Friday, July 20, 2012

One Year of ICONS - and some Rules Tweaks

We've been playing some ICONS here in addition to the Great Pathfinder Experiment and some M&M chargen. Modern, WW2, 3 or 4 different sets of characters - we've covered a lot of ground. After our first year of ICONS I'm considering the following three rules tweaks:

"Heroic Toughness" - All heroes start with Invulnerability 2. This is to give the guys who roll no defense a little more durability against mooks with guns. With most mook/agent types having a Strength of 3 or 4 and with pistols coming in at a 3 or 4 this makes a big difference to the hero but it means that the group of normals is still a measurable threat. For a Mighty game I might even push this to a 3 and make handguns and normal strength pretty much a non-threat to the heroes but I'm going to start with 2 and see how it goes. NOTE: This is not a "+2" it's a "2", as in if you roll Invulnerabilty 8 as a power then you have Invulnerability 8 - not 10.

"Heroic Determination" - More determination gives the players more options, but I'm seeing a lot of characters that start with 1 and only a few that start with 2. I want them to have enough powers and abilities to feel "super" and the lack theoretically gives them an incentive to play up Qualities and Challenges, but it also promotes a stinginess as "I only have 1". I think starting with more Determination will break this barrier and encourage the spending of it, and in turn make them more interested in "getting it back" through the means already in the game. So, the new experimental rule is that starting determination is 10 - # of powers. This should ensure everyone starts with at least 3-4 points ready to go before the reporter girlfriends and the enemies start showing up.

"Heroic Versatility" - This is specific to one use of Determination - the power stunt. In the rules a player must tag something, spend a point of determination to stunt, then they have to roll to see if they can pull it off, THEN they might have to roll again to use the new power if it's some kind of attack or other contested effect. I'm dropping the roll to pull it off - if you can  tag and have a point to spend (and can justify it) then you can stunt into another power and you only have to roll if there's opposition or some way to fail when you use the new power, like an attack. I'm doing this because anytime there's a die roll there's a chance of failure, and if the Apprentices think of something cool I don't want them to fail before they even get to try the cool thing - if they fail at the action that's one thing, but they at least had the chance to pull it off. Plus, there are ways to increase one's chances to succeed too, if it's important enough.

Now the toughness and versatility changes are not something I alone invented - they are tweaks that have been discussed in many quarters but I wanted to get in more playing time before implementing them.

I haven't seen as much discussion of a change to starting determination but I'm sure I'm not the first to try it. I'm not worried about it being overpowered - this is a superhero game after all - but I do want to see if my theory proves true. I am also going to start using physical tokens - in this case glass beads - to represent Determination. I think having only a single glass bead out on the table would just emphasize the "gotta hang onto it" mentality but that having 4 or 5 of them in a little pile will encourage the spending of them even more, Call it a multiplier effect. I think it will enhance the change.

The Apprentices don't return until Sunday but I think our first try-out of these rules will be that  night, probably with "Day of the Swarm" from Fainting Goat which looks like a lot of fun. "Outside Atomic City, danger stirs beneath the earth ..."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Closing out a Theme

Found on Facebook ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Iron Man, Year 2 - Part 2 - Tales of Suspense 57-62

So after our big Manadarin two-parter we get ...

First appearance! Hawkeye? Whatever happened to that guy? You know he's Hawkeye because he has a letter "H" on his head. Oh and ...

The more things change ...

Yes we are - for about 8 months until he joins the Avengers! In the meantime he happens to run into the Black Widow purely by chance and she helps him beef up his arsenal. Then she asks him to take out Iron Man and of course he agrees.

I believe this is the first time we see the word "repulser" (OK so the spelling is off) in association with a ray from IM's gauntlet. We also see the side-pods pretty consistently in this issue - they were not present in 55, they appear in parts of 56, and they are in just about every shot of IM in 57. So many firsts!

Anyway IM defeats Hawkeye who escapes with the Widow in a boat. I wonder if we will ever see them again?

Things you could steal: The villain/hero rogue type character is a classic at this point. Having him deceived by a beauty is too. Jealousy as motivation is perfectly fine and pretty understandable in a superhero world.

Whoa, that ain't supposed to happen - here's my 12 cents!

We start off with Kraven the Hunter and the Chameleon sneaking back into America - alright, kind of a crossover thing going on there. Anyway the Chameleon's power proves to be extremely effective and Cap & IM spend quite a bit of time in a scrap until they figure out what's going on. Giant Man and Wasp show up too so we get a little Avengers flavor in the mix as well.

Things you could steal: The master of disguise would have to replace an NPC hero to get any real use out of this but it could be fun.

So after the fight in the last issue they made up and decided to move in together. Note that we have pretty much arrived at the classic Golden Avenger armor that will carry us from 1965 right on thru 1985. As a kid this is pretty much what Iron Man looked like for me.

In this issue the Black Knight breaks out of jail and seeks revenge on Shellhead because the Avengers put him in jail. They have a nice long fight and (Spoiler Alert!) Black Knight ends up back in jail. Stark's heart continues to have problems and in this issue he ends up claiming that Stark had to leave but left him in charge, causing Pepper and Happy to be very suspicious. I like that they worked in this angle to the story - it's a step up in sophistication and could be fun in the future.

Things to steal: DM's, make sure players truly pay for those complications!

Tony Stark is still trapped in his suit to stay alive and his story comes apart rather quickly. Of course Hawkeye and the Black Widow choose this time to strike. Iron Man pulls out a victory but he's still stuck in his suit. Also, the Widow gets kidnapped by Russian spies, presumably to be taken home and punished for her failures.

Things to steal: Recurring villains are handy, especially when mixed in with other complications.
Tony Stark invented the ipod in 1964

A month later we have Issue 61:

Happy and Pepper quit, forcing Stark to make an appearance. Then the Mandarin tries to blast him - from orbit, with a satellite-mounted laser! That's a serious grudge. Everyone thinks Stark is dead so IM flies off to the Orient to deal with the Mandarin. This doesn't go so well and he ends up tied down and threatened with an origin story! Another two-parter for the Mandarin!

 So, issue 62, completing two years of Iron Man stories, and we get the origin of the Mandarin. The first one anyway, as I believe we have had several over the years. In this original origin he finds a wrecked ship once flown by an alien dragon and the ten jeweled rings that powered the ship soon become his source of power. I like it and it does explain the somewhat random nature of his powers and his knowledge of other things.

Getting back to "now" the villain plans to start World War 3 and then step in to rule after the East and West exhaust themselves - not a bad plan, but one Iron Man cannot allow to succeed! He escapes, recharges, foils the plan, then goes toe-to-toe with the Mandarin, fighting pretty much to a draw. Afterward each returns home. Even at this early stage the Mandarin is consistently the one opponent that can fight IM straight up.

Things to Steal: Starting WW3 is a solid villain plot and should get your players going. If it succeeds, well, there's always time travel ... 

So that's the end of Year Two - we've had more Crimson Dynamo, lots more Mandarin, fewer goofy one-off villains, and the first appearance of Black Widow and Hawkeye - that's a pretty solid year and it lays a lot of groundwork for the years to come.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Iron Man Year 2 - Part 1 - Tales of Suspense 51-56

I worked through Iron Man year one a while back and figured it was high time we got to year two! We begin with ToS 51:

 So this Scarecrow is a stage performer, a contortionist, who has some trained crows. He decides to start committing crimes after helping Iron Man stop a robbery - I don't think that's how it's supposed to work! He ends up stealing some of Stark's plans and tries to sell them to the Cubans.

Iron Man intervenes and saves the day, punching them all senseless and then sinking the gunboat where the meet was happening. It is interesting that he's concerned here about facing bigger guns than small arms. The armor is clearly not solving all of his problems yet. Also, in this issue we see nothing about him running out of power - he seems to have that one figured out now and thank goodness for that.

Things you could steal: Well, I'd probably have the crows as a visible, physically present telekinesis power. Also, if you play D&D, here's an example of the creative use of "unseen servant" or "mage hand". Cubans as bad guys is also entirely appropriate for a 60's adventure.

Next up is ToS 52:

Here we have the return of the Crimson Dynamo AND the first appearance of the Black Widow! The Russians are still smarting from the defection of the original Dynamo so they send a male agent named Boris and Natasha Romanov the Black Widow - see what they did there? - to get revenge against Stark, Professor Vanko the defector, and Iron Man.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Scarlett Johanssen!

Boris subdues Vanko and steals the Crimson Dynamo suit while Natasha distracts Stark in the most effective way. This second Crimson Dynamo defeats Iron Man and captures him by draining his electrical power, which at least makes sense and is something we haven't seen for a while. Iron Man recovers, escapes, and has a knock-down drag-out fight with Boris the Dynamo. In the end Vanko sacrifices himself to destroy Boris and the Widow escapes in the confusion.

Things you could steal: There are a lot of classics here - stealing someone else's power armor, the beautiful distraction, Russians, the self-sacrificing scientist, and a good solid rematch fight to wrap up. In this one the Widow is a complete non-combatant and not some super-martial artist - a good reminder that combat prowess is not the only way to contribute to a super-story.

This time Tony invents an anti-gravity ray and the Widow comes to take it to find redemption at home. We get to see an angry Senator scolding Stark for the first time - but not the last! Things eventually work out and Iron Man stops the communist plot. We're also back to some power concerns again, even with the new suit. Also, once again, the Widow escapes.

Things you could steal: There's not much new here, although the one-off unrepeatable gadget can be fun if used very sparingly. The redemption angle also makes it easy to explain a return appearance.

Stark redesigns his helmet then gets called to Washington and sent off to Vietnam to check out problems with some of his missiles. This leads him to a second encounter with the Mandarin and a pretty one-sided fight follows. I did like that the Mandarin shows a growing respect for IM during the fight - it's a cut above the more typical criminal/communist opponent we have seen before. This is the first cliffhanger storyline as the issue ends with Iron Man out of power (Yep) and trapped in the Mandarin's lair. Also, we have another first appearance:

Heelys circa 1964
I've always loved that amongst the many super gadgets in the super hi-tech armor Tony Stark has roller skates! He's also removed the pointy-topped faceplate for a more integrated-looking one and we are almost to the classic Golden Avenger armor from the 70's & 80's.

Also in this issue: the origin of the Watcher, if anyone is interested.

Our story begins with IM captured but we learn that he now has a built-in generator which can "recharge his transistors" given a little time. This time we have a much more even fight and IM recovers his missiles, defeats the Mandarin for the most part, and leaves with his dignity intact. We also get our first all about Iron Man section of how the armor works and what kind of gadgets he has in it.

Stuff you can steal: Take a tough villain, put him in his home base, then give your heroes a reason to go there - then make them glad they got out alive. Also, unexplainable powers - why rings? How do they do what they do? No explanation is sought or given.

To start this one off Stark cops an attitude, smashes a bunch of stuff while feeling sorry for himself, treats Pepper and Happy poorly, blows off the Avengers, and heads out for a date. Meanwhile a new villain attacks one of his factories, using the "irresistible power" of his unicorn horn to "sabotage America's military production" - oh my. He's also looking to fight Iron Man so he trashes the place, beats Happy senseless and kidnaps Pepper. The horn appears to be a multipower/array that can perform ranged blasts, magnetically move objects, and form a shield around him as a strong defense. He and Shellhead tussle for a while while Stark feels guilty for getting Happy put in the hospital. At the end the Unicorn appears to have won but Iron Man manages to pull an upset and the Unicorn slinks away to possibly return again.

Stuff to steal: The "Uncanny Unicorn" is from behind the iron curtain and the original Crimson Dynamo scientist helped design his suit, so we have a connection to a previous enemy with the ongoing theme of "communists everywhere hate Tony Stark". That's a useable idea in a campaign. Also the Unicorn is goofy enough I may have to have him show up in a game of my own, perhaps after being frozen or something for 50 years.

That's all for the first half of Year 2 - more next time!