Atlas   Rules   Resources   Adventures   Stories       FAQ   Search   Links

Icons for Mystara

by Giampaolo Agosta from Threshold Magazine issue 22

Adapting the 13th Age Icon Relationships to Mystara campaigns

Introduction and Background

The 13th Age is a fantasy roleplaying game authored by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, and produced by Pelgrane Press. Its underlying game engine, the Archmage Engine, is based on the Open Source license, as many other d20-derived games. What makes 13th Age interesting is the presence of several modular subsystems, which can be repurposed for completely different rules sets. The goal of this article is to outline possible uses of one such subsystems, the Icons, within a Mystara campaign (regardless of the rules set used). The full discussion of Icons and Icon relationship can be found in the corebook as well as in the 13th Age SRD1, and their main aspects as reported here for the sake of convenience.

In 13th Age, Icons2 are powerful NPCs, the movers and shakers of the campaign world. They provide a mix of ideology, power structure, and guidance around which lesser NPCs cluster, and with which the PCs can interact -- by opposing or supporting the Icon and its goals. The 13th Age implied setting, the Dragon Empire, provides 13 Icons, which, in accordance with a general principle of 13th Age of limiting setting information to a skeleton which can easily be coloured with specific details, are essentially archetypal figures that can be easily mapped to actual NPCs in most campaigns. Even the “alignment” of Icons is not actually set -- while each Icon in play acts as heroic, ambiguous, or villainous (which replace the typical Good, Neutral and Evil alignments of D&D), most Icons can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, the Archmage is usually an heroic defender of humanity, but may in some campaigns be a less benevolent force, focusing more on magical knowledge for its own sake.

Beyond their archetypal nature, Icons are characterised by relations among them -- for instance, the Archmage supports the Emperor, whereas the Lich King opposes him. Each PC may have a supportive, opposed or conflicted relationship with one or more Icons, providing him with reasons to operate in or against the interests of some of these powerful NPCs3. In the simplest case, positive relationships may be construed as the Icon (or one of its representatives) acting as the PC’s patron, and opposed relationships as the Icon acting as a foe of the PCs. For instance, a warrior loyal to the Empire may find himself opposed by the forces of the Lich King. This provides motivation for adventure, as the Emperor may offer missions and rewards, while the Lich King provides opponents to face, plots to uncover, and treasures to steal. However, conflicted relationships can also be had, where the PC has both friends and enemies among the follower of the Icon. Furthermore, a negative relationship is still a relationship, meaning there PC has some contact or link -- maybe an undesired one -- with the Icon.

Icon relationship is handled through a simple mechanic: each PC has 3 points to assign to one or more Icons. When the PC wants to leverage his connection to the Icon, he rolls as many d6 as points invested in that Icon. One or more 6s means the PC gets the desired help (the more 6s, the more advantageous is the support offered), whereas a 5 means the PC gets help, but also a complication of some kind.

The 13th Age Icons

In introducing the Icons, I’m removing as much as possible the implied setting of 13th Age, so as to further highlight their archetypal natures.

The Archmage is the archetypal court mage -- he defends the PCs’ homeland, and drives forward magical research. He’s generally an heroic icon, but could be interpreted as ambiguous if more relevance is assigned to his reality-threatening magical experiments. He is supported by a magical bureaucracy of some kind -- it may be a guild, a ministry of magic, and so on.

The Crusader is a follower of “dark gods”. He and his army fight monstrous opponents that would destroy the world, but with the aim of conquering and ruling it themselves. This Icon is a typical example of conflicted relationships -- he helps humanity to some extent, but at a high price. His followers are an army of crusaders.

The Diabolist summons and controls forces of destruction (the demons in the 13th Age setting). Much like the Crusader, she is an evil force that might be a lesser evil than the monsters she controls -- i.e., she’s evil and unpredictable, but not entirely inhuman as they are. Her followers are generally secretive cultists who would wield the same forbidden powers as she does.

The Dwarf King is the typical representative of the dwarves -- he rules under the mountains, he would like to reclaim lost dwarven treasures and lands taken over by monsters. He is allied to the Emperor, but has a serious greed issue. His followers are, unsurprisingly, dwarves.

The Elf Queen rules over all elves, good and evil. She is the archetypal fey queen. Her followers are elves, of course, both light and dark. Depending on which faction is stronger, the behaviour of this Icon can change quite a bit.

The Emperor rules a land defended by dragon riders, a very ancient human kingdom. He is supported by legions of soldiers and bureaucrats. He is the law of the PCs’ homeland, but also a force for the preservation of the status quo.

The Great Gold Wyrm is the patron of Paladins. He is defined by his self-sacrificing nature, as he closes a gigantic portal to the Abyss with his body. Gold dragons, paladins and good-aligned beings are his followers.

The High Druid leads magical creatures of the woods in a struggle against civilisation, represented by both the Emperor (and more in general the humans who would exploit the wilderness) and the Archmage (who would channel and exploit the magical aspects of nature). His followers are druids, woodland beings, and spirits of nature.

The Lich King is a past ruler of the Emperor’s kingdom, returned as an undead liege. He wants to restore his rule, and operates with the support of undead and necromancers alike. While he is a generally villainous Icon, he actually aims at ruling the land, not destroying it.

The Orc Lord is the archetypal barbarian leader. A past Orc Lord invasion ended the Lich King’s reign. He leads a marauding army from outside the boundaries of the civilised lands. He can be the main opponent of the Emperor, or a force to use against his enemies.

The Priestess represents the “good gods”. She is a sort of high priest for all the good-aligned faiths of the land. Thus, her followers are clerics and good planeborns.

The Prince of Shadows is the king of thieves -- a trickster figure, but also a villain. His followers are, obviously, a thieves’ guild (as well as an assassin’s guild). The Dwarf King and other law-oriented Icons are obviously enemies of the Prince of Shadows.

The Three are extremely powerful chromatic dragons who have learned to cooperate, among themselves and even with other species. Their followers are dragons, but also other monsters and even humans.

When identifying Icons for a setting different from the Dragon Empire, the key choice is whether to design new Icons or to map the existing ones to NPCs of the target setting. In this article, we focus on the latter option -- while the former can produce more accurate results, mapping the existing Icons allows to easily adapt the adventure modules produced for 13th Age.

Icons for Mystara

The key issues with identifying Icons appropriate to with Mystara are the breadth of the setting, and its inherent ability to support adventures at very different scopes. A Basic/low-Expert level campaign in Karameikos needs a very different set of Icons with respect to a Master-level campaign in Norwold. For example, in Karameikos the Great Gold Wyrm could be Azem, the hidden gold dragon in the Five Shires, whereas in Norwold it would definitely be King Eruuptar of Wyrmsteeth. The Emperor would be Duke Stefan in Karameikos, but King Ericall in Norwold, and so on.

A further issue is that PCs rarely interact directly with Icons. Generally, they will deal with lower-level NPCs who are representatives, allies, or agents of the Icons. This is typically not a major issue in Mystara, since most key NPCs are rulers or otherwise have followers and henchmen.

At the other end of the scale, there is the matter of Immortals. Whereas in 13th Age “gods” are left purposefully vague, and not directly involved in the campaign -- the Priestess represents all “gods of light” and their cults, and the Crusader represents all “dark gods”, but no individual cults are significant enough to act as Icons on their own -- in Mystara, Immortals are much less distant, and take active roles as patrons of very high level characters. Typical Master-level adventures involve directly the Immortals’ plots, and any epic scale campaign must take them into account. As a result, when designing the Icons, Immortals should be considered as Icons for Companion and Master-level campaigns.

We present here a sample assignment of Icons to particularly active Immortals. This table is suitable for globe-spanning, high-level adventures where Immortals are the drivers of the plot. For lower level or geographically localised campaigns, it is more appropriate to design a specialised allocation. Three such examples are described in the rest of this section.

[Table: Immortal Icons]

13th Age Icon


The Archmage

Rad & Rathanos

The Crusader

Vanya & Alphaks

The Diabolist

Orcus & Demogorgon

The Dwarf King

Kagyar & Garal

The Elf Queen

Ilsundal & Ordana

The Emperor

Tarastia & Ixion

The Great Gold Wyrm

The Great One & The Star Dragon

The High Druid

Ka & Terra

The Lich King

Nyx & Thanatos

The Orc Lord

Kaarash & Yagrai

The Priestess

Korys & Alphatia

The Prince of Shadows

Korotiku & Loki

The Three

The Sun Dragon & The Moon Dragon

Icons of Karameikos

Karameikos is designed for a low-level campaign, culminating in the PCs becoming nobles (Knights, Landed Lords or even Barons). Still, one can see the influence of Immortals, and accordingly design a set of Icons that include both Immortals and mortal NPCs, usually aligned to the same goals.

The Emperor and Archmage are easily mapped to Duke Stefan and Guildmaster Teldon, and the Dwarf King maps to the Gnome King, Dorfus Hilltopper4. The Orc Lord can be King Vlack5 of the Vlack-kag hobgoblin tribe. Other Icons are more difficult, but correspondences can be found.

Either Alfric Oderbry or Ludwig von Hendricks can be the Crusader, possibly sharing the role. In the same way, either or both Flameflicker and Anton Radu reflect the Prince of Shadows, and Olliver Jowett and Aleksyev Nikelnevitch are the setting’s Priestess.

The Great Gold Wyrm can only be Azem6, the gold dragon king of Azemur, holder of the Ivory Plume of Maat. She is served, albeit indirectly, by the Hin of Wereskalot. Argos the Worrier7 then takes the place of the Three, maintaining the rivalry with the gold dragon. There are also other notable dragons in Karameikos, particularly a Red in the Wufwolde Hills and a Black in the western swamps, but they are not as powerful.

The Seer of the Lake of Lost Dreams replaces the Elf Queen. Appropriately, he “rules” over both elves and fey. Loshad the Chevall8 takes the place of the High Druid.

Bargle is definitely a candidate to the role of Icon, and will work well as the Diabolist -- willing to court evil powers for his own amusement. Finally, the last Icon is the Lich King. There is but one lich in Karameikos, “Saint” Oirtulev9. An interesting twist is to make its agents the misguided Cult of Halav, at the behest of Oirtulev’s patron, the lord of the undead, Orcus.

[Table: Icons of Karameikos]

13th Age Icon




The Archmage

Master Teldon

Magicians’ Guild

The Crusader


Alfric Oderbry / Ludwig von Hendricks

The Church of Karameikos (Oderbry faction, including the Knights of the Griffon) / The Black Eagle Barony

The Diabolist



The Iron Ring

The Dwarf King

Kagyar / Garl

King Dorfus Hilltopper

The Kingdom of Highforge

The Elf Queen


The Seer of the Lake of Lost Souls

The Vyalia elves and the Pixies of the Lake of Lost Souls

The Emperor


Duke Stefan Karameikos III

The Grand Duchy (Lord Zogrev Yarol, the ministers and the army)

The Great Gold Wyrm



The Halflings of Wereskalot

The High Druid


Loshad the Chevall

The Centaurs of the Moor

The Lich King


Saint Oirtulev

The Cult of Halav

The Orc Lord


King Vlack

The Altan Tepes Goblinoids

The Priestess

Valerias / Petra

Oliver Jowett / Aleksyev Nikelnevitch

The Church of Karameikos (Halaran faction) / The Church of Traladara

The Prince of Shadows


Flameflicker / Anton Radu

The Kingdom of Thieves / The Veiled Society

The Three


Argos the Worrier

The Dark Triad cult

Icons of Norwold

Norwold is a typical high-level setting, designed for play at Companion and Master level. Here, many NPCs suitable as Icons are very high level.

The Dragon Empire here identifies with the Kingdom of Norwold and its parent, the Empire of Alphatia. As such, the Emperor is King Ericall and Madiera the Counsellor10 is the Archmage. Although there is not ministry of magic or guild to support her, we can easily imagine her to have several apprentices.

In Norwold, the Priestess finds an interesting match in the Crones of Crystykk. These servants/personifications of the Norns represents three different alignments and spheres of powers, making them suitable to match the Priestess’ role.

Goblinoids are not terribly important in Norwold. The Orc Lord therefore leaves its place to the human barbarian leader, Barkal the Red, although the Frost Giant Jarl of Frosthaven is another interesting option.

The dragon Icons are particularly relevant. King Eruuptar of Wyrmsteeth is a reasonable match for the Great Gold Wyrm, whereas Dominagon or Pyre can be the Three. Even though Pyre is not originally from Norwold, he appears there in a plot against Eruuptar, part of the “World in Flames” timeline11.

The Crusader is certainly Wulf von Klagendorf12, Hochmeister of the Heldannic Order, whereas the Lich King can be mapped to the Black King and the Black Queen of Alphaks’ Volcano.

Tarn Oakleaf represents the High Druid, even if he might not be the Icon himself. President Prospero of the Landfall Thieves’ Guild takes the place of the Prince of Shadows.

The Dwarf King and Elf Queen are Gard Rocktooth, clanholder of Stonehaven, and Nirwen13, the Weeping Queen of the elves of the Rhien Forest.

Finally, the Diabolist can be the Seer of River Sabre14 or the Witch Queen of Pojaara.

[Table: Icons of Norwold]

13th Age Icon




The Archmage


Madiera the Counsellor

Her apprentices

The Crusader


Wulf von Klagendorf

The Heldannic Knights

The Diabolist


The Seer of River Sabre / The Witch Queen of Pojaara

Sabreclaws / Kingdom of Pojaara

The Dwarf King


Gard Rocktooth


The Elf Queen


Nirwen the Weeping Queen

The Foresthomes

The Emperor


King Ericall

Kingdom of Norwold

The Great Gold Wyrm


King Eruuptar

Kingdom of Wyrmsteeth

The High Druid


Tarn Oakleaf

The Druidic Circle of Norwold

The Lich King


The Black King

The Black Avengers

The Orc Lord

Thor / Surtr

Barkal the Red / The Jarl of Frosthaven

The barbarian hosts / Frosthaven Giants

The Priestess

The Norns

The Crones of Crystykk

None; the Crones operate through omens and dreams

The Prince of Shadows


President Prospero

The Landfall Thieves’ Guild

The Three

Dominagon / Pyre

Icons of Thyatis

Thyatis may work as an excellent stand-in for the Dragon Empire. Several parallels can indeed by found -- starting from the dragon riders of the Retebius Air Force and the Knights of Air. Zendrolion, the first Emperor of Thyatis killed the previous Wizard King, Lucinius, and the Empire was founded after the defeat of the oppressor Empire of Alphatia, which is a magocracy. Either the current Empress of Alphatia or, more likely, an undead Lucinius can work as the Lich King. Specifically, Lucinius has already been proposed as a Lich working behind the scenes in Thyatis15.

The Emperor and the Archmage find easy mappings in Emperor Thincol the Brave and his court mage, Demetrion Karagenteropoulos16.

The Storm Soldiers are an order of fighters ranging from the mere nationalist to the Nazi-grade villains. From them, the Heldannic Order, a nation of monastic Knights was founded. Their leader, Wulf von Klagendorf, would make an excellent Crusader. While not devoted to “dark gods” -- which would likely correspond to the Sphere of Entropy in Mystara -- the Heldannic Order fills a similar niche as the Crusader’s army, and the Thanatos connection through the Storm Soldiers may be played upon for the Crusader’s darker side.

There are dwarven and elven enclaves in Thyatis, as well as two neighbouring nations, Alfheim and Rockhome, which can easily qualify as the Dwarf King and Elf Queen. Whether to use the Count Vyalia and Baroness Buhrohur or the Kings of Rockhome and Alfheim is a matter of campaign scope -- Count Vyalia works well as a patron of the Foresters, for example.

Druids are uncommon in the Known World, but Thyatis has overseas colonies, such as the Thyatian Hinterlands or the Isle of Dawn, where a High Druid could easy arise. In the isle of Dawn, the Archdruid Kalmyshiye is the best known NPC who could fit the role.

The Shadow King is the hereditary leader of the Shadow Hand, a pirate crew that struck a deal with and later took over the previous Thieves' Guild. They now control a large number of illegal activities in Thyatis City and beyond. He is a perfect match for the Prince of Shadows.

The Diabolist and the Priestess are more difficult, since Demons in Mystara are Immortal level monsters/NPCs, and the Immortals are much more proactive than the 13th Age gods. The head of the Church of Thyatis could serve as the Priestess -- Thyatis is known as an empire where the combination of fighters, wizards and clerics keeps the state going, and where the state religion tends to include multiple cults and Immortals. Either the Rex Sacrorum or the Flaminia Tarastiana17 could fit the bill.

There are also demon-worshippers, of course, and the cult of Alphaks, one of the Immortal Fiends, is formally outlawed but somewhat more tolerated than others, since Alphaks' primary interest is the destruction of Alphatia. However, a better option for the Diabolist could be Arik of the Hundred Eyes, the imprisoned Immortal who might be in league with the Outer Beings. As for NPCs, one interesting option builds on the Precepts of Akh’All, an Outer Beings treatise published in Thyatis. This points to the presence of Outer Beings cults, at least, in Thyatis, as also mentioned in other Thyatian pseudobiblia, such as “Dark Worship in Thyatis”18. Leveraging the recent addition of the Zhochal (Minions of Akh’All) to the array of playable races19, I’d make the Diabolist the First of a Zhochal collective.

As mentioned before, Thyatis has a corps of dragon riders mounted on white, blue, and gold dragons. While canonically these are subdued dragons, it has been speculated that the presence of such a large amount of dragons must be related to some alliance between the Empire and a mysterious dragon ruler (it is noteworthy that, while the other nations overlap with draconic kingdoms, there is no such dragon ruler known to live in Thyatis). Still, Hytiliaph, Demetrion Karagenteropoulos’ mount, would qualify as the Great Gold Wyrm.

The Three are not too much about being a "dragon icon", as much as they are about being "monsters that fit (partly) into civilization". In this sense, perhaps the wererat undercity in Thyatis, or even the multi-racial Order of the Sands, which includes Orcish gladiators and perhaps even intelligent monsters, would fit. Leo Variantia20, an Immortal candidate afflicted with multiple lycanthropic diseases, is my favourite option as an individual NPC.

Finally, the Orc Lord may be Thar, King of the Broken Lands, or the Great Khan of Ethengar. Both are distant (as is the Orc Lord in the Dragon Empire), but may prove a major problem if the Empire is weakened.

[Table: Icons of Thyatis]

13th Age Icon




The Archmage


Demetrion Karagenteropulos

Ministry of Magic / Collegium Arcanum

The Crusader


Wulf von Klagendorf

The Heldannic Order

The Diabolist


The First

Zhochal Collective

The Dwarf King


King Everast / Baroness Buhrohur

Kingdom of Rockhome / Barony of Buhrohur

The Elf Queen


King Doriath / Count Vyalia

Alfheim / County of Vyalia

The Emperor


Thincol Torion

The Legions of Thyatis

The Great Gold Wyrm



The Draconic Kingdom of Ancepes Trigeminus

The High Druid



Druids of the Isle of Dawn

The Lich King


Lucinius Trezantenbium

The Ordo Magna

The Orc Lord

Kaarash / Ixion

King Thar / The Great Khan of Ethengar

The Legion of Thar / The Hordes of Ethengar

The Priestess

Tarasta / Valerias

Gaia Ephore, the Flaminia Tarastiana, or the Rex Sacrorum

The Church of Thyatis

The Prince of Shadows


Valinor Acindelyrovius, the Shadow King

The Shadow Hand

The Three


Leo Variantia

The Order of the Sands

Icons in Action

The Icons can be used for multiple purposes. As per the 13th Age rules, they can be used to provide benefits or complications for the PCs. This works well for improvisational adventures. However, the Icons are useful also as tools to support the definition of campaign plots.

For example, let us consider a Thyatian campaign. We need to first define the heroic Icons -- here the Archmage, the Priestess, the Dwarf King, and the Great Gold Wyrm. The Crusader, the Diabolist and the Orc Lord are villainous Icons. Everyone else is ambiguous -- as befits a Mystaran campaign, most Icons are actually ambiguous and even our definition is mostly relative to the specific party. We choose, however, the Lich King as the opponent in this campaign. His motivation is to preserve the Empire. In 13th Age, the Lich King is the main opponent of the Emperor -- here we can choose to make this opposition indirect, and choose a different enemy. Let’s use the Crusader.

The main plot is, at this point, easy to plan: the Emperor is receiving financial support from the Heldannic Knights, Lucinius wants to remove their influence, therefore sends a minion to hijack a shipment of gold. Now, the PCs’ alignment to the Icons defines the nature of their involvement. A PC aligned with the Prince of Shadows would steal from the thieves, whereas a PC aligned with the Emperor would attempt to retrieve the stolen gold. We can add a complication, probably another ambiguous Icon attempting to gain an advantage from the situation. This could be the aforementioned Prince of Shadows, if the PCs are not aligned with him. Finally, we can have an unlikely ally to show up. For this role, we can select the Three or the Diabolist. In the first case, it is a group of wererats who offer help to the PCs (e.g., information on the thieves or help in navigating a city’s underground), in the latter, it is one of the alien Zhochal who happens to be a witness.

Thus, we have our adventure plot -- a typical robbery investigation with a couple of twists, and a possible follow-up in the investigation of the money’s origins and the state debt problem that is building up in Thyatis. Everything else can be built up with the standard encounter building rules from the BECMI Master Set, or whatever equivalent rules are used in the specific rules set.


Douglas Niles. CM1 Test of the Warlords. TSR, 1984

Bruce Nesmith and Douglas Niles. CM3 Sabre River. TSR, 1984

Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher. B10 Night’s Dark Terror. TSR, 1986

Aaron Allston. Gaz 1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos. TSR, 1987

Aaron Allston. Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia. TSR, 1989

Bruce Heard. Who’s Who Among Dragons. In Dragon Magazine, Issue 171, 1991

Ann Dupuis. PC4 The Night Howlers. TSR, 1992

James Mishler. Kaarjala, Land of the Saamari. In netMAG 7, 1994,

Bruce Heard. World in Flames. 1998-1999,

Giulio Caroletti and James Ruhland. A Short Reference to Thyatian Literature. In Tome of Mystara, Issue 3, 2000

Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet. 13th Age Corebook. Pelgrane Press, 2013

Giampaolo Agosta. The Skaufskogr and Beyond. In Threshold Magazine Issue 7, 2015

Giulio Caroletti and Giampaolo Agosta. Patres et Conscripti: Characters and Factions in the Thyatian Senate. In Threshold Magazine 2-6, 2015-2016

Geoff Gander. Playing Zhochal in Mystara. In Threshold Magazine Issue 20, 2018




4See GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos for these and most other NPCs in Karameikos.

5See B10 Night’s Dark Terror for these two NPCs.

6See Bruce Heard, Who’s Who Among Dragons, in Dragon Magazine 171.

7See Bruce Heard, Who’s Who Among Dragons, in Dragon Magazine 171.

8See B10 Night’s Dark Terror.

9See AD&D Mystara DM’s Kit.

10See CM1 Test of the Warlords for most Norwold NPCs.

11See Bruce Heard, “World in Flames”.

12See Bruce Heard, “Heldannic Knights NPCs”,

13See Giampaolo Agosta, The Skaufskogr and Beyond, in Threshold Magazine Issue 7.

14See CM3 Sabre River.


16See Dawn of the Emperors.

17See G. Caroletti and G. Agosta, Patres et Coscripti, in Threshold Magazine Issues 2-6.

18See G. Caroletti and J. Ruhland, A Short Reference to Thyatian Literature, in Tome of Mystara Issue 3.

19See G. Gander, Playing Zhochal in Mystara, Threshold Magazine Issue 20.

20See PC4 The Night Howlers.