Hearts of Stone: Deities

Gods are not that important in the world of the 13th Age, but players do occasionally ask what the gods of the setting are.

Rather than invent new pantheons of gods, each race worships one or more historic pantheons. There is some overlap between pantheons as each mythology contains its own versions of Jung’s archetypes – for example the Ruler might manifest himself as Jupiter, Odin, or Amun-Ra.

Humans, Halflings: Egyptian, then Greek, and currently Roman. This indicates the evolution of their religion over time and allows ruins from earlier Ages to have different symbology, layouts and so on.

Dragonborn, Orcs: Slavic. This has a suitably wide range of deities of death, destruction and evil.

Dwarves, Forgeborn: Norse. Obviously.

Elves: Celtic. High elves prefer the Gaulish version of the pantheon, wood elves the Welsh, and the dark elves have become completely fixated on Arianrhod in her aspect of the Spider, weaver of fate, whom they refer to as Lolth.

Aasimar, Tieflings and other races will be added if and as necessary. Gnomes were wiped out by plague at the end of the 12th Age, and good riddance.

Pytus is roughly equivalent to Pythian Apollo. Archetypes, you see, they’re everywhere…

Hearts of Stone Episode 17: Arachnophobia

Under Dwardel, 25 May 216

Previously, on Hearts of Stone…

Half the party descended into the “Archmage’s secret facility” under Dwardel town hall via a one-way teleporter, and found a small dungeon complex carved into a stalactite sticking down into an apparently bottomless chasm. Venturing outside it into a cavern, they found intelligent arachnids (who want to capture X7-09 and abduct him for unspeakable experiments) negotiating with drow (who want to kill Boris). Boris has broken the handle on one of the drawbridges, leaving the way open for intruders to enter. Valore is about to be overrun by invisible arachnids. X7-09 has caused the chasm to begin flooding with molten lava. Now, the rest of the party arrives to help. What could possibly go wrong?


The scene of the battle: Stalactite Gate, from Deep Vistas.

Hayes, Kowalski and Ssh’ta brave the one-way teleporter and arrive to help just as the massed bands of drow, giant spiders, and invisible sentient giant spiders charge the party’s redoubt. The party forms a defensive line at one end of the closest drawbridge as invisible spiders move across it at speed, barging past Balthazar Rook who manages somehow not to get knocked off. Another invisible spider knocks Valore into the chasm, but as she can fly, this is merely a temporary setback.

Boris runs to the fray, and bumps into what appears to be an invisible giant spider in plate mail. Unwilling to engage in melee, he casts Pummel and a blast of strange-smelling gas emerges from him at speed (the less said about that, the better) and rattles those on the bridge. Meanwhile there is an exchange going on between X7-09 and the sentient spiders in Spidertalk. Ssh’ta emerges from a side door onto a turret with a commanding view of the battlefield, stations Caliban to protect him from spider assault, and begins methodically cutting down drow and spiders with arrows – this occupies him for the rest of the fight. Valore emerges from the chasm and starts rolling up the drow flank – she is one of the party’s three combat monsters, the others being Soreth and X7-09.

A spider barges past Balthazar again, and he kills it with his rapier. Feeling outnumbered, he drops his buckler and draws a second blade – the buckler falls into the rising lava. Caliban growls intimidatingly at the spiders, who ignore him. Silmaria sings a love song in Spidertalk, which she thinks should get the spiders frisky, but as the sentient ones are invisible she can’t tell if it worked.

The invisible plate-armoured sentient giant spider (trust me, it’s even worse than they know) casts Fear, and NPCs scatter in all directions while Balthazar is Shaken, and permanently marked by his terror; his hair turns white. At this point he reveals that he has a teleport amulet on loan from the Archmage, and his plan is to throw it at the boss spider so that she is teleported away. The rest of the party point out forcefully that this leaves them stranded underground with no way back out, and suggest an alternative plan of using the amulet to escape their predicament.

X7-09 pushes his two cultist allies into the lava as sacrifices as they advance around the outside of the stalactite, and calls on the Diabolist for aid, specifically the ability to breathe poisonous fumes on the approaching spiders (and Balthazar too, incidentally). However, either he is distracted by the subject of his phobia coming to drag him off to a life of pain and suffering, or the Diabolist thinks it’s funnier to leave him to it, and no help is forthcoming.

Hayes lofts a turnip at the drow patrol leader, who the party recognise as their earlier opponent, but misses. Balthazar invokes the aid of the Archmage to erase the spider leader’s memory, causing some sort of protective amulet on its thorax to shatter but having no other effect. Kowalski backs away from the spiders at the door and casts Deflect, Boris casts Fear (illusory ghost zombie snakes), X7-09 shouts that he will never be taken alive and Valore negotiates swiftly with the drow – they attacked, she retaliated, how about they call it even?

X7-09 ducks back around the corner of the stalactite and runs back inside, pursued by spiders, and slams the door behind him. The drow leader yells at her surviving troops to meet up at the rally point, and teleports out as they run for their riding spiders. The sentient spiders start banging on the doors. The party regroup around Balthazar, who sucessfully calls on the Archmage for more help – and all are teleported away.

But there is a catch. Something goes wrong with the evocation; the spiders, who are in the area of effect, are nowhere to be seen. Kowalski, Ssh’ta, Caliban and Hayes shimmer into existence in the basement of Dwardel town hall. The others are… somewhere else…


This session was successful despite the large number of players. We have agreed to try splitting the party into two smaller groups, tentatively named Team Dragon and Team Robot, and run them for a while separately on alternate weekends. I think that will work a lot better; there are GMs who can run huge numbers of players – I’ve seen Eric Wujcik run over 20 at a time at a convention – but I’m not one of them, and I run better sessions when there are no more than 4-6 players. There are some set pieces planned for which I need all the players, though.

This and the previous session were run on one of the Deep Vistas maps, specifically Stalactite Gate, and you’ll see a small image of that above. These were on Kickstarter a while back, half a dozen large, beautiful, drow-themed battlemats.

Sadly, the approaching session end and steadily rising tide of lava prevented the party from exploring the former dwarf trading post a few hundred yards away, repurposed as a drow war cemetery at the end of the 12th Age. That was also a Deep Vistas map, Silent Garden. Oh well, maybe another time.

Review: Eyes of the Stone Thief

“That was nuts!” – Dag, Angry Beavers

As you may have guessed by now, this is the backbone of the Hearts of Stone campaign, whose session writeups you see on Wednesdays. It’s an everyday story of a sentient mobile megadungeon, the titular Stone Thief, and those who hunt it.

In a Nutshell: 13th Age campaign for character levels 4-8. 346 page PDF, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, published by Pelgrane Press.


This monster is too big for my normal review format, so let’s hit the highlights.

First comes a group of four chapters explaining what the campaign is about, how to use it, and the key factions in play within the megadungeon, which are presented in the same manner as the icons in the 13th Age core rules. This book is not so much a scripted campaign as it is a selection of adventures which the GM can stitch together in a number of ways. I doubt whether any two groups would follow the same path through it.

Next is a group of thirteen chapters, each focussed on one level of the megadungeon. In each case there’s an isometric map, details on encounter areas, traps, monsters, links to factions and so forth. Not much on treasure, because this adventure is more about revenge; the GM is essentially left to hand out whatever treasure he or she feels appropriate. There are a few plot items which come in handy later in the story. The dungeon can rearrange the layout of its levels, and the book offers several possibilities for that.

Then there are ten chapters covering the opposition, the dungeon’s prey, and surface quests. The intent of the book is that the GM switches between dungeon crawls, quests for information, help and artefacts on the surface, and homebrew scenarios focused on the character’s One Unique Things and icon relationships. Four groups of opponents are provided, of which my favourite is the Vengeful Company – a rival group of adventurers who hog all the limelight whatever the PCs manage to achieve.

These are followed by a chapter of enemy reactions to the player’s activities, and two chapters on finding and killing the living dungeon.

We close with an index.


Two-column black on colour text. Illos every few pages ranging from less than a quarter page to a whole page in size. Full colour everywhere.


There’s a short section in my copy which is in black on white with no colour at all. Not sure what happened there but pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do that.

After the first couple of read-throughs I would have asked for more help navigating the campaign, but there is no real substitute for re-reading in detail several times and taking copious notes. I found creating a timeline for the campaign very helpful, but what is in that depends on which path through the adventure your PCs take, and I expect it to change repeatedly as we go.


13th Age is already D&D with the volume turned up to eleven, and I can picture Ryder-Hanrahan grinning maniacally as he twists the dial even further clockwise. Eyes of the Stone Thief is completely mad, and my main concern from running the game is how I am going to herd the players back into a gritty, low-magic game afterwards.

It is truly a great campaign, and is now the standard against which I measure megadungeons; but the GM needs to put a lot of work in, both before it begins and during play. I don’t think I will do it justice the first time through; maybe if I ran it again later for another group, they would get more out of it.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5. I am running this, true, but as you’ve seen I didn’t drop everything else to do so, and it needs more preparation than I would like.

Hearts of Stone Episode 16: Under Dwardel

Dwardel, 25 May 216

The party makes its way back to Dwardel, and Boris, Silmaria, “Balthazar Rook”, Valore and X7-09 stay in town to deal with some unfinished business (namely, the Archmage’s alleged secret facility below the town hall) while the others hurry on to Marblehall to brief Countess Casila on the suspected orcish invasion.

Finding Amberlith’s pub abuzz with some sort of feast, our heroes enquire what they might have missed, and learn the following:

  • A few days ago there was a minor earthquake near Marblehall. No-one was hurt, and property damage was limited to a few broken plates.
  • The Archmage’s weather control station near Concord, known as Boltstrike Pillar due to the frequent lightning strikes it attracted, has vanished, leaving behind a large crater and no clues to what happened. Nearby areas of the Midland Sea are noticeably rougher than before.
  • Lucius, Dwardel’s alchemist, has been unmasked as a werewolf by legendary adventurers the Vengeful Company; he was responsible for numerous disappearances and dismemberments around the town, and has been hanged. His last words were: “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you meddling adventurers!” The Vengeful Company is now being celebrated with a week-long party.

Attempting to ingratiate themselves, our heroes are patronised by the Vengeful Company, whose attitude is that they are adorable but they should leave adventuring to the professionals. Boris, unable to enter because of his suddenly-acquired aversion to alcohol, stands outside scratching at the windows like a dog locked out of the house. X7-09 takes this opportunity to sneak up behind him with a rope, intending to forcibly wash and manicure him, but is frightened off by a hideous apparition, of which Boris will later claim ignorance.

Declining to venture into the dungeon at night, the group waits until dawn, when they are met at the town hall by X7-09’s cultist friends (who were at the party last night incognito, and arranged this rendezvous there). Showing the mayor their badges to establish that they work for Casila, they gain entrance to the town hall, its basement, and finally to a locked room at one end of the basement which contains a one-way teleporter (helpfully marked as such). Everyone except Balthazar and his squire Villain descend more or less straightaway, and the other two catch up after a few moments, by which time the main body has explored a small complex and started a fight with a couple of drow. Boris by this stage has transformed into an unusually furry mouse and attempts to entangle a drow with his exceedingly long and fluffy fur. One drow is quickly despatched, but the other breaks free of the fur, dodges past her assailants, boots open a door, and flees across a drawbridge into a large underground cavern populated with mushrooms, drow, giant spider mounts, and – some other arachnids.

Valore flies out, grabs the fleeing drow, and dives into a chasm surrounding the initial complex (she will emerge shortly, alone, with wings now made of metal, and make a superhero landing on the other side of the chasm). X7-09 is terrified as he realises that the “some other arachnids” are of special interest; he explains that their leader is none other than the spider mage who created him, and experimented on him, causing him great pain. He appears shaken by her appearance. Balthazar cuts off their dead foe’s head and marches onto the drawbridge, declaiming “For my master, the Archmage!” as he casts it into the chasm. He recognises the leader of the drow as the same one who tried to kidnap Casila a couple of months ago. Boris advances and casts fear on the arachnids, causing three of them to flee. As he has assumed elven form again, he is spotted by the drow leader, who calls out in Undercommon: “It’s Boris! Kill him!”

Meanwhile Silmaria and X7-09’s cultist friends are exploring the other exits from the complex, finding a rubble-filled stairway where some previous visitor brought the roof down, and two other drawbridges (one of which will become inoperable after Boris tries using the controls to operate it and they come off in his hand).

X7-09 climbs a ladder onto one of the complex’s turrets and casts a quick eye over the cavern terrain, seeing that the complex is carved into a giant stalactite which descends into a pit, and that stairways round the outside will give drow and spiders access now that one of the drawbridges is jammed in the “down” position. Concerned that the arachnids can now enter the complex, X7-09 calls on the Diabolist for help, and molten lava begins to fill the chasm surrounding the stalactite complex at an alarming rate, forming a sort of moat. Valore is perturbed when X7-09’s creator turns invisible, and even more perturbed when disturbances in the dust and debris covering the cavern floor suggest that a group of four invisible giant spiders are charging her. More drow pop up from behind assorted mushrooms and open fire with bows, to no immediate effect.

And people say there’s nothing to do in Dwardel.

GM Notes

I’ve started sharing news with the players to establish two closely-related things; first, that the world moves on even when they’re not looking at it, and second, that quests eventually expire if ignored. The disappearances at Dwardel were left alone for long enough that they became a good reason to introduce the Vengeful Company, who I expect to become long-term rivals, not least because their leader Borys Firesword is using the same name as one of the party and the same trademark weapon as another.

There was some creative use of icon dice rolls, and I was able to bring two characters’ backstories into play, which is always gratifying.

This session moved much more quickly than usual, because half the players were out celebrating a birthday and so we had a group of 5 players rather than the usual 9-10. I must consider splitting the group and running the two halves on alternate weeks, as this is more effective than tuning the rules for speed.

Review: 50 Fathoms

In a Nutshell: 210-page plot point campaign for Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment, roughly $10 at time of writing. This is the Explorer’s Edition, which is updated for Savage Worlds Deluxe and includes content from the 50 Fathoms Companion. Think Waterworld meets Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

What’s a Plot Point Campaign? It’s the Savage Worlds version of an adventure path, with a number of adventures which together form a story arc, and a large number of side quests. 50 Fathoms is often said to be the best one, so let’s take a look inside…


I should start by saying SW plot point books take the view that you want adventures to run, and any setting information beyond what you need to do that is a distraction – stuff you wade through searching for nuggets of information, but probably won’t use. The campaign is divided into three main types of session; the adventures on the story arc, which move the plot along; the side quests, which allow the PCs to gather the resources and information they need to take the next step along the main arc; and random adventures, which are a fallback in case they go completely off-piste. The first two types are in the Savage Tales section, the last is under Adventures.

The premise is that a piratical fantasy world is slowly drowning, and Earthly pirates are drawn through a dimensional portal to help save it. The story arc revolves around them figuring out what the threat really is and stopping it, thus saving their new home. Of course, as pirates, they might decide to slope off in search of booty, but as long as everyone is having fun, what does that matter?

50 Fathoms (32 pages): A brief introduction to the setting, including what the characters initially think is going on as opposed to what’s really happening; a map of the Thousand Isles; character creation, which is standard except for a few new nautical edges and hindrances; new races; gear, including all manner of pirate goodies and ships. Races include Earth humans, local humans, the winged atani, doreen (dolphin-men), grael (walrus-men), kehana (fish-men), kraken (squidheads), red men (dumb barbarians), and scurillians (crab-men).

Setting Rules (10 pages): These are mostly focused on ships; navigation, repair and upkeep, ship combat, the fatigue that builds up in the crew on a long voyage and the carousing that can resolve it, trade, whaling and finally a section on “pirate lingo”.

Caribdus Gazetteer (4 pages): This is “what everyone knows” – a short paragraph on notable places and persons on the world of Caribdus, the general knowledge that any PC would know after kicking around the Thousand Isles for a few months.

Magic (3 pages): The only Arcane Background in this setting is Magic, and the mage must specify which element (air, earth, fire or water) he has specialised in; you can learn others later. There are eight new spells, a discussion of appropriate trappings, and a table showing which spells are available to which elemental specialisation – if it isn’t on the table, it doesn’t exist in this setting. To summarise, the earth mage fixes things, the fire mage destroys them, the water mage heals you and the air mage fills your sails with the right breeze.

The Thousand Isles (42 pages): From this point on, we are in GM-only territory. We begin by learning the true backstory for the campaign. Then there are 17 areas of Caribdus, mostly islands or groups of islands. Each is expanded for the GM with a little more background information, encounter tables, and (crucially) pointers to which Savage Tales the PCs might be drawn into in that locale. So in a typical session the players will say where they are going next, the GM will tell them what they meet on the way, describe what the place is like when they arrive, perhaps including places and people of note, and then embroil them in one of the Tales – or perhaps a randomly-generated adventure if they have exhausted all the ones listed for that area.

Adventures (10 pages): This contains the random adventure generator, as well as rules for salvage, trade, natural hazards, subplots you might encounter within the main adventure of the session, and random treasure tables for both mundane and magical loot – +2 blunderbuss, anyone?

Savage Tales (74 pages): This is what the book is really about. Almost 90 different scenarios and adventure seeds, ranging in size from a quarter of a page to several pages. There are two series of plot points, each 9 adventures long; you can play one and save the world, play the other and find a great treasure, or play both and do both.

Encounters (22 pages): About 70 NPCs and monsters, each with notes and a statblock. Those which only appear in one Savage Tale are listed with that tale, so there are quite a few more buried in the previous chapter.

…and we close with an index, character and ship sheets, and an advertisement for short fiction set on Caribdus.


6.5″ x 9″, full colour everywhere but with help from the option to suppress page background your printer might survive the PDF. Colour illustrations every few pages. Two-column black text on whitish background with colour trim. Personally I find it a lot easier to read with the background turned off, but most of you probably have better eyesight than I have.


Some ship deck plans would be nice, but those are available for free from Pinnacle’s website, so I’ll let them off.

There is already a players’ guide, roughly half the price and contains only things it is safe for players to know.


As best I can tell without running it, this does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a ready-to-use story arc in a sandbox without requiring a lot of prep time, which is a really cool idea. It gets a lot of very positive commentary in reviews and the SW forum, and is reportedly held up to SW licensees as how to do a plot point campaign. Some GMs have reskinned it as a space opera setting, and I think that would work well, too.

However, I’m left with an overall feeling of “Yeah, I can probably make this work,” rather than “Jeez, I have got to run this RIGHT NOW!” For me personally, the gold standard in SW settings remains Beasts & Barbarians.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hearts of Stone Episode 15: Let’s Hunt Orc!

Near Anvil Road, 21 May 216

Orc wyvern riders return Balthazr, Hayes, and Soreth to the party; the three decline to say where they have been or what they have been doing, and the orcs leave without comment.

Shortly, the party notices smoke rising in the distance, and decide to investigate. Several hours later they find the ruins of a thoroughly burned and looted village, and tracks leading off to the northeast, tracks of orcs and… something else, something with very big feet, maybe 8-10 feet tall if it is humanoid. They leave their henchmen and Valore to bury the bodies and guard their loot cart, and follow the tracks; in due course they discover a dwarf-built tower in the woods, occupied by orcs, who spot them from an observation turret as they are making no attempt at stealth.

There is a brief discussion of what the next step should be. Balthazar points out that if the orcs are allowed to kill and burn indiscriminately, they will be back shortly with friends; his view is that their patron the Countess Casila would want the orcs killed and made an example of. Others favour a gentler approach based on persuading or charming the orcs into leaving. Kowalski points out that they essentially have a choice between slaying the orcs and lying to Casila on their return, but the softer approach wins the day.

Hayes now approaches the guard orcs and asks to speak to their leader, who it turns out is called Nailripper. While those two are in discussion, the outcome of which has yet to be shared with the group, the rest of the party settles in, Silmaria leading the orcs in drinking songs and X7-09 challenging the orcs to arm wrestling matches and similar games. The mystery of the large footprints is solved as the orcs have four ogres with them. The party also notes a winch-operated lift, presumably leading to an abandoned dwarf complex underground.

At length a goblin runs up, and demands to see the orc leader. When admitted, he says he has new orders from the Orc Lord: The group is to return to orc territory at once, since the Orc Lord is not yet ready to invade the Empire. Nailripper and several other orcs hack him to pieces in frustration, but then Nailripper yells at his troops to grab their gear and follow him.

Unfortunately for the orcs, they bunch up in their struggle to get out of the tower, and this proves too tempting for Hayes, who has been searching the tower and has found a blast potion. He hurls that at the struggling mass of orcs and ogres, and inflicts a phenomenal amount of damage, killing all but two – one orc who was outside the blast radius, and Nailripper, who staggers out of the flames singed and heavily wounded. Ssh’ta, Caliban, Kowalski and Balthazar¬†fall on him, and Boris attempts to entangle him by using sorcery to extend a writhing mass of his own armpit hair into the melee, but after a few blows the attackers notice that Soreth is powering up her breath weapon and duck for cover as she breathes fire across the two survivors, incinerating the orc trooper. Nailripper, astonishingly, survives despite Kowalski magically reducing his vigour to make him an easier target. This is to no avail, however, as Hayes throws a turnip at his head, killing him.

The party loot the bodies and the tower, finding a variety of orc trail rations and water bottles, some $440 in cash and readily fenceable items, and a ferociously sharp and well-made longsword.

“We should get this identified,” says X7-09.

“No need for that,” says the sword. “I am Spiterazor, forged for the purpose of killing dark elves. Who among you is worthy to bear me?”

GM Notes

Another session which was intended to be a fight, but turned into a negotiation – however, when the orcs bunched up on their way out of the tower, well, that was just too tempting. X7-09 used an icon roll to produce the goblin messenger, which I thought was creative. Hayes has the Scavenger Edge, and used a benny to gain narrative control long enough to find a blast potion.

Off-camera, Hayes, Balthazar and Soreth have done a deal with Master Throatcutter’s men (errm, sorry, orcs). He that sups with the devil should use a long spoon…

Review: Heart of the Fury

In a Nutshell: A campaign in 16 adventures for the FATE Core Edition version of Bulldogs!. 262 page PDF, written by Gareth Hanrahan, published by Galileo Games.


The book breaks into a number of main sections: an introduction; 16 adventures, ranging from 6 pages to 54 pages in length; new species; and rules for psychic PCs, not previously an option in Bulldogs! The table of contents lists NPCs, monsters, ships, and other items separately, which is useful for the ones that can turn up several times over the course of a campaign.

The introduction gives the GM a concise summary of what’s going on – no spoilers, because figuring that out is one of the primary goals of the campaign.

The campaign as written assumes the PCs are the crew of a Class D Freighter working for the TransGalaxy shipping corporation, making high-risk cargo runs along the fringes of civilised space. The adventures can be run one after the other if you wish – the “Express Route”, the book calls it – or you can mix up the sequence and add in side quests, the “Scenic Route”, so long as you start with the first adventure and finish with the last. Sections called “Exit Trajectory” are listed for the adventures, giving several options for which scenario to run next. Some the scenarios, such as The Hunters, can be recycled and used several times over the course of the campaign. Unusually, the option where the PCs decide to go over to the Dark Side is also covered – I suppose you have to cater to that for Bulldogs.

Some of the NPCs, like the delinquent drop-out Hackragorkan (he’s an accountant), genuinely made me laugh out loud; this would not be appropriate for all games, but is definitely fitting for this one.


Colour cover around single-column black text on white with purple headlines and full-colour page borders and boxouts. A goodly number of colour cartoon illustrations.


PDF layers so I can turn off the colour borders and boxout backgrounds.

I don’t like the cartoonish style of the internal illustrations. Your Mileage May Vary.


I’ve come to the conclusion of late that the only way I can run space opera now is to play it for laughs, and for that, the Bulldogs! setting is ideal. Someday I may even try running it under FATE, though Savage Worlds works well with the adventures, so why change?

Bulldogs! adventures have always been a collection of challenges the GM can use in any order, depending on how the players react to the initial setup. I’d hoped Heart of the Fury would extend that to the campaign level, though it doesn’t quite – it does the next best thing, which is offer multiple routes through the plotline.

I can’t help drawing parallels between current US/UK politics and some situations in the plotline, but no doubt this is purely accidental.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I do want to run this one right away, but it hardly seems fair to stop any of my existing campaigns to do so. It would be easy to kick Collateral Damage onto this track, though…