This is a list of four interpretations each for three of the icons – the Archmage, Lich King, and Orc Lord – inspired by some adaptions I made to some icons for a campaign I ran recently. Think of them as different “takes” on the icon, putting a different spin on them, to keep most of the vibe and role of the icon the same while changing them in a way significant enough to be surprising to you and your players. Each take comes with a question or two to suggest a way your party might encounter that version of the icon.
Some of these “takes” are suggested by a comment or section in some of the official 13th Age material, taken to its logical extreme, whereas some come only from my own mind. Some change the icon more dramatically than others. I thought they might be useful for switching things up between campaigns, or for when a player gets excited about one icon for their character and you have to decide what kind of role they’re going to play in the campaign. In that second case, you might let the player might be able to pick a “take” that matches their idea, or you can pick one to surprise them and subvert their expectations.
I chose to only do three icons, though I considered doing more, because while I’ve created quite a bit of homebrew stuff for campaigns I’ve run, I haven’t put any of it on the internet before. I wanted to start with sort of a small investment, so to speak.
I hope you like it!
Fantasy Climate Change: The Archmage’s wards are abominations against the natural order of things, a ticking time bomb of destruction for the world which goes unaddressed because of the prosperity it brings to the Empire. The High Druid is his greatest enemy.
What does a small border town, affected by the corruption brought by the wards, do to a visiting wizard? Does the party support this extreme method of pursuing change?
Challengers: The title of Archmage belongs to the most powerful wizard, so it is constantly being competed over. The current Archmage won the seat at the cost of the reputation/power/status of several other candidates. Other wizards are constantly trying to unseat the current one, by defeating him in a duel or performing feats of such powerful magic that their supremacy will be made clear.
What icon has the powerful, bitter wizard that the current Archmage defeated to gain his title allied with to gain revenge? Why might the party have to work with/for that wizard?
Merlin: There has only ever been one Archmage, the current one has been around since the creation of the Empire. That is probably due to rituals tying his life force to the survival of the Empire, which isn’t technically necromancy… technically. Either way, he has unparalleled historical knowledge, especially of vanished icons, and wizardry is mostly about tradition, rather than innovation.
What does the Archmage know about the birth of the Empire that contradicts the generally known stories? Which icon would the party’s attitude towards change dramatically if/when they find out that information?
Lone Wolf: The Archmage doesn’t head an institution or have an official role as a servant of the empire, he serves his own goals or an unseen power or theme as something of a rogue agent. Horizon is still where you’re mostly likely to find him, but he has a hand in ventures and fronts everywhere, aided by bound elementals and monsters and people in his debt. In his absence, the Empire maintains its prosperity through closer ties with the High Druid.
What magical secret (or other quality, depending on the goal of your Archmage) is implied by a PC’s unique thing that makes them a target for the Archmage? Could a deal be struck to get them off the hook, or are more drastic measures required to convince the mage to look elsewhere?
WIZARD King: He is the world’s most powerful wizard, besides the Archmage, and he is a serious contender for that role as well. He possesses magic secrets that are critical to other icons and even to the cause of peace/justice/order/good, so the other Icons must tolerate his evil and bargain with him to gain access to his knowledge.
What toll is a small town paying to a lich mage, and for what magical services? Does the party take issue with any aspect of this arrangement?
Wizard KING: The Empire is in some ways a usurper on a throne that shouldn’t belong to him. The Lich King was the original ruler of the Empire, and his influence is still strong. He built the infrastructure and roads which are still for the most part in use, and in history is not a villain but a noble figure. Some people who are dissatisfied with the current leadership look to the past and to the original Wizard King, and therefore either support the Lich King or seek his restoration to true life.
What positive thing (protection, tradition, rule, etc) did the Lich King and his legacy provide for the Empire? And what changed recently that made it go away, to the dismay of the people of the Empire?
Sleeping Threat: The Lich King is considered by many to be a myth. His return is for the most part a secret, as he gathers power secretly in a surprising location of your choice. Though there are signs and prophecies of the coming danger, no one is really sure where it is or how to combat it. The old rites and protections have fallen out of practice, and the forces of good must resort to convincing villagers to continue to observe them.
What icon knows about the Lich King’s return and is choosing not to advertise it, and why? Can the party change their mind?
Crucible: The Lich King is not just a looming threat, he is actively trying to recapture the Empire. There is a front somewhere where Imperial Legions are holding off zombies, and posters in every village recruiting new soldiers. There are Inquisitions into necromancy and worship of gods who are not deemed “light” enough. Maybe the Lich poses such a serious threat because he is allied with another Icon like the Diabolist or Orc Lord, or because an Icon like the Archmage or Crusader betrayed the Empire. Or maybe something happened to piss him off.
What terrifying story are the veterans from the front lines telling about a new power of the Lich King’s forces? Which PC’s backstory or unique thing does it relate to?
Elven Origins: The Ord Lord wasn’t just created by the elves; he is an elf, or at least something more elf-like than your average orc. This makes him a civilizing influence on the orcs. That doesn’t mean they’re any less dangerous - in fact, being organized and collaborative makes them worse than ever. Maybe that’s okay because they aren’t making war on the Empire, but on the Elf Queen.
What ancient elven family is the Orc Lord originally from, and how do they feel about that? What special power over/knowledge of the Orc Lord do they have that the party needs?
Lich’s Bane: The Orc Lord didn’t just help unseat the original Wizard King, he dealt him his death blow. According to some, that makes him the rightful heir to the throne of the Empire. According to others, it means he’s the one fated to defeat the Lich again, or at the very least that he has some special power against the forces of undeath. If you like, maybe he’s a powerful necromancer in his own right, and will slay the Lich to claim his dread domain for his own.
What does it look like in the far north of the Empire, where orcs and human villagers (ignoring official imperial policy) work together to very effectively battle the undead? What icon wants this experiment to end, and is the party working for or against them?
Scapegoats: Orcs are rough, but they’re people too. They have culture and family, and are unjustly persecuted because of a bad reputation. The Empire is demonizing them and waging war on their homes to keep the people in support of a regime they might otherwise revolt against - or some other nefarious end, which would require sympathy for the orcs to undo. The Orc Lord is leading the charge to protect his people.
Which PC buys into the propaganda, or has a grudge against orcs? And which PC is going to go out of their way to help an oppressed human-orc couple and their kids? That won’t go poorly for anyone…
Racial Secrets: Orcs (and probably half-orcs too) have access to some magic that no one else does. This is presumably due to the Orc Lord sharing his power, like the Elf Queen does with the elves, though where the Orc Lord originally got said power from no one knows. This situation may have always existed, be new this Age, or have started last week. Either way, the Archmage, Priestess, and/or the Blue (depending on the type of magic) are trying to figure out a way to gain access to this power.
What secret of the origin of this power does an icon think is buried in an ancient crypt? How are the PCs relationships with the Orc Lord relevant as they try and uncover it?