In this episode which we finally get around to talking about 13th Age Glorantha. Ludo and Jörg are joined by Becca of “Dames & Dice” fame on the Iconic Podcast, and by Evan Franke, of “Exploring Glorantha” fame.

  • Becca is part of the Iconic Production Podcast, a bunch of podcasts and channels dedicated to talking about 13th Age, which includes 13th Age Glorantha. Becca has Glorantha experience not just from a multi-session game of 13th Age Glorantha, but also from two RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha games (one of which she talks about in episode 5 of Dames & Dice).
  • Evan has already been on this podcast together with J-M in episode 19 of our podcast, talking about Jackals and Ancient World-Building. He may be more familiar to you as the source of deep Glorantha lore on the Exploring Glorantha YouTube series. He jokingly describes himself as a “hanger-on” of Iconic Production podcasts and actual plays.

As Ludo expounds on the history of Glorantha as a setting for games, Becca drops that she has the board game: a copy of the original White Bear and Red Moon, gifted to her at Christmas last year by her dad who did a lot of roleplaying in college along a couple of AD&D 1st edition books.

13th Age

Ludo admonishes people to not just buy the 13th Age Glorantha book thinking of it as a full game as you need the 13th Age rules along with this book. (Ludo claims it has to be the full rules book, but it is possible to work out the rules from the SRD which is free from Pelgrane Press)

Becca outlines 13th Age: a fantasy D20 roleplaying game which feels somewhat similar to D&D 5th edition with a few exceptions (no skills, backgrounds, the idea of failing forward) and being a lot more heroic in scope than your usual start into a D20 game.

Ludo quotes descriptions of 13th Age as a mix of D&D 3.5 and D&D 4th edition, usually in reflection of its authors’ involvement in those two iterations of D&D.

Ludo comments on the tone of the writing in the 13th Age rules book, and on the emphasis on the player characters being the heroes (and movers and shakers) in the world rather than just another bunch of schmucks.

Becca agrees that beginning characters are a lot more powerful than in D100 games or like roughly a 5th level character in D&D 5th edition.


One thing to put your character on the hero’s path is your Iconic Relationship, a connection to one of the 13 Icons in 13th Age. (The number 13 comes up a lot…)

There are 13 Icons to the world, great beings who can influence your character and how that character is made.

Jörg asks what an Icon is: a god, a demigod? Becca gives a few examples, like the Emperor (of the Dragon Empire) who has a lot of resources and followers behind him, the Great Druid who lives in the woods with an agenda to let nature take down civilization, the Diabolist, the Crusader, the Orc Lord, etc.

In Gloranthan terms, these would be people like the Red Emperor (a reincarnating demigod) or Zzabur (immortal sorcerer supreme). Ludo points out that while these Icons may have agendas antagonistic to one’s own personal or cultural agendas, there are no outright good or evil individuals among these Icons.

Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet went into the rulebook saying “It is your world, nothing has to work in it like it does in our world.” That means that the Emperor might really care about running the Dragon Empire down to the details, or he might just use his position as highest authority in the Empire to acquire some certain personal goal or object of power. Likewise the Orc Lord may seem like a terrible person leaving a trail raiding and pillaging behind him, or he could be a liberator for all the monsters in the Empire suppressed by human (elf, dwarf, …) supremacy. Which sounds a lot like Prince Argrath to Jörg.

Ludo points out the conversational style of the rulebook, with little jokes, designers’ notes (at times contradicting one another),

One Unique Thing

In 13th Age, each character has one distinctive feature that sets them apart from all the rest of the people in the world. It may be something big and major from the onset, or it might start as something simple and small but possibly growing as your character acquires levels and more powers.

Becca tells us about her and Evan’s characters in the Iconic Production playtest actual play game. Becca’s character was the last heir to the Ringsome Dukedom, a formerly lovely place now swallowed by a Hellhole. Evan has something that can either destroy the Lich King (one of the 13 icons) or restore the Lich King to its former glory, the wizard king. Evan describes this as his gift to the GM to shape the campaign, not as an in-game benefit to the character but as a campaign hook for the unfolding story of the characters.

Jörg concludes that this concept might be translated to Glorantha as something like “I am Arkat Reborn” (although Evan points out that that claim is actually not that unique as there will be five Arkats in the foreseeable course of the Hero Wars at the same time).

Ludo asks how that collection of Unique Things for each player character works out in practice for the GM who has to balance these rather different personal spotlights in the course of the campaign, but Becca points out that these reduce the number of Icons the GM has to keep track of for that campaign, with Becca’s heiress having a negative relation to the Diabolist (as source of that Hell Hole), and Evan’s character having (to build) a relation to the Lich King and his activities.

Becca describes Evan’s One Unique Thing as more of an end of campaign (arc) item when the decision which way to go is made while her own theme of dealing with the Hell Hole might be more mid-campaign,

Jörg asks how these rather specific directions of such a campaign align with pre-written adventures for 13th Age. Becca describes how 13th Age adventures too are written in a conversational tone, asking the prospective GM about the main Icons and giving some ideas how each of the Icons might influence this specific adventure, giving 3 or four ideas for each Icon.

Becca quotes some of her own writing for Pelgrane Press for the to be released in a near future, “Behemoths: Path of the Koru”. In her contribution, Becca outlines how the impending death of the Behemoths will affect the Dragon Empire and the future of the setting, providing advice for each Icon how they are involved and what their interest in this event may be.

Ludo points out a narrative mechanism where the players roll on their Icon relations and giving the GM a roll for the Icon which is going to be involved in the next leg of the game, providing another narrative clue to the GM about the direction this play-through of the scenario/campaign is going to take.

Becca gives a practical example how to spend a relationship point to the Icon in a situation where the player characters are stuck, invoking a narrative reason to apply said relationship. And also how a creative GM can take this approach to insert another complication to the lives of the characters.

Ludo rambles about how a gritty D20 game has such narrative mechanics, and Jörg feels reminded of how Fate Points are used in Fate.

Montage Technique

While Ludo is in the spirit of raiding 13th Age for other games, he points out a mechanic that might not even be in the core rules, the Montage technique, allowing you to go through “half the dungeon” in just about 15 minutes.

The GM challenges the players asking one of them to come up with a problem they encounter on their way into the story, and the person next to you will solve it, going through all the players to create a shared idea about the story so fat. Unless it is a big ask, you don’t typically spend spell slots or similarly limited resources on these but just solve these narratively.

Failing Forward

When designing their rules, Jonathan and Rob observed that in many games there was a danger of getting stuck in a station of a scenario if nobody rolled well enough. In order to keep the narrative going, the player attempting e.g. to pick a lock still fails their roll, but the GM still allows the door to open, but introduces a complication. The door opens, and behind it there have gathered a bunch of armed and angry orcs…

Ludo talks about how old-school investigative games (or scenarios) may get stuck by the players (and/or their characters) failing to find or to get the clues, where some more recent games like Robin Laws’ Gumshoe (also published by Pelgrane Press) have the philosophy that the players automatically get the relevant clues but modifying the narrative (and possibly the sense of personal achievement).

Escalating Combats

The Escalation Die in 13th Age is meant to reflect how the momentum in a fight builds up as it progresses. In the first round of the combat, the Escalation die is not used, but in the following round it is turned to show a 1, resulting in the player characters’ attacks gaining plus 1 on their D20 roll (where rolling high is good), giving +2 the next round, maxing out at +6. This helps speed up combat by reducing the chance of the big heroes missing all their rolls in combat. Normally this applies only to attack rolls, unless a character has a special ability allowing the use of the Escalation Die. Equally, normal monsters don’t benefit from the Escalation Die unless they are special monsters like dragons, who do. There might also be special circumstances where the GM may deny the Escalation Die to the player characters, like subjecting them to a fear power, making monsters scarier or forcing players to approach a fight more tactically than just dicing out attack rolls.

The Escalation Die may also be used as a timing device for the GM to trigger an additional event, helping to build more dynamism into a scene.

Porting this over into other game systems as a cumulative attack bonus could easily be done, e.g. a cumulative 10% bonus. Whether this makes a good timer when ported to say RQG is another question.

Monsters Have Fixed Damage

Which makes player “death” rather predictable once you have suffered a few hits, especially since you don’t get to do anything actively to block damage, as Jörg observed in a game he sat in.

Evan points out that the player characters have always the option to run away from an opponent (unlike RQG which penalizes such retreats), and also that player characters have a go at a heroic return, a game mechanic familiar to players of the WBRM/Dragon Pass board game and repurposed to simulate the “backdoor from Hell” heroquesting reward that seems to have been one common heroquesting bonus in the Stafford house campaign.

Other Features of 13th Age

Missed rolls by player characters still deal some minimum damage.

There is a whole chapter of advice on building battles and staging opposition.

When Jörg asks about how non-combat specialists fare in battle, we learn that with very few exceptions all classes will have combat or at least combat-supporting abilities. There is no idea how to model a pacifist Chalana Arroy healer as a 13th Age Glorantha class yet, though.

13th Age Glorantha

Next, we move on to 13th Age Glorantha specifically.

The “Chaos Rises!” Campaign

When translating Glorantha into a sandboxy framework for fighting monsters, the designers opted to go with Chaos as the existential threat that needs to be dealt with rather than politicking or intrigue.

Chaos Rises! is the framework for 13th Age Glorantha. While the Kickstarter for 13th Age Glorantha also financed the publication of the (system-less) Glorantha Sourcebook which provides the background for the upcoming Hero Wars, the main premise of 13G is that the world is breaking as Chaos rises. You need to pull together desperate player characters to prevent the world from falling apart as a separate thread from the geopolitical conflict between the resurging Kingdom of Sartar and the Lunar Empire. While that conflict spawns some of this, there are other places where Chaos rears its ugly head, like the scorpionfolk queen Gagix Twobarb down south in Larnste’s Footprint or chaos monsters boiling out of Snake Pipe Hollow and other notorious dens of Chaos. In keeping with the general design philosophy of 13th Age this is not an absolute requirement, the basic idea is that heroes set out to patch the world together so that there is a stage for the Hero Wars to happen at all.

Given Evan’s credits as a big Glorantha expert (Ludo said nerd, but…), Ludo asks whether Evan’s games feature elements and protagonists of the official Hero Wars prophecies, or whether he just lets loose fighting Chaos. Evan tells of two different paths he has taken, one GMing published introductory scenarios for newcomers to both Glorantha and 13th Age, such as The Next Valley Over where something chaotic destroyed your neighbouring community and you have to figure out what it is, or The Horn of Snake Pipe Hollow which is from the 13th Age Glorantha rulebook itself.

Evan then mentions his “little side project” Red Moon and Warring Kingdoms which is set in Fronela, far away from Dragon Pass and exploring playing 13th Age Glorantha with Lunar characters (although not from the Lunar Empire). Parallel to Chaos Rising, there is the problem of the Kingdom of War in Fronela, distracting from the (Sartar and Lunar Empire focus on the) Hero Wars. For Evan, this is also a return to the spirit of adventuring in RQ2 in distant areas like Balazar where the local adventures and dangers make up your experience of Glorantha, a sandbox of dungeons as Ludo puts it.

Runes as Icons

Ludo points out that even the description of the setting in 13th Age Glorantha is not by region, but by rune, providing Chaos places like Snake Pipe Hollow or Larnste’s Print, Disorder places like the Big Rubble and the Rockwood Mountains, Dragonewt places, Earth strongholds etc. Not so much a cohesive whole but locations to pick and insert into your campaign regardless of geography.

Ludo refers to a map pointed out to him by our listener Uzz, a map of Dragon Pass and Prax without any labels at all, leaving this up to the GM and the campaign to develop or to randomly re-interpret.

Evan elaborates that in standard 13th Age the Icons are important movers and shakers in the world, and that the authors could have ported that into the world of 13th Age Glorantha framing Jar-eel, the Red Emperor, Argrath etc. as Icons. Rather than these transitory characters, you have a relationship with several runes that dominate your life and personality. We see something like that in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, but in 13th Age Glorantha this is limited to a set of three runes, one of which (at least) should be connected to your deity and cult.

This extends to framing the scenes by rolling which rune will be influencing the upcoming scene. Ludo admits that he had to re-read the “Narrating the Runes” chapter a number of times to get an idea how to make that work.

Similar to the Icon relationships in 13th Age, a character’s relationship to three of the runes can be positive, neutral or negative/conflicting. Rather than the augmenting role you get from Runic inspiration in RuneQuest Glorantha, in 13th Age Glorantha the runes allow the player to frame the scene from a story-telling or atmospheric approach.

Ludo describes how RQG might force a player to spend a rune point for such atmospheric enhancement of a scene when all they wanted was to look cool when taking the narrative spotlight, something more easily achieved in HeroQuest Glorantha/Questworlds, and in 13th Age Glorantha.

Character Classes

13th Age character classes start with a short blurb about what the role of members of this character class is in the world.

We start with the Trickster class, which is a unique approach and definitely not for everyone. The core idea is a role for a heroic Trickster. Evan describes his experience playing such a trickster as the rest of the party playing in Beowulf or the Iliad while the Trickster was playing in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Everything the Trickster does serves to make the other characters look and act more heroic while causing pain and danger to the Trickster. These powers include to “take possession” of a fumble rolled by another player, applying that to the next roll done by the Trickster, or to cause critical success for another player by taking on a ridiculous disadvantage for the Trickster.

Evan describes a scene where his actions as a Trickster enable the party Humakti to make use of an ability that the initial miss on his attack would otherwise have wasted, resulting in the comic relief granting the Humakti their great moment.

Speaking of comic relief, Jörg asks whether you can play a duck in 13th Age Glorantha. This brings us to cultural backgrounds and races, of which there are several human cultures with different advantages and disadvantages in the book, plus Dark Trolls and Ducks. Ducks get one of two powers – the grim death-wielding power or the wacky comic-relief power. Evan mentions that his upcoming opus will contain not just human followers of the Lunar Way and other Fronelan cultures, but also Mostali, Aldryami and Waertagi as ancestral backgrounds.

Ludo suggests that all the class-based powers in 13th Age Glorantha are good ideas to be used as Heroquesting boons or abilities. There is also a chapter on heroquest gifts by runes in 13th Age Glorantha.

Ludo describes how especially the Earth Priestess and the Hellmother have entire hosts of spirits they can summon repeatedly in different combats, unlike the very restricted rune power economy in a game of RQG.

This leads to a more heroic style of Glorantha, perhaps the anime version of Glorantha (rather the Saturday morning cartoon version, to allow some adult content). While RuneQuest does offer a toolkit with which you can ultimately construct such effects, with the 13th Age Glorantha powers you simply get to use these in play without fine-tuning and developing your character in that direction. Jörg points towards the RQ2 Runemasters supplement where each of the sample rune masters had zoos of spirits enabling them to overcome some of these limitations, but Ludo feels that with new limitations like the RQG Charisma cap for spirits controlled by a character the RuneQuest resource economy remains more stingy.

Glorantha Through Different Systems

After all this talk about how 13th Age compares to RuneQuest, Jörg asks about how the experience compares to playing HeroQuest Glorantha/Questworlds. Evan refers to his experience of playing with Ian Cooper at Chaosium Con. 13th Age Glorantha is a lot crunchier than Questworlds, with classes, powers etc. providing rather strict definition what can be done. Where 13th Age Glorantha is about fighting monsters in Glorantha in the course of the narrative, Questworlds with its single roll resolution mechanic is a game of telling a story, having a rich narrative experience in engaging with the world followed through with a very simple resolution mechanic.

Ludo chimes in that both 13th Age Glorantha and Questworlds have in common a more magical Glorantha as opposed to the more mundane Glorantha that can be modelled by RuneQuest. (Ludo actually suggested “boring” rather than mundane, and claims it would be nice to get some angry emails for a change.)


Putting his finger again into the continued absence of official rules for Heroquesting in RuneQuest, Ludo asks about the 13th Age implementation of Heroquesting.

Where an F20 game can be described as Dungeon Crawling, Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo described heroquesting as Myth Crawling, visiting various stations of the quest like stations in a dungeon. Evan describes the Lightbringers Quest where the Westfaring (to the Gates of Dusk) is a Wilderness adventure that gets you to the Dungeon, the descent into Hell, with various stations like the underworld palace of the Only Old One, getting thrown into the dungeons there, getting revived, descending even further to Yelm’s Court where there are tests to be overcome, and finally facing the Boss Monster, the Devil sent into Hell, in order to revive the world.

All of this can be put together like a dungeon adventure with stations like rooms. And the experimental heroquesting introduced by Arkat and exploited by the God Learners is that in certain rooms you have secret passages, leading to other parts of the dungeon or possibly into completely different dungeons. This analogy works very well to structure a heroquest.

Evan also talks about Jacquaying a dungeon, referring to Jennel Jacquays’ (of Griffin Mountain fame) seminal work in the early F20 space that there are different ways to get to different parts of the dungeon.

When asked about her experiences with Heroquesting (in RuneQuest), Becca confesses that it felt terrifying in the stakes. Her second experience resulted in her character being taken over by the Chaos entity with many bodies, returning to her tribe and eating them one by one.

The stakes were what terrified Becca. To her, a GM presenting the world right means that everything is important or consequential – who you get married to, who you sell your llamas to, who you make an alliance with, all those creates rather high stakes. Doing a heroquest on top of that, say you need to re-seal a box or your entire clan might be erased from the face of the world, increases those stakes to an existential level. The timelessness of Godtime means if you mess up there, it will always have been messed up. Jörg compares that to the time-traveller’s paradox problem.

Returning to 13th Age Glorantha, Ludo talks about the suggested heroquest gifts to be given to the characters. Jörg asks whether these are designed to fit into the character advancement options, but they are tied to runes, and essentially replace the distribution of magical items in standard 13th Age. These gifts are tied to a rune that is part of your character, the gifts have different categories such as combat boosts or defensive or special powers, and they can be levelled up from adventurer tier through champion tier to epic tier, giving both a mechanical bonus and some special narrative ability.

Ludo gives special mention to the fact that you might pick up Chaos gifts on heroquests, which come with a hilarious description. While there are some gifts that resemble rune spells in RuneQuest (making it Gloranthan to long-time fans), others are quite original.

Last Words

Ludo gives a shout-out to the artwork in 13th Age Glorantha.

Evan’s take-away from 13th Age Glorantha is its approach to monster design. The good thing about RQG (as well as D&D fifth edition) is that everything works the same (mechanically), and the bad thing about it is that everything works the same. The monsters have the same stats as the player characters and use the same spells as the characters, making them really complicated to run for a GM who has also to provide the ongoing narrative. This approach culminates in the mook rules for less consequential opponents. While Jörg throws in that in his experience of running RuneQuest he cannot remember when he last used fully stat’ed opponents outside of material for publication, Ludo shares that that is one of the most work-intensive and least pleasurable parts of preparing a publication for RuneQuest.

When asked about converting between 13th Age Glorantha and RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha, Evan has ideas about converting e.g. Griffin Mountain to 13th Age when not working on his grand Fronelan opus.

Ludo gives a shout-out to the lists of enemies in the rules which is almost a graded set of encounters, with e.g. a broo shaman rather than a standard broo, or a maimed ghoul if the encounter needs to be toned down.

Becca talks about the ease of using elements from other 13th Age supplements for 13th Age Glorantha, and also in the other directions like e.g. scorpion men with their extra abilities that may be surprising in other F20 environments.

Becca points out how 13th Age Glorantha has everything (Gloranthan) in a single book, much like the Core 13th Age rulebook has everything you need to run the game.

Evan talks about the 13th Age SRD (System Reference Document) that has its own interactive website and complements the missing rules parts in the 13th Age Glorantha book, allowing you to make sense of the mechanical bits even without the full 13th Age rules set.

Still, Evan advocates getting lots of 13th Age stuff as it is very beautiful and evocative.

Looking at her collection, Becca suggests that she could stop buying stuff, but she just doesn’t want to. While there are multiple add-ons and campaigns which field their own monsters (or those from some of the additional bestiaries), the core book contains enough to get a game off the ground. There is a second edition of the core rules under development (currently being playtested), but backward compatibility or compatibility with 13th Age Glorantha will be good.

Where to Find Our Guests

Becca’s dulcet tones can be heard on Iconic Production Podcast, she is on the Iconic Production wordpress website, as well as on Youtube and Twitch, Twitter (nowadays X) and Instagram. Only genuine with the dragon icon:

Evan too can be found on various Iconic Production things, the back catalogue of actual plays, including at least one run by Evan, a 13th Age Glorantha game called Rising Moon Rescue, and you will see Evan again on Exploring Glorantha, which is currently in hiatus due to health issues for J-M. Thankfully J-M is on the road to recovery, and Evan gives his and Iconic Podcast’s appreciation for the outpouring of support for J-M and his family. Exploring Glorantha will be tackling Cults of RuneQuest in the next number of shows once they return to the regular schedule.

Ludo takes the opportunity to hoot his own horn about his own too publications on the Jonstown Compendium, A Short Detour and Bog Struggles, as well as a future publication on amnesiac Telmori werewolves and hopefully his “Goonies in Glorantha” campaign featuring children as player characters.


The intro music is “The Warbird” by Try-Tachion. Other music includes “Cinder and Smoke” and “Skyspeak“, along with audio from the FreeSound library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment on “Episode 26: Chaos Rises!