On the track of the Koru behemoths

I didn’t add this to the official Kickstarter promises at http://bit.ly/13TrueWays, but one thing I’m dying to do in the 13True Ways book for 13th Age is a map of the carved and magical back of a Koru behemoth.

Koru behemoths were a wonderful suggestion from Keith Baker when Jonathan and Keith and I started doing initial concepting on 13th Age. Yes, Keith was involved in the earliest days of 13th Age, and he contributed greatly to notions including the Elf Queen’s position as ruler of three cultures, the Crusader’s role as the champion of the dark gods, and the icon who became the Prince of Shadows. Keith’s biggest contribution coincidentally shares his initials.

From the 13th Age book: The Koru behemoths are a widely scattered population of twelve to twenty enormous eight-legged creatures from the dawn of the world. They look something like a cross between an elephant and a turtle, but each behemoth has grown in different ways and reshaped its shell carapace to suit itself, so no two look alike. The behemoths are so large that it’s difficult to form an accurate opinion of what an entire behemoth looks like since you can only see one angle at a time.

These town-or-city-sized beasts migrate counter-clockwise around the fringes of the Dragon Empire. On our map you can run your finger over the approximate path the behemoths follow as they curve around the Empire. Nothing, not even the Diabolist, the Three, or the Archmage messes with a Koru behemoth.

Therefore the behemoths’ great shelled backs make splendid homes for nomads, barbarians, monsters, and magicians. Magical rituals allow some groups to create permanent homes on the behemoths, less successful settlers only last a season or half a circle. Jonathan and I make a few suggestions for what might be on behemoths’ backs in the 13th Age book but it’s another area where we don’t want to say too much. We think it’s more fun for GMs to come up with their own behemoth societies and plotlines instead of picking and choosing from our ideas. We’ve seen some great examples already, including a traveling city of thieves in a game run by Martin Killmann, as he wrote up in early playtest feedback:

“When I read about the Koru Behemoth, I came up with an entire city on one – I call it Red Lantern City. It’s on the back of a giant turtle. During the day, when the turtle is moving, the city is asleep, but it awakes at night, when the turtle rests.
“As a moving target, nobody can claim authority over it, and so it became a self-organizing city run by the guild council, primarily the Wizard Guild (public engineering and services) and Thieves’ Guild (law enforcement). It’s pretty crammed, but public transportation is offered by flying carpets.
“Main sources of income are narcotics, prostitution and gambling, which are offered to any city that the Behemoth passes. It’s also a haven for bohemians and exiled artists.”

Ah, exiled artists. Warms my bohemian heart, it does. If the Kickstarter goes through and we get to work with Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell on art again, I’m going to turn Lee’s skills in bizarre-mapping and Aaron’s talents in draw-anything to illustrate the back of a Koru behemoth. I may still decide NOT to illustrate the behemoth itself, maybe that should be left to the imagination. But a behemoth-back would show off a truly unusual champion-tier environment, something that GMs will be able to borrow pieces of as visuals for their own campaign even if they don’t want to play the full map.

We’ll have the same philosophy about the maps of the overworld and forests in the book. The point will be to provide maps that can inspire daydreams as well as games, maps that give you the feeling that you could find your way around in this fantasy world while still being surprised.

And in a perfect world, although Keith’s not involved with this incarnation of the Koru, he’ll have another take on them in a project of his own . . . . soon.

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