Friday, June 22, 2012

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.


  1. That was a very nice summary of your group's ICONS experiences. Thanks to you and your players for sharing that with us.

  2. I just want to add that I'm with you on game balance (I hate it too, and I think too much emphasis is placed on balance to the exclusion of all else, including genre), and agree that ICONS is a game that doesn't need it, and at the very least, gets on fine without it.