My home group recently finished a campaign. I asked for comments, and everyone agreed, I liked the previous campaign, but this was better. Well, that’s great, it must be I just keep getting awesomer. Or not.
People had many reasons, but a big thing for all the players is they felt more connected to the world. Like what they did mattered. Specifically, they connected to the world through intrigue.
At the end of the Numenera campaign (which people liked), I asked what they wanted more of next campaign. “Intrigue,” they said. (And more visual props, but that’s another post.)
Intrigue. How do I do that? It really helped that the 13th Age RPG has leaders of factions ready to intrigue against each other, the icons. I use the icons from Gods and Icons, but you can intrigue among any group of icons.
The Game of Icons
One thing we know is that in 13th Age, when one age ends and the next begins, some icons survive into the next, and some get replaced. That struggle for iconic survival turned out be the axis around which we spun the campaign. To keep everyone guessing I made morally ambiguous versions of some heroic and villainous icons. More gray--less black and white.
While I took advantage of a 13th Age feature, I’m sure most 13th Age campaigns don’t focus on intrigue. You don’t need a system with icons to do this. In pretty much every rpg setting you can find organizations or factions. Find out which ones would be fun for your players to defend or attack, and set them off against each other.
You can bring in agents of one faction who bad-mouth other factions, and drop hints such as, “as the age ends, all bets are off.” I used 13th Age icon agents for this.
I stole some conspiracy ideas from Night’s Black Agents, even coming up with a conspiracy pyramid (they call it the “conspyramid”) of a drow house controlled by Demogorgon who wanted to replace the current icon of hell. (Those of you who subscribe to the Dread Unicorn Games newsletter already have our version of Demogorgon, 13th Age style.)
Lower level nodes in the pyramid don’t know much, but (mostly) follow orders from above. The top of the pyramid was Demogorgon, trying to replace the current icon of hell. The PCs engage the bottom levels first, and climb up the pyramid. The final showdown with the big D was in the abyss, as traditional.
Intrigue games have a lot of NPCs, and I’m too lazy to make up tons of NPCs that never get used.
I stole a trick from some GUMSHOE improv campaigns (The Armitage Files and the Dracula Dossier). I came up with a bunch of NPCs, but did not decide if they were allies, enemies, or interested neutrals until the players met them. Instead of making 10 allies, 10 antagonists, and 10 neutrals, I made up names, descriptions, and quirks for 10 NPCs, and made 1 – 3 bullet points for each about how they would be played if they were self-interested, a house loyalist unaware of the demons pulling the strings, or knowingly working for Demogorgon.
Jandril: Female Drow Knight
- White scar on left side of face over dark blue skin
- Wears a red cape
- One day I’ll be captain. Can I use the PCs to further my goal?
- Some sort of deadly political infighting going on among the other knights. Best to keep out of it.
- All these demons and devils should make our house invincible. Time to move on the other houses!
Working for Demogorgon
- Honor guard for the demonic dragons when they hatch.
When the players were investigating the drow house, trying to stop Demogorgon's plan, they met Jandril. On the spot, I chose Self Interested and she became a possible ally and source of information for the PCs.
I’m not the only 13th Age GM thinking this way. Check out the Heavy Metal GM’s take on this.
Our current campaign is the Dracula Dossier. Great fun for an intrigue loving group.