Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Notes on Eidolons

A few days ago we put out Eidolons byASH LAW, an issue of the 13th Age Monthly that harnesses the full monster description style we used in the 13 True Ways Bestiary. If you helped playtest the Bestiary, you may even recognize these eidolons, because we put out an earlier version as part of the playtest package. Playtesters liked them, I liked them, it was only a matter of time before we were going to publish them.

What follows are developer notes on the article. If you want to see what I'm talking about, pick up a subscription to the 13th Age Monthly and you'll get this issue and the four previous issues as part your subscription. 

Our Focus on the Icons
I pulled eidolons and several other monsters out of the 13th Age Bestiary because the Bestiary was the first major product in the line and I wanted it to keep our focus on the icons. Eidolons are creatures from other realities. They warp the rules, so much that ASH included optional madness rules for PCs forced to deal with other realities. That’s fun stuff for GMs who want it, but in our very first 13th Age support book, I decided to stay closer to mainstream fantasy by not summoning too many non-Euclidean creatures from outside time and space.

As the line developer for 13th Age, the Bestiary taught me that designers needed more guidance about using the icons that are central to 13th Age. The creative streak that leads people to design games and write stories is sometimes a wild streak. When creators see a setting that’s all about something particular, like the icons, the temptation is to veer away from ‘what everybody is doing’ and bring in themes that haven’t been touched yet.  

Obviously that type of invention is a good thing, most of the time. But there’s are several big reasons that most published 13th Age material stays focused on the icons, and one of these reasons that may not be apparent is to allow players, GMs, and individual campaigns to happily riff on everything else! The baseline in rpgs is a line that gets criss-crossed and repurposed by most every game table. By keeping our focus on the icons and everyone who is involved with them, we leave more space for the character who wants their One Unique Thing to be truly unique and the GM who surprises everyone with a campaign idea no one saw coming.

Turns out that eidolons could also spring some of those surprises. They’re a multi-purpose tool for campaigns that want a new approach to NPCs and monsters that can only temporarily be removed by sword and spell.

The Optional Madness Mechanics
ASH is extremely fond of warped things from the outer colors of the reality palette. He’s wanted madness mechanics for awhile, I think. My sticking point is that madness mechanics have to be fun. This is a game that has to stay enjoyable to play rather than a simulation of what happens to a brain under assault from colors beyond space. Sometimes game mechanics for this type of thing are only enjoyable if you can appreciate the aesthetics of disintegration without caring that you’re now useless. There are good games that take that path, but 13th Age isn’t one of them. People who test these mechanics and send us playtest feedback at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com will have input on the book that’s underway that will use a version of this madness approach.

A Note on Art
Eidolon appearance can be nearly anything. And yet each of the eidolon illustrations, from Rich Longmore’s wonderful eye-catching cover to the roiling mess that is the eidolon in war form, has the same style of six glowing eyes.

First, this is mostly because I sent Rich a photo I’d taken in art museum of Catalonia in Barcelona as reference. My photo looked like this: 
So Rich gave me what I asked for, albeit with six glowing eyes instead of the seven I just realized are showing on the creature above. 

Second, you don’t have to interpret the art as saying that all eidolons have six glowing eyes. In my case, it's a post-facto explanation, but I think it works: these are all illustrations of the same eidolon!

As ASH said, Each eidolon is different and can assume different forms (as mentioned later in the stats section), but each eidolon also has its own distinct “look” and “voice” that it possesses no matter what shape mortals perceive it to be taking.

This eidolon’s look is that it has six glowing eyes no matter what form it’s in!

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