Friday, August 12, 2011

ICONS: Some Qualities You May Recognize

I had a different idea about a source for Qualities for ICONS. The theory is that the best Qualities are the ones you don't have to explain.

"It belongs in a museum"

-On the positive side, you have a good reputation with museums all over the world and may receive aid, information, tips, resources and even employment from them. Curiousity is a likely personality trait, and Science: Archaeology is probably essential.

-On the negative side there are many who will oppose you or consider you old-fashioned or outmoded. You may be compelled to respond to any threats to ancient artifacts that you discover or are made aware of. Curiousity is a double-edged sword.

"Let the Wookie Win"

- People who recognize you (this can be tied to an individual, not just a species) will walk on eggshells as you have a reputation for sudden irrational extreme violence. This can be very useful.

- You are feared, possibly hated, but definitely not loved by those who do not know you personally simply because of your reputation and/or appearance.

- You might also be unable to speak the local language. This might tie into a connection who does understand your speech and can translate for you. This might also be another PC.

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid"

You are part of an ancient order that has fallen into disrepute

- On the plus side you can tag this quality for knowledge of ancient history or mystic information, legends, or lessons and may even garner aid from those who still remember your order favorably

- At the very least you are not taken seriously by those who know what you claim to be, and at the worst you are actively hunted by a powerful group as heretical or a practitioner of forbidden arts.  The Occult specialty is very appropriate here.

 "Did he fire six shots or only five?" 

- You have solid instincts and a good heart and the people on the street know you will keep your word and the good ones will aid you in your war on crime. Criminals who know you will tend to fear you.

- Authority figures resent your willful ignorance of accepted procedure while criminals fear you - both will go an extra mile to interfere with your plans

Suggestions: Tagging this by the player might help pick up a cold trail or generate a new lead to a bad guy or intimidate unlucky punks. If the DM compels it then you can expect anything from a bureacratic snafu to a snubbed bad guy showing up with payback on his mind to imprisonment for breaking some law.

"Hi-Ho Silver, Away!"

-You have a  power - say ... a travel power - that comes from something outside of you but is not a device - it's a creature

- You care about the creature so this is more akin to a Connection than a device - it's not broken or taken away, it's captured and imprisoned! Companions are rescued, not replaced.

Suggestions: Superspeed, Flight, Remote vision, super-senses via mounts, pet birds, and familiars. The DM can tag it to take the power away due to a sick, uncooperative, or kidnapped animal. The player might tag Comet the Wonder Horse to break him out of jail or Speedy the Sparrow to deliver a message to an ally.

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!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More Thoughts on Player Choice - and control - in RPG's

Following along in a similar vein to this post, I wanted to talk a little more about player choice. The trend in today's games goes beyond character generation and into actual playing time.

The attitude presented in most older games, AD&D in particular, is generally to tell the players "no". Now I'm sure some people will post about some awesome DM they had back in 1980 that ran the game completely unlike that but if you look at the tone and advice in the DMG and most Dragon articles the clear stance taken by the publishers and designers and the players at the time is that the DM is in charge and the players should lay low and take what they are given. It didn't always work that way, but it seemed to be the prevailing attitude.

If you need a stronger reminder of this attitude review the discussions about the "wish" spell. One of the most-desired items by players and one of the most-hated items by DM's* the advice in nearly every article about them is to screw the players with a legalistic, literal, with-a-twist-of-demonic interpretation of whatever they ask for. There were discussions concluding that players should only ever submit wishes in writing after a review by the full party to ensure it wouldn't bite them in the rear once they handed it to the DM!

In this kind of discussion the focus tends to be on the mechanics but that attitude adjustment is just as important. So mny times in late 70's early 80's games of D&D/AD&D the equipment list was used as a weapon against the player(Begin only slightly exaggerated example):

Player 1 - "Alright I mark the wall here so we know which way we came in"

DM - "Did you buy chalk? You're not a magic-user. Let me see your character sheet."

Player 1 - Aside to wizard player: - "C'mon man let me borrow your chalk"

Wizard Player - "Uhhhh, I didn't see it on the list."

DM - "Sorry, I don't see it on your sheet. You don't have a way to make marks on things."

This kind of crap went on all the time and most of us were fine with it, despite it's utter corruption of the idea of heroic fantasy or sword and sorcery! Do they spend time in LOTR shopping for food and bedrolls? Does Conan stop to get chalk before breaking in to a tower? Do Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser make sure they have 2 weeks of iron rations and 100' of rope before they head out? Not in the stories I read!

Now for some adventures a recon mission followed by the acquisition of special materials is a cool thing to do, and I think one of the Conan stories involves him dropping drugged meat inside a wall before hopping over to ensure he doesn't get eaten by lions or wolves or something because he scouted things out beforehand - that's not a bad way to handle things in a game either. I just think making the equipment list as vital part of the character sheet as the ability scores is a trend I was happy to see fade. It kind of sucks if Sinbad has to turn around and sail back to port because he didn't bring enough rope to trip the giant six-armed statue! At this point in my life I'm much more willing to assume that experienced characters know what they need when they go adventuring and to ignore minor stuff like this. Clever and creative use of mundane equipment is cool and fun. Dogmatic and punitive exploitation of what they didn't put on their character sheet gets old quick and misses the point of the game which (based on the box blurb and the artwork) is to go exploring and fight monsters! For me I'd say FASA Star Trek, WEG Star Wars, and Champions were the games that opened me up to the idea that maybe tracking every single bit of equipment just isn't all that important. I know that by the late 80's I had loosened up on this considerably and felt like we were having more fun in return.

Fortunately as time went on this idea that maybe a game about heroic fantasy (and other genres too) should encourage the players to do heroic things and take action rather than getting caught up in the spreadsheet sub-section of the game and "keeping the players in line" grew pretty rapidly. As a result we started to see some mechanical support for player actions and control. The first game I remember reading and playing that clearly took a different tack was James Bond 007 from Avalon Hill (Yeah it was weird to see that then too - AH? RPG's? Really? I know it was Victory, technically but we all knew it was AH/SPI's survivors). Part of it was the attitude and tone in the game - the players were expected and encouraged to win and to be the focus of the action! Part of it was also the luck point mechanic which allowed players to alter die rolls and save their bacon if things went badly. This quickly became popular and I know it made a lot of difference in actual play - 005 just blew a driving roll in his Jaguar? Nonsense! I use a Luck point! Within  a few years we had Warhammer Fantasy RP with Fate points (pretty much essential for long term survivial), the Star Wars RPG with Force points, and TSR jumped in pretty early with Karma in the Marvel Super Heroes RPG. By the 90's it was pretty common though not universal.

This trend towards player empowerment is often cited as being tied to rules-light games but I don't see that as the case at all - James Bond, MSH, WFRP, and Star Wars are not exactly rules-light games. They may not be quite as arcane as AD&D and it's tangle of subsystems but they all had fairly thick books full of rules and added supplements at a pretty good clip. Yet they all had an element of both mechanical empowerment of players AND a change in attitude from earlier games. OK maybe WFRP didn't have that attitude change so much but it did have the fate point mechanic and so fits into the trend.

The one other mechanical concept that I think contributes to this player empowerment is the smaller, broader skil llist. This might seem counter-intuitive but in my experience skills can often end up being used like the equipment list was in the old days - "oh, you have mechanical lockpicking? Well this is an electronic lock so that doesn't work" or worse yet "it's a hybrid design so you need both" which means that soon enough every thief type character just takes both skills and we could just as easily substitute a single "lockpicking" skill (or Traveller's much cooler "Intrusion" skill) and make things that much easier. AD&D 2E had some ridiculous things like fire-building and rope use in the skill list - seriously, when is it going to be really really important that you get that fire lit RIGHT NOW and how often is it going to come up? Is it really worth having a specific skill in something like that? If you were looking at a character sheet for Conan or Thundarr or Ka-Zar are you terribly concerned about their relative fire-building or rope use skills, or could we fold that into something like "Survival" or maybe even just a wisdom roll? The overly-specific skill list for a game can lead to players being bludgeoned by the DM for not having the specific skill required for a siuation and it sucks.The concept of "defaulting" came about to mitigate this somewhat (GURPS is full of this: "Axe/Mace defaults to Broadsword at DEX -2" and that kind of thing) but that leads to even more complication as you now have a web connecting a bunch of skills with a second set of numbers that will hopefully never be called upon under stress.  In some cases this depends on the focus of the game - Twilight 2000 has separate skills for pistols, rifles, heavy weapons, grenades, and artillery. Savage Wordls has "Shooting" skill. One is a military game, one is a multi-genre pulp-style game, and they will focus on some different things. In general though, shorter skil lists help with making a character (I want to sneak around - take Stealth, as opposed to take hide in shadows, and move silently), niche protection (shorter lists usually mean fewer skills per character and make it easier to keep track of who has what), and actual play (fewer items to keep track of, less chance of missing that one special skill you needed for this adventure, and less worrying about who can default to what)

 Now this focus on players is also a separate concept than the "story game" thing that started creeping into RPGs and D&D in particular at about the same time, and that's important to keep in mind too. Forcing the players into a pre-set storyline is just as bad IMO as slappng them down for not having enough lamp oil on their sheet - it restricts their ability to solve problems in clever and creative ways and forces them into predetermined solutions that they have to discover, rather than letting them come up with and try their own ideas. In comparison the equipment list beat down is a almost a mechanical version of the problem (it still has a lot to do with attitude though), while the forced plotline (ala Dragonlance) is very much an attitude problem, and one that has not been as thouroughly conquered as the "players are there to be kept in line" issue has been over the years.

 I'm not really talking about metaplot here, at least metaplot defined as "stuff going on in a published campaign world that can be brought to the fore or kept in the background as the GM desires" as with Shadowrun and Traveller and some of the D&D worlds. I'm talking about "adventures" that have a forced plotline and are just as linear as some of our early dungeons were, even if they never come close to a 10' stone corridor. The Dragonlance modules are a classic example but I've seen it in everything from WFRP to Star Wars to D&D to  even supers adventures. If an entire adventure depends on the players handling something one way, and if they do not do that it falls apart, then you have a problem, whether it's a secret door that *must* be discovered or an NPC that *must* be questioned. Either one is bad design for an RPG that's intended to be played by actual people using actual game rules and actual dice rolls. To me the best situation is a good set of rules that incorporates a mechanic that allows a limited recovery from bad die rolls and/or extra actions when the player feels like taking them -BUT- they should be a limited resource so that a player has to think about when to use this extra power he has - it leads to interesting decisions with some consequences, which is right at the heart of the whole RPG thing. Combine that with a DM who isn't out to punish the players, and an interesting adventure scenario where the players are in charge most of the time, and I think you have a pretty good game.

This "player empowerment" attitude is also not incompatible with character death, in case you thought I was going soft. I killed a PC in my very first session of running Neccessary Evil for Savage Worlds - he used his bennies to ensure a couple of hits on bad guys, and had none left when he got hit hard in return. It was an educational experience all around. This illustrates the flip side of having a "fate point/" mechanic: I don't have to worry about pulling punches as the DM - not that I would have in the old days anyway. There was sometimes a  concern about arbitrary death as in "save or die" type mechanics or any situation where a character was hit with something with no chance to defend or avoid or otherwise mitigate the damage - that's no longer a big concern if everyone gets force points at the start of the session or level or whatever. They get to decide how and when to spend them, and if they get in over their heads with no points left, well, that's just how it goes sometimes - consequences make those decisions interesting, remember?

Example of this theory: I think adding something like "Hero Points" to Basic/Expert D&D makes a huge difference and eliminates most of those old complaints. Maybe it's one per level up to 9th, refrshes every session,  and allows a reroll on any die roll in-play, an automatic success on a saving throw, or an automatic stabilize at 0 hp's when taken below 0. I might even make it an automatic success on a to-hit roll if used that way too, instead of a re-roll, because a) missing sucks and missing on a limited resource re-roll sucks even more and b) if players know it's a sure thing they are more likely to use them on offense instead of hoarding them all for defense. 1st level might still be a little rough but by 3rd or 4th level characters can start  to control at least one fight per session with auto-hits and auto-saves. It would take some testing but I think it would work, and the rest of the game can be run as-is, even with the old school attitude if you want to go that way - the DM can still be happy and the players don't feel as arbitrarily screwed when they have to make 4 poison saves after opening a trapped door.

Nowdays of course the "players should be allowed to do cool things / find a way to tell them yes" attitude has become quite common, as has the mechanical support of the same. Even D&D (4E) has this (Action Points!) so you know it's mainstream now. The first game where I really felt the power of this as a DM was Savage Worlds. It's probably my poster child for how this kind of design just _works_. It doesn't dig into a "how many C batteries are you carrying ?" level of detail yet everyone had an awesome time doing heroic things and I had a blast as the DM because I didn't feel like I had to step on them or figure out in advance how they might solve the various problems in the adventure or how to keep them from getting too big for their britches. The whole "say yes" attitude combined with the mechanical support of "bennies" (rerolls/damage mitigation) turns the players loose but (and this is the part no one really talks about) it also turns the DM loose as well! That means that I as the DM don't have to plot out every possible connection or solution to the problems in the adventure, and I don't have to figure out if something might be too hard for them - if they think something is too hard they can spend a point to help overcome the challenge. They start to get creative and soon enough they realize that they do have some control but not an infinite amount - it has to be used sparingly and when it really matters or you may not have it when you truly need it.

I've also seen this attitude creep into the MMO scene with City of Heroes in particular beginning last year. There used to be a clear separation between superheores and supervillains in the game with separate classes for each and separate starting and playing areas with only limited interaction in certain zones of the game. A new expansion came out that detailed a parallel Earth and allowed players to take hero archetypes or villain archetypes and play in the same area right from the begiining, and included missions that determined their eventual alignment as a hero or villain - a very high degree of player choice and control during the actual game, not just at character creation. This approach was carried over to the rest of the game allowing heroes to make choices during some missions to move towards the villain side, becoming "Vigilantes" and then eventually, if they continued down that path, moving fully to villain classification. Villains could do the same in reverse. Later this year the whole beginning of the game is being revamped and new heroes will be allowed to pick from any of the archetypes at the beginning and their actions during the early part of the game will determine whether they are classified as Hero or Villain - a complete change of direction from the original approach when the game launched in 2004. It's quite similar to the change in tabletop RPG's, just at an accellerated rate.

So what's the point of all this? Well, it is a pretty big turnaround from the early days of the hobby, pretty much a 180, one newer players may not even realize happened and older players sometimes forget. It's also the dominant design approach right now and I wonder if it will lead to a backlash or reversal of some kind. To a degree it already has with the OSR movement, but I'm not sure that's the fullest expression that it might reach - I think there might be more, as in some kind of retro move in the next version of D&D if it ended up bought away from Hasbro by some wealthy fan or other company. I hope that doesn't happen though because I like this way of doing things. I like the way these games work now. I'm perfectly fine going back and playing some of the old games and I expect them to work a certain way so it doesn't chafe me at all because that's just how they work! But as I play with newer designs (and with patching some newer concepts onto older games) I do feel like the newer ones are just better in many ways. We typically get more done in a session, spend less time looking up or arguing about rules, and spend more time enjoying the game and less time tryng to work around it. I get more "game" and "fun" out of the time I do get to spend and to me that's a big deal.

If I get a chance to add my Hero Point idea to the B/X game I will post about how it works out.

*Because it can "unbalance the campaign" - I agreed with this attitude at the time, but nowadays my view is  that the role of the players is to unbalance the campaign! They're trying to "win" by getting the ring to Mordor or stopping the alien invasion or defeating the reawakened god of entropy! They may not succeed but that is why you are playing the game!

 Besides, an experienced DM can find ways to handle anything: "I wish St. Cuthbert was here to help us slay this dragon! BAMF! The Greyhawkian god of order and non-backsliding pops in, bashes the dragon, then he turns to the party and demands that they convert and carry out a mission for him. Or 10 seconds after he appears, Iuz pops in because Saint C has broken some kind of non-interference pact and they start to fight - RUN! Even better, what if St. C loses? Maybe some of them feel bad about it and decide they need to rescue the imprisoned deity from Iuz's dungeons. The players wish has now caused all kinds of interesting consequences for the campaign, no one had to get nasty about the exact wording or fill out any legal documents before submitting it, and hopefully no one feels screwed by the DM either.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tweaking Character Generation for ICONS

I didn't get to run ICONS (or anything else) this weekend like I had hoped* but  I did have some time to think about character generation some more. I wasn't totally happy with it and I realized it was mainly because of one chart  - the random power allocation chart.

A quick refresher in 2d6 probability (most of you probably know this already but for the sake of completeness here it is) :

2 - 1 in 36
3 - 2 in 36
4 - 3 in 36
5 - 4 in 36
6 - 5 in 36
7 - 6 in 36
8 - 5 in 36
9 - 4 in 36
10 -3 in 36
11 -2 in 36
12 -1 in 36

Now the current ICONS power table:

2-3 - Alteration
4-5 - Control
6   - Defense
7   - Mental
8  -  Movement
9-10 - Offense
11-12 - Sensory

Given the probabilities noted above I just do not like the way this allocates powers. "Control" and "Offense" being the most most likely result is fine but "Mental" coming in right behind them is out of whack to me - I just dont think that based on comic books, movies, cartoons, and even past experience in non-random superhero games that this should be the case. Someone once noted that in essence all powers in Champions could be boiled down to Attack, Defense, Sense, and Move and power modifiers could be used to bring out the details and differences that made things unique. I think that's  a good way to focus in on the essence of powers. Also note that super abilities like strength are not really covered by powers in ICONS - they are rolled for randomly in a separate process. Given those, I'm going to rebuild the table to make it more the way I want it.

2-3 (3/36) I'm bumping Mental down to here, maiing 1 in 12 powers rolled of the mental variety, instead of 1 in 6. I just think this fits better with my expectations and preferences.

4-5 (7/36) I'm leaving Control here - there are a lot of very genre-common powers under control, including the big one "Elemental Control" that defines a whole lot of comic-book characters.

6 - (5/36) Defense is just fine at this level. It should be fairly common, maybe just a bit less common than Offense. so this is perfect

7 - (6/36) Offense is now promoted to this position. Blast, Strike, Affliction - these are core superpowers for many heroes and should be pretty common

 8 - (5/36) Movement is fine here - many supers have some kind of travel powers so it should be fairly common

 9-10 - (7/36) Alteration is moved to here as the powers listed under that table are to me much more common in the source material than others.

11-12 - (3/36) Sensory remains here, mainly because I don't have a better place to put it. It should probably be more common, and I would consider making "2" a sensory result, bumping Mental down to a 2/36 chance, but a) it makes the table messy and b) most sensory powers are not all that "flashy", as in no one gets all that excited at having "Postcognition" compared to being able to set people on fire with a wave of their hand or bounce bullets off of their chest. So for now I'm leaving it alone. So the new table is:

2-3 - Mental
4-5 - Control
6    - Defense
7    - Offense
8    - Movement
9-10 - Alteration
11-12 - Sensory

Most characters are going to have 3 or 4 powers. Our most likely results are Alteration or Control, then Offense, then Defense or Movement,  then Mental or Sensory. I like that distribution better. Say you roll up a 5 character team, that's going to average out to 17.5 powers, let's call it 18 and that's when changing the odds on this table really stands out.

Plus, many powers (especially things like elemental control) have bonus powers listed that allow a player to swap out a rolled power for a bonus power (which is more strongly related to one of the other rolled powers) as desired. This gives back some control over the pure randomness of character creation and lets a player with a concept tailor their creation to better fit that concept. This should work even better now with a distribution of powers that I think is better for my group anyway.

I like the way the rest of the rules work for a lighter supers game, and now this one simple change makes me happier with the whole thing.

*Instead I got whipped by Apprentice Blaster in 1 game of C&C Ancients and 2 games of Memoir '44 and he was feeling pretty pleased with himself by the end.