Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ICONS: The First Run

So I sat down a few nights ago with Apprentices Red, Blaster, and Who for our first run with ICONS. They were all three pretty excited, especially when I just had them sit around the living room - no table, no battlemat, no mini's (clearly this is the game I should have given them instead), just a character sheet, a pencil, a red die, and a green die. Ironically I was working off The Precious because I don't have a print copy of the game, only my PDF. I  never use a laptop when running my games, and we always play around a table, so this was a new experience for us all. Add in that whole thing with ICONS where the DM never rolls dice and it was a very different feel than my typical D&D sessions.

The Characters - roll-up recap is here but we still had to define Qualities and Challenges and talk about Determination so there was some character building this session too.

Stephen Charles, aka "Wheels", aka "The Handiucapped Hero" was Apprentice Red's character. He is a wheelchair-bound scientist with Feeble physical attributes and strong mental attributes who can transform (alter-ego) into an armored (impervious) hoverchair form with a cyberlinked computer (higher Int, lower Will, Mind Shield) that allows hiim to project and control electrical energy. Think of a cross between Stephen Hawking, Professor X, and a Transformer and you have a pretty good grasp of it. That's also where the name came from.

Right from the start Red had the most solid concept - terrible physical stats and great mental stats and a little prodding from me led him to a really well-defined hero. Alter-Ego is the kind of thing I hate during character creation - I'm having 5 peopel roll up characters and now one of them is supposed to roll up another one?! - but it worked out very well here. He doesn't have a really flashy hero name yet, but he went with Epither - "The Handicapped Hero" so he's off to a good start. We'll call him "The Professor".

"Menton" is Apprentice Blaster's character and has ridiculous stats, with at least a 5 in everything. His awesome rolls almost had Red tossing his character and starting over but fortunately we worked past that. His main powers are Transmutation, Illusion, Mind Control, and Invulnerability. He has enhanced hearing too at a +1. He's just an all-around badace with decent Prowess and Strength up close, Impervious for defense, and if he doesn't like how the fight's going he will turn your armor to goo! The openness of Transmutation could get to be a problem since he's not limited to a particular material or type of object - his only limitation is that it only lasts 10 rounds. Oh, and it's ranged, not  touch-only. It could also be a problem because it requires serious real-time arbitration of physics and chemistry problems like you wouldn't believe:

"OK I turn his gun to rubber - what happens?"

DM more awesome than me: (Something really cool)

DM Physics/Chemistry Dual Major: "Wel you transmuted the gun but not the bullets or powder so they might still go off but if the hammer is rubber that's very unlikely still there could be some kind of spontaeous reaction...roll d1000 and tell me if you roll a 1. I have a chart.

DM Blacksteel during the first run: "Uh, it stops working"

DM Blacksteel during the second run, deciding that these lazy players can start contributing some of this !$#$$#% themselves: "You tell me"

Anyway that name is not set in stone. He choose some decent Q's & C's and I expect a trip to the COH costume designer will have a look nailed down in short order. He's a mutant (Birthright origin) too, so I may get to play with my long-stored-never-used mutant hunter stuff. He grew up on the streets and lives undergound and is a little bit known as a fighter for mutant rights. We'll call him "Mutant Man" for now.

"?" is Apprentice Who's character and he's a normal human (Trained Origin) who has serious skills and decent abilities (Prowess 7 to start with) but only two powers: Telekinesis and Mind Control which because of his origin have to come from devices. Of course I told him about The Shadow to give him a hook or a starting point. He eventually decided that he would like to wear a helmet and that's where his powers come from. We haven't spent a lot of time on costume design but it probably has a lot of antennas and stuff coming out of it and I suspect there's another COH costume design session waiting for this one too. He is in the military (underwater fighting specialty = Navy Seal) but we're not sure just yet where the helmet came from. His TK is pretty good at 6 and his Mind Contorl is not as strong but could still be useful for getting in and out of places. Also, in the end since Who didn't take it Blaster decided that he wanted his guy to look like the Shadow, so as I said - things are fluid at the start. We'll call this one "Mystery Soldier" for now.

The adventure I chose to run was published ICONS adventure "The Skeletron Key" which I picked up right after getting the game itself and which I really liked upon reading.  Part of is that I like the style and look of the thing, part of it is that it seemed pretty complete, and part of it is that the opening is an homage to the first few episodes of theSuperman animated series which I really liked. Alas, Reading and Playing are two very different things, whether you are referring to D&D 4E, women, or this adventure.

The setup is simple enough - a new military project is to be demonstrated and the characters are invited, somehow. We decided that the Professor worked for Avatar Industries and had helped in some peropheal way on the project. Mystery Soldier being in the military might have helped test it. Mutant Man heard about it, was afaraid it was some anti-mutant Sentinels type thing and psychic-papered his way in using his Illusion and Mind Control. Easy!

I described the scene as the amazing new battlesuit was put through its paces and then suddenly goes berserk and then it gets a little complicated. The heroes reacted properly, running out of the observation bunker, looking for places to change/transform, and then engaging the thing head-on, but ...

The suit is still just a suit, using the pilot's stats for a lot of things and really just adding some toughness, strength, and some weapons. The way it's presented (suit stats then pilot stats)  is confusing to a new DM and the giant picture of it on the opposite page where it looks like a giant robot doesn't help. The pilot is an average guy with a lot of 3"'s so I had to keep looking between two different statblocks to figure out the numbers. This leads to some "Uh's" as the DM tries to see that the machineguns (listed on the suit) would hit with the pilot's Coordination (listed on the pilot) but do damage based on the gun (listed on the suit). Same with getting hit -pilot's Coordination to dodge, suit's Impervious to absorb, then pilot's Stamina for damage. Or should the suit raise his Stamina? Not sure. Pretty sure a player would see that a certain way if he was wearing a similar suit and had a better Strength from it.  I didn't try to figure it out there, I just went with the pilot's normal Stamina. Because the really conusing part is that the pilot isn't controlling the suit anyway, it's been taken over and he's trying to shut it down, so would knocking out the pilot even matter? If not, how do I know when the suit itself has taken damage sufficient to stop it?

Mechanical questions aside, the Professor has moved out, transformed, and electrical blasted it, Mystery Soldier is trying to force push it, and Mutant Man has turned one of its guns to rubber and charged it.

After a round (page) or two of this everyone hears the sound of aircraft coming in. Two of them move to scatter the crowd while the third moves toward the suit. The Professor hesitates at first because he thinks they might be friendlies coming to help take down the suit. Mystery Soldier reaches out with his TK and rips the engine off of one, causing it to spiral down but he also decided to "hero up" and use his TK to catch it before it crashes - he's not strong enough to lift it but he can cushion the crash landing.  Mutant Man continues to beat on the suit, attempting to weaken its structure with various transformations so that he can punch through into its internal systems.  One of the craft fires inferno missiles and sets the bunker on fire, endangering the crowd, so the Professor lets his target go to help save people and earns Determination for doing so. As the suit moves off, pursued by Mutant Man, the third craft drops a cable and lifts the suit off of the ground - Mutant Man promptly tries to melt it but can't focus enough to break it, though he does weaken it. In the end, the crowd is safe, one plane flies off with the suit, but two others are on the ground with pilots waiting to be interrogated.

This fight revealed a few more holes:

1) The aircraft have something called "Structure" - I can't find it in the book. Is it the vehicular version of Stamina? Or is it more like Impervious? Because "5" is very low for Stamina, especially with no other defense. What is a vehicle's defense - is it the pilot's coordination? Does the plane add anything to that? There just really aren't any vehicle rules in ICONS so it's a lttle confusing.

2) How long should this last? There's some guidance in the adventure but not much. Those aircraft seem pretty fragile and ranged attack powers are not uncommmon. I gave my PC's a round of long range, a round of shorter range, then a round of "they're right there", then a a round of running away with the prize. I lost two of the craft by round 3! Imagine if I had had more PC's! It seems incredibly unfair to cut it down to one or two rounds but maybe that's the intent.

3) The suit has to get away to set up the next scene. I never like railroady one-way-to-solve-it type scenarios. There are no notes about how to work around it if your players actually stop the theft. This is just questionable design. I know it's an homage but if we're supposed to play it and not just read it then some things have to give.

So how would I fix it? I'm glad you asked!

1) The simplest change is to put the mercenary leader NPC in the suit to start with - he infiltrated and knocked out the test pilot and then replaced him. He plays along with the demonstration until he gets a coded signal from the aircraft to help him get away. This fixes up some of the statblock issues and removes some of the weirder issues noted above.

2) Add more aircraft, maybe as many as 2 per PC or more. Even if the plan is to airlift the suit out, if there are enough of them to keep the heroes busy by threateneing spectators and blowing stuff up then the suit can get away by itself.

3) Drop the aircraft altogether and make it 3 suits. All of the test pilots get knocked out and replaced and the stealing of the suits begins right away. With less time and more targets for the PC"s to stop, at least one of them should be able to get away, neccessitating the search  and discovery described in the next chapter.

Despite my issues this isn't a bad adventure idea, it's just too railroady here at the start. As we dig deeper in we will see if it sorts out. Regardless we all had a lot of fun and that is the point of this thing we do.


bliss_infinte said...

Excellent, can't wait to read this over lunch!

Theron said...

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I'm going to plug my ICONS adventure "Sins of the Past." I included a number of sidebars in it that consisted of the "Here's what happened when we play-tested it" notes that a number of folks seemed to find helpful.

bliss_infinte said...

Thanks for the recap. We have yet to play and actual game of Icons but it sounds like a pretty fast-paced game. I'll try run a session in a few weeks.

Also, I saw 'Sins' the other day. I may check it out now.

Blacksteel said...

I like that approach Theron so I will look it over this weekend. Thanks!

Bliss - it pretty much moves at the speed of the DM & players - there aren;t a lot of rules to get in the way.