I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed creating material for 13th Age games. It’s as though, after decades of supernatural and horror-based RPGs, my brain is throwing out all the fantasy & myth ideas it’s been saving up. Not surprisingly, the influence of darker RPGs still pokes through, as evidenced by a cursed magical item I created for a recent campaign.
True magic items in 13th Age are meant to be rare and priceless, even though the canonic world of the game is one of prevalent magic. How free that magic is, or who controls & directs such magic, is a common point of tension and narrative hooks. This item subverts that idea a bit.
The Lich King is a good example of the connection between the world’s Icons and its magic. The Lich King is the former Wizard King, a despot from before the First Age who was defeated — only to rise again in undead form. The canon describes him as one of the (if not the) most powerful magic-users in the world’s history. I started to see him as utterly cynical in his relationships with living minions, and that concept fueled the idea for the Anti-Life Symbol.
Here’s what he’s got: a horde of undead servants, some of whom probably were artisans in their life; a ridiculous amount of magical power and know-how; the need to spread necrotic energy/magic across the empire; and so many foolish mortals who would kill their friend for a rare magic bauble. The Anti-Life Symbol brings all these together in the most cynical way possible.
I imagine these symbols as being mass-produced and imbued with only a tiny bit of magical power. But it’s still a magical item (even if it is cursed), and that’s a rare bit of power. The Lich King wouldn’t give these to his undead servants, though. He wants the kind of ruthless minions with minor leadership qualities, the kind that are likely to lead small bands of lackeys into far-flung lands, only to die on a hero’s blade. In fact, the Lich King is counting on the death of these mid-level managers, because the Anti-Life Symbol is like a weed. It’s an annoyance when it shows up, and getting rid of it takes more effort than its worth, but if you don’t destroy them… suddenly you have nothing but
From a mechanics standpoint, I like the idea of “corrupting” the player-character with a positive relationship with the Lich King (if they don’t destroy or discard the symbol). Just wait until that player rolls a 5 or 6 for the relationship…
The Lich King likes to provide these kind of symbols to expendable leaders of small cabals — even if the cabal is defeated, there’s still the chance it’ll all work out in the Lich King’s favor. If one didn’t know any better, one might think that was the Lich King’s plan all along.
Cursed Magic Item (‘Holy’ Symbol)
Default Bonus: +2 attack and damage for offensive divine spells, +2 HP for healing spells.
Power: The bearer gains resistance (16+) to holy damage.
Curse: Possessing the Anti-Life Symbol for more than a few minutes causes it to align with your chakra for symbols (replacing anything currently in that chakra — you can’t choose any other symbol). While aligned, the bearer of this item gains 1 positive relationship point with the Lich King (replacing any negative or conflicted relationship while aligned). Whenever any character in this party deals holy damage, or heals someone else, that character takes damage equal to half the damage done or HPs healed.
Destruction: If a party member casts a relevant divine spell as a ritual in order to cleanse the Anti-Life Symbol, they have to make a normal skill check for the character’s tier (e.g., DC 15 for Adventurer). Success safely drains the symbol, rendering it inert. Failure causes the necrotic energy to explode from the symbol. It’s still rendered inert, but the unholy backlash will cause the caster’s powers & spells to be ‘used’ (i.e., they won’t be available again until after the next battle, the next heal-up, after a successful recharge roll, etc.).
Discarding: If a party leaves the Anti-Life Symbol behind without cleansing it, the symbol will sink into the ground (or wherever it’s been left). The area will become a beacon for the Lich King’s necromantic magic. Living creatures will become sick, sick creatures will die, and dead creatures will succumb to un-life.