Friday, June 22, 2012


'Nuff said!

ICONS Through It's Paces

Our group has just finished it's seventh session of an Icons campaign.  I think we've put the game through it's paces and pushed it's boundaries.  Over the weeks I have expressed some of my opinions of the game.  I wanted to get the group's opinion of the game having been introduced to it.  What are their thoughts on the mechanics, the rules themselves, gameplay etc.


It seemed overall the general rules-lite supers game had high marks and was enjoyed by all.  With a sense of everyone at the table participating in the game storytelling gave the game an inclusive exciting and fun quality.
"Flexible storytelling, everyone can chime in, or spend determination to retcon stuff. Trust in the story is built between players and 'dm' and we all take ownership of it because we all had a hand in building it." -Clay
This comes off every clear in the rules and in practice it's a blast.  It keeps the GM on his toes and all the players involved.  Even with a linear plot-line it still comes off as very loose with an anything can go feeling.
"'s a good needs a lot of role-playing rather than relying on the numbers, (maybe sort of like higher-level D&D?) because the powers get a little silly." -Brian
Also describing things in terms of panels and pages is a stoke of genius in a heroes game.

"Character creation is fun. Rolling through the powers to see what comes up is a blast. Also, as a GM, building villains to counter the heroes powers are a lot of fun." - Corey
"Overall the rule set is pretty good and fun to make characters. The only limitations are your imagination." -Mike
 I agree with this 100%.  Coming from Champions back in the day, I wasn't sure how random superhero generation was going to give you an interesting and fun character to play.  Boy, was I wrong!  The character gen is fun, fast and exciting and, IMO, you end up with a lot of unique combinations of powers to flesh out your 'character'.  Like Mike said above;   "The only limitations are your imagination." You do have to go into chargen with an open mind.  Any pre-concieved character ideas will get thrown to the wayside pretty quickly - which can be frustrating for some.  Clay's opinion on this is as follows:
"...character creation is random. I don't like this too much. I really like to nudge around character creation and tweak things a lot. ICONs default creation is random power generation. this create some lopsided teams and goofy powers, making it nearly impossible to start with a theme in mind." -Clay

Overall, the powers provided in ICONS cover just about anything a super can want or need.  The creators captured the color of comic books pretty well with that.  However, some of the powers end up coming off as over-powered or not well defined.  It is a rules lite game but that did cause some rule discussion at the table and research afterwards.  Game flexibility, of course, can help with that summed up by Corey:
"Some are a little hard to handle (Power Leech (power theft) I'm look at you) but balance isn't so important in a game like this." - Corey
That's true.  There is no such thing as balance in this game which is a good thing.  I don't like game balance.  Feeling a sense of looming defeat or death is important in any RPG.  Without it, you're just acting in a play with pre-determined endings.
"Some powers aren't defined well and can easily break a game. They can be house ruled easily enough but if you aren't prepared for it, it can get awkward quickly." - Clay

The general game mechanics run on the FATE system.  I had no idea what that was when I started playing the game and I pretty much still don't.  We all felt that the dice rolling was a bit cumbersome and slowed down what otherwise would be an incredibly fast paced game.  Corey seemed to have the biggest issue with it:
"I really don't like the dice mechanics. It almost breaks the game for me. As written in the rules, you have to do four different operations on the dice (subtract one die from the other, add ability score to the result, subtract that result from the opposing value, then see where that result falls on the success chart)....Slam/Stun and the Major/Minor success chart are confusing. Between these and the clunky dice it can really slow down combat." - -Corey
"....though the dicing itself feels a little fiddly sometimes." -Brian  
The rules as written has the heroes rolling all the dice using the method described by Corey to determine outcome.  We switched that to just a single d6 for hero added to ability vs GM rolled d6 added to villain or challenge ability.  That seemed to help the flow quite a bit and received positive reaction from the group:
"Having GM roll one and Player roll one die helps, but it still feels rather clunky." - Corey
"I like the newer dice rules as it makes the game flow better." - Mike
"VS. die rolling, easier and funner in my opinion." - Clay
 That improved the game quite a bit but Major/Minor Slam/Stun rolls, charts and results are still slowing the game down and needs to be streamlined, house-ruled or whatever.  Doing that, however, had us look at changing rolls vs just challenges and other things.  Once the GM started rolling the concept of the heroes rolling everything just flew out the window which didn't necessarily change the feel of the game but other things had to be tweaked slightly.
"I like how everything runs off of the ability scores. If you want to search for something you do an awareness check or hit something you do a prowess check. It's pretty elegant." -Corey
Again that adds to the simplicity of the game and kept things moving forward quickly.  During this game I've come to greatly appreciate a simple d6 gaming system.  I use to love all the different funny looking dice but lately I've been feeling that it's slightly cumbersome.  D6, roll, result, and your done, move on with the story.  I've grown to like that and it brought back memories of my early days with the Holmes Basic D&D set and Traveller.


Game-play tended to be fast and loose with everybody having a hand in constructing the story and events in a natural, organic way.  There is plenty of room for characters to think outside the box and for the GM to wing it, in fact, it's almost a must.
"Getting into a situation where you can't hurt your opponent seems like it would be fairly common, since all it needs is someone with a higher defensive skill than anyone's offense...but that comes up in comics a lot, so it's true to the theme. How many villains can really hurt Superman? Not they have to threaten Lois Lane, or turn him into a super-ape, or something." -Brian
Brian brings up a good point.  In comics you cannot always beat a more powerful opponent with fists alone (think the Fantastic Four and Galactus and the Ultimate Nullifier).  This pushes the players to think outside the realms of the character's ability points and the rules and to just make things happen in the game.  Maybe not something many modern gamers are use to but may come more naturally to old-schoolers.

As a campaign, there didn't seem to be a problem with keeping an ongoing story going over a number of sessions. We discussed character 'advancement' a bit and the optional rule that is included in the rule book, slightly modified.  I don't really have a problem with characters not having experience levels to 'advance'.  I'm more interested in the stories that get created around the table.  Not all gamers like this, however. These days players tend to want their character to advance and gain more powers and abilities.  I don't necessarily fall into this camp.  I prefer character growth and change based on their choices and what they experience in game.  Icons does give you the options of character advancement but it's not the focus.  Besides, your heroes are pretty strong to begin with.  How many super-heroes actually gain new powers or abilities in the course of a few adventures?  None.  Maybe over the course of decades of a character's mythology are new powers added, but it is a very slow process. 


Personally I really enjoy the game. With it's quick random character generation, fast combat and loose rules, it reminds me a lot of OD&D or maybe the Holmes or Moldvay rules.  It's a great framework for a heroes game but needs a little additional thought at times and house-rule tweaking to bring it around.  But like OD&D, other Icon gamers have contributed their tweaks to the game and posted them online for others to use.  It may not be for gamers that enjoy fiddling with their character's numbers and having rules for everything or having character level advancement a big part of playing but for me, less is more and simple is better.

As Mike said above:

The only limitations are your imagination.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ICONS: Issue 7

Face To Face With The Iron Cross!

Lord Genovasis - The father of Meta-humans
Automaton - The Mechanical Marvel
Damn Light Bulb - Lowly janitor (formally The Sponge)
The Scarlet Hood - The bane of organized crime and political corruption
Prophylactica - The woman wonder of rubber!
King Cobra
Col.  Francis "Popeye" Sanders 
 We left our heroes in a death match with Professor Drachen's seemingly invincible bodyguard Black Diamond (last issue).  With Col. Sanders down for the count, King Cobra and the DLB (Damn Light Bulb) stood face to face with Black Diamond.  But within moments, the rest of Vanguard 13 arrived (Prophlyactica, Lord Genovasis and Automaton).

Cobra grabbed Black Diamond and began to drain the life out of her with his armored suit while DLB blinded the bodyguard.  Wrapped up by Cobra's skilled wrestling moves she was an easy target for Prophylactica.  Blinded and feeling trapped, Black Diamond leaped into the air with Cobra on her back.    Thinking quick, the wonder woman of rubber stretched out and wrapped Diamond's foot and brought her crashing to the ground.  With the three teaming up on Black Diamond she was soon overcome and put out of commission.

Meanwhile, Automaton and Lord Genovasis rushed towards Professor Drachen and his two victims; All-Star and All American Girl of Vanguard 6.  After a blast from Automaton's laser eyes, Lord Genovasis clocked the Nazi professor out.   Freeing All American Girl, the young side-kick rushed over to the seemingly dead All Star.  After examining the electronic equipment Lord G and Automaton felt that they may be able to save him by reversing the machines of Professor Drachen.  Knowing Lord G's reputation well, All American Girl was wary and didn't want the father of Meta-humans to do any more damage to her companion.  After a brief bout she accepted that Lord Genovasis was All Star's only hope. Automaton comforted her in his own cold mechanical way while Lord G reversed the polarities of the Professor's Meta-rays and attaching  the Damn Light Bulb to the machine blasted All Star. 

All Star revived but was weak and barely conscious.  The grateful All American Girl thanked Vanguard 13 and flew off carrying All Star to seek medical assistance at the rendezvous point.

As Automaton and Lord Genovasis were packing up the machinery,  the whole castle began to shake!  Suddenly, the ceiling burst into rubble and in flies The Iron Cross dragging the defeated  Crusader.  At that moment, Black Diamond regained consciousness and belted Lord Genovasis.  She then grabs Professor Drachen and they escape out through the hole in the ceiling.

A battle ensues with the powerful Iron Cross and, once his weakness is found through his rocket pack, he explodes.

Vanguard 13 gathers up the Archer and as much machinery as they can find and climbs up Prophylactica out through the ceiling and away from the burning lab.

On the surface they find the Ravagers have broken the Nazi's defenses and enter the castle's inner courtyard with about twenty prisoners who are soon executed.

Lord G, King Cobra and Automaton descend once again beneath the castle to find the remaining members of Vanguard 6.  Through the smokey haze they find Hangman beaten and tortured and locked inside a cell.  The Nazi's couldn't break him.  He's wary of his rescuers at first but soon realizes that they are there to aid him.  After Hangman is free, he vows to stay in Germany and wreck his own type of havoc upon the Nazi forces and goes off alone.

Exploring the rest of the now burning laboratory the party splits up.  Lord G and Cobra rescue a jail filled with captive Jews, no doubt destined to be subjects for Professor Drachen's experiments.

On his own, Automaton explores the last couple of smoke filled rooms and discovers strange 'alien' machinery being controlled by a shadowy insect like creature.  The creature turns towards the robot and a devise upon it's head glows but it has no affect upon the mechanical marvel.  In a dim glow, the mysterious creature disappears.

Suddenly, Automaton is blasted from behind by the last member of Vanguard 6, Centurion, who has been brainwashed.  Automaton calls over the radio for aid from his colleagues.  After a fierce battle with Centurion, who almost single-handedly defeats the three members of Vanguard 13, the final member of Vanguard 6 is finally rescued.  With that, the mission in Castle Drachenhaus is completed (well, Professor Drachen did get away).

Vanguard 13 meets at the rendezvous point and leave Germany.

Session Report

This was our last Icons session for now and the conclusion to our Golden Age segment of the campaign.  When next we pick up Icons we'll be in the Silver Age which I'm looking forward to.  The Silver Age should open up a lot of gaming possibility with atomic age villains, commies, cosmic villains, intelligent apes and a more ambiguous roles of good and evil.  It seems that everyone had a good time playing this heroes game though we did run into a few issues from time to time. 

In the next few weeks we'll be play-testing D&D Next (Corey will be running that one) and then we'll be returning to our long lost Swords & Wizardry campaign we haven't played since December.

If you'd like to read more of our Icons Golden Age wrap-up, head on over to the Shore City Chronicle, our Icons campaign news blog
VANGUARD 13 circa 1942:  King Cobra, Automaton, Lord Genovasis, Prophylactica,
The Scarlet Hood, Col. "Popeye" Sanders.  Nate Brown, aka the Sponge, is not pictured.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ICONS Issue 6


Having been found neatly lined up on a British beach, with three months unaccounted for, Vanguard 13 recovers in a Royal Army Hospital (see last issue - bliss).

Later, in a secret meeting with Brigadier General Wentworth, the team is briefed on current events.  The Nazis have a new armored villain called The Iron Cross which is wrecking havoc on allied bombing runs over Germany and had even defeated Britian's super-man The Crusader!  Fearing that the Nazis have advanced in their creation of Meta-humans, Vanguard 6 was sent in to infiltrate a known Nazi scientist's castle.  They never returned.  The allies want Vanguard 13 to go behind enemy lines and to discover the fate of Vanguard 6, capture Professor Drachen, and if possible defeat the Iron Cross.

To aid V13, the British have offered the services of The Crusader (looking forward to a rematch with Iron Cross) and The Ravagers, an elite commando team.

The plan decided upon was to airdrop V13 in the valley near Castle Drachenhaus and then, with Prophyaltica's help, scale the cliff face and storm the castle while Crusader and the Ravagers cause a distraction at the main entrance.

However, before leaving, Lord Genovasis, trying to perfect his Meta-human serum doses Nate (The Sponge) and ace reporter Penelope Kirt.  The serum changes Nate from a power absorbing mutant to a being controlling light itself; The Damn Lightbulb!  Penelope Kirt, however.....

So the raid begins, Vanguard 13 is ready at the base of the cliff when they hear explosions going off in the distance - The Ravagers have begun their attack and Crusader is flying around smashing all the spotlights.  Suddenly there is a louder explosion as  a ball of fire blasts upwards from the castle and engages Crusader.  The Iron Cross and Crusader go flying off, battling each other high up in the sky!

Prophylacita stretches herself between two trees and slings King Cobra up to the castle, only her aim was off and Cobra smashes into the cliff wall.  Only his martial art skill keeps him from falling down.  He shouts down to the wonder woman of rubber to just stretch up to the castle and let everyone climb up.  That shouting, however, alerts the Nazi guards who turn a spotlight down upon the heroes and begin firing!  Col. Francis "Popeye" Sanders, climbing up Prophylactia, leaps the rest of the way to the castle wall, face to face with the armed Nazis.  He leaps up and smashes the spotlight  allowing King Cobra to climb up undetected.  Hit with the gunfire, Col. Sanders leaps back down to safety and is quickly healed by The Damn Lightbulb! 

Meanwhile, King Cobra grabs the first gunman and tosses him off the edge of the parapet into the valley below then dodges the gunfire and he grabs a second guard.  Col Sanders leaps back up along with Damn Lightbulb and they finish off the rest of the gunmen.

In a panic, King Cobra slides back down Prophylactica to see if the Nazi he tossed over the wall was still alive - he wasn't.  King Cobra has a code against killing and this affected him quite deeply, keeping him distracted throughout the rest of the mission.

Back up on the castle parapet, Damn Lightbulb and Col. Sanders watch as a number of armed troops rush out of the barracks to join the fighting at the castle entrance.

United once again, King Cobra, Damn Lightbulb and Col. Sanders sneak into the barracks and enter the main courtyard of the castle.  Finding some stairs leading down they come upon the the underground lab of Professor Drachen!  Drachen was watched over by his bodyguard; Black Diamond!  On two slabs and being prepared to be experimented on was Vanguard 6's All Star and his sidekick All-American GirlThe Archer was roaming around the lab armed with his arrows and apparently working for Prof. Drachen!  Some Nazi-bots (last seen in issue 1) were guarding other doors and locked in cages were three misshapen monstrous human - Jewtants!  The other two members of Vanguard 6; Hangman and Centurion, were nowhere to be found!

Professor Drachen invites his 'guests' to come in but Vanguard 13  just takes that as a cue to leap into action!  Col Sanders leaps across the lab to take on two of the Nazi-bots and lands on the cage holding the Jewtants!  Damn Lightbulb uses his intense blasts of light to disrupt the other two robots while King Cobra rushes The Archer, dodging his net-arrow!

Freeing two of the Jewtants, they turn on their Nazi-bot captors and destroy the robots while the third attacks Col. Sanders.  Cobra takes an explosive arrow to the chest but finishes up the Archer with one punch sending him into the labs machinery starting a fire.  All this while, Black Diamond confidently watches with a slight smirk and when Prof. Drachen has had enough destruction done to his lab unleashes his body guard on the Vanguard!  She happily flies over to King Cobra and gives him a good bash.  Damn Lightbulb blasts her with his light but she seems unaffected by it.  Col. Sanders again leaps across the room and lands directly into Black Diamond bounding off leaving her unharmed.  She gives him a round-house kick sending the super soldier flying!

As the Jewtants battle amongst themselves Black Diamond confidently faces her foes.  How will Vanguard 13 defeat this seemingly indestructible villain!!?!?

Session Report

This was our 6th Icons session.  It seemed to go pretty well.  I'll try to get some feedback from the players on what they think of the game and how they're enjoying it.  Had a bit of a slow start but it got going pretty quickly once the assault began.  Brian, who has been running Nate (aka the Sponge) and known for Tibag Backstabber in out Swords & Wizardry game summed up the session nicely with this email:

Icons proceeded as planned, including a serum-related mutation for the Sponge.
I believe Lord Dijonaise or whatever experimented on Nate because he had no idea he was a member of the team.
"You, unidentified negro" he said. "Try this cheap beer and tell me what you think."
Nate is now a controller of light...with a force field, blast, and light-creation, plus he has strike and healing.
So much for his hatred of the he is the spotlight. "'course it had to be a WHITE light..."
He has renamed himself "the Damn Lightbulb".

Zach unleashed three caged Jews that had been experimented on and mutated by the Nazis...two attacked the Nazis and one went after last night's session its title:

"Rise of the Jewtants" (comic book pending)

As we left, Black Diamond was about two pages from killing us all handily. Not kidding.

We've been using Determination a bit more but it's still something that has to be brought up and reminded about.  The slams and stuns are still a bit wonky working into the flow of the game.  I think we're going to have to house rule that a bit.  Finally, the players are facing their most powerful opponent yet - seemingly virtually unbeatable.  At the end of the session we were looking at combined attacks and it seemed that it still would be pretty tough to beat Black Diamond.  This could be an instance where a weakness needs to be found over just brawn.

Most of the NPC heroes (Vanguard 6 and the Crusader) that we've used in our sessions (Corey and mine) were picked up from various Icons playing aids including Villainomicon and Hero Pack 1.  Great resources all around.