Relationships in real life aren’t always a bed of roses. Nor should your Icon relationships. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a relationship is even threatened.
This house rule changes the way the story guide die roll works. Rather than always rolling at the beginning of every session, players may choose to roll or not. If they do so, instead of a d6, they roll a d12. A 9 or 10 on this roll should be interpreted the same as a 5 would have been on the d6, and an 11 or 12 is interpreted like a 6.
However, if the player rolls a 1, a complication with that Icon ensues!
A complication should not spell immediate doom, but it should be a bad thing for the characters. In a way, rolling a 1 is somewhat like a 5, except far more emphasis is placed on the complication, and no benefit is gained immediately. They may get a reward once the complication is dealt with. Exactly what happens depends on whether the relationship in question is positive, negative, or conflicted.
Positive Relationship Complications
There are plenty of things that can go wrong in even a positive relationship, but in general it should be more likely that something is threatening the Icon or his or her interests. The Icon is in trouble and needs help, and unfortunately isn’t in a position to provide any support for it. Perhaps they’ll grant a reward once you do help them, but for now you’re on your own.
There are plenty of good plot hooks that can be used for a positive relationship complication: The Emperor’s son is kidnapped, a precious (and dangerous!) artifact is stolen from the Dwarf King, one of the Archmage’s most important Wards in a remote and hostile part of the Empire has been damaged, etc.
Alternatively, you can threaten the relationship itself: The character is accused of a crime they didn’t commit and has to clear their name, the Icon disapproves of the character’s actions and they must make up for it or explain why it was completely necessary, etc. However, this should be rarer than for a conflicted relationship.
Conflicted Relationship Complications
With a conflicted relationship, it’s much more likely to be something that causes the relationship stress. The aforementioned “accused of a crime they didn’t commit” is always a good one, but “accused of a crime they did commit” can work in some situations. (Perhaps they didn’t know that feeding stray dogs was illegal in this city.) The idea here is that it is something that starts to swing the relationship slightly more toward “negative”, though should be resolvable such that the status quo remains.
Negative Relationship Complications
Rolling a 1 on a negative relationship is pretty straightforward - the Icon sends his or her agents after you! They’re not necessarily out to harm you directly, but they’re certainly going to be trying to hinder whatever your current goals are. The Diabolist doesn’t want you to retrieve the Dwarf King’s artifact, the Prince of Shadows steals your favorite sword, etc.
If a complication is rolled for a positive or conflicted relationship and the players don’t deal with it, or potentially if they fail at doing so, there could be a chance that the relationship will decay - a positive relationship becomes conflicted, a conflicted relationship becomes negative. Naturally, a complication in a negative relationship mostly just means that the Icon is actively exercising their relationship this session, so the players likely don’t need to ‘deal with’ it as the Icon will be all up in their faces regardless of any agency on the players' part.
A relationship should only decay if the player consistently fails to deal with complications, if some extremely gross violation occurs, or if it just makes for an excellent story.
If the relationship decay option is exercised, then to be fair there should be a chance for the players to improve a relationship. If 11 or 12 is rolled for a relationship that had previously decayed, instead of the normal benefits, there should be a chance for the player to restore it. Conflicted relationships can become positive again, and formerly conflicted relationships can return to that state. If they players want, you can even allow them to improve relationships that started out conflicted or negative, particularly if there’s good backstory reasoning behind the cause of those feelings.
Either way, they don’t just get an improved relationship for rolling the 11 or 12. In this situation, an 11 or 12 can mean something a lot like a 9 or 10 - that there’s some string attached, a quest they have to complete or price they must pay - but the reward is a lot better: Friendship.
And maybe some gold for their troubles. Don’t be too stingy.