Like every body that ever read a good book and plays RPG you will want to make it into your next campaign setting. I am no different than most people.

I'm aiming to adapt the setting of S. Erikson's Malazan books masterpieces, but I'm not sure how to decide what is and isn't an Icon. For example, which of the entities of the Deck of Dragons should be Icons? Which other entities outside the Deck should be Icons in 13th Age's system?

Basically, what criteria separate people with a great destiny (like say the Obelisk Bottle, or the Priest of House Life, Kruppe) from a truly influential Icon (like Shadowthrone)?

My sense of it is that only entities that have reign, domination, over magic, or a significant population could be Icons. Like for example, the The First of the Seguleh could be one even though he is not part of the Deck of Dragons.

How do you decide what is and isn't an Icon when adapting a setting to 13th Age?

And in case that's simply the wrong question to ask, an explanation of how I've misunderstood the true role of the Icons would be appreciated.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to point out, The Malazan universe was based on a series of campaigns first in heavily houserules ADnD, then in heavily houseruled GURPs. GMed by Erikson and Esselmont. (I personally am constantly trying to convert it to use the L5R system. though when i started trying to do a conversion i was tryign to do it to dnd.) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2014 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I find interesting is that the "icons mechanic" allows me to add all those mighty characters in my campaign without shoe-horning them into a cameo appearance. Hence my question. \$\endgroup\$
    – le-doude
    Jun 23, 2014 at 0:16

4 Answers 4


Something or someone makes a good icon when they are

  • A significant mover and shaker in the setting, but
  • Too removed, powerful, distracted or dangerous to get involved in events directly, and
  • Suggest the potential for positive, conflicted, and negative relationships

I'm afraid I don't know the Malazan setting, so I'm going to fall back on something that comes close to lingua franca among gamers: the Star Wars universe. If I were setting a 13th Age game there, I might use…

  • The Jedi Council
  • Jabba the Hutt
  • The Emperor
  • The Rebel Alliance (as in, "That group of people whom Mon Mothma leads and to whom Admiral Akbar reports." The ones who gave Leia her mission.)

…as potential Icons. That's about the scale you want: even someone as powerful as Darth Vader isn't quite to Icon level.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be careful though; we don't see a whole lot of factions that are an "Icon"; the only one that really has more than just one character making up the icon is the Three, and they're all dragons who could theoretically have been icons independently. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 27, 2013 at 2:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Thank you for the answer even if you do not know the Malazan book saga (you must check it out though!). In the default settings, the Emperor, Archmage or Gold Wyrm seem to fit the bill of your description. On the other hand, The Dwarf King, The Prince of Shadows or The Crusader seem to be pretty hands-on types of Icons. Or am I wrong? \$\endgroup\$
    – le-doude
    Dec 27, 2013 at 3:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KyleWilley I suppose that's true, but I think there's a lot of potential in the idea that a group dedicated to a single goal could be, in and of itself, iconic if they tend to be dealt with as a collective. Obi-Wan Kenobi has a conflicted relationship with the Jedi Council, but not any specific Jedi Knight as a whole, if you feel me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Dec 27, 2013 at 4:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Jadasc has it right. Having read the books, mostly only the Crippled God and the rulers of warrens/holds will be suitable as icons, along with possibly Empress Laseen and Anomander Rake. Even badasses like Icarium and Karsa Orlong wouldn't count, because they aren't sufficiently well-known (yet) for a relationship with them to matter to other people. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Dec 27, 2013 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Oblivious Sage What about the First of the Seguleh? And the High Alchemist in Darjuhistan? Spoilers But what about Karsa Orlong at the end of the books once he goes back to his people and tries to bring an end to the civilization of "children". \$\endgroup\$
    – le-doude
    Dec 27, 2013 at 5:20

So here's a slick thing about Icons: They're basically exemplar characters of a faction or a splat that you want to define your entire setting with.

Not only do they have an agenda to shape the world, they have a philosophy about it. This is what makes it more interesting to have relationships with them, because PCs might agree with an Icon's goals, but not their philosophy, or in agreement of the philosophy but not the goals, etc.

Second, for any given setting you have or might draw from, there's probably several ways you can cut it up and have different Icons, so the real question then is "What do you want your game to focus around?"

Consider the many sort of demon-lords in D&D - each of them could be an Icon. If you wanted to play out the Blood Wars in Planescape, maybe ALL of your Icons are Devils and Demons. Or maybe you're just playing a game where only mortal beings are Icons, and those things are considered deities as far as your game treats it... There's a lot of ways to cut it and it really depends on your campaign focus.

So go in this order:

  1. What's my campaign about? What kind of things fit/don't fit as far as what I want to focus play on?

  2. What kind of characters/entities are the highest power things I want to have involved?

  3. Which of these beings would make good splats of their own? (fitting with the two questions above)

  4. Are any of them overlapping to such an extent they're not really different?


Icons are a new, insufficiently explored idea. The book doesn't spent much time on them, and the implementation will differ by GM as the result. With that in mind, I'll offer my thoughts based on choosing Icons for my own setting.

Icons strongly affect the game. They'll come up over and over, and the plot will be shaped by them. As such, only people and/or organisations that you can see doing that, and want to see doing that, qualify. You're likely not writing a setting to be published, though. You want to play a game set in it instead, meaning you don't have to represent everyone that might qualify as an Icon. Your Icons are not necessarily setting Icons, but game Icons. Depending on the scope and locality of the game, it may make sense to include lesser characters as Icons.

Not knowing anything about the books I can't make specific examples, but if the game were to be centered in and around a particular city, it's ruler may well be an Icon for it, even if they're not a global power.

Should the game's scope change, it may be time to let players pick new Icons out of a new list.

If GM's choice of Icons tells players which potential storylines they foresee, players' choice of Icons tells GM which stories they want to see. It is a form of indirect narrative control leading to improvised play - something that 13th Age encourages. As such, it could also be interesting offering Icons to players that don't seem to have much of a connection to the plot, and seeing how they do come up.

As for the criteria of eligibility to be an Icon, other than the ability to be in a story, there's only one. Be an NPC, in motivations and in methods. Icons shouldn't deprotagonize PCs with their involvement.


An icon is a being, organization or a concept that is capable of influencing world around PCs by altering fate, using creature-based resources, providing tools, unifying nations, or capturing minds of crowds.

For campaign purposes, from the list of movers and shakers, pick up to seven such entities to be selected by players during character building, and another seven to keep in reserve. For PCs icons are usually sponsors, quest-givers, recurring antagonists too big to take on directly or untrustworthy plotters that seek to take advantage of the heroes. For a GM, an icon is the reason the campaign begins. The unused icons watch the story develop, and can step in when you need the story to make sense, and previously used major NPCs are insufficient to explain going-ons.

EXAMPLE: One of the characters suspects a merchant they have dealings with, to have a sinister secret and breaks in merchants office at night. Now, you were not prepared to develop the merchant further, but deciding to embrace the opportunity you select a suitably dark icon from your reserve list, and from that icon description you extrapolate the dark secret.

When converting a world, it's sufficient to list candidates that fit the definition in the opening paragraph. Then tag them with adequate descriptors (imperials_only, works_from_shadows, inert_for_millennia, etc) and descriptions. Then assign most likely tools and agendas. It's important to pick targets that are different from each other - two spy organizations don't need two different write-ups. The same icon can be friendly, antagonistic, heroic, tragic, villainous, or manipulative depending on the situation. Icon actions are often unexplainable - let the players decide through their relation current icon role. When describing an icon, leave room for interpretation and ambiguity.

EXAMPLE: Anomander Rake (inescapable destiny, inert for millenia, mystical knowledge). You are a monarch who only sees how things end - the others are shadows and barely perceptible distortions of perception. Since each and any of your actions change the world without affecting overall destiny, you seldom appear to do anything. Your resources are not limited by imagination, but the use you put them to, is always baffling.


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