night tells that the gap has been filled but not closed off forever.

The True Danger: As long as the Bone Wyrm remains trapped between worlds he will not be able to march on this world with the giant skeletal army he has amassed.

 

The Ivory Tower

(The Priestess / Deathless)

The downtrodden peasants and townsfolk whisper of a holy city to the east of the Empire, the last beacon of hope for mortal beings. Spreading rumors of it is treated as treason, punished far worse than with a death sentence. Those in the know speak of a holy figure of ageless beauty, forever on her throne in Santa Cora.

There are other wispers, of a darker, more sinister truth. Yes, the Oracle of the Ivory Tower is a last hope for those who cling to their mortal flesh. A safe zone, impoverished, overwhelmed with refugees, but, the last realm where the common folk find a little peace.

Every twelve years, the council of the tower elects a new Chosen One to ascend to the top of the tower, to return as the new Oracle.

If the darker rumors are true, the Chosen One is a mere vessel for an immortal spirit that craves a new body as the old one is eaten from within.

The True Danger: Everything will be alright as long as the downtrodden do not lose faith.

 

The Fangorn Forest

(The High Druid / Undead animals)

Some claim that the Wild Wood has always had a soul. But it has changed. In the seventh year of Aurelius, a white light was seen in the east. Scouts of the Dragon Guard returned with reports of a wide swath of forest that was flattened, stretching outside from a giant crater that had not been charted before.

Whatever happened that night, the lush greens that once covered large swathes of the eastern Empire have turned into a dried out grey. The last High Druid has not been seen in ages, but unlike ever before in known history, no Hierophant of the ever belligerent circles has stepped forward to claim the title, ready to defend his claim in a duel of spell and claw.

It is as if the forest itself has soaked up his essence and gained sentience. Will-o-wisps can be seen every night, like watchmen guarding a border. Treacherous swamps made former clearings unpassable. Survivors of an ill-fated excursion into the depth of the forest spoke of an ancient treant who claimed to be the voice of the forest, among other tales that have been deleted from the records as the ramblings of madmen.

Quote: Leave, mortal, or be the prey.

The True Danger: Everything will be fine as long as whatever is in the forest is content to stay within its border.

 

The Vampire Lord

(The Lich King / Vampire)

The Red Lich claims to have defeated the Lich King. While it is generally accepted that he indeed succeeded to find his archenemy's phylactery and destroy it, those in the know claim that this was only possible because the Lich King was betrayed by his ancient master.

According to them, the Lich King never was the true lord of Necropolis. How could he, merely by arcane power, be the lord over all undead? They say that he was merely a convenient fool, keeping watch while his creator was sleeping through the 13th Age. Cain, the primogenitor, the first Vampire, the brotherslayer, the most ancient evil of the continent was safe in his crypt deep under the palace while the fallen Wizard King built an army and plotted his revenge.

When the Lich King was defeated a second time, Cain awoke. Slowly. A decade past between the opening of his left and right eyelid. But as he collects and regains his true power, so does his speed increase.

What are Cain's true goals? Nobody has been able to read the mind of a being that ancient, that powerful. His return has sparked a shadow war among his children, between those that hope to rise as his generals and then kings, and those who believe that the first one can still be stopped while he is weak.

The True Danger: Everything will be alright, it will be another century until Cain will start to move his left toe.

 

The Mummy King

(The Emperor / Mummy)

The Empire has fallen, Axis is in ruins, and the Emperor’s throne is vacant. The impoverished survivors don't even agree who to blame. The advancing Hungry Horde? The crazy chimaeras of the Stitched? Roving elven warbands on the run from the Banshee? It seems as if every army of this age had only one goal, to march upon Axis and plunder where nothing is left to plunder, not even bodies.

But from the rubble, a new king has risen. When the scared citizens fled deeper and deeper into the ancient tunnels under Axis, they cracked the gates to ancient catacombs, layer after layer. After digging through what must have been a thousand, if not two thousand years of civilization, they came upon a crypt that was untouched by time.

Bravely, they ventured in, hoping to find yet unplundered riches that could be used to bribe and divert the next round of invaders. Instead, they woke an ancient King, bandaged to wait through the ages and ready to rule again.

The next day, hooded figures appeared at the city gates, speaking the ancient tongue of the oldest records of the palace archive. They claimed that the day of the prophecy had dawned. Truth? A clever ruse? Whichever it was, Axis had a new ruler.

Quickly, any dissenters were rounded up and enslaved. From the rubble, a new building is rising at the central point of axis, where the North-South and East-West main roads meet. The Mummy King has promised that when he will take the throne on the top of his new pyramid, a new age will dawn.

The True Danger: As long as rebels and dissenters remain well enchained to keep the peace and give their sweat and their life for Axis' new found glory, nothing can go wrong.

 

The Hungry Horde

(The Orc Lord / Ghoul)

The Horde was always hungry. Every harvest season, the farmers and settlers of the northern reaches of the Empire had to be on high alert, always ready to defend their hard-earned grain against the raiding parties of orcs, hobgoblins and ogers.

Some blame Horn Skullstaff, the most accomplished necromancer among the Orc Lord's shamans. Never satisfied with the limits of his power, he kept calling bigger and bigger swathes of undead to secure his position, until the point where his army of the dead was large enough to claim the title of a clan in its own right, although he was refused by the tent of elders.

With every fight, his horde grew larger, adding any fallen enemy that they could carry away. This was when the other clans decided to put an end to his madness, lest they would find their final fate among his troops too. Setting aside their petty bickering for once, the amassed armies of seven clans, with the Orc Lord in the lead.

But Skullstaff was prepared. He had piled up the bodies he had collected but not raised yet to form a flesh palisade that could not be climbed. Those who tried were ripped to shreds as the trapped bodies exploded under their feet. Many orcs lost their lives that day, any many more lost their sanity. Still, the attackers could claim victory. With the determination of a true Icon, the Orc Lord climbed the fortification, got hold of Skullstaff and his frail, failing body, and unceremoniously snapped his neck. When it became clear that the shaman had no contingency prepared and was, in fact, a lifeless, unanimated shell, a yell of victory marked the end of the battle, after which the Orc Lord was swarmed by the undead hordes and never seen again.

And then came the ghouls. Attracted by what was the largest feast for them that was ever prepared, they slurched across the deserted battlefield, feeding and raising more of their own.

Leaderless, the horde now plows the continent, following a pattern that the oracles could not yet predict. Where the go, nothing remains when they leave. Not even bodies.

The True Danger: The Horde is too numerous, too savage and too hungry to ever be directed or controlled. Or is it?

 

The Banshee

(The Elf Queen / Banshee)

The Queen of Elves, has she ever truly lived? Was she not always a prisoner of her crown, of the whims of the court, of the endless tug of war between the elven races? Was she that different from the Green, present at the court, as a symbol of power, but never allowed to leave?

Accounts of what truly happened vary between the elven races. The High Elves, as they always do, blame the Drow. And how could they not? There is no method of assassination, poison or dagger, traceable or untraceable, fast or slow, public or hidden, that they have not mastered.

The Wood Elves silently weep, and claim that she never left, she just reincarnated and they have not found her yet. Curiously, they don't seem to be looking too hard.

And the Drow? Blame other Drow.

Only a select few know that the Elf Queen chose the only escape she knew - she willingly drank the poison that was given to her.

What she did not know was that the prison was stronger than her bond to life. She could check out but she could never leave. All that remains is her beauty, strangely preserved in her ghostly form, her agony and her wailing.

Her screams have the power to take anyone along into the twilight realm of not-death where she resides. And like her, those who die at the court may never leave.

The elves, meanwhile, have dwindled in the ensuing war of brothers. The formerly most civilized race has fallen into small, plundering warbands, who try to stay clear of the larger armies.

The True Danger: Everything is alright as long as you stay out of hearing distance.

 

The Headless King

(The Dwarf King / Ghost)

Among the chaos, the destruction and the despair, there is one realm that is untouched, where the ancient order and protocol is upheld.

As prescribed in the proper etiquette of the dwarven court, the King is awoken by his servants at the fifth hour, he is washed, his beard is trimmed, his nightgown is taken and exchanged for his freshly polished chain mail, his crown is delivered on a velvet cushion from the treasury where it was kept the night...

... until he retreats for the night at the ninth hour.

The protocol is so strong, it could not even be disrupted when the King's nephew, who had just disposed of the King's son and rightful heir, stormed into the chamber and lopped the King's head of with a straight cut with Kingmaker, the heirloom axe of his dynasty.

The King, undeterred, went on his business, while the nephew was exiled to prevent creating a martyr of the cause (rumors exist of a long and eventful adventuring career). His ghostly form had to adapt as it needs to hold its head in place in most situations, but dwarves are crafty and adaptable.

Like their master, the King's servants continued their routine, after they too, crossed over the line and continued to serve him as ghosts. Soon, the entire race may be gone.

The True Danger: Everything will be alright as long as there are still enough living dwarves left to protect the city, the tunnels and the court from plunderers hungry for gold.

 

The Stiched Beast

(The Three / Flesh Dracogolem)

Why would the Three fight each other? The Red, the Blue and the Black had their territories marked, and while the Gold Wyrm was still around he was enough of a threat to keep them allied enough to push back. But then the Green was freed, back to claim his rightful place in Drakkenhall. When the Red in his pride refused to yield, he was furious. The Black and the Green joined forces to put the Red back into place, and Drakkenhall deteriorated into open civil war. The Blue joined the Red to push back, but when a son of the White ventured down from the North to claim his own place, and the non-draconic races were dragged into the fight, alliances kept shifting until in the end, forces crashed on the Iron Sea coast. In the end, dragon wrestled dragon, and teeth the size of houses tore out chunks of flesh the size of whales. All Five ripped each other to shreds, and their blood washed into the ocean. The Black, in his last breath, ordered his troops to collect the pieces and stich them together.

When a hundred dragons sacrificed themselves to reanimate the Beast, a true monstrosity was created. Four wings, five heads, six claws, held together by the necromantic magic that drained an entire layer of the underworld to dry dust.

The True Danger: Everything will be alright as long as the five heads keep their sanity.

 

The Shadow

(The Shadow Prince / Shadow)

The downfall of civilization allowed the Shadow Prince to finally reveal his true nature, always hidden in plain sight. The Prince of Shadows is, and has always been, literally the prince of the undead race known as shadows.

His role has not changed. His allegiances are still unclear, as is the true extent of his network and personal power. The Prince would not want to have it in any other way.

The True Danger: As long as the sun shines, every being will cast a shadow. But what if one day, it won't?

 

The Bone Devil

(The Diabolist / Reaper)

The flaying of the Gold Wyrm, and the sealing of the rift with a giant mountain of bones had an unforeseen consequence. 

 

The Death Knight

(The Crusader / Death Knight)

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