Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Eidolons Review, 13th Age Monthly (May 2015)

This is my second post attempting to write a review about this issue of 13th Age Monthly.  My first post ("What the *@$# is an Eidolon?") turned into a long investigation into what, exactly, an eidolon is.  Short answer: I was not able to answer this question but did come up with some interesting content involving binding spirits to ships to make them sail better, metaphorical places that tautologically cannot be visited, and an Adventure Path outline that involves stealing an artifact that binds spirits to ships so that your nation can get advantage and ultimately prevail in a naval war.  Good stuff.

Now let's talk about Eidolons, Ash Law's May 2015 offering in the 13th Age Monthly product line.  I've previously indicated that I really like this line and this is no exception.  All of the supplements are 8 page PDFs that investigate something interesting that could be expanded onto a 13th Age game.  In this case, it's eidolons.  This guide has roughly 5 full pages of text, one full page art cover, one page credits and OGL, and two quarter page pieces of art.

What is a &$^# Eidolon, anyway?
Nope.  Not falling into that trap again.  Ash has already answered the question for us, "Eidolons are powerful spirits [that embody] a specific concept...such as honor, love, imagination, fear, destruction, despair, temptation, [or] remorse."  Eidolons appear like they work well as a great piece of deus ex machina that has some in-world ramifications and can therefore provide PCs with a level of agency over a situation they might not normally.  Ash starts off by answering a few questions about eidolons for us like what do they look like, how do they get here (two theories, both with good options), what does their spirit status mean, and how can they change?  

This first page section was really helpful, but I did find one drawback--it's unclear whether an eidolon appears the same way to everyone that's seeing it at the same time or if it takes a different appearance in the mind of every person that sees it.  Because some of the language later on implies that our minds make substitutions for what we see in place of what some eidolons look like, it would be cool to know if this is something that our minds do (every individual has own unique vision of what an eidolon is like) or something that the eidolon controls (everyone sees the eidolon as it wishes to be seen).

Next we get some unique abilities that will apply to all of the eidolons listed.  Think of these as the generic bestiary page you get for a group of related monsters.  The abilities are listed here so they can save space printing them on every creature's entry.  What are they?

Universal Eidolon Abilities (and a new sub-system!)
First, eidolons can't die.  Instead, they get an ability that when they drop to 0 hit points, they discorporate.  I love everything about this except the missed opportunity to use the phrase deliquesce into ectoplasmic vapor.  And, get this, there is no way to permanently kill them.  So, these kids are firmly in the GM plot device camp.  Players may mess with them, but they are going to return.
Additionally, as a free action each round (and keep note of this, because these abilities are insanely powerful), an eidolon has a few options:

  • Split Reality: Every character rolls a d4.  Only PCs who rolled the same number on their d4 roll can interact with each other.  The eidolon interacts with all the realities, but it can assign its allies to realities of its choice.
  • Warp Time: The eidolon either just switches two people's place in the initiative order or rolls the escalation die.  The eidolon's result becomes the new escalation die.
  • Reshuffle space: I love this option.  At its simplest, it's just reposition two people on the battlefield.  But, if you are going full-on miniatures its much more fun.  Basically, do the following:
    • Pick up all the minis
    • Shake them up
    • Drop them randomly on the battlemat
    • Go from there
Still not enough for you?  There's more!  There's a new Madness subsystem.  It's got both general applicability and eidolon-specific application (this is a guide to the eidolons, after all).  To be eidolon-specific, madness is tripped during attack rolls against an eidolon.  For general applicability, any d20 roll will do.  If they roll "equal or less than their Intelligence ability, they gain an insanity point."
Pet peeve here:  Do they roll against their ability modifier or their ability score?  That's a huge difference and can have some pretty big effects.  Either way, it does have one interesting solution as well--it means that the higher your character's Intelligence score (since the modifier is derived from the score), the more susceptible the character is to insanity.  That's right.  The smarter you are, the more easily you go insane.  Which, from what we see in some literature, might well be accurate to the way things go in the real world.
But, what happens with these insanity points?  Well, once every full heal-up, you roll a simple save and lose one point on a success.  Otherwise, insanity points can accrue and cool stuff happens as they do.  Characters pick up backgrounds, gain phobias, and possibly die.  For instantaneous death, "Resurrection has a 50% chance of bringing you back somehow 'wrong.'"  I love this as the seed for a campaign.  All of the characters were brought back from the dead after going insane fighting [insert BBEG here].  Part of their condition means that they have no memory of their past.  But, they're also "wrong" in another way, which can be their unique thing or not as they choose.  PC that makes up the best "wrong" option gets an extra skill point!

Stat Blockbusters
First, eidolons are the first of an entirely new creature type: the spirit.  Unlike most 13th Age Monthly content, which is self-contained, the spirit will become a regular part of the game.  Pelgrane indicates in a side-box that we should expect to see more spirits in upcoming Glorantha and Battles Scenes books.  The spirit looks pretty interesting, so I'm cool with this.
There are also four stat blocks for eidolons.  There's a 1st level troop, a 3rd level troop, a 4th level troop, and a 6th level troop.  Remember that eidolons can take any form that they like at any time, so all four stat blocks could conceivably be the same eidolon.  In fact, in my PCs came back wrong game, I'd want to design the eidolon bad guy in just this way.  The PCs would encounter her in her various forms (human appearing, attached/possessing another human, and one of the more spirit/outsider-y forms).  But, I wouldn't want to use the eidolon more than 2-3 times because an enemy that can never be killed undermines the ability to have a conclusion to the story.

Icon Relationships
Ash has given us information tying the Archmage, the Diabolist, the Elf Queen, the Great Gold Wyrm, and the Priestess to the eidolons.  The Elf Queen and the Priestess' relationships are particularly good.  There's also advice on how allied, neutral, or opposing eidolons name themselves (they are related to concepts, remember?  We haven't heard a lot of that along the way, because the concept controls have the eidolon acts, not its mechanics).  
There's a suggestion that learning an eidolon's true name gives control over it.  This is cool.  There's countless examples in literature and folklore where knowing something's true name gives control over it.  Since eidolons here are basically concepts' souls, it's neat that this works (note: gives control over the eidolon, not the concept itself.  Learning the Love eidolon's true name does not grant the PCs control over all love, at least not as written!)
Here are some suggestions for some of the other Icons (generic Archmage engine SRD terms used).  Anyone have other ideas?
  • The Blood Knight: Every time a hellhole is destroyed, eidola of rage appear all over the Empire.  But do they want to return the hellhole to its former condition or do they have something more sinister in mind?
  • The Longbeard Thrane: Products from the subterranean world haven't been moving in trade in the last few months.  Rumors are that a spirit dedicated to greed has the Longbeard Thrane's ear and all valuables are being hoarded beneath the earth.
  • The Deathless One: turns out the undead can't be affected (or affect) eidolons.  The Deathless One claims to know why.  But what will he do with this knowledge?

Blessings, Curses, and Flavor
Eidolons can bestow blessings and curses.  They can also bestow some mixes.  My favorite of which is the Runemarked Blessing.  The rune is on the PC's forehead and once per battle a PC can use it as a free action to treat one item being wielded as if it had a tier-appropriate rune on it.  
The book suggests that the rune normally looks like a faded burn or old scar when inactive, but that it lights up clearly when used.  I want to take this a few steps further.  My memory-lost PCs wake up and have come back "wrong."  They also all wake up with the rune on their forehead.  And the rune means something.  And having it on your head can get you in trouble with some and grant you aid from others.  When the PCs start, the rune's only clear when it's being used.  But, as the rune is used more and more often, it becomes clearer and clearer even when it's not in use.  I like this campaign idea, but this could also be a fun present for a PC that rolls a 5 on their Icon Relationship roll at the beginning of a session.
Finally, Ash suggests some flavor eidolons and how they might work as plot hooks.  There are bliss, exploit, fated, herald (whose plot plan dovetails nicely with the runemarked gig above), integrity, motley, and quietude.  Queitude is the ultimate toy for helping parties learn that there are role-playing solutions and that not everything can or should be settled with a sword.

Final Analysis
At the end of the day, I really like this!  13th Age Monthly has been an up and down product, but this month's release is definitely on the upside of the swing.  I really like the art and I really like the concept.  8 short pages have inspired the basics for a campaign as well.  Now, if I only had the time to actually run the damned thing!  This may be the best piece in the series.  If you like 13th Age, this is a good buy!