Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gameplay Thoughts: ICONS

So last night we had our first session playing ICONS the rules lite super hero rpg.

Every first session of a new rpg is always a little bumpy but we got through it mostly unscathed. Here's my initial thoughts on how the game played through.

The story portion of it went well as did most of the mechanics. We seemed to get a bit stuck on the slams and stuns but it did appear we did it correctly for the most part. The tests against slams and stuns, though simple, slowed us down and took us out of the combat. Though combat was easy it took a bit to get things flowing.

Having the GM not rolling any dice is a bit odd and took a while to get use to. The thing that I like about it is that the GM can just sit back and enjoy manipulating the game and not have to mess with any dice. As GM I did roll for NPC stuns and slams but I think I may bounce that back towards the players. Dunno yet.

The great thing about the game is it's open-ended rules. There's a lot of space for interpretation which is both a good and a bad thing. Taking the rules as is, some powers are extremely powerful - at the moment it seems too powerful while some weren't powerful enough. That caused some conversation at the table that took us out of the game. I guess if you're using ICONS as a one-shot that might not be such a big deal you just kind of play though it and have a good time, but for something more substantial like a campaign, those issues become much more important.

One power that caused us all kind of trouble was Power Theft which turned out to be quite powerful; stealing opponents powers almost at will. The player took the bonus of being able to siphon powers from a distance without having to touch them. Powers stolen are retained for 10 times the level of power in pages (rounds). So Power Theft with a power level of 6 can hold a power for 60 pages (round). Since combat lasts only about 3 to 10 pages, an opponent can be rendered helpless for the combat or even game session. There's no limit, that I can find, on the number of powers that one can steal. Also no mention on which power is siphoned if the opponent has multiple powers. When running a villain, you don't really want to advertise what powers he might have, that should be left up for the players to discover. That can be fixed with a random dice roll.

Also, my issue as a GM was I felt that Power Theft would only work against natural powers and not gadgets or mechanical powers as these were machines mimicking a power and no real power energy would be available. That was a point of debate especially since a good portion of the villains were machines. And any debate at the table takes away from game play.

Other powers that have come up that the rules leave vague or seem to be too weak or too strong are Invisibility and Regeneration. I'll touch on those a bit later.

Also, during gameplay, powers had to be looked up frequently. The way the book is laid-out makes reference a bit of a hassle. I made a number of cheat sheets and downloaded others but the looking up powers were a bit of an issue. It would be nice if they had a simplified version of the powers with quick reference stat blocks that you can reference at a glance, like monster manual stat blocks. I'll have to look at the powers and see what can be worked up.

Beyond those issues, the action and story moved forward and the mechanics did become easier to work with. It is rules lite and fast paced and I think it's perfect for our rotational GM campaign as a game session can be pretty easy to run. I ran my session last night and Corey is up next. We'll see how the game irons out as we progress through the circle. Overall the feelings were pretty positive.

I'll be posting a session summary soon as well as stat blocks of the villains.


  1. We haven't had power teft come up in play, so I was unaware of the issue. We have had to house rule Reflection in the past (the rules are unclear on how many times a round it can be used, so we just let the player use it until he misses one and then it's over).
    We've found that we're more comfortable with the GM (me) rolling for the Villains just as if they were heroes.
    The mechanics will become second nature in short order, at least that's our experience.

    I agree about the organization of the book. I would vastly prefer an alphabetical listing of powers.

  2. Hmm, I'll take a look at Reflection. It hasn't come up for us. Like I said, I have slight issues with Invisibility and Regeneration so far. Nothing that a little house tweaking can't fix but it's just a matter of putting the time into it. Ii have a feeling that a lot of the powers need little tweaks but we'll see. Looking forward to the next session, though.