One Unique Thing
Each character should have one unique feature you invent for him or her when you create the character. The one unique thing is an unusual trait that sets your character apart from every other hero. The moment when all the players sit down together with the GM to creat their characters’ one unique thing is often the moment when a campaign comes to life.
The intent is not to create a new ability or power that will help you in combat; your character class already comes loaded withfirepower and combat moves. The intent is to hint at a unique story that you and the GM will take advantage of and learn more about in the course of the campaign. Good unique things frequently provide clues to how your character engages with people, places, and things of the game world. Sometimes good uniques drop with obvious story hooks for you and the GM. Other times they’re a promise of a mystery to be unfolded later.
No combat bonuses, no combat powers: To repeat: a unique feature shouldn’t provide general practical value in combat. Not as a bonus you can count on. And not as a power or defined ability you can count on in combat.
If you find yourself asking, “What type of action do I need to use my unique?” or “When do I get this bonus?” you are asking the wrong questions.
If a unique does amount to having a power, it should be a non-combat power that opens up new angles on the story. Talking with trees (whose voices are in the control of the GM)? Being such a party-animal that you can eat most anything (including maybe some poisons)? Always telling the truth in a way that other people know you are telling the truth? All okay. These powers open up roleplaying opportunities.
Story effects are great: Sometimes your unique will have a practical effect on what your character can do in the world, but it’s within the context of the story, not the rules. Characters who are unique tend to have an impact on people and on magical events, so if plots in the story are afoot because of your existence, it’s certainly also the case your one unique thing may provide unexpected resources for you or the GM to create and suggest during play.
Hints of power: Some uniques can suggest that there are powers that might be associated with the character’s unique status or strange history. The suggestion and the possibility are fine—this is the stuff that fantasy protagonists are made of, the hint that they might be capable of extraordinary things. But hints rather than definite powers are best. Any powers or abilities that surface out of your unique could come as a surprise to you and will come as part of the cooperative story you and the GM will weave over the campaign.
For example, if your character’s one unique thing is that they were born from a virgin impregnated with the blood of the Blue (one of the Three), then you might be the only PC able to sense the growing power of a nearby sorcerer who is tied to the Blue.
That’s a cool story angle in the GM’s control, not a sense-magic related-to-the-Three power you control yourself.
Campaign pivots: Some uniques are so exotic or compelling that they will create a strong impetus for the campaign to revolve around their storyline. That should be a good thing. Uniques are meant as one of your opportunities to add to the story of the campaign. It’s possible that you will surprise the GM with plots or details they hadn’t realized existed or were going to be part of the campaign, and that’s part of the fun of running 13th Age—the GM gets to be surprised as often as the players.
Of course, not everyone can be on center stage at once. When every PC ends up with a potentially world-shaking plot suggested by the long-term consequences of their unique, the GM decides which stories will play out in which sessions and in which tiers.
Characters’ uniques can grow: As characters rise in power through champion and epic tier, new revelations and the natural consequences of dozens of dramatic storylines will shape and redefine their uniques. Stories grow, and that’s as it should be.
Suggested backgrounds and icon relationships: Quite often your one unique thing will suggest backgrounds and icon relationships that you’ll be choosing in the next stages of character creation. That’s fine. It makes perfect sense for a character whose unique is that they are a bastard child of the Emperor to have an icon relationship with the Emperor and some sort of background related to their history around the Imperial Court or wherever they lived in exile. But you don’t have to work for this type of link, and don’t force it if it’s not what you want.
Art, not science: The one unique thing feature deliberately dances along the line between solid rules and improvisational storytelling. Try using our guidelines first. Then if you’re comfortable with the system, a high-powered campaign where everyone’s unique comes loaded with true powers won’t pose as many difficulties.
- “I am a deathless pirate whose soul is trapped in a gem controlled by the Steam King.”
- “I am one of a couple dozen surviving members of the Order of the Koru, a group of rangers who move through the Empire on or beside the Koru behemoths.”
- “I am the bastard son of the Emperor.”
- “I am the oldest elf in the world.”
- “I cut off my own arm to show how tough I am.”
- “I hear pain as music. Sweet, sweet music.”
- “A paladin of the Crusader cut off my arm where I was holding a demon-bow . . . and in doing so, cut all the evil out of me, so that I am now a paragon of the path of the Great Wyrm.”
- “I am a dwarf who was born covered in scales from the egg of a dragon.”
- “I am a former cultist.”
- “I am the reincarnation of an ancient icon. I don’t know which one yet.”
- “I am the three-time winner of the dwarven drinking championships.”
- “I was the rudest lady-in-waiting of the Imperial Court.”
- “I am the incarnation of a hero who lived ages ago, and I’m sure that Destiny has brought me back for a reason.”
- “Unknown to me, I am fated to destroy the Lich King, but probably not in this age.”
- “I am the daughter that the Sorcerer Supreme doesn’t know he has. Unfortunately, I don’t have any proof, but I believe what my late mother told me.”
- “I sneaked into the Priestess’s Cathedral to steal stuff, and ended up eating some sacred bread that maybe I shouldn’t have. I have no idea what, if anything, is going to happen to me.”
- “Unlike other sorcerers, I charge up my arcane batteries by suffering.”
- “I’m the only human to be called into the dwarven priesthood—ever.”
- “I see dead people.”
- “The stars sing to me. Sometimes they tell me things, and sometimes those things are true.”
- “To you I might look like a halfling sorcerer, but I’m a dragon that’s been stripped of its mighty form and power. Not that I’ll ever tell anyone that.”
- “I’ve been cut off from the mystic union that other elves feel with the Elven Lord and Lady, and now I prefer the company of non-elves. I have developed a sort of reflexive, unconscious sympathy for other sentient beings, except other elves.”
- “I’m human, but I’m a member of a large, greenish-skinned race from a distant continent or world. Our ancestors came to this land ages ago, and we preserve our alien culture in a few isolated enclaves. Each enclave is locked in sworn vendettas against all the others, though these feuds are largely ceremonial. We have lots of odd traditions, but we also have secret wisdom about spirits and curses.”
A couple of parting thoughts:
- Adds significant spice to your past.
- Lastingly impacts who & what your character is.
- Makes you ask more questions than it answers, i.e. it dangles juicy hooks that will make your future exciting.
- As it says on the tin, it should actually be unique in the whole of the campaign/world (for looking at one of the above examples, “I am a former cultist” if that is your unique then either there are no other cultists or no other former cultists)
- I have a bunch more examples if you need more inspiration
- One group suggested that they craft One Unique Things using the following template (I’m not saying you should only that it is available):
When creating your OUT include at least 3 of the following elements (you can include any element more than once)–
- An Icon
- A Place (on the map or that you make up)
- A Person (other than an icon)
- An Item
- A Time (from way back when, the recent past, the present or the future)
- An Organization (established or made up on the spot)