13th Age: Magic Items and Living Dungeons

I thought I’d use some free time on my birthday to talk about some more cool stuff in 13th Age. This time, I want to talk about two related subjects: magic items and living dungeons.

They’re related because both of them describe living, sentient things. Seriously! Let’s start with…

Magic items

13th Age divides magic items into two broad categories: weak, everyday items and true magic items. The everyday stuff are basically consumables like potions, oils, and runes. You can buy them from the local alchemist (or runescribe, or whoever you imaging sells runes that need to be drawn on the thing you want to enchant).

True magic items are altogether different. Each one is unique and has a history. More important, each one is alive and has a personality and motivation.

The rules state that a character can possess one true magic item per level without much trouble. Under those conditions, the strong personalities tug at your character but you are still in control. My friend Stephanie’s character, Iana, has a magical sword named Glaezentorg (from the introductory adventure). I made the sword desire blood and gore all the time, and it manifests in her a desire to eat raw meat. I never make her character do anything she doesn’t want to do, but she enjoys playing up the urges for violence and steak  tartar.

forcing you to kill people and lick the blood off the blade.

I assume that your multiple magic items are jealous of each other sometimes, too. But some could be friends. You have to really love them for them to give you their magic. You have to bond with them. Think of them as pets.

The new rules, released yesterday, are chock full of ideas for personalities and motivations for items. With those rules as an enhancement, I’d probably approach magic item creation with the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues in mind…

Living dungeons

I am pretty sure that 13th Age didn’t invent the idea of a living dungeon. Maybe they didn’t even come up with the name. I remember reading some OSR stuff that might have given me the term “cthonic underworld” that I was using in my Labyrinth Lord campaign to describe exactly the same thing. In any case, I was excited to see the idea in 13th Age.

In my Tenrook setting, a living dungeon is a magical creature formed of negative elemental earth energy. It’s vaguely tentacle-like and it can take any form it wants, but its shape is always a hole in the ground. It is born deep underground and it burrows its way to the surface, growing and stretching until it hits the mortal world.

Like any good monster, the living dungeon wants to kill. It’s a mass murderer, gaining more and more power as it takes life. Like a clever virus, it knows that it can’t just instantly kill anything that enters it. It seduces and teases. It lures people into its depths with the promise of treasure. Some of the treasure it creates out of thin air. Sometimes it finds things buried in old and forgotten dwarven cities and it eats them and leaves them for adventurers to find. It doesn’t often understand the things it finds.

If it just left treasure laying around, people would get too suspicious, so it generates just enough monsters to make it an interesting challenge. Its goal is to kill off one or two adventurers from a party but make them rich and get them to go back to town and brag and get more and more adventurers to try their luck. Eventually, a living dungeon gets his fill of killing and moves on, leaving the tunnels empty and soulless.

The living dungeon is generally easier to get into than get out of, sort of like a prison. A lot of traps might be set up so they let people pass them once, but trigger when they’re running back out. Traps are often non-fatal, because it likes to injure adventurers and cause them pain.

However, deep inside of every living dungeon is its black heart. Each heart is as individual as its owner, but they’re always terrible things. One might have a tentacled amoeboid thing at its center. Another might have an actual thumping heart, ten feet across and dark brown, with veins extending into the walls. Another might have some strange clockwork set of gears and pullies. Kill the heart and the living dungeon dies.  Don’t expect that to be easy. The living dungeon protects its heart well, hiding it behind secret doors and terrible traps and guarding it with its fiercest monsters.

Of course, if you do kill a living dungeon, the ceilings might start caving in on you. A lot of these creatures are especially vengeful and will start yanking down support pillars and such as a last, hateful act. Better run! And remember where the traps were on your way out!

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  1. By 13th Age in Toronto – Thoughts about Games on July 5, 2012 at 12:48 am

    [...] Thoughts about Games Adam Dray talks about role-playing games Skip to content « 13th Age: Magic Items and Living Dungeons [...]

  2. [...] Dray gives the best sense of the concept’s flavor. “Like any good monster, the living dungeon wants to kill. It’s a mass murderer, gaining more [...]

22 Comments

  1. I suspect that the game as a whole will be too complicated for my tastes, but it has so many good ideas that I think I’ll be getting it anyway, if only to steal stuff like this.

    Posted June 30, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink | Reply
    • What games do you play? What’s the right level of complexity for you?

      Posted June 30, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink | Reply
      • I prefer simpler systems. Savage Worlds or Call of Cthulhu are just right for me, but Pathfinder is too much.

        Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink | Reply
        • Definitely check out 13th Age. It’s less crunchy than Pathfinder. Even if it turns out to be too much for you, strap a handful of the cooler options onto Labyrinth Lord or some other simple D&D chassis.

          Posted July 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink | Reply
          • That is exactly my plan. I’m quite excited by what I’ve seen of the game so far.

            Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink | Reply
  2. Johnny

    First of all- happy Birthday! Second- thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about 13th Age. I’ve been gaming since the original red box of D&D and some of the concepts and changes that you’ve been talking about just sound like a blast. Really cool, really fun, marvelously inventive, and all about story. Love it. Keep up the great gaming and thanks again!

    Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink | Reply
    • Thank you very much! What are you playing these days?

      Posted July 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink | Reply
      • Johnny

        I have a group of friends that I’ve been gaming with over a decade now. We started back playing D&D 3.0- moved up to 3.5 and have now gone on to Pathfinder. I occasionally play with a smaller floating group that plays D&D 4E as well. Some games I played back in the day include all the iterations of D&D, Shadowrun, Champions, Top Secret, Gamma World, etc. I haven’t played it but I’m really intrigued by the ORE Kerebos Club Setting.

        Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink | Reply
        • I like ORE but haven’t played it, but didn’t know about Kerberos Club. Sounds cool.

          I, too, started with the red box–in my case, Moldvay. Technically, I suppose I started with Holmes, but that was my friend calling me on the phone and asking me which way I went in the dungeon, until I ran into a monster and died. No dice, no stats. ;)

          Posted July 4, 2012 at 1:49 am | Permalink | Reply
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  14. Nothing new about a so-called living dungeon. The earliest idea probably came from Leiber’s short story ” The Howling Tower” and I encountered something like that in a game at least 28 years ago.

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