Icons and Anchors

So, one fun thing to do with the Icons system from 13th Age is to start mapping it onto fiction and game settings you like.  I’ve done it several times, and I encounter an interesting pattern  – the first few Icons of any setting tend to be very easy to come up with, but somewhere before the half-dozen mark, I run out and start grasping at straws.

At first blush, this seems like a problem with the model and that maybe 13 Icons is too many, but I suspect there’s a bit of a trick to that:  if, say, 3-4 is the “normal” number of Icon-equivalents in fictions, then each character has enough for their own story to be complete, and there’s a big enough pool to make sure that every player has a distinct combination.[1]  Still, even with that in mind, I found myself bumping against a limit in using the Icons model for certain sorts of setting, but still wanting to use the model.

See, the thing that sets the Icons model apart from other approaches is the implicit importance of the Icons.  As I noted yesterday, they’re definitive of the setting, and they have implicit infrastructure surrounding them which the characters hook into. Icon creation _is_ setting creation, and that’s really awesome.

But it’s big.  And while big and sweeping can totally rock at times, sometimes you want a little bit less scope, and in such a case, I would use Anchors.[2]  That is to say, suppose that rather than picking 13 people who defined the world, you simply picked 13 people?  The connection to them does not necessarily bring with it great scope, but it does open the doors to more personal connections.  If one of the 13 is your mom, but also someone else’s romantic conquest, then you have a dynamic right there.

Anchors also work if you want to take the Icons idea down to a smaller scale – the idea that I am perhaps most excited to do is to use the model to build a single city.  Rather than being the movers and shakers of the world, consider the important folks of the city: Merchants, crime bosses, mayors and mercenaries. Like Icons, they create implicit infrastructure and put faces on the factions of the city (sooooooper important) but they do so on a much smaller scale.

Now, functionally, isn’t that the same as Icons?  Yes, kind of, but the issue of scale is not entirely sleight of hand.  Icons are more or less untouchable – impacting or changing them redefines the game.  Anchors are closer to the ground (and, well, a bit less iconic) and while they may be powerful or important, they’re not untouchable.  They also may or may not be essential to their faction.  If an Icon dies, it should devastate the group it represents.  If an anchor dies (depending on circumstances) they may simply be replaced.

Hell, you can mix and match if you want – If you ran a Waterdeep game with 12 Anchors and 1 Icon (say, Khelben Blackstaff), it could work fine so long as the icon is at rough parity within the scope of Waterdeep (this model probably applies to most of the Forgotten Realms, as I think about it).

Also, it’s not necessary that the anchors be even locally powerful.  All that really matters is that they be tied into the story/setting at hand.  Hell, there’s no reason you could not use Anchors as the basis for adventure design, depending on much more disposable relationships and characters.

So, this is me shamelessly stealing the ease-of-explanation of the Icons model to use it for some other approaches to setting and adventure design I dig.  It’s not the only hack the model supports, but it’s definitely the first one in my mind.  And tomorrow, we’ll start breaking out some more concrete hacks.

1- If they want to. One obvious bit of game setup foo is, of course, the question of overlapping Icons. I suspect the number of overlapping Icons has a very concrete impact on a game, and mandating certain connections (like, each player must have 1 Icon in common) can build certain types of relationships and games (much the same way you could, in 3e, have everyone have 1 level of the same class to represent some common background)

2 – Yeah, there’s hubris in naming it, but it makes it easier to talk about.