My group recently started up a new 13th Age campaign, but this one's a bit unusual in that we're alternating GMing duties with each GM running a 3ish session adventure and then passing the baton over to someone else. I've done this in the past with a different group in D&D 4E (and I posted actual plays on that, using the Red Frogs tag). The concept is similar, with all of the PCs belonging to an adventurer's guild (which we haven't thought of a good name for yet), and each player having the option of making multiple PCs so that they can choose one from their roster at the beginning of each adventure. All characters level up at a consistent rate (otherwise the GMs would fall behind!). These elements strongly encourage a more episodic campaign structure, which will be an interesting departure from my last campaign which was more like one long arc. The advantage of this is that I think it will be well-suited to improvisational Icon driven play.
As the first GM in the lineup, that's definitely the route I'm going. A while back there was a random adventure design tool posted in See Page XX (the Pelgrane Press webzine) called 13 Oracles. Each Icon is given a list of 6 associated places, objects, people, and circumstances and by rolling randomly you can combine those elements to create a random adventure. I decided to test this premise, and so after my players finished writing up their characters during our world-building session I had everyone roll Icon dice early. Luckily I had 4 results (one for each category), but with more I could have easily doubled up on one or more categories. Rolling on the Oracles list in the order that I wrote everyone's results in, I ended up with the following:
Place - 5 with the Archmage: an enchanted lake
Object - 5 with the Dwarf King: gold, gold, gold
People - 6 with the Elf Queen: a bard whose songs come true
Circumstance - 5 with the Elf Queen: under strange stars
To plan the adventure I simply spent 15 minutes or so using these results to come up with a basic plot outline. The summary version goes like this:
Maulnar, a dwarven vaultkeeper, hires the PCs because the contents of one of his vaults (a big pile of gold owned by the Dwarf King) has gone missing. This happened the same night that a wandering bard, Quentin Kroft, passed through Forge and sang a comic song at a local tavern about the Dwarf King losing his gold. The PC's first lead is Quentin's traveling companion, a gladiator in Axis, which was his last known location. They learn from the gladiator that Quentin was headed to Lake Everfrost, which was the last place he visited before going to Forge and where his songs started coming true. The land around Lake Everfrost is forever under winter's grip, and as soon as the PCs step onto the frozen lake the day sky goes dark and the sky over the lake is a clear, starlit night, but the stars look unfamiliar. They see Quentin kicking a rock in the center of the lake, and soon figure out that the lake is a window into another plane called the Land of the Unseelie. They learn that a drow sorceress (Lithariel) in that realm cursed Quentin when he first ventured onto the lake, using mishaps from his songs for profit (when the gold disappeared from the vault, it went directly to her tower!).
That actually sounds doable for a single-session adventure, but instead I decided to stretch it over 3 sessions. I had some ideas for a few adversaries, locales and some set-piece encounters which I weaved into this basic plot outline to flesh it out a little more and fill in the details.
Additional Icon Examples
A few days later (but before running the first session) I decided that some of the connections to the icons weren't terribly obvious. I also wanted more practice using Icons in-play, so I decided that the rolls for the first session would do double-duty. How would I have used these results in my previous campaign if I hadn't "counted" using them for the plot outline?
Dwarf King 5 - Deldrak (the High Elf Wizard with the Forge prison escapee background) recognized Maulnar as an employee of the Dwarf King; a connection that the vaultkeeper originally kept secret to prevent this mishap from going public (twist - the Dwarf King doesn't even know his gold is missing!). This was planned before the session.
Elf Queen 5 - Farrah, the Drow Bard, noticed an obviously-stolen bracelet on the wrist of a thieves' guild leader. Unfortunately, the party couldn't (or wasn't motivated enough) to overcome the complication, and after abandoning a chase never got ahold of the bracelet. The thief will most likely make a future cameo. The general idea behind this was planned before the session, but the details were improvised on the spot (crazy PCs didn't do what I expected of them).
Elf Queen 6 - Kalder, the High Elf Sorcerer with the traveling merchant background, passed a colleague on the way to Lake Everfrost. This colleague happened to owe him some money, and paid back the debt with two healing potions and a +1 rune. This was planned before the session.
Archmage 5 - I kept this as a "floating" Icon roll, and I ended up invoking it when the PCs were in the pit barracks talking with the gladiators after being pursued by a squadron of town guards. Deldrak used Hold Portal to keep the guards off the party long enough for the conversation to take place. Unfortunately, that door was the only way out of the room (except for a sewer drain that the sorcerer opted to escape through, but nobody else did). Deldrak's One Unique Thing is that ever since his testing at the School of Imperial Wizardry, he's had to cast a spell every single round (usually he's constantly casting light as a quick action; each footstep he takes lights up the ground) or some random magical effect occurs. When the Hold Portal spell ended, he simply said he stopped casting light. I had sparks erupt from the ceiling, creating a lot of smoke that blinded everyone in the room and the incoming guards, allowing Deldrak to escape through the door (unfortunately, everyone else had to talk their way out of the situation once the smoke cleared, which they did just fine).
These Icon rolls were made at the beginning of the session, so none were planned ahead of time.
Archmage 5 - After looting the bodies of some redcaps, Kalder (the sorcerer) found a bundle of mushrooms and a pouch of yellow powder. I initially wasn't sure what use they'd be, but after trading a minor secret to Ungol (see The Three, below) he learned that the powder is a spider repellent. I also used the mushrooms as part of another one of Deldrak's random magical effects from his OUT, which actually ended up being a nice complication.
Emperor 5 - This is an unused roll that will carry over to the next session.
The Three 2 - This was from the cursed dice of Balladeer. The party found themselves in the lair of Ungol, an ettercap who trades in secrets. Their goal was to learn the secret of who cursed Quentin, but such information doesn't come cheap. The PCs had to tell Ungol secrets of their own first. I wasn't sure what to do with this cursed die result until the players were at somewhat of a loss when asked to divulge their secrets (eventually they came up with some juicy stuff). So I told Seamus Stonystones, the Dwarf Bard who made the Balladeer check, to come up with a secret that would anger followers of The Three. He established that he was the writer of a limerick that had gone viral throughout the land, "Three Heads; Might as Well Be One."
Emperor 5 (from last session) & Archmage 6 - The Emperor had sent Jeras, a former schoolmate of Deldrak, to aid the group after learning of their mission (he didn't want to compromise his alliance with the Dwarf King). Unfortunately, he got captured by redcaps and used as bait to lure the party into another battle, this time as revenge for their previous victory against redcaps (this was the complication). Point of interest, the "bad word" was literally a bad word that the group can't help but unconsciously utter when things go wrong, so even when they figured it out it still got triggered several more times. I love redcaps. In the first fight, the "bad word" was "attack," and the players never figured it out. Jeras gave the party several +1 Runes, a couple of potions, and some practical advice on the defenses of Lithariel's tower. Specifically, he told them not to touch the water in the stream that effectively acted as a moat from the side they approached. Note: I planned this general idea before the session using the Emperor 5 result, and decided to simply increase the magnitude of the benefit by combining the Archmage 6 result with Jeras (in short, he had more stuff for the party).
Dwarf King 6 - The haunted bagpipes of Seamus the Dwarven Bard warn him to steer clear of the disturbed earth around Lithariel's tower. The ghosts can sense other undead - zombies! - and the party avoids a trap/fight. While everyone loves a good zombie horde, I'm not sure how long it would take my party to realize that the zombies were effectively infinite (it was the site of a mass grave from a battle). Thus, this would have really been quite dangerous.
Great Gold Wyrm 5 - carried over to next session (see notes below).
Emperor 6 - carried over to next session but never used.
Bonus session! This was a short session, and just a quick wrap-up since things ran longer than anticipated. The party fought Lithariel, "killed" her (she dissipated into smoke, and a successful knowledge check revealed that she'd regenerate later since the kill shot wasn't from a cold iron weapon). I used the Great Gold Wyrm roll from Seamus' Balladeer to have the toll-collected dragon brood be off chasing some merchants who were singing his anti-Three limerick ("Three Heads; Might As Well Be One"). The complication being that they'll probably kill those merchants, but perhaps not before learning who wrote the song (wink, wink).