Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ICONS' Appeal To Me, An Old Schooler

What is it about ICONS, a modern rules-lite heroes game, that has such strong appeal to me, a self-proclaimed old-school gamer?

Good question, I'm glad you asked me!

I'm not a big fan of modern table-top RPGs. With but a few exceptions, I think most of the rules are way over complicated, character generation is absurdly drawn out, and the marketing aspect of having to purchase more 'optional' books and crap is, well, just a shitty marketing ploy. I'm a cheap-ass gamer, if I can't get something for a few dollars or less I'll just make it myself. Plus I always felt that the odds of killing some monster are really the same no matter if you're a 5th level Fighting-man battling a room full of Ogres or if your a 5th level Gnome Barbarian who's half Lycanthrope with a +8 quarterstaff of dread and rolling 20d6+3 for dammage battling a room full of Ogres (well, you know what I mean). The game mechanics just scale but the odds are the same just over complicated. Feel free to check my math, but that's my theory anyway.

The same story is told, the same battles take place so why not keep it simple? Who really has the time for all that nit-picking? I just want to have a good time with friends where we all tell a story.

So back to ICONS....

First off, ICONS is a rules/mechanic lite game. 2d6 and the players make all the rolls testing one ability against another. Modifiers are kept to a minimum. Anything goes in combat between heroes and villains but the rules are simple and open enough that with just half a thought rolls can be made. The action and the game is colored by all the players involved. Actions are fully open to the depth of the players imagination, which I think is THE key element to any rules-lite game. The same rolls of the dice my be used to determine similar actions but what the player adds to that action determines the drama. Again, the creativity of play falls back onto the players and not the rules.

Though the layout and production of the rules and supplements may have a Bruce Timm cartoon quality to it don't let that fool you, the game can be played with any mood in mind, from a grim, dark and dirty avenging knight to a Kirby-esque cosmic level world eating threat and anything in-between. The rules give you just what is needed to take it anywhere you want to go. It's a complete game in under 130 pages.

Steve Kenson, the creator of ICONS (and of Mutants and Masterminds) hit the nail on the head with what I feel is a modern old-school style game. There are plenty of references in the rules to 'using common sense' and 'just make it up' which might be alien to some strictly modern gamers but is pure gold for someone coming from an Old School background. In the section that is called Game Rules vs. Common Sense Kenson wryly states:
'...ignore the rules and go with what makes the most sense to you and what
you think will be the most fair and fun for your players; and if one of them should object and say, “That’s not in the rules!” point them to this paragraph and say, “Yes, it is.” '
Beautiful loophole to put rule sticklers in their place.

Character generation is quick and exciting and sparks plenty of imaginative characters. Everything is laid out for a player to flesh out his rolled character with his own creativity. That's a beautiful reference to the early versions of RPGs where the player developed the character based on a few stat rolls and not the other way around. And that's the point, there is plenty of room for developing a well rounded, three-dimensional character based on the players imagination and not dice rolls.

Kenson gives us random charts to create adventure hooks on the fly, a handful (13) of fully fleshed out colorful villains each with origins and three adventure ideas, and even a sample adventure. Did I mention a provided single page character sheet with a full quarter of it left open for you to draw your character?

As I mentioned above, it's a complete game in 130 pages. Adamant Entertainment have the pdf rules on sale right now over at RPG Now for $1.99. So for that price it's worth checking out. I'm not a big fan of using rules in pdf format. I usually need to reference and flip back quickly to clarify and compare elements so I actually purchased the print version of the rules. Now, the cost is a bit steep for what I would pay for a 130 page rule book but I made the exception for ICONS and was very happy with the purchase. A very well produced and printed book, the size and shape of a graphic novel.

So in short, why ICONS appeals to me, an old-school gamer:
  1. Complete game in 130 pages.
  2. Quick and creative character generation
  3. Rules-lite with simple mechanics
  4. An anything goes and anything can happen attitude
  5. Creative game play is left up the the players around the table and not the dice
  6. Adventures and villains included.

One common criticism of the game is that it is limited towards long term campaign play. This I disagree with. It can work fine in long-term play as is or with a couple of simple house rules to allow for character 'advancement' or a point based character creation process. Like many of the games I started out with, Holmes Basic D&D, Traveller, and Top Secret the game doesn't have to 'define' specific rules for 'level' advancement, character development and situations define that. Levels are just a guide.

So there you have it. The mystery of the allure of ICONS revealed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Preparing To Play A New Game Takes Me A Loooong Time

Time is limited for everyone these days so picking the 'right' game is everything.

For me, preparing to play a new RPG takes me a long time. Once we start playing, however, prep-time shrinks to almost nothing but prior to that first session, I spend months looking over the rules, understanding the rules, contemplating campaign scenarios, debating rule-sets for genre, etc. The main reason is that I want everything during that first session to go smoothly, I want the players to have a great time and I, as GM, want to have a great time as well and not be hung-up on rule mechanics.

When I began our Swords & Wizardry campaign back in October of 2009 I went through quite a long process before that first session. Not in game session prep but in research. At that time I've been out of gaming since the early 80's so I was starting fresh.

After a big reminiscence session with a friend of mine about D&D (he pulled out the LBBs) and soon after Gary's passing, I began being drawn back into the excitement of that FRPG. It was then that I discovered DragonsFoot and from there I found the beginnings of the soon to be called OSR. I found out that many folks kept playing the original rules, that there were plenty Holmes fans out there and that people were publishing 'new' rule books based on the old games.

Those new rules are what really opened things up for me and began the journey to find what rule system to use. I thought about just going back to Holmes (my starter) but I worried about getting other folks interested. I thought that these new rules, however similar to the origins, would be a great way to get folks interested into something new yet old.

I picked up Basic Fantasy RPG and loved what I saw there. I thought this was great! A 'modern' take on the FRPG that I loved so much back in the day. However, though it was so close to what I wanted to run it wasn't quite there. I then found Labyrinth Lord. Ah, now this was much closer to what I was looking for. At first I felt it was closer to my Holmes edition but upon deeper exploration I saw it was closer to Moldvay's. A slight difference to some but a big difference to me.

When I discovered Swords & Wizardry I had found my rule-set (January 2009). Perfect. Loose, open-ended and 'new'. Perfect for getting folks involved and rules-lite for my limited time commitments.

Now that I had my rule-set I began to re-learn the game; combat, monsters, armor class, saving throws, all of that once second nature to me back in junior high and high school but lost to my modern brain.

I took months to understand the rules and the rule potentials which is not surprising as many of you still debate rules from the early versions of the game.

Then came deciding what type of campaign it would be. But with much research with the blogs popping up with the same questions and curiosities that I had, much was answered. With interesting charts found and additional classes I finally put together my first session nine months later. Yes, nine months.

So if you've been following this blog recently, you may have noticed that I've had some interest in running a Heroes game. I've picked up a copy of the 1st edition of Champions, V&V and began playing in an online Mystery Men! game, comparing everything I want in a heroes games. I've had my eyes on ICONS and have been studying the rules for a couple of months now. I think this is the game rules that I plan on going with. They're very lite, and after a few mechanics tests it proved to have some staying power.

Believe me, it took me a loooong time to make that final decision. I've worked up a pretty decent campaign idea which I'll share shortly but it looks like we'll be hitting some ICONS actions shortly after the holidays.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Welcome Black Friday....

....or as we like to traditionally call it:

Try to guess which picture are the actual black Friday shoppers. I know, it's hard isn't?

Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers To Get X-box

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Session XL: Jamaican Me Crazy

WITH former priest of Mithra turned follower of the Black Sun Father Halford captured, our faithful adventurers interrogated the traitor at their Moon-tower.

Slick Vinny, after doing some research on the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak, charmed the priest. The priest took a liking to Vinny but gave a rat's ass about the rest of the group.

Vinny found out that Zenopus the Vampire was indeed living deep beneath their tower and that Halford was in cahoots with her for quite a while, using the party to retrieve the Crimson Skull for his own nefarious plans of raising an army of the undead.

Halford had built a temple to the Black Sun hidden beneath the cabin of a female dwarf assassin named Ankral.

After some debate, it was decided to go after Halford's temple of the Black Sun in the hopes of gaining the treasures of the travelers that he had captured and turned into his ghoul army.

With the poisonous Halford leading the wary party down the South Coast Road to the edge of Harrowood, they came upon the abandoned looking cabin of Ankral. The sprite Flora-Fawn flew down the chimney to check things out. She found just an empty cabin and relayed that back to the party.

They entered the cabin and Halford lead them to the hidden entrance to his temple. They all descend down a spiral staircase and into a lit chamber. After coming upon a locked door with the key lost, Arg the Half-orc bashed the door open alerting the acolytes of the Black Sun. Halford quieted their concerns and lead the party to the temple entrance. But Arg turned around and started smashing through the religious fanatics. At that point, Halford rushed through the door and into the temple of the Black Sun, running for an alter with a black crown upon it, shouting to his cult followers to attack the party but spare the wizard, Vinny.

Vinny followed Halford and cast a web spell upon him holding him in place short of the alter. Televon ran up to the alter and lifted up the iron crown. At that moment, from a pit in the center of the floor, rose the five heads of a hydra which attacked the nearest victim which just so happened to be Vinny. Near death, Vinny turned himself invisible and raw away while Flora-Fawn attacked the heads with her magic.

Meanwhile, Skwanky the halfling warrior and Arg quickly hacked and slashed their way through the cult followers leaving a bloody mess in the hallway. Heading towards the temple entrance the Orc and Halfling saw the hydra heads attacking their allies. Skwanky took a sling and tried to attack one of the heads but critically missed and the stone flew backwards and knocked Arg out!

While Televon tried to use the crown to 'control' the Hydra, Vinny attempted to steal it by levitating it off the cleric's head, but the priest of Morpheus was too quick and grabbed onto the crown. This caused Vinny to become even more frustrated with his long time companions and pushed him ever closer to the darker side of his arcane arts.

So that ended the session. You might be asking yourself what the heck does the session title have to do with anything that happened in game? Well, due to a few too many beers at the table the Cleric of Morpheus suddenly began speaking in a Jamaican accent. Hilarious, though typically expected RPG table action.

It looks like we'll be fitting in one last session before our usual holiday break so stay tuned dear reader!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tales Of High Adventure Now Available For Kindle

Earlier this year my colleagues and I put out in print what we hoped would be an on going series of pulp adventure stories called Tales Of High Adventure. The first issue contained reprints of some of our favorite pulp authors from Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft as well as new authors and comic stories.

Our hope was to continue the series with new authors and new stories.

Unfortunately, life always takes unexpected turns. Though we had put together most of the second issue we never quite finished it for publication.

During the summer we put out our Tales of High Adventure Radio Plays: Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus. We hoped you enjoyed those and have some more in the works.

Well, as we finally get back together to tackle finishing up issue 2 of our Tales of High Adventure pulp magazine I've put together the original book for Kindle readers. Since there were a number of comic pages and illustrations I found the Kindle ebook format worked best for our publication.

So those with Kindles check out great pulp adventures with our Tales of High Adventure book now available on Kindle through Amazon.

The book is still available through ComiXpress in print format!

Available for the NOOK too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tower Of Zenopus Radio Play Chapters 1-3

If you remember this past summer the Warlocks Home Brew released its radio play; Beneath The Ruined Tower Of Zenopus! in three chapters.

We'll the original concept was that these three chapters actually made up the first chapter of the story. So here is the original three chapters together in their 34 minute entirety for your listening enjoyment!

Download and listen at your leisure.

Tune in to the theater of your mind with Tales of High Adventure!


Written and Produced by Paul Fini

Music by Kevin MacLeod

Performed by the Warlock's Home Brewed Role-players:

Corey Bishop…..Arvin Ardmore, priest of Mithra
Brain Dunkle…..Tibag Backstabber, rogue
Paul Fini…..Announcer, Father Halford, Sorcerer
Zachariah Hoffman…..Skwanky Furrytoe, halfling
Clay Lewis…..Gedleesmote Hammersend the Dwarf
Max Lieberman…..Vincent the Wizard
Mike Moran…..Wolf the Viking
Christy Cameron Smith…..Narrator, Harlot, Morak

Also featuring
Richard Gabriel…..Mithra pirest
Sara Gabriel…..Jesse the bar wench, goblin
Brendan & Adam Gabriel…..Goblins
Michael Griffith.....Pirate Captain

This Pod-play is dedicated to John Eric Holmes

Or Download for your leisure listening!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You Don't Pull On Superman's Cape...

After finishing the fantastic historical book Men of Tomorrow by G. Jones, I got really pumped up for some Superman action, most notably the earliest newspaper strips of the underwear clad hero. These were exclusively written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, creators of Superman (with a little help from their studio) for National Periodicals (DC Comics) wayyyy back in 1939.

Siegel and Shuster's pulp influences shine through as this Superman is grim, a bit of a smart-ass, and a cold-hearted do-gooder before DC (without Siegel and Shuster) removed all edge from the hero.

In just only six months of the strip, we have one suicide attempt, 6 death (most of which are by the hands of Superman himself), one case of animal experimentation (let's face it this one is just plain cruel), child abuse from a orphanage superintendent and Superman delivers some cold justice and Superman's 'cold justice' is literally letting you die.

Here's just some examples from the first few months of the strip (pardon the images as I couldn't scan them from my book but had to take photos).

This speaks for itself.

Superman's patented style of 'persuasion' as he liked to call it.

A little too much 'persuasion' perhaps?

Thugs attempting to escape in a plane? Not with Superman around and
his form of Justice!

Cold, Superman, cold. Dick Cheney better watch out, Superman don't like no war-profiteers.

Oh, and this is just an amazing sequence for any comic strip....

No, Clark, sadly this is not a gag....

Ambrose looks a bit agitated, as well he should for in the next sequence....

Yes, Clark, he's dead. DEAD! Ambrose! Noooooooooooooo!

I love this old Superman strip. He's mostly fighting gangsters, graft and corruption at all levels, definitely a sign of the depression era. Siegel and Shuster's hero was pretty dark and grim, much on the same level as Batman was back then too - a direct influence from the pulps that these creators grew up with in the 1920's. But they were heroes in the eyes of the readers as everyone felt the oppression and hopelessness of the times with breadlines, unemployment and the shadows of the coming war. Superman struck a chord of the times and began an industry.

It's sad that today's comic strips are nothing compared to the grim fantastic tales of the origins of adventure strips. They lack the sexuality of Flash Gordon, the noir of Dick Tracy, and the cold violent reality of the times from Superman. Maybe the print media wouldn't be on the ropes so much if they advanced their comic strips with the times. But times are different and they're constantly changing faster today than ever. It sure would be great to have strips like this promoted by your local great metropolitan newspaper.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Warlock's Book Review: Men of Tomorrow

Though I love reading I'm not much for writing up book recommendations. Movies? Sure. But books, there are plenty of other folks out there that can give you a better explanation of why one should read a book. Me, I either like it or don't like it and I have my reasons.

Today I make an exception.

"Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of Geek Culture" (2005) by Gerard Jones was a fascinating read - a book I couldn't put down and one of the best books I've read this year.

It follows the history of Jewish immigrants and 1st generation Americans as they claw their way into the American dream and into the American consciousness creating our modern geek culture and media empires.

This incredibly researched book revolves around Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman) and all the other Golden Age creators that gave birth to the superhero and the comic book.

It follows the history of Donenfeld as he works with gangsters and bootleggers during prohibition setting up a network that would later evolve into distributing his Spicy Tales nudie mags and eventually comics. It follows Siegel & Shuster's evolution of geek culture through fanzines of the early pulps and the beginnings of the Science Fiction genre and their creation of and eventual 'sale' to Donenfeld of Superman, the hero that started an industry. It follows Jack Liebowitz, Donenfeld's accountant who cultivated and controlled the comic book industry with National Periodicals (DC comics) all the way to becoming the senior board member of Warner Communications.

Filled in with the other creators of the industry, Bill Gains and EC comics, Will Eisner, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the 'birth' of modern Marvel comics and even Fredrick Wertheim (Seduction of the Innocent) all amidst the backdrop of the 50 year battle over the ownership of Superman, it's the best history of the industry I've ever read.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Pulps, Comics and Geek culture in general.

On a side note, years ago I (mostly) read Michael Chabon's fictional "The Adventures of Caviler and Clay". I found that novel extremely frustrating in it's portrayal of the early history of the industry and the (based-on-real-life) characters. As I read his book I didn't want some fictional story I wanted the real story with the real people involved. Men of Tomorrow is that book and I cannot praise it enough.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ICONS Character Sheets

I just can't stop myself from making character sheets for the games I play. Perhaps it's a curse, dunno. So here are my ICONS character sheets modeled after my Mystery Men! Character sheets I put together a while back. The ICONS sheets have all been gathered together into one PDF file, 5 different sheets (one blank space to draw your own image from scratch for those so inclined).


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ICONS: The Green Manalishi

I'm still interested in getting an ICONS game going. Playing around with the system, I rolled this villain up.

The Green Manalishi


Prowess 7
Coordination 6
Strength 6
Intellect 2
Awareness 4
Willpower 4

Stamina 10
Determination 4

Expert in Wrestling

Telekinesis 4
Immortality 5
Wizardry 5
Blinding 6

Catchphrase: I shall bring your world to it's knees, for I am The Green Manalishi!

Weakness: Powers held within staff. Can roll a willpower test to have staff return if out of his hand.
Hunted: by the Konn
Burnout: Staff may burn out and need to be 'recharged' with the negative black energy from another dimension.

A brash and arrogant warrior who hails from a pocket dimension of a pocket dimension, Xothulituz, the Green Manalishi comes to earth to conquer this pathetic orb. His powers are carried in his Battle Scepter. If the Scepter is stolen from him, the Scepter uses the Usuper's willpower to break-free and return to it's owner. The Green Manalishi is hunted by The Konn, a race of warriors from an alternate reality that was destroyed by the Green Manalishi. The Konn seek to bring the Green Manalishi to justice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Session XXXIX: Victory!

Things weren't looking too bad as our heroes, along with the former Watchmen of Caladan, took on the army of Ghouls. The soldiers were holding their own, but soon it became apparent that the hoard of Ghouls were slowly cutting down the line of soldiers.

Skwanky, who was paralyzed by a Ghouls touch was lifted up and was being carried away.

How quickly the tide turned!

But suddenly, out of the darkness across the road came Televon, Curate of Morpheus, holding the symbol of the Lord of Dreams on high and frightening off a good portion of the ghouls. With him came two of Gnarly's strongest Mushroom-men warriors. The battle continued with the remaining Ghouls who were defeated but not until all of the Watchmen were dead, save the archers.

With Skwanky saved and the wounded healed the party searched through the ghouls and found that they were all former citizens Caladan and travellers of the realm. Piling up the bodies, Gnarly lit them ablaze and the party headed back to the Moontower.

But no sooner hitting the road they were confronted by another group of Ghouls lead by an evil cleric of the Black Sun holding the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak. This cleric was none other than Father Halford formerly of the Temple of Mithra!

Flora Fauna acted quickly and tried to put the confederate priest to sleep but he shook it off. As the ghouls rushed forward, Halford of the Black Sun engulfed the archers, Arg and Flora Fawn into darkness, but Televon countered with a prayer to Morpheus and held the dark priest in his tracks! Gnarly sent Tuk the owl to lift the Crimson Skull from Halford while the rest of the party rushed upon the remaining ghouls and finished them off.

With Halford stripped of his power (and armor) he was taken prisoner and marched to the Moontower as dawn broke over the coast of Eir-ian.