Thursday, August 11, 2011

ICONS: Qualities and Challenges via Champions

DM: "sure, Strength 10, Invulnerability 10, that's fine, oh and your evil genius archnemesis just got elected president."

Being much more of a "DM" than a "Storyteller" I have zero experience with FATE or FUDGE (looked at it way back when and thought it lacked crunch) and strange new concepts like Qualities, Challenges, and Tagging as found in ICONS.

Unfrozen Caveman Dungeon Master: "Your strange new ways confuse me!" *

After reading it, I liked the idea in general (especially for a superhero game) but I had some trouble wrapping my brain around what they might look like beyond what's in the book itself. I wasn't that concerned about it at first, but playing with the system some more I decided it was important to get more solid concepts laid out when someone asks me "like what?" in response to "pick out some qualities and challenges." As a result I decided to turn back to my old Champions rulebook and convert some of the disadvantages over. Some of the classics were well-covered in the ICONS rules - Dependent NPC, Bad Luck, Secret ID - but I thought Enemy was a little generic, as was Weakness, and Personal and Social could use more specifics -  here's what I came up with:


Hunted - You are hunted by someone who intends you harm. This could be a single super-opponent, a group of lesser opponents, or a large organization of normal humans. It might be ninjas, robots, vampires, or just a corporation that you offended in the past and is willing to hit back.
Suggestion: The DM can use this whenever he wants to bring in some extra opponents. Who know you. Who know your weasknesses, and habits, and connections. This could also be flipped around to "Hunting" where you are the one obsessed with an enemy of some kind and the DM can throw in leads to your quarry as a distraction from your regular adventure.

Rivalry - You have a competitive relationship with another hero. This stops short of serious violence but could range from showing off to credit-stealing to social snubs to physically interfering with one another during tense moments. It's similar to a hunted but both parties are on the same side, at least in theory.
Sugestion: This could happen in play if your hero shows up an NPC hero. It might slowly turn into some kind of romantic entanglement and transition to a connection instead. Or a connction might transition to a rivalry after a breakup...

The Old Wound - at some point in the past you were seriously injured in some specific way and sometimes it crops up again and impairs you in some way. This could be anything from a stabbing pain that reduces your Coordination a step to a cybernetic leg replacement that wears out and lowers your movement speed until you have it repaired.
Suggestion: This might happen in play or might just as well be something from before the game begins. It might also have value as a temporary condition imposed on a character who was seriously injured - let them have some consequences for a session or two.

Burnout - Sometimes one of your powers fails under stress - it could be a device that runs out of power, a mental attack that hurts your brain, or a summoned spirit that can't stay in the material world for a long period of time. Regardless, the DM can tag this challenge for the designated power anytime after you have used the power once during a scene. Afterwards, for the rest of that scene, you cannot use that power.
Suggestion: This does require some trust on the part of the player that the DM will use it when dramatically appropriate, or else it should be taken on a less critical power. This could also be taken on an attribute like Strength or Willpower to represent some debillitating effect - maybe the characters super-strength requires daily injections of an experimental drug and tagging it means that the character forgot or that the drugs were not as potent this time.  As an alternative, if losing the power outright is too much then the power might be reduced in strength for the rest of the scene.

 Unreliable - Sometimes your powers work or do not work at random, outside of your control. Pick one (or for a truly chaoitc time pick all of them) power. Whenever the character tries to use this power under stress (IOW anytime they have to roll) then roll the dice - If the positive die is higher, it works normally. If the negative die is higher then it does not. This could be anywhere from annoying when your Telepathy fails during an interrogation to deadly when your Flight or Force Field fails to activate at the wrong moment. Anytime a power fails to go off in a stressful situation you gain a point of determination.
Suggestion: This is best used for a limited time, like say one playing session or "issue" where a character has been drugged or ensorcelled or caught in some kind of weird radiation or perhaps is drunk. One session, even of the whole team having to fight through this, could be a lot of fun. Living with it all the time, except on the most minor of powers, is going to wear most players out quickly.

Susceptibility / Dependency - There is one substance that utterly drains your powers when you are exposed to it. Ideally this should be something rare but not mythical. Exposure to this material reduces your physical stats to 2 (assuming they are not lower already) and drops all powers to an effective rating of zero for the rest of the scene, though it does grant a point of determination. Conversely, perhaps there is a substance that you must be exposed to daily to retain your powers, and this can be more common than the draining option. You must be in contact with this element daily or suffer the same effects as above for the entire day.
Suggestion: The effects of long term exposure/lack of exposure to the element in question is left for the DM and player to work out, but it's not likely to be good. If it becomes too anoying to the player (especially the dependency option) then let them swap it out for something else and retcon that it was all in their head or that some magic item or implant now lets them ignore it.


High Profile - You're a famous celebrity AND a superhero! Awesome! On the one hand this gets you invited to all kinds of parties and gets you tips and maybe endorsement deals. On the other hand it means that anyone you get close to is likely to be threatened at some point by a supervillain. Plus if something goes wrong the media and the public may turn on you in a hurry, and things could get really ugly then as you can't really lay low.
Suggestion: Players might tag this to gain acess to a place, to talk to another celebrity, gain the use of a resource temporarily, or to draw in media attention on something. DM's might compel it to inconvenience the hero with a media throng, paparazzi, sponsorship obligations, or footage of the hero getting his clock cleaned by an enemy.
Note: This is pretty much my ICONS conversion of "Public Identity" which assumes that the public knows your real name and face, that you socialize in your hero ID, and that you don't have a day job and a normal life. It's basically incompatible with "Secret" as far as identity goes but I didn't want to specifically forbid that one as conflicting as while the model for this might be Johnny Storm in the FF movie, or Ben Grimm in a happier FF movie, the Adam West Batman just about pulls them both off. If a player can do the same, more power to them! If you're a famous celebrity super and don't wear a mask then HP is likely for you, but if you do wear one it still might be for you. Talk to the DM.

Code Against Killing - Despite the sometimes violent nature of the hero business you will not kill your oponents. This is not a complicated honor code - you may be perfectly willing to lie, cheat, harm, and steal when it comes to enemies, but in your mind killing is a line you will not cross under any circumstances. You can be perfectly willing to shoot first but it's with a taser or stungun, not a .44 Magnum.
Suggestion: This should be reflected in your power choices as well. The player might tag this to gain the trust of an informant or the police department / DA while the DM might compel this to complicate everything from a hostage situation to a gunfight, and lord forbid you ever actually kill someone...

Berserk - When you get to fighting you go into a maddened state that you cannot easily stop. On the plus side a player could tag this during combat to burn a point of Determination to shake off will-sapping effects or restraints like some affliction powers might inflict because hey, he's berserk! That's not going to stop him!
Suggestion: The DM might compel this quality to force a character to take a swing at a tream member or ignore a bystander in danger and otherwise make life more complicated for the combat monster. Surprise your teammates with this one - they will love it! No, really, trust me!

Impulsive - You prefer action to talk and action now is better than action later. You sometimes gamble with your own life and sometimes that spills over to the lives of those around you as well. A player can tag this to overcome fear effects, NPC fillibustering, attempts at intimidation or even to talk reulctant allies into something imprudent. It may also deny observers/analyzers any kind of benefit versus the character as they are so unpredictable. The DM can compel this to force the player to take action, docking them Determination for spending time making up a plan, say one per minute of real time spent discussing things with other players when they should be kicking in the door and issuing threats and beatings.
Suggestion: In fact, anytime a _player_ says something like "F-it I'm going in" you should award them determination, just to encourage them.
Note: "Luck" is also a good quality to possess with this one. Bad Luck (while quite humorous - briefly) is a tragedy waiting to happen. You have been warned.

 Inhuman - You were either born non-human or were altered to such a degree that you are no longer in touch with your humanity. Human emotional issues and relationships mean little or nothing to you. On the positivie side a player can tag this whenever attacked or compelled to evoke an emotional response and use it as a defense against such things. Wierdness and horror also have little to no effect on you as you are unfazeable in most ways. On the negative side you are described as cold or unfeeling and have trouble maintaining any kind of relationship other than one based on simple mutual utility. Models here range from terminators and cyberzombies to vampires and demons to Dr. Manhattan and Vulcans. Any time you're getting too cozy with another living being the DM can compel this one to break things up - it's tragic, maybe even angsty (sniff).
Sugestion: This character should probably not have any Connection qualities to people or creatures without a good reason. This may be best used on a new starting character who wnats to play through the progression of becoming "human" and so will be traded in for something else at a later time. It also has quite a few comic possibilities in the hands of the right player.

Sponsored - You are at least a locally famous figure and have endorsement deals with commercial concerns. You likely have an agent (good source for a Connection) and will have some obligations to meet but you do get paid and it does help keep a favorable opionion with the public. A player might tag this for information on the business world, for an influx of resources (hey I finally got paid for that Super Donut spot!), or for local media contacts. The DM might use it to cause schedule conflicts or make a battle more interesting by placing it near a Super Donut and compelling the character to try and protect the establishment.or lose their endorsement.
Suggestion: This is a nice one to have come about in play to show the players that their characters are moving up in the world. A character with both High Profile and Sponsored is probably a national spokesman or something similar and may think he is quite a Big Deal - take a look at pro athletes. There are usually several who have sponsor deals locally in each city, but only a few go national. That's a good guide to follow.

So that's all for ... today ... and I'd love to see some similar suggestions from other ICONS (or non-ICONS) DM's.

*Man that's an old reference - if you got that you are old!


Taketoshi said...

Man, your posts on ICON make me really, really want to run a supers game.

bliss_infinte said...

Thanks for your Icons posts. I'm loving your analysis and rules mongery. I haven't gotten as deep into things yet as you but I'll be posting my thoughts as well.

Blacksteel said...

Hi guys - two things: more coming tomorrow (with a slightly different approach) and I ran the apprentices through the beginning of an adventure last night and will be posting that up soon to.

Theron said...

Excellent ideas, though I would list Berserk as a Challenge, since I don't think the GM can compel Qualities. Even though I write up ICONS characters all the time on my blog, I still have to stop and find a different sort of headspace whenever I start writing the Qualities and Challenges.

Barking Alien said...

These are good. Very good.

The key for me is to look at the source. That is, instead of looking to another game for examples, look directly to comics.

One key element/rule I follow in all my games is that the genre beats all the mechanics every time.

Blacksteel said...

Theron - the DM can compel qualities, so if you haven't been start enjoying yourself! I originally had berserk as a challenge but I realized there were some positive uses of it too and made it a quality.

BA - thanks and I agree on using the original source most of the time. I think my issue here was that those Champions concepts were burned into my brain at an early age so I always look for them in a supers game. Since they weren't as overtly called out in Icons I decided to make them myself.