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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#MtG's #Zendikar plane as a #13thAge setting - Part 1: Races

If you know me from the Wizards community or even just if you are one of the few regular readers of this blog, you know that I have a passion for Zendikar, the Magic: The Gathering world that I consider most playable and fun from a fantasy RPG point of view.

I already spent a lot of time in the past trying to "convert" the setting to D&D 4e, with mixed results, and now, after seeing how good of a job does the 13th Age system do in giving life to settings, thanks to the Icons idea, and pumped up for the opportunity to contribute to a 13th Age fanzine proposed by +David Eglinton, I want to try out a 13th Age conversion of Zendikar!

First of all, let it be clear that "conversion" should not be the term to be used. It's not about taking the actual Zendikar block cards and converting them to D&D or 13th Age rules. It's about making the world behind those cards into a playable setting.

Set this in stone, even before the Icons, which will prove quite difficult in Zendikar, compared to the straightforward Guilds->Icons correspondence of Ravnica, I want to start with the iconic Zendikar races, one of which, the Merfolk, I just re-wrote for D&D Next.

Races in 13th Age are extremely simple. They only get one ability score bonus chosen between two, and one racial power. There should also be a racial feat for Champion tier, but it's kind of secondary: you can play the first levels without it.

So let's do it!!

Part 1: RACES



You probably understood by now this is my favorite race. I've always had a thing for aquatic humanoids and aquatic things in general, so it should be no surprise. In addition, the Merfolk of Zendikar are particularly tied to the setting's "one unique thing": The Roil. A "geo-magical force" that changes the landscape and twists magic and creatures in various ways. It's a cross between an elemental, primal, and purely arcane power, and the Merfolk have a deep connection to it, some kind of sixth sense that makes them "see it", and thus have a certain degree of control on it.

As every Zendikar race, Merfolk must have a particuar adaption to the "verticality" of its environment, and this is clearly the use of the Roil energy to fly briefly.
I also added a feature to represent their individualism and strive for strange knowledge, tell me what you think about it..!

Ability Score Bonus: +2 INT or +2 WIS 

Aquatic: You can breathe underwater and suffer no penalties for checks and attacks made underwater.
Singular Knowledge: You must take one of your talents at first level from a class different from your own.
ROIL SENSE (Racial Power) When the escalation die is odd, or approximately every five minutes out of combat, you can attempt to "ride" the roil currents. On a successful Wisdom check (DC set by GM), you and a nearby ally, or two nearby allies, gain flight until the end of your next turn. If the check fails, you and/or the ally/allies instantly fly upwards and can then try to land on any nearby surface. If there's no such a surface, you fall taking 1d8 damage.
This is a revised version of the power: at first I thought about a fixed DC 10 check, but I wanted GMs to eventually be able to say there's not enough Roil, or eventually make it easier if the situation is deemed right. It also included an option to use the power to move enemies around, but I want to make that different and requring a feat. Here it is!

Racial Feats
ROIL VORTEX (Adventurer Feat) As an action, you can use your Roil Sense racial power in an alternative way. Choose two nearby allies or enemies. On a successful check, you can move the targets. They can be moved from being engaged to you or another character to being just nearby it, or from being nearby and disengaged to being far away, if space allows it. If your check fails, you can still make an engaged target disengage, but you can't move the target behind any meaningful obstacle or character, and can't move a nearby target far away.  
ROIL MASTERING (Champion Feat) Out of combat, you can fly indefinitely thanks to your Roil Sense. You can target a suitably roil-sensitive object (like the fragment of a hedron) large enough to transport you and up to four more medium-sized humanoids. This flight is slower and less steady than the typical Roil Sense, so if you use it in combat, you will provoke Opportunity Attacks even when engaging the enemy.
I had to recreate the illustrated Skywatcher Adept..! :)


The Kor are probably the most unique race in Zendikar, together with the Vampires, in that no other setting even in MtG has them in such a prominent role and so detailed.
The Kor are also aerial masters, but they use tools, and in particular grappling hooks, to fly around the vertical encironments of Zendikar.

Ability Score Bonus: +2 DEX or +2 WIS
SKYHOOKING (Racial Power)You can do a skill check against a DC set by the GM, based on the climbing difficulty of the surface, to attach your grappling hook to a nearby surface. You can then fly around that surface, and provided you don't start the maneuver while engaged to an enemy, you are so fast that you don't provoke Opportunity Attacks.
Easy! This is why I think 13th Age can be great for Zendiar: the verticality is really easy, no hassle with 3d positioning.

Racial Feats
HOOKMASTER (Adventurer Feat) When you use a grappling hook, or a similar long-chained weapon in combat, you're considered to be dealing damage as if using the strongest one-handed choice from your class, and as if you were fighting with two weapons.
SKY-FISHER (Champion Feat) You know how to build a winged apparatus for personal flight. You can do so with harvested natural materials. When using such a vehicle and being lightly armored and loaded, you can fly indefinitely. If using it in combat though, you suffer penalties to attack as if you were wearing heavy armor and shield, and you can't stop moving, or engage anyone in melee, although you can still use your grappling hook or similar long-chained weapon to attack nearby enemies.
Another flying feat for Champion tear, and based on a Kor card!


The vampires of Zendikar are not undead. They survive on blood (wild animals' or human, depending on the vampire lineage...), and they have superhuman speed/strength, but they're as mortal as anybody else.

Ability Score Bonus for all vampires: +2 CON or +2 STR
Ability Score Bonus options for Nirkana vampires: +2 DEX or +2 CHA
Ability Score Bonus options for Kalastria vampires: +2 CHA or +2 INT
Ability Score Bonus options for Ghet vampires:  +2 INT or +2 DEX

[You can still choose only one bonus. The families associated with each bonus are there to make the choice more flavorful but you can get around those if you wish.
Basically you can choose to get a bonus in any ability score that is not Wisdom!].

VAMPIRE METABOLISM (Racial Power) You don't have to eat regular food, but once per day you have to gorge on a medium creature's blood, or start being weakened. In addition, when you are well-fed, you have superhuman speed and structural strength, meaning you can get Engaged to an enemy even from Far Away in one turn, you can fall from great distances landing on your feet and without taking damage, and you can jump three times what is normal for a human. Use this power a bit like the Swashbuckling Rogue Talent, creatively finding more uses for it, with the GM's consent. Also note that part of the Zendikar vampire metabolism is the bio-psychical influence that Eldrazi creatures have on them. If Eldrazi creatures are present, the GM might use this link in some way!
Here's another race that greatly benefits from the way 13th Age has of dealing with flavorful powers! I made the families tied to the scores, like in my 4e adaption.

Racial Feats
NIRKANA PREDATOR (Adventurer Feat) As a vampire from the Nirkana family, you are more feral and dangerous in melee than other vampires. Once per battle as a free action, deal ongoing damage to a staggered target you hit in melee. The ongoing damage equals 5 times your level. As usual, a normal save (11+) ends the damage.
KALASTRIA HIGHBORN (Adventurer Feat) As a vampire from the aristocratic Kalastria family, you have powers that go beyond the physical ones of other vampires. Once per battle as a free action, when a nearby creature takes becomes staggered, you can psychically amplify their pain and be healed by it. The creature is dazed until the end of their next turn, and you can heal using a recovery.
GHET OUTCAST (Adventurer Feat) As a vampire from the disgraced Ghet family, you have developed a defensive psychic power to be safer in case of enemies ganging up against you. You have a +1 bonus to defenses and +2 to skill checks against enemies you haven't damaged in combat. When you damage an enemy though, the after-effect of your power gives it a surge of rage, and it gets a +2 bonus to attacks against you until the end of its next turn.
NIGHTHAWK (Champion Feat) You gained enough power to manifest one of the most supernatural powers of vampires: flight. The sunlight impedes your flight though, giving you a -4 penalty to skill checks, attacks, and defenses whenever you fly under sunlight.
Yet another way to get true flying at Champion, and yet again based on a card, the infamous (and powerful) Vampire Nighthawk.


The Goblins of Zendikar are resilient for being small, and they consciously or not adapt to the environment in the most passive but fun way possible: by letting it push them around like the feather-weights they are!

Ability Score Bonus: +2 CON or +2 DEX
Small: Goblins have a +2 AC bonus against Opportunity Attacks.
BOOM! (Racial Power)When you suffer elemental damage from a spell, an environmental effect, a trap, or any other explosive situation, or when you suffer a critical hit, you reduce the damage by an amount equal to your level plus the Escalation Die, and you fly up! You land at the start of your next turn, and you have a certain degree of control on the flight, so you can decide to land on one place or another, and you don't suffer any damage, but goblins generally have a tendency to end up doing a mess when being flung around... So your GM may have a say on where exactly you land..!
GM empowering is your friend! :)

Racial Feats
LAVASTEP GOBLIN (Adventurer Feat) You come from the Lavastep tribe, the tribe that revers fire as a divine entity and undergoes painful scarification and burning rituals to resist it. You have Resistance to Fire damage, and when hit by fire attacks or effects, you can choose not to trigger your Boom! racial power and instead deal an extra 1d6 fire damage with your attacks until the end of your next turn. In addition, you have 2 extra Background Points to spend in a magic or fiery environments-related background.
GROTAG GOBLIN (Adventurer Feat) You come from the Grotag tribe, the self-proclaimed "masters" of animal taming and riding. When you are riding a medium-sized mount, your Boom! racial power applies to your mount as well, and you deal 1d12 damage to any creature you engage right after Boom! has been triggered. In addition, you gain 2 extra Background Points to spend in an animal-handling related background.
TUKTUK GOBLIN (Adventurer Feat) You come from the Tuktuk tribe, the goblins more attracted by and adapted to the dangerous dungeons and locales of Zendikar. Your Boom! racial power can be triggered right before being hit by a trap or environmental effect, thus probably (but not surely) making you avoid the damage. In addition, you gain 2 extra Background Points to spend in a dungeon-delving or wilderness exploring related background.
MASTER SCRAPPER (Champion Feat) During your exceptionally long life (for a Goblin), you collected (and destroyed) many trinkets and arcane "treasures". You always carry all these mostly useless scraps in your bags, and sometimes they can come in handy. Come up with creative uses for these trinkets with your GM. They can replicate the effects of 1st level spells, in general, and in battle you usually can't find more than one useful trinket, although as a general rule, you can consider this ability to recharge on a 16+ roll, due to its randomness.
So in theory there's no flying at Champion tier, but first of all, being Goblin so small and light, they can be easily carried by others who can fly (or small flying munts), and then their Master Scrapper feat could also grant some temporary flight if needed, not to mention that they can fly around quite a bit even with their Racial Power, with Lavastep being even more able to do so, since they are Fire resistant and on top of that have the damage reduction offered by their Racial Power. This means they can trigger their Boom! very often and voluntarily!

Mul Daya Elves

The Mul Daya elves are obsessed with necromancy and scary primal magic. They need an equally scary power!

Ability Score Bonus: +2 WIS or +2 CHA
GHOST SIGHT (Racial Power) When the Escalation Die is odd, you can see invisible creatures. In addition, once per day, you can perform a ritual to contact the spirits and receive an augury. For the rest of the day you can choose to reroll a single d20, even of another creature nearby. However, if you do so, the spirits will mingle with your fate even more, and the GM might decide to have you reroll a d20 later during the day, maybe to your disadvantage.
And let's go with Racial Feats that focus on *going* into the ghost world..!

Racial Feats
GHOST WALK (Adventurer Feat) Once per day for each time your Racial Power allowed or forced a dice reroll, you can also walk though small solid objects, like a door or a wall. You become Resistant to Opportunity Attacks until the start of your next turn while you do so.
GHOST TRAVEL (Champion Feat) When you use Ghost Walk out of combat, you can decide to stay in the spirit realm to travel faster on long distances. You can bring up to two creatures with you, that you must physically hold. Your travel speed is doubled and you can pass through solid objects and air masses (that is, you fly), unless some magical or natural effect prevents this (the spirit world doesn't even exist in some places!). Note that you and any other traveler with you must expend a recovery without healing to use this ability (it's taxing to be a ghost...) And since the spirits and the spirit world itself are not happy to have living things with them, you might end up in places that are slightly different from those you had planned... The GM has the final word!
This way, even the Mul Daya have ways to reach the forbidding locales of Zendikar, but as always, there are risks attached!

Joraga Elves

These aggressive elves are no different from standard Wood Elves, with the exception that they are unfriendly to all but their kin, and they tend to use their Elven Grace to be extremely vicious in combat!

Racial Feats
JORAGA WAR CRY (Adventurer Feat) You get a +1 bonus to Attack rolls and a +2 bonus to Damage rolls in the first round of combat for each ally that is attacking with you. To be considered attacking with you, the ally must be engaging in the same type of attack as you (melee, ranged, spell, etc.), and against the same group of nearby enemies. You also get this bonus for attacks made thanks to Elven Grace.
APEX HAWK RIDER (Champion Feat) You know a ritual to call Apex Hawks from your region. You can call up to 1d4 Apex Hawks per day, they arrive all together after 1d4 hours, and stay for 1d4 hours. They can carry two people each, but only the ones rode by you or other Joraga Elves are happy to do so. As such, the others will fly away if combat ensues, possibly dropping the riders! Note that the GM might rule that in some regions, Apex Hawks are simply not there.
I totally made up the Apex Hawk Rider thing, but I think it suits the Joraga quite a bit: they are the largest predatory birds of Zendikar, and Joraga the greatest hunters, so it's natural (in a fantasy setting) that they might form some symbiosis.

Tajuru Elves

The Tajuru are particularly ingenuous elves, always finding better ways of adapting to the environment through the use of tools and inventions. One of those is zip lines, which they use in battle to their advantage!

Ability Score Bonus: +2 INT or +2 DEX
ZIP LINE STUNT (Racial Power) You can use an arrow or bolt to set up a zip line from one solid point where you're standing and a lower one where the arrow lands. You can then move through those points freely, and instead of provoking Opportunity Attacks, you actually do "reverse Opportunity Attacks" against all the creatures you pass by. Note that the surfaces and slopes available might not allow the setting of zip lines: consult the GM.
Quite easy, again!

Racial Feats
TREETOP ARCHER (Adventurer Feat) When you are on top of a considerably higher position compared to your enemies, you can make an extra basic ranged attack per turn, as you become quicker and more focused thanks to using the tactic your race uses since centuries. If you choose to do so, you get a -2 penalty to damage on all attacks that turn. You can't fire with the same strength when you fire quick.
CLIFF-HANGER (Champion Feat) You are so accustomed to climbing the incredibly high trees and ravines of your lands in Murasa and Ondu, that you can now climb places that would be impossible to any other. You automatically succeed any climbing check and saving throw made against effects that would make you fall down. In addition, you can use your hands well enough to use your Zip Line Stunt racial power even while climbing any surface.
So even the Tajuru have their way of getting to the most difficult places, at Champion levels.


The Surrakar are a mysterious race of big reptilian or amphibian humanoids native to Zendikar. They are considered barely sentient by most. By most that don't know them. The truth is that they don't speak because they communciate empathically, and their intelligence is comparable to that of a Human.

Ability Score Bonus: +2 CON or +2 STR

Amphibious: You can breathe underwater. 
Silent: Until you reach Champion levels, you are not able to speak, but you can communicate silently by empathetic link (thought projection).
Tough Hide: You always count as armored even without wearing any armor (or clothes...). Normally, you have the highest of the Base AC values not associated with attack penalties, and available to your class. By assuming a defensive stance, exposing the toughest parts of your body in combat, you can choose to have the protection offered by heavy armor within the limits of your class, but doing so you incur in the normal attack penalties. You can change your defensive stance only at the start of each of your turns, so no changing after an attack to avoid the penalty... Note that magical armors don't work on you due to an interference of your psychic abilities with magic.
MONSTROUS GRAB (Racial Power) A Surrakar is big and imposing, and counts as a Large creature able to grab opponents. You can do so only if you have one hand free and in place of a Basic Melee Attack. If you hit, the enemy is grabbed.
This one has a few features, but they should be quite balance-neutral, since the classes that would benefit the most from Tough Hide would not benefit from the Racial Power, and vice-versa...
I changed the racial power to a grab, adding the magic-negating effect as a feat:

Racial Feats
SURRAKAR BANISHMENT (Adventurer Feat) While you are grabbing an enemy, it can't benefit from magical effects and its magic items don't work. However, if an ally is also engaged to that enemy, he/she will suffer this effect as well! 
SWAMP-WALK MASTER (Champion Feat) You are a master of the wetlands of Zendikar and can navigate them without slowing down and avoiding the worst dangers. You automatically succeed checks and saving throws made to navigate or avoid/save from dangers in wetlands such as swamps, rain forests, or bogs, and allies nearby also get to re-roll relevant failed checks or saves, thanks to the psychic link you can form with them. You also gain 5 extra Background Points in a wilderness-related Background, and 1 extra Positive Relationship die with the Surrakar Spirit.
Whoa, that champion feat might be a bit too long. It introduces quite a lot of stuff to compensate from the fact that Surrakar will basically be the only iconic race without means to reach the airborne locales of Zendikar. I also introduce an Icon... Will talk about it and the others in the next chapter!

That's all for now folks, next time I will probably delve more into the subraces/tribes, or directly into the Icons for Zendikar!

P.S.: A 100 views! Thanks for your interest, the whole +13th Age Community, and in particular to +Tim Baker for the invaluable feedback!