Gods and Icons Interview


Greetings Long Time Iconic Fans! In case you did not know, John Marvin, of Dread Unicorn Games, has a new 13th Age Kickstarter going on called Gods and Icons. J-M loves John’s adventures for Numenera. So we came out of retirement to do a quick interview with him, to give you a bit more insight into this project (which is already funded and working on stretch goals)!


  • John, thank you for taking time out to do this interview; we have heard that managing a Kickstarter is a full time job.

Thank you! And yes, it’s more like 2 full time jobs. I like to thank each backer, and I’m always coming up with new stretch goal and achievements graphics, talking with people, answering questions. Kind of like this interview.


  • Your previous endeavors have been for Numenera, although there were clearly some 13th Age influences. What precipitated this new product for 13th Age?

I love both games, and I’ll go back to Numenera in a few months, but 13th Age is so much fun and I kept hearing people complaining about Icon Relationship rolls. I think icon relationships are one of the great storytelling aspects of 13th Age, and really help tie the player characters to the world.

 Have you ever played a D&D campaign where you never heard about anyone important besides the guy giving you a quest at that moment? Or one where there are all these cool kings and queens, or at least your GM think they’re cool, but they really have zero to do with your player characters and their adventures?

 Icon relationships fix that, by tying PCs to some of the great powers of your world. Powers players choose, so that helps steer your campaign in a direction they are most interested in. I get sad when I hear of 13th Age games where they don’t use icon relationships because they are too hard.

 So, Gods and Icons to the rescue!


  • For those who have not yet checked out the Kickstarter page, can you explain how this will be a useful tool for GMs and players?

While Gods and Icons is a GM tool, there is a Gods and Icons Player’s Companion that has information a character would know.

 For GMs, Gods and Icons has pages and pages of suggestions on icon relationship roll results. We have sections on how to pick the perfect result for your story at the moment, and we have old school tables where you can just roll.

 This is for when you, as the GM, get stuck. I’m running a fantastic 13th Age campaign at the moment, and I like to think I’m a master at improvisation, but when my players all roll lots of 5s and 6s, I can have 10 icon relationships to deal with.

 So you can pick up your copy of Gods and Icons and quickly jump to a cool result.

 I think we’ve pretty well covered boons (5s and 6s) and complications (5s) for dungeon crawls, but I like to mix in a lot of urban intrigue, so some of the in-town results you might have to re-roll if you roll, for example, a faction working for an opposed icon that wants to insinuate a spy NPC into your party. Maybe that’s not what you want. Pick the next result or roll again.

 And then there’s the gods. These three pantheons offer a lot of story hooks, especially for clerics, paladins, druids, and rangers. But any character might want to give thanks to the gods, or curse them.

 The Player’s Companion has what a typical adventurer knows about the gods, which pantheons are on the rise, and which have been pushed back to the hinterlands. Plus advice on how players (not GMs) can spend icon relationship results.


  • As written, 13th Age has steered away from playing with a pantheon of gods, instead focusing on the Icons. What made you decide to include them and provide three pantheons?

I love world building, and in a game with clerics, paladins, druids, and rangers, there is a lot of implied religion. The core book suggests you pick any gods you like from other sources and use them. Gods and Icons has gods that fit a 13th Age campaign. We’ve got religious backgrounds, icons that worship particular gods, and so on.

 I was going with two pantheons, kind of a “by the old gods and the new,” thing, but Vanessa Rose Phin, suggested that three pushing against each other make for more interesting storytelling opportunities. Vanessa has a degree in history, and really pulled out all the stops. These are not just another retread of the Greco-Roman deities.

 We’ve got the Old Gods, who used to be supreme, and even in places they have faded away from, there are lingering elements of their worship that affect people who would never admit to following them. They work well with druids.

 The Thirsty Gods were more warlike and pushed the Old Gods aside. They too have been pushed from the top dog position, but not everyone has moved on. A great choice for those who want to play outsiders with a bone to pick with the current dominant religion.

 The Bright Gods came in with the latest wave of colonizers. The ruling class is (at least publicly) behind the Bright Gods, and most of the people have fallen in line. Great for clerics and paladins.


  • You’ve indicated this book has been in playtesting for quite some time. How have you seen it improve the gameplay and story creation at your table?

 Variety. It helps keep me from falling into a rut. “Oh here, your icon sent you these healing potions.” Or “You are short of magic items, your icon sends you one.” Or “Your icon has enemies, and here they are.”

Those are all great icon relationship results, but it’s easy for all the results to be the same. You’re the GM, you’ve got an adventure to run, you’ve got “go to” icon results, and so you use them again and again and again.

Since working with Gods and Icons, so many of my results deal with information. Even if the end result is to equip the wizard with a new magic staff, often they receive information on that staff. It might be told to them in game, or in flashback, where a clockwork owl came visiting the wizard back when she was in town. The staff might be sitting in a treasure trove, or it might be in the fist of an evil wizard that will need to be overcome. The complication of a 5 might be that the staff needs a ritual to cleanse its demonic taint or that a rival wizard seeks the staff for themselves.

 Lots of choices, so it’s not the same every time.


  • How much of the content is aimed at GMs compared to players? Why did you balance it that way?

70% GM, 30% Player? I haven’t done a word count. It’ll be easy to see once I pull out the information for the Player’s Companion.

 The core idea was help with icon relationship rolls. Which is often, but not always, in the hands of the GM. Our first stretch goal, which was hit, was to include a whole section of advice for PCs spending icon relationship rolls, often in the heat of battle.

 For PCs who care about the gods, especially clerics, paladins, druids, and rangers, there is a lot.

 By word count, the icon relationship results aimed at the GM is probably 50% or more of the book.


  • I (J-M) have always been a fan of the Dhampir as a playable race. What can you share about your take on the half-vampire?

Me too! I was in a Pathfinder campaign and the restriction on healing for that take on the Dhampir felt like punishment to my friend who played it. So, none of that.

 I see dhampirs as tough to kill, so I gave them an in battle recovery about as powerful as the dwarves’ That’s Your Best Shot? using different mechanics. I call it Dhampiric Regeneration. The champion feat to improve it works off being engaged with a staggered opponent, which make it feel like a type of life draining ability. You’re going down, and I’m going up.

 They have a second racial power, Identify Vampire. Quite useful in the right situation.


  • Can you share what sort of stretch goals do you have in mind if this Kickstarter continues to do incredibly well? (perhaps a clearer idea of what you mean by ‘more sections of text and more art’ – more playable races, magic items, etc?)

Well, they’re supposed to be secret. But since it’s you guys…

Yes, more magic items. As I’m writing this, we’re $5 from the Holy Swords stretch goal. Not just a collection of holy swords, but a framework to build them to match your PC, campaign, and/or gods. So by the time this is read, that’ll be in the bag.

 Next up is a big magic upgrade with 17+ new true magic items and 6 new potions.

 After that we have plans for short fiction. With so much crunch, we need some fluff. Two stories, one by me, one by Vanessa, that tie in with our gods and our icons.

 We want more art, and to upgrade our black and white art to full color. What do typical churches look like? How about more of the gods?

 We have a lot of suggestions for consequences when you roll 5s, but we’d love to double them. Lots of GMs find 5s harder to deal with than 6s, so let’s go big with consequences.

 There’s more stretch goals planned, but we want to keep some secrets.

 I’m intrigued by the question of more player races. If anyone has suggestions, please put them in the comments section of our kickstarter.


  • Do you have any thoughts about future products similar to Gods and Icons?

How about The Gods Have Spoken: Deities and Domains for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons? http://dreadunicorngames.com/games/the-gods-have-spoken/

 And I’ve always thought of Gods and Icons as a test case for 13th Age. Now that I see a 13th Age supplement is successful, I have a ton of ideas I can go forward with. Adventures, an adventure path, a new world (which is hinted at in Gods and Icons), and on and on.


  • You’ve produced some fantastic adventures for Numenera, do you envision converting these adventures for 13th Age? Or writing new adventures for 13th Age?

The Sun Below the 13th Age? :) I hadn’t thought of that, but you could do a Barrier Peaks thing. 13th Age players really need to meet slithiks…

 But new adventures, yes. You know the quick ten session campaign where each session you go up a level? That could be fun, and each 1 session adventure could be used by people doing normal campaigns as well.


  • Thanks again for doing this interview. Anything else you would like to share?

I miss the Iconic Podcast!

 Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Here’s the short URL for my kickstarter: http://kck.st/1plSFLO


If you’d like to find out more about John Marvin or Dread Unicorn Games, you can go to:

Gods and Icons Kickstarter: http://kck.st/1plSFLODread Unicorn Logo
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