Wednesday, June 30, 2021

40K Friday Special Edition - Halfway through 2021


It has been a while since I made a 40K post but that doesn't mean I have not been active so I thought I would share some updates. 

We have played a few more games since my march post and the focus has been on Crusade. I played Orks and blaster played his Ultramarines primaris force but I expect we will branch out soon. With no ork codex I was just using the core book options and I thought it was still a lot of fun. More on that to come later. 

The majority of the effort this year has been on "finishing". I have armies that have been sitting around half-done and maybe not even in a playable state for years. It's stupid at this point in my 40K "career" to have this much unfinished so I wanted to make an effort to clean things up this year. I have way too many armies but with a little focus I should be able to put a dent in things. Blood Angels, Crimson Fists, Dark Angels, and my Iyanden Eldar have all received a fair amount of attention. My method here is to pick one army and for the next month spend most of my workbench time working on them - building the unbuilt or half-built units, finishing the half-painted or 90% painted units, and then making sure some things get finished - decal-ed, clear-coated, and based. Done. 

Now to aid this plan I also made a vow in December: "No new armies this year". Well for 40K anyway. With a wave of codexes coming for the new edition I knew I would be spending money on new books, new cards, possibly a new unit if one was released for a particular army - I really do not need to be building up a new force to leave half-finished for the next few years. That said I bought heavily into Flames of War around that time and it remains, uh,  "very low mileage" let's say. Those starter sets are still a great deal. 

I did manage to hold onto the vow for a month or three. Then I realized this was probably the best time in the history of 40k to pick up some Necrons as they had a major refresh to the models and are in 4 different starter set boxes right now. I looked around online and, well, the prices were right. So I have a Necron army now. In a concession to my plan for the year it remains unassembled. It's roughly 2000 points so I did not go completely nuts. I know how I want to paint them too so when it's time I should be able to get going easily. 


  • Iyanden :Lots of painting and base work to get a bunch of stuff to "finished". I added more wraithblades, more wraithguard, a second hemlock, two more wraithknits to complete the set - let's just say wraithknights are pretty reasonable right now if you are patient - some wraithlords with different mixes of weapons, a pair of Falcons to get me to the magic "3" if I want to go tank-heavy. Once I decided a few years ago to keep all of my Craftworld stuff Iyanden and avoid the mistakes of my marine forces it made for a pretty comprehensive force. I'm pushing 10,000 points now and around 8,000 of that is completely finished. It can be done!
  • Dark Eldar: I built a drukhari force a few years back but I haven't played it much and it's never been in a really "finished" state. I've loved the models ever since the 5th edition revamp and then once we knew they were getting a new codex early this year I picked up a fair amount of stuff to fill in what I thought were the gaps in the army - mainly Venoms, Raiders, Talos/Chronos, and Mandrakes. Most of that remains unbuilt but they will get a month and I will put them all together and get them on the table. I'm thinking they would be good for a Crusade run where I could build up over time. 
  • Harlequins: Blaster mentioned trying them out and I have plenty of clown trooper infantry and characters but I have zero of the transports and bikes that seem to be part of their typical armies these days. At some point I will pick some up and we will make that a real, modern army.


I have not really added a whole lot to them this year as I have quite a backlog of TBD units. I don't feel like I am missing a lot of units that I would want to play and our Crusade campaign has let me get them on the table again and shake off some rust. I built some nobz and a banner nob and I finally added a warboss on a bike but that's about it ... oh and the new Ghazghkul!. With a new codex coming and new boyz coming and a whole new group of ork units coming I feel like it's worth holding off a bit until I see what the codex looks like and then prioritize based on that. I'd like to get my Goffs completely finished and then start getting my Evil Sunz together as a coherent force. Then I have an idea for a customized Blood Axe army that could be a lot of fun too. It never ends, especially with these guys. 


My biggest mistake in 40k was buying into too many marine armies over the years. If I had stayed on 1 or 2 I would be in a lot better shape completion-wise.

  • Howling Griffons - nothing new here. I do toy with the idea of expanding them at times but that would probably be best as a "when everything else is finished" goal. 
  • Imperial Fists - my army of big yellow terminators has no recent additions. It's still all terminators with a few bikes and a land raider being built originally as a Deathwing force. I looked it over recently and it would probably be a dammed strong force if I put it back on the table. I need to clean it up and unify the basing, put some decals on some squads, but it's totally painted and playable now at 50 or so terminators. The only possible addition might be a some dreadnoughts since it has zero right now and they are kind of a Deathwing thing. 

  • Crimson Fists - more dreadnoughts! I added a bunch last year and I just added a pair of contemptors this week, with another redemptor waiting. I would consider them my main "normal marine" army so they do tend to get more attention than a lot of mine. A primaris expansion is coming soon for them.
  • Black Templars - for some reason I decided last year I needed yet another marine army so I built up a ridiculous Black Templars force which I have yet to play. Triple land raider crusaders, triple rhinos, triple crusader squads, all of their special HQs ... it's a stupid thing to do and I thought about selling some of it and using the generic stuff to reinforce my other armies - a lot of it is base coated but not painted - but with rumors of new BT units and a codex supplement coming later this year I just can't - I want to get them finished and play some games.
  • Dark Angels - years in the making and finally possibly maybe making progress towards finished ... if I set aside a month for them. A ridiculous number of tac marines and bikes and terminators and land speeders ... it's all acquired and almost all built and almost all base coated - I just need to finish them. Latest adds I picked up a stalker and built a strikemaster and a deathwing champion. They are so close ... it's really dumb that they are not in better shape. 

  • Blood Angels - One of my favorite armies and the one that really started me down the path of "hey one more won't be so bad". A lot of this I picked up painted but even then I had all different bases through the army and it didn't always look like a real coherent force. So this year I spent a big chunk of March working on their bases. I didn't want to do more snow or sand so I went with a gray dusty/rocky look and I am happy with how it came out. There is more work to be done but it's really coming together as an army now. Last year I picked up a bunch of primaris units for them and then completely failed to finish them so that's a goal for this year now too.

  • Grey Knights - So once you realize you have a problem with too many armies and you decide you need yet another one the smart move is to buy painted units for it. That way you are at least not adding to the backlog. It also helps if it's an elite army with a fairly small number of units. This was my approach with the Grey Knights and it has worked really well. I have a nice playable army, about 3000 points worth, so I have some options to rotate through. This year though ... I picked up some actual boxes for strike squads and terminators and some unbuilt venerable dreadnoughts in anticipation of tuning up my force. With a new codex coming this summer I'm in a pretty good place with a playable force ready to go and reinforcements waiting to be customized based on how the rules change. 

  • Imperial Knights - yes I have a set of knights acquired over the last 3 years. Have I played them? No. I have 3 big ones built, 2 more on the sprue, and 2 each of the smaller types awaiting construction as well. So plenty of stuff, just no time spent getting them ready. Another candidate for "focus of the month" sometime this year. 
  • Imperial Guard - I've always liked the idea of the guard, going back to Rogue Trader and that picture of the Necromundan army marching forth, but I've never really enjoyed playing them all that much. It's one of the few armies I have ever gotten rid of and I've done it twice. Yeah. So why dive in again? Well, I decided it was a good candidate for an all-tank army, a deliberate, consciously chosen all-tank army, with only enough infantry to fill in some formation requirements and maybe hold some objectives. Picked up an extra Manticore, extra officer types, then took it against an expert crafters Eldar army and got shot off the table multiple times. I ahve added some more Demolisher turret options since then and I think some Bullgryn would be a smart addition .. and I also added a Vulture full of lascannons to put another threat on the table. This is another army in the 'tuning up" stage. I need to unify the look and then play some more games with it whether it's "meta" or not. 


Beyond adding the killer robots I built up my Nurgle Daemons quite a bit early in the year. I've had the daeon prince and the soulgrinders finished for a long time as an allied force for my Khorne daemons - why not make a usable all-Nurgle force? So theyhave a great unclean one and a bunch of plaguebearers and the big flying bugs and a ton of nurglings. It should be a fun force though a lot of it is at varying stages of unbuilt, built, and painted. This was more of an acquisition effort, but it means my chaos daemons are in really good shape now with a sizable force for all 4 chaos powers. In 2018 I was building Khorne, 2019 was Tzeentch, 2020 was Slaanesh, and this year was Nurgle. This was also sort of laying the groundwork for when their new codex comes along as I will have a decent force with options ready to go and new ones waiting depending on how the updated army works.  The daemon bonus is that they are fun in Age of Sigmar as well so you can get double duty out of them if you play both. 

Not a lot happened with most of the rest of the Chaos forces:

  • I picked up a fighter for my World Eaters and added a squad of possessed and a rhino for them to ride in. Then the Death Guard codex came out and possessed are now treated like terminators - they can only ride in Land Raiders and take up two slots. Great. Why do I suspect we might be getting new models, say "greater possessed" sized models, when the Chaos Marine codex comes out? Anyway no major changes - I just really need to finish these guys. 
  • The Iron Warriors are one of my most-finished armies (6000 points at least, 90%+ painted/finshed/etc.) but I do have some units in waiting even for them. I did build my 6 newer style big Obliterators. They really look like mini-helbrutes. I just need to paint them and then I am looking forward to trying them out. I also have a bike unit I should finish up and a squad of possessed that I thought would be a good cargo for one of their six rhinos ... of course. 
  • Death Guard: many changes here - let's talk about that tomorrow! 


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Rifts Savage Worlds Kickstarter - Atlantis!


Well it's time for another Savage Worlds Kickstarter, in fact another Rifts Savage Worlds Kickstarter. The first run was in 2016, then another one in 2019 to expand the books with Magic, Coalition, and regional stuff books, plus an upgrade of the original to the new Adventure edition of Savage Worlds. 

This time it's for Atlantis for this version of Rifts. I always thought Atlantis was one of the cooler areas of Rifts and one of the cooler books for it as well - magic items, races, tattoo magic, plus all of the worldbuilding and backstory that came along with it ... it was a very strong early entry in making Rifts Rifts. 

Now I never did much with it in my games as far as the region. It seemed horrifically dangerous for most characters to approach, much less enter, sort of like going to the Nine Hells in a D&D game. It was more an "aspirational" destination than a likely one at low to medium levels. With the Savage Worlds version of the game levelling the playing field a bit I can see where it might actually get used at some point. 

The short version is that the original Atlanteans look very much like humans but they were driven out or enslaved when the Splugorth invaded a long time ago.  The city magically TARDIS-d out when magic diminshed on Earth but it returned when the rifts opened up and magic flooded the world again. This is one of the major evil powers of the setting so it's a dangerous place but there is a sort of underground rebellion of True Atlanteans active there as well. Oh and it's also full of dragons. 

It's awesome but deadly. I've used Atlantean slavers several times as a campaign opener so maybe next time they won't go somewhere else - maybe they will go back to the big island.

The good news is that Pinnacle knows how to run a Kickstarter and I am absolutely sure this one will run smoothly and deliver what it promises pretty much on time. 

The part that bothers me a bit is that Pinnacle has a ridiculous amount of KS experience because pretty much everything they publish these days is done via Kickstarter. I know I know, it's rough for small publishers out there these days and doing it this way makes sense. Doesn't it seem like today, though, with 5E doing this record business for several years now, that the RPG market should be better? There were a ton of smaller publishers in the 80's and 90's and early 2000's who supported game lines for years before crowdfunding ... shouldn't it be easier now? Shouldn't an experienced, respected, well-liked company be able to sustain their main game line without having to crowdfund?

Who knows, maybe they could but they know this is just better - more predictable at least. 

The downside of doing it this way is that you can't just buy a $30 book like you can with many other games. No, you are going to get the book, some character cards, and a poster map. Now the basic digital-only version is pretty reasonable but if you just want a printed Savage Rifts Atlantis Book you're in for the $45 package. If that's all you want your best bet is to wait until after the campaign, whenever it's printed and shipped and you can buy it at the FLGS or online for the cover price or less. 

The other stuff in this campaign include a set of cardboard stand-up pawns, like Pathfinder pawns apparently, and a couple of map packs along with the book and the cards and the poster map. It's all cool stuff, it's just the forced bundling that itches just a bit and granted that is a temporary state that will only last until it's all released separately, likely early next year given what they are saying on the KS page.  

So yes, I will probably back it at some level - Rifts is a great setting and Savage Worlds is a great set of rules that works well for it. I like a ton of what Pinnacle does so I try to support them directly like this when they make something I like. If you have some similar inclinations then go check this one out. 


Saturday, June 5, 2021

New Marvel RPG?


Looks like Marvel is releasing a new RPG. It has been ten years since the last one so we're probably due. Matt Forbeck has done a lot of good work on other RPG's so it's in good hands but it sounds like it's being aimed at the 5E crowd given the stats:

"...Might, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic ..."

So I'm assuming we won't see something as ridiculously interesting and innovative as Marvel heroic Roleplaying. It will be interesting to see how they use those - quick! Who has a higher Vigilance? Daredevil? Wolverine? Iron Man? That's sound, smell, and radar all competing in that race I would think. 

And what the heck is the D616 system? Do we have to call it that? I'm going to bet a 616 sided die is not at the heart of it. I guess we will see.

It's also a little odd that they're doing a "Playtest Rulebook" - shouldn't Marvel be able to fund a solid game development program? Paizo and FFG both did it I know but it's a little weird to see a paid test version coming out for Marvel - when it's published by Marvel! Time will tell.

If you're a fan of MHR it lives on in the very recently released Cortex Prime system you can find here

Interesting times - no doubt!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

GW Goes to Numbered Rules!


It may be a sign of the apocalypse but Games Workshop is putting rule numbers into one of its flagship games! The article is here but the shocking - shocking! - image above conveys the important part! I mean it's only been 40+ years since Squad Leader and Star Fleet Battles started doing this 

GW's will be prettier and easier to read but considering this was done in 1977 it should be ...

I'm kind of impressed. This is the kind of thing serious wargames do and it seems they might finally be treating AoS as the kind of game that benefits from tighter and more organized rules. It's not an RPG! If you're going to run tournaments for it, might as well make the rules better.

A page from Star Fleet Battles Expansion #1 ... the one after The Movie - yes, the first one! People still play these games today and SFB at least hasn't had a major rules revision in about 30 years - because once they got it figured out they didn't feel the need to keep messing with them. Errata - sure. Change for the sake of change? Nope. 

Will this carry over to 40K? Lord I hope so. It will probably be in the next edition but doing it in AoS 3.0 lets them work out any kinks before they take it to the big game.

It has to be said that neither 40K nor Age of Sigmar are anywhere near the complexity of modern Squad Leader or SFB (or Federation Commander) but any set of rules can benefit from being organized in a sensible way, and a competitive game can benefit even more. 

So bravo GW! Bravo!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Machina Wars for Mutants and Masterminds


The Machina: Visually similar to, but legally distinct from, those other transforming robots you've probably heard of...

This is an interesting supplement for Mutants and Masterminds from Jacob Blackmon's Super Powered Legends line on DTRPG. It's a type we don't see a ton of these days. It's sort of an "enemies" book in that it does have game stats for a number of bad guys - but it has them for "allies" too. It has more than that though. There are notes on the history of this ... race? Civilization? Plus notes on the organizations or governments associated with them. It's a pretty thorough exploration of the subject matter in 36 pages and the best part is that it's totally a drop-in option for a campaign. They have their own history and battles and characters off in one part of the galaxy and then BAM - when you need them to they arrive on Earth.

I admit that I liked this a lot more than I was expecting to. yes, it's "Transformers" for M&M. Transformers was kind of after my time, more the realm of little brothers as I was already a teenager when it got popular and I was aware of it and could see the appeal but it was never "mine" like say Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, or Marvel/DC superheroes. I've seen some of the original animated series and the movie and then the Michael Bay movies, then recently the grittier Netflix shows like "Earthrise". So I'm casually familiar with the whole scene but I'm not emotionally invested in it like Star Trek. There is a lot of potential here though.

This work gives us origins of the species and then covers the major eras of their history and some notes on roleplaying in each of them. Having watched the Netflix War for Cybertron shows (2 released so far of a planned trilogy) it makes sense to me. The evil bots have taken control and the good bots are a rebellion that's having ups and downs is one of the more recent parts that lines up with that particular show. I don't feel like I'm missing anything critical if I was going to add this to a campaign. 

The rest of the book is statblocks and personality descriptions of pretty much everything you would need to run these in a campaign: Generic Bad Bot, generic Good Bot, Bad Bot leader with the big gun, Red & Blue good Bot leader, other leader figures on both sides, Prehistoric Animal Bot leader, a big Combined Bot and an explanation of how that power would work so you can make more, and even the old multi-faced race that once controlled the Machina in the early days. Transformed stats are noted as well. Most of the "grunts" are PL7-8, and the leaders top out around PL12. This is a nice spread of easier to handle soldier types but leaving the bosses to pose more of a challenge - which sounds pretty true to the source material. There is also a discussion of their unique "biology" including how they heal etc. which is important as they are all built as robots and so have no Stamina score. To me it seems very solid.

The genius of the way this is put together is that is perfect for dropping in to an existing superhero campaign. Your heroes are doing their thing when a report comes in of some kind of armored bad guys or robots causing trouble downtown. The heroes investigate and then one of them hears the car parked next to them say "Please don't let them take me" and you're off to the races! I love the idea of dropping in recognizable pop culture/nerd stuff that totally fits in with what you're doing anyway. If you need a plot, well, the first live action movie is an easy go-to there, but instead of some human dork your Bumblebee stand-in is talking to Batman ("we have a problem") or Spider-Man ("uh, guys ... there's a car talking to me over here ...") ... or ... Thor "Fear not friendly carriage! The lion of Asgard stands between you and these foes!

Once you get through an introductory series of sessions then you can decide where to take things:

  •  Maybe your players have had enough morphing robots for now and everyone parts on good terms with hooks to be explored later. 
  • Maybe this is just the opening act of a war that spreads to earth and soon the government super anti-terrorist agency gets involved with all of their neat vehicles and nifty codenames. 
  • Maybe it's time to take the campaign to Spaaaaaace and go check out their home world!

Anyway I really like the potential of this book when added to a superhero campaign. It covers just enough to be worth getting and noodling over but it's not something you're going to feel has to take over your game full time and that's a great sweet spot. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Forced Character Grouping in Soulbound - and Elsewhere


I'm having a hard time finishing my read-thru of Soulbound and it took me a while to figure out what was dragging down my interest. I love the setting and think it's set up well for an RPG. It wasn't so much the mechanics although I'm still debating my opinion on them. It was one particular element:

Much of the game is tied to the concept that this isn't your typical fantasy adventuring party - you are "soulbound". Granted, it is in the title of the game, but I didn't realize it would be the dominant concept - with mechanics, yes - in the game that it is. Yes, I could probably run a party without it but a lot of the game is presented with the idea that your party is soulbound ... except for the Stormcast. Yes, weirdly the posterboys of the whole Age of Sigmar universe are NOT Soulbound ... but the idea is still that the rest of the party is and any Stormcast are there as trainers/advisers/guides/spies. 

Maybe if it doesn't work conceptually for one of the core character archetypes for your setting it is not a great idea for your first big RPG in the setting?

he effect of this approach, and what rubs me the wrong way, is that your party is locked in to being "Agents of Sigmar". They are tied to one god, mostly, and one faction (order) certainly. It feels like a straightjacket, conceptually. Your party is tied to the Big Agenda ... they're not really free agents in charge of their own destiny as you would see in most other RPGs. This is really a sticking point with me. 

The old Warhammer had characters starting out at ridiculously low power levels (this was a feature not a bug) but you had the freedom to do whatever the group decided with your Rat Catcher/Outlaw/Agitator/Acolyte all-star team. Soulbound does up the power level and I'm fine with that, it's a different game, but your direction is far more limited. You are probably not going to be digging through dungeons for gold and magic - you'll be sent there to recover some threat to the world or some powerful tool for order. You won't be running a free trader here - at best you might be escorting someone important from place to place. 

It's not mechanics - though there are mechanics tied to being Soulbound.

It's not setting - there's nothing inherent to the setting that makes this required to be a wandering adventurer.

It's ... feel. I just don't like the feel when the party concept is dictated by the rulebook in such a heavy handed way. 

Now there are other games that have similar approaches. 

The FFG Star Wars game is one and I wasn't a huge fan of it there with certain assumptions about a party unity mechanic whether it was Obligation in Edge of the Empire, Duty in Age of Rebellion, or Morality in Force and Destiny. Those at least could be broken down to an individual character level so you could mix characters from different books and people could come and go as they pleased. That's a little different than "oh and if you die after this ceremony your soul explodes and is gone so you can't even come back through some kind of divine shenanigans."

The FFG 40K RPG's took a similar approach where there were multiple books each covering a different type of game. Inquisitorial retinues are a very different type of campaign from an Imperial guard squad or the crew of a Rogue Trader. It made sense for that setting.   

Shadowrun assumes you're all shadowrunners ... but that's more of a social status and lifestyle choice rather than a permanent mechanical lock. You don't have to undertake illegal operations - it's just  an easy way to make a lot of money. You could be a .05 essence hot dog vendor if you want!

The various Star Trek RPGs do tend to assume that you're in Starfleet and part of an organized command structure that will be given missions and generally ordered about. Considering that's 99% of the source material though it totally makes sense. It would be weird if you weren't ordered to do something that spiraled dangerously out of control. 

D&D and superhero games and Traveller and other sci fi games do generally assume that you're going to be part of a mostly bipedal humanoid group of beings that will work together to achieve some common goal. That's it! There's usually no mechanical structure to it and no setting rule to it. The PC's are part of a team because it makes sense and they want to be there and they could leave at any time. 

The other big offender here of recent origin is the Savage Worlds version of Rifts. Original Rifts was a wide-open setting  -pick one of these crazy character types and then YOU come up with a reason why you're all together ... or let the DM do it. New Rifts presents everything around "The Tomorrow Legion" which is a do-gooder organization that serves as a base and provides other support for good-guy adventuring parties out there fighting the good fight against the multitude of evil beings and organizations on Rifts earth. The world is sometimes presented as  TL intelligence reports, the adventures often start with "The TL sends/has asked you to go to X and investigate something" and it's just a heavy-handed conceit that I totally ignored when I started my game. 

Part of the Rifts problem is that people were playing the game for two decades plus before this construct was added to the setting. The author of the conversion has stated that he wants to play clear-cut heroes and that's fine but it's a shades of grey setting, not a black and white one. There was no big organization of Good and that's part of what made it interesting. I believe there was a mention made as well of people not knowing where or how to start a campaign. How did you start your D&D game? How did you start that old Traveller campaign? Star Wars? Any approach that worked in those would work in Rifts. It's really not that hard. How did any of us manage to play Gamma World or Twilight 2000 without an obvious good guy organization to join? 

Hint: If that's what you want then GO BUILD ONE IN THE GAME! YOUR GAME!

I guess in the end that's what I'd like to see with Soulbound. I'd like to see "Soulbound" status as something players worked to achieve in the game, something desirable and with clear, tangible benefits in the game, and some serious tradeoffs - like that whole exploding soul thing. Instead of being the assumed party origin and just making it part of the back story, how about making it the object of an adventure path produced for the Sigmar RPG? That way if your players just want to look for loot to power up before the next wave of Chaos/Undead/Orc invasions they could do that, and a group that wanted to join the big leagues could follow that path. It's sort of like starting at "Runelord" level in Runequest. I mean, sure, you could, but you've missed out on a lot by doing it and you've assumed a lot about the characters prior lives.

The Mortal Realms for Age of Sigmar is a great setting with  multiple worlds, interesting magic, a variety of threats, steampunk dwarves, airships, lots of character options and built-in reasons for wildly different character types to be working with each other. I wish this first exploration of it had been more open and less ... channeled. Hopefully the future will open it up more. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021



This one is a little trickier to explain/judge than Adversaries or Menagerie. It's less a big book of stuff and more of a wide-ranging general supplement for the game. I know it was a set of individual supplements presented over time, one letter at a time, which helps explain the ... diversity ... of the book. But what is it? I'm going to take the obvious way out here:

  • A is Aliens - definitely a topic worthy of some attention in a superhero game
  • B is for Battles - in this case large-scale battles with some mechanics and which addresses how superheroes can affect those big battles. not something you see in a lot of superhero rpg rules. 
  • C is for Cosmic - scaling, considerations for being in space a lot, and some campaign notes
  • D is for Demons - another topic worthy of consideration for a supers campaign. Maybe a notch down from Aliens but they do show up fairly often.
  • E is for Environments - underwater, underground, etc. It's nice to have a bit more detail here.
  • F is for Fear - fear in a superhero game, intimidation, fear-related powers ... it's an interesting examination of things because you don't see it mechanically addressed all that much in these RPGs.
  • G is for Golden Age - good campaign notes for running this type of game. 
  • H is for Headquarters - a decent look at the options in ICONS - Qualities, Devices, or Installations
  • I is for Interaction - Ok this one is a little more abstract but it is a more detailed look at social skills, effectively. This is nice stuff to have and would be worth including in the main book a long ways down the road in a theoretical and currently unnecessary new edition.
  • J is for Justice - investigations, trials, prison - you know, the fun stuff! That said it could easily come up in a campaign.
  • K is for Knacks - this is a new concept for the game and involves sort of a permanent stunt arrangement. One example is the ability to use Strength instead of Willpower for intimidation. I'm not as sure about this one as this is the kind of thing I might let a player do for free given sufficient justification. yes, I run ICONS loose enough that this is kind of past my threshold for needed mechanics. I can see the point, but it costs a permanent point of Determination, which I think is a really high cost for this option. Regardless this is not a bad option and some of the examples speak to me more than others - I expect most players would feel the same.
  • L is for  Lost Worlds - well yes! A discussion of origins, types, and some random tables for encounters ... this is a nice thing to have if you're going to include one in your game - and you are aren't you?
  • M is for Magic - magic is covered quite a bit in other ICONS books but the material included here adds some nice structure. General power levels, schools of magic, magic devices, the astral plane, some creature profiles - this does add to a game where magic plays a significant role and is useful even if it's just the focus for an adventure or three. 
  • N is for Narrative Abilities - another more abstract entry. This is basically an alternate rules option where the numbers come out of the game. There's a way to do it just for stats, a way to do it just for damage, or for the whole system. it looks a lot like FATE to me at that point but it's nice to have an official version within the game system if you're interested in the option. 
  • O is for Organizations - they are likely to come up in every campaign so the utility is obvious: agents, qualities, stats. This covers ways to rate organizations and their personnel in different ways and it is 100% useful. 
  • P is for Pets - If someone in your campaign has an animal companion (it's not just for Rangers!) then this chapter will come into play. it covers different way to handle pets in the game - qualities, characters, sidekicks ... there are options. Useful if it comes up.
  • Q is for Qualities - This is a solid discussion of qualities in the game and if anyone is fuzzy about how they work or the role they play in the system this chapter is damn handy. This is another one that  I think would be a strong candidate to include in the rulebook.
  • R is for Rescue - This is an examination of core superhero stuff right here: disasters! innocent bystanders! building collapses! medical emergencies! if you ever wonder what heroes are supposed to do besides punch bad guys this is an excellent start. Plus it's not just abstract - it covers what heroes need to do mechanically to stop bad things from happening for a variety of situations. Solid solid solid.
  • S is for Support - HQ staff, other specialists (No Capes!), the law, the media, villain options - its useful campaign support.
  • T is for Teams - a more detailed treatment of teams from typical roles in and around a team to mechanical options for team members like qualities and shared Determination. Likely useful in every campaign. 
  • U is for Universe - an expanded discussion of creating a superhero universe for your campaign. The main book covers this pretty well but this material does give a GM more to consider when working on one. 
  • V is for Variants - this is a small set of rules options - different ways to handle stats, damage, and alternate die-rolling methods. There's nothing terrible here but it's different from a lot of the other chapters. It "replaces" rather than "adds to" the existing rules. 
  • W is for Wealth - some expanded mechanics for handling resources. I mean there's always at least one billionaire playboy character right?
  • X is for X-Factors - Random tables! Events, people ... this is certainly useful for a lot of campaigns and really any "you're on patrol when ..." type sessions. Solid.
  • Y is for Youth -  Ah my personal nemesis but undoubtedly useful to some this is the "teen heroes" chapter and it is solid. From alternate origins to how to handle school this covers what you need to run this type of game.
  • Z is for Zombies - of course! The closer of the Aliens/Demons/Zombies trilogy of "things that can invade your campaign world"! Different types of zombies, different powers, and how they propagate are all covered here, plus more. 

Whew that is a lot of material! Each section is 5-6 pages long which for ICONS is generally enough depending on the type of article here. 

  • If I was going to run a long term Golden Age or Teen campaign I would still go read through the sourcebooks for those available for M&M or Champions to really get into the feel and mood and background on those. 
  • Some of these chapters are straight-up optional or variant rules modules and are inherently sufficient for what they do. 
  • Some of it is just generally useful campaign material - Bases, Rescues, Support options, Teams, the universe ... it goes on. 
  • A lot of these chapters really are expansions/examinations of specialized elements of a supers campaign that will come up on a now and then or per-adventure basis.
    • Aliens are invading! Look over the Aliens chapter! And maybe the Battles chapter!
    • We're going to Atlantis! Look over Environments!
    • Captain Calamity is going on trial - let's look at the Justice Chapter!
    • The spirit world is in turmoil as demons from the outer dark are trying to break in to this world - let's look at Magic, Demons, and possibly Battles!

I actually like this approach as these say multi-adventure story arc complications get a 5-6 page discussion with some rules notes. Not an entire book. Not some pre-written adventure. Just concepts and rules considerations that cover a well-known comic book superhero trope or event. The Quality and Team chapters will be useful in every campaign but you don't really need to worry about underwater stuff until someone goes underwater.

So where does this fall in the hierarchy of ICONS resources? Well I'd say get the main book and get a campaign going .. .and then, well Origins (to be reviewed) is damn handy and Great Power is good if your players really want to dig into their powers. I'd probably put it after those two as I think it's more useful once your campaign is going and insert "monster book" wherever you feel it's needed.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

ICONS Adversaries


Every superhero RPG needs bad guys. Given that they typically come with character creation rules as a core feature though, I'm not sure anyone really "needs" a book full of them. Yet every superhero game line that goes anywhere has at least one, going back to Champions and Villains & Vigilantes.  I still have my original "Enemies I" and "Enemies II" and villains from those books still show up in my games from time to time so they can definitely make an impression and help define your personal setting. They are the traditional Monster Manual of Supers RPG's, a pillar of the genre. 

Side note: Given that it's not difficult to rewrite motivations - generally easier than writing up a coherent set of new powers in a  lot of games - they can also serve as a handy resource for NPC & allied superheroes as well. It's a book of superpowered people - adjust alignments to your taste!

The Viilainomicon, the original bad guys book for ICONS, had around 50 villains.  Adversaries has over half again as many and brings a lot of the old ones up to date with the newer edition and looks to be the "core" supervillain resource for the Assembled edition. 

I really like the layout - each character is covered in two pages:

  • Front page has game stats and an illustration
    (fine work by Dan Houser here again ... or maybe that's "still")
  • Back page has background, including personality and motivations and possibly relationships with other characters in the ICONS universe
This works really well for a resource like this. If you like the concept but want to change the background it's easily done. The Qualities - an ICONS thing, somewhat similar to FATE - do tie them together for many characters but those can be tweaked easily enough. Every character has the ICONS-standard 3 Qualities but you could always add more as well. 

As I read through the book I would pause after reading the game stat material and on some would feel that inspirational burst of what my version of this character would be. Then reading the background material it was usually a completely different take from what I was thinking - and this is awesome! I now have potential for two rival villains ... or a rival hero and villain pair ... or a great setup for one that has been mind-controlled or overlaid with a different personality or any of those incredibly dramatic "he's acting funny" situations that come up in comic books regularly. 

Tone-wise many of these characters have very Silver Age, "punny" type names and many of the backgrounds are similar. This sits just fine with me because I like my superhero games to be light and fantastic rather than grim and gritty. ICONS is perfectly set up for this mechanically by both being lighter than a lot of comic book RPGs as far as rules crunch and with the Qualities element being perfect for highlighting important facets of a character without bogging down in math & modifiers. A few favorites:
  • Enemy Mime - yes the name is a terrible pun but it made me crack up so here it is. He is sort of a green lantern-ish type in a  way because he taps into the "mime force" which can do almost anything but with the limitation that he must physically perform something which then manifests in the real world ... invisibly. So his "mime in a box" generates a physical barrier, climbing an invisible rope actually lets him climb, throwing an invisible ting actually throws a ... thing ... you get the implications. There is a -lot- of potential for fun with this villain and the implications of a "mime force" on your comic book universe are ridiculous with potential.
  • Tarpit is a great example of an Animated Series Clayface type character
  • Zero is the classic Mister Freeze guy-in-a-cold-suit character
  • The Troll has been in ICONS for a long time and is a great example of a serious Brick in ICONS
  • The Shadow Guild is a shadowy evil organization and agian it's a nice example of how to do that kind of thing in this game
  • Skeletron and the Spartan battlesuit go all the way back to the first ICONS adventure and I was happy to see them here

Looking for flaws the only thing I see is that this is strictly a catalog of villains. I mean, it says that up front, but The Villainomicon had 20+ pages of rules material - new powers, new specialties, running disaster scenarios ... it was useful stuff at the time but most of that material has been integrated in the newer rulebook or other supplements. It doesn't need to be in this book and Adversaries does not feel lacking without it. 

So yes, I like this book a lot. If you're just getting started with ICONS there is enough in the main book to run multiple sessions, but once you get going this is a strong addition. From villains and backgrounds and organizations to help build your setting, to examples of how to make strong themed characters, it's a great resource. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

ICONS Menagerie


I admit I haven't run ICONS in a while but I still follow the game and figure I will probably run it in the not too distant future. A while back I decided to catch up on the steady stream of supplements that Ad Infinitum has been releasing and now I have a stack of books for ICONS sitting on the desk. As I work my way through them I will share my thoughts here. 

From the beginning ICONS was a nicely complete system. The original book managed to pack in some stock characters, animals, and supervillains on top of a complete superhero RPG. This made it easy to run right out of that first book. The Assembled Edition had even more of this kind of support built in. Additionally the game has never lacked hero and villain options with multiple books of those - a supers RPG staple - showing up in the first year ... which was 2010?! How has it been more than ten years since this game came out?  

Menagerie is dated 2020 so strong support continues into the now. If books of supervillains are the monster manual of superhero games then this is ... a lot like a monster manual for -other- games. A strong point - this is not just a bunch of statblocks. 

  • The first ten pages discuss how animals were designed for ICONS and their role in a superhero campaign
  • Then we get twenty pages of regular, real-world animals grouped by type. stats, powers, qualities, and a general description for each animal entry.
  • After this we have 5 pages of animal powers, including specific coverage of Animal Mimicry where a character's powers are based on directly duplicating the powers of an animal. This is a common enough thing that it's worth covering here especially. It's sort of a power framework or array (to steal terms form other supers games) that lets you turn that first part of the book into your own personal power catalog. Handy!
  • Next we have about ten pages of Prehistoric Creatures that hits all the expected notes and briefly discusses ways these things could end up in your modern day superhero game ... because with any decent GM you know they will.

  • Getting towards the back of the book we have Fantastic Creatures - this is your actual D&D Monster Manual section. Angels, Demons, Dragons, Elementals, Fairies, Undead - this is a solid representation of "normal" fantasy monsters and there are multiple entries for most of those categories. Much like dinosaurs a GM worth his salt is going to drop these in at some point. 
  • The last section, about 5 pages, is pretty much your typical sci-fi movie monster set - androids, robots, giant bugs, blobs ... all reasonable things to drop into a superhero campaign.

So it's a solid book and I think it's an excellent purchase for anyone running an ICONS game or thinking about running an ICONS game - because it will help spawn some new ideas. As always Dan Houser's art is perfect for this game and has only gotten better over the (ten!) years.