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. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

40K Friday Late Edition - Imperial Adventures with 9th Edition 40K


Time to start catching up! We have been playing 9th edition here, pretty much since it came out. I've mentioned it but haven't done any battle reports but I'll think about posting some up in the future. For now I thought I would talk about some of the armies I've tried out so far.

Adeptus Astartes

For my first battle I took my ancient Howling Griffons out for their 9th edition of the game.  They've seen action in every version of the game so far - the record continues! I consider them at least semi-retired as I haven't added anything to them in years though I do occasionally contemplate doing a big new primaris update for them. The paint scheme is just a lot more work so that usually pushes me back from that idea. Anyway I took them against Blaster Eldar army and though I lost we had a good time figuring out the new objective system and all of the tweaks. "Edition bleed" is definitely a problem at this point but more games will help. 

Then I decided continuity at some level would help so I took the Crimson Fists out for a couple of games. In one of them I took a ridiculous Maximum Dreadnoughts list with a master techmarine with the "keeper of the ancients" trait from Psychic Awakening (these games were all before the 9th ed, marine codex release) and I lost again but it was a lot of fun to run 7 dreadnoughts in one fight. Now of course with the new codex this list would be that much more viable so it will probably show up again soon.

Warriors of Titan

After that I decided to bring the Grey Knights into 9th and took them against Blaster's Eldar yet again and let me tell you ... they are a ridiculously complex army to run. I was struggling for a while to keep track of all of the variables with them. Marines are fairly straightforward - each unit has a purpose but is fairly flexible so you can adapt in-game, there are a few important stratagems, and the chaplain litanies and psychic powers are mostly a bonus you work in where you can.

GKs though ... first off every unit has a weakened Smite + one power, but of course you can only use the normal powers once per turn. So the first part of the trick is allocating powers to your units based on what you think will be useful or important during the game. The second part is in-game knowing when and where to use each one - if I can only Gate of Infinity one unit across the board but I can see three units and situations where it would make sense ... it's easy to feel like you made a mistake as their psychic powers are crucial to their units. Making your Paladin squads +1 to save is a big deal. Jumping a Dreadknight from over there to over here to shoot up something and prep a charge is important. Psychic Awakening made things better in one way as now there are two separate disciplines to spread out in your army but it also made the decision making that much more complex. It was a lot of fun to out-psych the Eldar army for a change, but that didn't save me. 

Then there are the stratagems that are also crucial to making the army work, and some of them are significantly influenced by the Tides mechanic introduced in PA ... there is a lot to learn in playing a Grey Knights army effectively. With a typical marine army I would say most of what you need to know is on the datasheet and as I mentioned everything else is situational and a bonus. With these guys I felt like the datasheet was only one part of it. For example:

  • If I'm running my Fists and I have a terminator squad in deep strike I know what it can do. The main point of decision is when and where to drop them in. Once they land they're going to shoot stuff and possibly charge. I will know what the doctrine is, so I'll know if they get the extra -1 AP. The only other decision to make there is that I might spend a CP to use Fury of the First to improve their shooting. 
  • With GK Terminators I need to consider the same basics of when and where but I also need to decide if I want to change the Tide to the-one-that-makes-psy-weapons-stronger, then if I do I need to play the stratagem that makes all their storm bolters psy weapons for the turn, then I need to use their psychic power to give them a better save for a turn or maybe not if I'm going to drop them in behind some terrain and have an also-teleporting-in Librarian use Astral Aim so they can shoot through that terrain, but if I do that then the venerable dreadnought that was using it last turn will have to move to where he can see something instead of staying hidden. It's just a lot more complicated and you could potentially have decisions like that with every unit on every turn. 

I think the Grey Knights, more than any other army I have played, seriously benefit from playing them over and over to "see the synergies" and just know what they can do in any given situation. After two games I decided to work  more on building/painting/finishing the army since I had a touch of experience at least to inform my decisions. 

The Hammer of the Emperor

I then decided to try out Imperial guard. I have a lot of tanks and a little infantry and ... well, Blaster's Saim Hann force is damn strong against tanks. Lots of bright lances, a fair number of starcannons, some shining spears, a Crimson Hunter Exarch, and fire dragons in falcons ... it went pretty quickly in both games I played in with the guard. I took 3 Plasma Russes, 3 BC Russes, an Exterminator, a Command Punisher and a Command Demolisher, plus I also had two Manticores ... it didn't matter. I only have a limited number of infantry so I couldn't do a ton of screen and still hold objectives. I had 3 infantry squads and then a Chimera with 3 Ogryn and a priest - again because that's stuff I have - and it was blown open and everyone inside was dead on turn 2. We went big in this one at 3000 points and I did manage to kill his Wraithknight but it took so much firepower to drop it before it started wrecking my tanks that his bikes were all over me before I could do much of anything. I think the guard strats are on the weak side and I am admittedly new to using the army but it felt like I was fighting up hill in both games. 

Also ... "Expert crafters". If you've played Eldar in the last year or so you are probably familiar with this choose-your-own-craftworld trait because it's the one EVERYONE takes. One re-roll to hit, one re-roll to wound ... on every unit ... every turn ...

It makes a Crimson Hunter ridiculous as it's only firing 3 shots anyway. Falcon with a pulse laser + bright lance? Same thing. The on bright lance in a backfield Guardian Squad? Yep, he's going to re-roll. Wraithlord's bright lance? Him too. He took a D-cannon battery in some fights and of course they look like all-stars with these kinds of re-rolls. And if you miss or fail to wound with two shots from something important you have the normal CP re-roll available. Doom means at least one unit per turn is going to be a punching bag where everything gets to re-roll wounds too.

I even took custom regiment traits in the second game. One lets lets you repair your tanks each turn and the other let me re-roll the number of shots for all those tanks and artillery. It helped a little but not enough. I'm sure Guard would perform better with repeated play but I would need to add quite a bit to my unit options to really improve them. Bullgryn are a big unit right now and I have none. I only have one Chimera and only 3-4 squads of infantry and suspect at least Chimeras would help keep those guys alive longer. I took one Tempestus squad and some assassins in the second fight and I think they definitely have contributions to make  - figuring them out and getting better at using the orders here and there would certainly help. 

One example of the challenges here: the Vindicare assassin was up high in a ruin and sniped a jetbike warlock - yes! The very next turn he gets charged by the jetbike Autarch and he's done for the fight. He didn't die that first fight phase, but he can't beat an autarch in melee - even with his pistol -  and he can't get away because Bike Autarch is faster. Plus the Shining Spears were busy wiping out the infantry squads in the rest of the ruin so he wasn't going to live long anyway. 

So yes I did have a lot of fun shuffling through the Imperial deck these last few months but I did lose a lot while learning a lot and I learned to hate Expert Crafters.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Terminator RPG


So there's a kickstarter running right now for a Terminator RPG. It is past its goal so it should happen but it got me thinking about the whole concept. I was playing RPGs for years before the first movie and I don't remember a Terminator RPG before now  - how has it taken this long for someone to make a game out of this concept and universe?

First up, I have loved the movies since the beginning - the concept, the look, the hows and the what-if's ... it's a great idea. Loved the first and the second, really liked the third (and it took them around 20 years just to make 3), was not as big a fan of the 4th, was OK with the 5th though it had some problems, and I'm roughly ok with the 6th though it has some problems as well. There was a TV series too and it was interesting.

Now it appears they only have the rights to the first movie and the ... comic books? In the comments they mention that each of the movies is a separate license which probably explains why no one has tried this before. Sure the first movie sets it all up but for an ongoing RPG not being able to use the other 5 movies seems pretty limiting. I've never read the comic books so I have no idea where they take the story and I bet most of the people interested in the game haven't either. That said I like the approach:

In ‘The Terminator RPG’, you play resistance fighters struggling against the machine onslaught of Skynet in an alternative and post-apocalyptic version of today—the once "far future" of the 2020s. You can take the role of rebel time travellers sent back to various points in time to stop Skynet from altering history. You can even play natives of any historical time period, targeted by Terminators and trying to stay alive as a future hell is unleashed around you. 

The book is designed as a toolbox to allow the Director to create their own campaigns or one-shots, including detailed multipage campaign arcs, campaign seeds, mini-missions, NPCs, weapons, detailed locations, and enemy characters.

You have the option to play either pre-generated characters or to create your own—tailored to your preferences, weapon choices, and role within your team. If your character is killed, a new one can be brought in from the future, past, or present. That new character can be many things—including even an alternate you from a divergent timeline.

They are using their own in-house system which I have not read or played but I'd bet it will be perfectly fine if they're betting on it for a very visible game like this. 

Thinking about what I would actually run with this, well, I think it would be tough to run a long term campaign here. Between the one-way time travel, the lethality of the terminators, and the high-stakes nature of the source material - I mean, they either kill Sarah Conner or they don't - I would be aiming for a limited run, finite goals type of campaign. Something like a plot-point campaign in many of the Savage Worlds books and even there I'd be aiming for 6-12 "chapters" that would not take all that long to play through. 

Think about the basic scenario: Skynet sends a terminator (or three) back to Time Period X to eliminate someone important to the future. Are the players playing resistance fighters who are also making that one-way trip back? Are they playing "natives" to the destination time period? Does a mix of the two make sense?  

At this point it effectively becomes a Superhero scenario: The villain has a plan, the heroes must become aware of this plan, figure out the specific goals or targets, then they must undertake various actions to stop it. Unlike a superhero campaign though, once you stop it, that's pretty much the game. I suppose you could come up with some kind of Torchwood-style organization to deal with future time-traveling threats but that seems out of step with the source material where it's left to the crazy people and their therapists to watch for a return.

This is why I think it's best as a limited campaign and while you could play through a few different incursions - as happens with the movies -  I don't know how many times your players are going to want to play Man vs. Machine. You could certainly change up the time periods and the scenarios to keep it interesting ...

  • A Terminator drops into Germany in 1945. How does the basic scenario change in an active warzone? Plus, maybe this time he needs to keep a particular scientist -alive- to ensure the future goes a certain way. Could give your party a nice moral dilemma.
  • Maybe Skynet decides someone's grandfather is a better target and drops a cybernetic Austrian into the 1960's ... in Vegas ... and the target is a celebrity ... or a mob boss ...
  • Change up the location and make it more of a fish in a barrel scenario by having a T-whatever target someone on a cruise ship. Maybe it comes on board at one of the stops, or maybe your players think they are playing an entirely different kind of game until they find a spherical section of the ship is missing and things start to get dangerous ...
Those are just a few ideas for running something like the traditional Terminator movie scenario. 

I think a more practical use in a lot of ways is dropping a T-scenario into another game. 
  • One night the Super-base sensors pick up a temporal disturbance downtown and investigating heroes find a naked human fleeing the scene ...
  • Hanging out at a club in Night City gets a lot more interesting when a big guy walks in and triggers all of the security scanners then tosses the bouncers aside with ease ...
  • A group of people who normally wear primary-colored uniforms are doing some field research on the life of an important scientist via the Guardian of Forever when BLAM! A new mission to preserve the timeline ensues. 
I'm mostly ignoring the ridiculous 80s-centric crossovers you could have here too with Robocop, Predator, Transformers, GI Joe, and all of that ... then throw in a Stargate for good measure. I mean, once you make time travel a thing you open up a lot of possibilities.

The final main way I could see to running a Terminator campaign is the one where you might be able to do a long-term game: Human Resistance Wars. It's pretty much Twilight 2000 with robots ... shiny killer robots ... with lasers ...

Anyway I felt a need to ponder and ramble on this topic - more to come. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Catching Up

Dusting things off a bit here ... let's see ... lot of potential topics to cover here ... let's recap 2020 for now:

RPG's - last year was awful, my longest break in 40 years of tabletop RPG's. The Pathfinder 2E game petered out around March as I was preparing a revamp to turn our test run into a real campaign. Quarantine killed that option and I neither played nor ran anything for almost the entirety of the remaining year. Almost ...

Miniatures - well we got 9th edition 40k during the summer and with blaster still in the house we did get in some games and that made the lockdown situation quite a bit better than it could have been. I did get a fair amount of work done on some of my armies so that helped too. Not much Kings of War but I started a second army there just for the heck of it. Not much Age of Sigmar either as we focused in on the new 40K rules but I think that might change some this year. 

Boardgames - not a lot here. We've played some Command and Colors and that's about it. Lots of good options, but if it's just Blaster and I we tend to go miniatures. Twilight is not terribly interested in any of these options at this point so it's mainly the boy and I.

The rest of life, say the not-hobby part of life, was fine considering the circumstances. Socially, professionally, kid-wise things were all good to great so it wasn't a terrible year considering what some people were dealing with. So life is good and life continues.

Thursday, March 4, 2021