Sunday, May 31, 2015

Adventure Modules and Kickstarter


Over in the Mutants & Masterminds G+ group, I noticed this post from Joe Pearce, trying to Kickstart an adventure module.

I want more adventure modules, so I want to support it (and this is not going to happen, because of unemployment and poverty), but there were a couple of things in his Kickstarter that made me pause. Are these things that should or should not apply to Kickstarters? In some cases, I can certainly imagine them as good practice for something like The Dracula Dossier, but for a single adventure module? I dunno.

(And perhaps this doesn't need to be said, but please: I'm not knocking Joe or his attempt. I'd support it, if I could. What I'm thinking about is stuff that can be in the appeal that will encourage more people to support a Kickstarter.)

These things concerned me:
  • The stretch goals don't actually include the conversions to other games, such as ICONS or Supers Revised or BASH or any of the other supers games. "Easy to convert" — well, yes, it is, for the rules-light supers games, but it wouldn't be if you were converting to, oh, Hero.
  • Supporting the Kickstarter doesn't get you early access to the text, which may or may not be important: in a small-ish release like this, maybe getting the text makes you want to run the adventure early.
  • It's been played by his group and no one else.  Given the ways in which various powers can subvert an adventure (man, did Telepathy do in an adventure idea I had: a character stunted Telepathy while we were playing, and it left me with a much more convoluted set-up, created on the fly), I wonder what lacunae there are.
  • The adventure promo says, "for 4-6 novice characters." What does "novice" mean in this context? If Mutants & Masterminds, does it refer to a particular point cost or power level? PL10 characters at the beginning of their careers can be pretty darn powerful. Would it play with PL8 characters? PL12? Is there going to be a guide on how to adapt it for other power levels?
(Side note: As an inducement, the stickers don't compel me as much as, say, the Villain Cards do. Maybe we play with a different style.)

I'll address my own points with what I'd like to see in an adventure module crowdfunding appeal.
  • It would be nice if the stretch goals contained conversions. He could, for example, line up people to possibly do the conversions, and then if the funding gets that far, he can enlist them. Or he could say, "Backers can enter a poll to see which other games we're going to convert to, and by the end of the Kickstarting period, we'll know, but there will be a conversion for each 200 dollars" or something.
  • I don't want people to flush away the urge to run it by receiving text early, but I do want them to get something to show that the adventure text exists. I'm not sure what that might be...a fragment, perhaps, or some useful character write-ups, maybe of non-villain NPCs.
  • I really want to see something like, "This adventure has been played by three different groups using characters the players brought in, not just a demo set of pre-gens." Or even, "There is a note about which powers will totally derail your adventure. In which case, you still have this bit of world-building."
  • I'd want some clarification on what "novice" means. I can understand that it might be used to get around the problems of zero-to-hero systems, except that  Mutants & Masterminds isn't one of those.
So what do you think? What should be in a Kickstarter for an adventure?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Kaiju Kraziness

Jon Merchen had a question about Kaiju in ICONS and that started me thinking about Really Big Things and scale. I have stolen liberally from his question and his and my discussion on that post and added a bit. Edit: to be clear, I'm thinking about characters on our scale interacting with Really Big Things.

So: how do you create the big, almost unstoppable thing, and have it true to the superhero genre?

The history of the Unstoppable Thing in superheroes is that it can be stopped but not by direct force. Instead, you stop it by some other means, whether it's talking to Galactus, or coming up with clever gadgets that allow you to literally keep your promise not to set foot in Gotham City for one week...and still fight crime!

So that's one way: use its Qualities against it. Still, if you do that every time, it's not effective. The players start to go, "Oh, this week it's a Lovecraftian monster. How do we out-think it?" If that's your go-to for "interesting" games, then maybe you should be playing something else. While that sort of thing makes a nice change, the players are often playing a superhero game in order to do great things. Futility they can get talking to the tax people.

So you have a kaiju and it's meant to be a big threat, but not necessarily an impossible one. Things you can do--

Big Numbers

The ICONS system works pretty well if you keep adding numbers past 10. It's not ideal, but I haven't actually found the rule that says that if you have ability 10, you can't have a specialty that works with that ability. (I'm not saying the rule doesn't exist, just that I haven't spotted it.) The mechanics work if you're Strength 3, 10, 13, or 20.

You do have to keep in mind that whenever there's a difference of more than 5, the dice can't help you. The characters simply cannot succeed at hitting the Big Thing if it's Coordination 19.

Furthermore, the PCs cannot damage something with Damage Resistance 10. Oh, maybe they can push or you've cleverly given the Big Thing a Quality that they can activate and use to hurt it, but they can't simply whack at it.

Big numbers are really useful if what you want is something with a huge Stamina but you have to make sure not to give it impossible defenses, too. I don't know about anyone else, but I get discouraged if I have to hit something 2,000 times in order to generate 25 damage and knock it over. It's just grinding away, and I think that the Army's howitzers are better at that kind of thing.

Pyramid Tests

Something that is supported in the rules is generating the hare-brained scheme that might stop this thing and representing it as a pyramid test. They have to get a certain number of successes before they get a different number of failures in order to beat the Big Thing.

Something that I prefer is letting the players come up with the scheme and then re-casting it in terms of a pyramid test. That lets them come up with the brilliant idea (and it often is a brilliant idea) and just using the mechanic on that idea, rather than starting by saying, "Oh, they can run a wide pyramid test to irritate its eyes and thus blind it!"

You might also break it down into a series of pyramid tests. Then if they fail at any particular part of the scheme to defeat the Big Thing, they can come up with an alternative.

You have to be careful, though: you need to walk the line between "yeah, you fail until I say you succeed" and "it's a couple of dice rolls, no biggie." Success isn't pre-determined (if it is, don't make it a roll).

Hit Locations

You could treat the Big Thing as a set of smaller monsters or hit locations. (This is the inverse of treating a swarm as a single individual.) This works particularly well if one part is less well defended. The players have to take out the legs but the radioactive breath might still get them. Again, individual parts succumb to their attacks, and when they get all of them, the Big Thing is defeated. This works well for kaiju but less well if they're facing a Galactus-level threat.

Invent a Scale

ICONS talks about things being off the scale. There are mechanisms for moving from one scale to another (the microverse that shrinking characters can enter is the one I'm thinking of), but you could just say, "Hey, physical or mental attacks bounce off because he's off the scale. It's like a terrier puppy attacking Kilimanjaro...just isn't going to have an effect."

Still, you have this do they affect something off the scale? This is the superhero genre: we assume that they can achieve what they need to, somehow. But how?
  • Claim that anything that's level 10 can affect something on the next scale.
  • Attacks inflicted using by invoking a Quality of the Big Thing automatically do damage. ("Hmmm...who knew it was affected by marshmallow chicks?") Maybe an attack using a Quality only does 1 stamina damage, maybe more; I think that would depend on the situation.
  • Advantages of a different kind--this is just talking to it and finding its Qualities--the Galactus method.
  • Put the characters on that scale...this is more of the "Dr. McGuffin invented a Cosmic Enlarging Machine: go and kick that kaiju's butt!" but it could be good goofy fun for a night.
I'm sure that Steve Kenson has more elegant ideas than I have, and perhaps he'll get to them in his ICONS A to Z series, but in the meantime, you can choose from one of these.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Bestiary: A Villain Group

What do they want? Money, and to be left alone.

They don't really have marketable skills, I'm afraid, so they'll have to steal. But they have a good reason...not that your heroes have to delve that far into it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Characters for the record


Mike Lafferty has started an ICONS random character thread over on, and I've contributed two, so far.

Because it's murder trying to search for a particular thread over there, here are my two, in case I ever need them. Hagfish can be easily transformed into a villain.

Displace (Origin Birthright)

Secret ID: Kathryn Helprin, Attorney

Prowess Fair 4
Coordination Good 5
Strength Incredible 7
Intellect Fair 4
Awareness Good 5
Willpower Fair 4
Stamina 11
Determination 2

Adaptation Good 5
Blast Good 5
Absorption Average 5 (Absorbed energy goes to teleportation as a reaction, which is limited by the fact that she can't control it the first time. On succeeding panels she can.) Extra: Reaction Limit: First is uncontrolled.*


Attorney at law
Look before you leap
Superhero-ing is a kick

Kathryn Helprin knew there was mutant ancestry in her family, and she knew she was strong and could generate a blast of energy....but that's not really enough in her mind to fight crime. (Kathryn is often the victim of analysis paralysis.) She didn't know she had the ability to adapt to harsh environments because she had never been in a harsh environment (she had never left home without her coat!).

Then Doctor Megaton broke out of confinement and attacked the city. She just had to help. A bunch of costumed heroes eventually stopped Doctor Megaton, but Kathryn helped. A bit.

She learned a couple of things that day: First, helping feels great. Second, if she gets hit with kinetic energy (like, say, bullets), she gains the ability to teleport for a short time. (How long depends on the amount she was hit with.) It's her body saying, "Get out of the way!" She can't control the first one: it's automatic.

Third, she learned that she was going to keep doing it.

As Displace, she hides her identity, because of non-interference rules of the law society. (She hopes some day to work for the District Attorney's office.)

* Someone who knows the exact limits of her abilities just floods the area with .22 caliber bullets, so she can't actually control the teleportation: it doesn't help if it only lasts one panel. So she's stuck there, teleporting helplessly. That's deathtrap material!

Hagfish (No other ID)

Origin Artificial
Prowess Good 5
Coordination Fair 4
Strength Fair 5+2=7
Intellect Good 4
Awareness Good 5
Willpower Good 5
Determination 3
Stamina 12

Life Support Amazing 8
Affliction Great 6
Binding Incredible 7 Limit: Only in water

Underwater Combat

Knows the world-that-was, not the world-that-is
In the uncanny valley
A protector must protect

It was a protector, guarding the undersea temple or vault of the aquatic ones. They built it and gave it the spark of illness (the affliction) and the ability to coagulate water like a hagfish turns water into slime--except its "slime" is harder than concrete. The aquatic ones--he has no name for them, but he obeys them--wanted him to function on land and water, so they used a hominid for a model.

A troop of Sthanii came to plunder the temple. It chased them up, on land, to a cave--and a rockslide imprisoned it for centuries.

A recent earthquake freed him. The temple is long gone. Some of its contents might still exist--but a protector needs something, somewhere, to protect. Despite the name they gave it, it protects this city. 

Origin Birthright

Prowess Good 5
Coordination Average 3
Strength Good 5
Intellect Average 3
Awareness Average 3
Willpower Good 5
Stamina: 10
Determination: -

Invisibility Good 5
Strike (Slash) Great 6
Extra: Secondary Effect: Affliction Amazing 7

Martial Arts

Idealizes "normal"
Mid-level assassin
No one but her builds up immunity

Chloe Grace was fifteen when the claws first appeared, walking down a train embankment on a shortcut. She learned to make the claws retract. She was on her third date with Carlos Estevez when she turned invisible. She learned to reappear, to look normal, but by then she knew she wasn't normal. The poison appeared a year later, nearly killing Jacob Henshaw. It was okay with Chloe if he died; he was a dirtbag who had never treated her right.

At seventeen, the organization contacted her. Opportunities for a lower-class girl are limited, but those for a girl with a death touch are a bit...richer. She doesn't get sent against supers--no, she's a stealth versus normals kind of assassin.

If you survive her poison once, you're not immune (well, unless you have Life Support vs toxins). The chemical makeup changes with her diet, so it's never the same twice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Snippet of a story

Tom lifted the refrigerator and moved it across the kitchen like it was an empty box. “Okay, what next?”
Alison stared at him. He wasn’t breathing hard, or sweating, or looking at all put out. “What did you just do?”
“Moved it.” Comprehension bloomed.“Right. You don’t know. Everyone at home knows. I’m super strong. That’s how.”
“How long?”
“Since puberty, I guess.” He looked around the apartment. “Can we get back to moving you? I am not super-fast, and it’s gonna take a while.”
Over pizza and beer, she said, “Why not fight crime?”
He laughed. “In Bruce County? Car chases are like, twice a year, and it’s probably the Macpherson twins on a bender.”
“No, here. In this city.”
“I’m in school.”
“And you’re not bullet-proof?”
“No, I am. I know because kids used to shoot me when I wasn’t looking, just to see. So my mom had some of them charged with reckless endangerment because other folks weren’t bullet-proof.”
“Then why not fight crime?”
“Because the police do a perfectly fine job?” He had another swig of beer. “And before you ask, no, I don’t want to work for the police.”
“So why not?”
“I gotta go,” he said. “Thanks for the food.”
“I thought you’d be staying. Test the bed,” she said.
“You might get hurt.”
A shiver of delight ran through her. “You mean that.”
“I do.”
“See you when classes start.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Foxbat

For Theron Bretz--

An attempt at reproducing the Champions character Foxbat as an ICONS character.

The Night Nurse, the Day Doctor, the Twilight Therapist....

Inspired by a mention here (look for Atrox Morbus), here's one that's fine-tuned to a modern superhero campaign....

The Walker Clinic

It's an open secret among the crime-fighting community...if you're injured, you can get treatment at the Walker Clinic. The only supers who can't are those who can't be teleported.

You have to go through two rooms to get to the Walker Clinic. Each room is a teleportal, capable of teleporting two tons (there was a little accident early in the Clinic's history, which is why the weight limit is so high). The first portal takes you out of the country to your favorite country that has no rule about reporting gunshots or injuries from superpowers; the second portal takes you to the clinic itself, which is...well, somewhere else. The first portal is so that lawyers cannot claim that the clinic is bound by the rules of the campaign setting; the second takes them to the actual clinic. This is why the police (if they know about it) don't go there.

The Walker Clinic doesn't have huge amounts of technology. They seem to have high-tech diagnostic equipment. If they can't fix what is wrong with you, they can probably describe what is wrong with you. Their surgeons are excellent, and their healing times and recovery rates are excellent, but some people die.

They don't promise results. (No hospital does.)  They're not so good on magic....but they do have the names of some sorcerers you can consult in case of a hex or curse, and they can sometimes provide symptomatic relief.

Insofar as the rules go: No fighting. Obey your medical practitioner.

The Walker Clinic charges a flat fee: One hundred dollars or the equivalent in your local currency. It doesn't matter if the treatment is major, minor, or inconclusive; the payment is one hundred dollars. If you truly have no money, payment is a favour, probably {but not guaranteeably) acceptable to your morals.

No favours have ever been called in....or if they have, the people who provided the favours aren't talking.

So what is the Walker Clinic, really?

Option 1

They are the advance scout for an alien invasion. The invasion might not happen, but the cost of setting up a clinic like this is trival compared to the cost of getting to Earth. (The alien invasion might be from another dimension.)

By setting up a clinic, they can scan, analyze, and index superhumans. If they have to perform surgery, that's a bonus, because every person operated on gets a hypoallergenic hyperwave-activated package of nanites that will either kill them (if they've never visited before), cripple them (for those who are "normal" humans, like Batman or Daredevil), or remove their powers (if they've already been analyzed and indexed).

From a story point of view, sooner or later that invasion is going to happen.

Option 2

They are the legacy of a doctor-superhero who wanted to help people, and if it were associated with him, he knew that supervillains wouldn't show up. The teleport gates and high tech diagnostic are all repurposed super-technology that he has acquired over the years. Favours with a don't-tell rider get used to fix the place. It is paid for by Atlantean gold or some such--those old-time heroes had a lot of wacky adventures and money never seemed to be a problem.

The founder has passed on, finally, and the new manager is implementing some changes, which will affect our heroes. The government wants very much to have access to that facility or their index. (The technology they don't care so much about.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Unsecret Identity

I just watched the new Supergirl trailer, and I quite liked it. It looks like it's mostly stuff from the pilot (or they've edited several episodes together to look like it tells a complete story). I think that's Dean Cain behind Helen Slater as her Kryptonian parents (whose names I have totally forgotten, so sue me.) Anyway, I was never hugely attracted to the character though I did like the Earth-2 version, where I feel like they had more chance to be free with her characterization...though that fell apart after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, I am old.

Anyway, one of the things I noticed is that at least four people know who she is (five if you count the unmentioned Superman): her sister, James Olsen (and I like the changes I see in this trailer), her friend whose name I didn't catch, and the DEO operative. Now, since this is by the same producing team that gave us Arrow and Flash (where it seemed like Iris West was the only person in Central City who didn't know who the Flash was), perhaps that's not surprising, but it got me to thinking about secret identities.

In games, it's been very difficult for us to generate secret identity concerns. Oh, we do it...I recall the Wendigo-possessed Blizzard having problems, and Batman ripoff Shade was forever trying to hide it, but no one knew or cared who Silver Mirror was, and Ta'Shrin was a fox-like alien so she couldn't hide anything if she wanted. Firewall was a paroled criminal so you could find him if you wanted. (Only one of those characters was mine.)

Part of that is the nature of the beast: Superhero RPGs are largely modeled after superhero team books, where the concern is the team, not the individuals. Historically, in the comics, secret ID problems were mostly the concern of individual comics. In a team comic, you don't have time to worry about whether someone has figured out that Wayne Brewster is Wombatman; you've got a world to save!

On a TV show, you want interaction between different people, and while it's useful to keep some people in the dark, the more people who know, the more different kinds of interactions you can have. And, frankly, we've had 75 years of the kind of story where "she loves the hero but thinks his regular joe persona is a nebbish." Yeah, you can wring some interesting changes out of that, but it has been done before.

In Champions, they separated it into three categories: Secret Identities, which you worked very hard to preserve; Public Identities, where everybody could find you (worth some points), and no points for the disadvantage at all, where you could be living next door to a superhero and maybe you knew and maybe you didn't, in the same way you could be next to Chris de Burgh's drummer and not know until he said, "Yeah, I'm going to be in France next month on a want me to get that item for you?"

That latter is still my default, but I admit that I often have a Sam-and-Ralph view of it (after the sheepdog and the coyote in the old Warner Brothers cartoons).

Plus, I have to think that it's really hard to keep your identity secret these days. Between cell phones with tracking devices, computers that keep cookies, and the various ultratech that really exists, the best defense is often making sure that you are not a person of interest. 

EDIT: Helen Slater and Dean Cain show up as her adopted parents. And fixed a typo.

Look what I made!


Just because I'm stoked about it (but I don't expect you to be)...

I'm running a particular adventure for a number of players, some of whom are new to ICONS so I made up a set of pre generated characters for them to use if they want. So far, I've had some exciting challenges that I had not thought of on my own (like, last night one of the players used her occult powers to cast a Telepathy skill).

Then, because I'm innately curious, I decided to see if I could get the character writeups on 2"X3.5" business cards. (I had two sheets of printer-ready cards for inkject printers; I don't have a colour printer any more, so the pages are in black and white.)  I wanted to make it look like the game we're playing isn't particularly daunting. (The last step would be to print double-sided and put a paragraph of backstory on the back, but I'm unlikely to ever do that because I've already separated the cards.)

Anyway: with some graphics I don't have the rights to, they are here:

The first one, Wolf Spider, is not a creation of mine; it's by James Nicoll, and was his character this last time around. The graphic is from a Star Wars site.

The top two on the right (Jean San Graal and Jack-Be-Nimble) are blatant ripoffs of DC's Demon. I don't remember where on the web I found the image I used for Jean San Graal. The demon image comes from DeviantArt, as does the Hamadryad image. I believe the Timesense image is from a promo for another game. The other images I can actually use legally; they are part of Monolith's excellent series.

Graphically, they're not gorgeous, but they're functional, and it's kind of neat to put a bunch of them in a bundle in my bag of determination stones and a couple of d6. I throw in a blank one for each player and put them in the initiative order, and then I can just cycle through them.

Anyway...I'm chuffed about it.

The Immortality Show

How many methods for immortality can you think of? I can think of these right now.

Obviously, living a long time is the first that comes to mind. That doesn't really give you the game mechanics of coming back after you "die" but it works. In ICONS and Mutants and Masterminds, buying Life Support (aging) does this just as well as Immortality. If you want a cheap way to live forever and still have the risk of dying, Life Support is the way to go.

Some kind of treatment, whether it's the Lazarus Pit or implanting monkey glands or full-blood transplants of the blood of superheroes is the next. It might or might not provide some kind of regeneration.

Next is serial possession. The spirit is immortal and leaps from body to body. There might be limitations--maybe the victim has to be a blood relative, or a particular kind of mutant, or a baby, or a clone. Planting your mind in a clone (a la John Varley) counts. (I can imagine a very creepy family where everyone knows that they might be taken over by great-great-grandfather for his next body. Some of them might be deliberately slothful, trying to make sure that their body isn't the next one that gggf will want; some of them actually want to die, so they're playing the "fitness=death" lottery; and one of them is hunting great-great-grandfather to kill him and claim to be the current host.)

Maybe the host comes to look like the original. In some ways, they will: the immortal spirit probably has habits that affect the body. ("So, Lucy, when did you take up smoking cigarettes?")

Imagine duplication where the duplicates are the age when the power first manifested. The original eventually dies of old age, but a duplicate (if one is split off at the time of death) "becomes" the original. And so on, and so on.

Can you think of others?

Monday, May 11, 2015

World-Building Again (Steelheart: Morituri)

Settings I've thought were cool include Strikeforce: Morituri and Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart.  You can mix them to interesting effect.

Caveat gamer: This idea has never been tested. 

Suppose that super powers kill. You basically have a choice: low power and you'll live a long time, or high power  and die quickly. Powers are a gift from some other source, a kind of "power-hours" if you will. It might be that the use of powers creates paradox that backlashes and kills you, or that it puts an aging strain on the body that adds up over time.

(Mechanically, I'd figure some way to hook power levels and frequency of use as paradox--call it "burnout"--and roll death for your next adventure. If the player botches the roll, he or she is obliged to die in a spectacular fashion in the next adventure. You could work some way for them to escape that--some kind of trouble voluntarily taken on--but so long as you're up-front with your players about the set-up, I don't think there would be a problem.)

I'd probably use a long storyline as an arc: the mystery of the immortal villain.

He's lived a double lifetime, and Ballard is his name. --Logan's Run, the book

So why would someone be immortal in this set-up?

(Yes, I know they have the Immortality power, or Immunity to aging, or however your game defines it.)

With these rules, what would justify immortality?

Maybe the power is to possess someone. The possessor wears the same costume each time, and when that body is used up, moves on to another one.

Maybe it's cloning--it is a clone taken from the original body, kept in stasis when he first got his powers, and the clone, like a remote drone, is sent out to do the work. (That implies an organization of some kind. Someone who has cloning technology came up with this scheme.)

Actually, thinking about it, maybe the suspended animation, the cloning, and the mind copying are all low-level powers that work only because ├╝bervillain is going along with it. They all share in the loot that ├╝bervillain collects. 

The break for the players comes when the bad guy has a unique experience that changes his heart--and he doesn't return to the base. Now there are two ├╝bervillains, though one is trying to make amends. But he daren't use his powers, or he'll die--he's that close.

And to take the bad one on, the players have to ramp up their powers to the point they're going to die...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How Random Is Random?


I sometimes hear people knocking the character creation in ICONS as too random. There is always the point-buy option, but instead, in a terrible perversion of the spirit of the rules, I'm going to take a randomly-rolled character and twist it into something as different as I can.

My exceptions:
Otherwise, this will be random. We'll see how it works out.

This one has only three powers, but good abilities.

We could build the character around any of the three powers. Let's go a bit off the beaten track and pick Detection.

I kind of like the idea of someone who has been transformed by an anti-mutant organization to find mutants, so he has Detection (Mutants).

But once he's found them, he has to get to them. So let's give him Teleportation, Extra: Rangeless, Limit: only to a mutant. That could be one he's found with Detection or a "home" mutant.

Generally, we want  offense, defense, and movement.  He can punch--that's good, but lots of mutants are tough. Let's say, for his third power (which will also be an extra) he tries to teleport part of your body away. The body resists, of course, but there's a cost.  We'll represent it with Energy Drain, resisted by Strength.

We'll use the +2 from his Transformed origin to  bump up the power level

So the powers now are:

7 Detection (Mutants); Extra: Teleportation Extra: Rangeless  Limit: only to mutants; Extra: Energy Drain resisted by Strength.

Not bad. He can't take big hits, but he's able to get around.

For Qualities, how about "Atoning to mutants"--that will handle both advantages where he wants to help mutants and the Anti-Mutant organization. 

I think we need something to get him in trouble repeatedly, so let's try "The enemy of my enemy is my friend".

And for a third one, let's try "Ex-operative"--that will let the player get bonuses for various attempts and the GM can compel it for lots of enemies and misunderstandings. 

This is what he looks like now:

Name: Witch-Hunter (Simon Finder)
Prowess 5 Coordination 5 Strength 5 Intellect 3 Awareness 6 Willpower 5 Stamina 10 Determination 3
Specialties Power, Athletics, Stealth
  • 7 Detection (mutants)
  • Extra: Teleportation Extra: Rangeless Limit: Can only go to mutants 
  • Extra: Energy Drain, resisted by Strength 
  • Atoning to mutants
  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend
  • Ex-operative 

If I get a chance, I'll do another one or two.

EDIT: The backstory is something like... The anti-mutant organization Pureblood finds Simon at a low point in his life. He's been dishonourably discharged from his spy job because he worked with the enemy of his enemy, and that turned out not to be a good thing. Pureblood promised him a purpose again, and took him in to give him powers. (They sterilized him during this operation because, hey, they're all about purity in the bloodline. I think they have some connection to the Merovingians.) He gained the ability to find mutants and go to them. The energy drain works on anyone (he tries to send some essential body parts to the nearest mutant). After a series of successful operations (he stunts Passengers; there were several other witch-hunters, with different powers), he was caught by mutants....who did not immediately kill him. In fact, they educated him. (It didn't hurt that he fell in love.) He discovered how he had been used by the Purebloods. Then the Purebloods came to rescue him, and he had to make a choice. (No, they did not kill his sweetie. I try to avoid that kind of thing.) The Pureblood team did kill or hurt some of his new friends (okay, I don't avoid that kind of thing entirely).

Now he works with a team, some of whom are mutants, trying to improve the lot of the genetically different.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The ups and downs of Abilities


Quick one today--gotta get ready for Mothers' Day. 

One of the things that ICONS doesn't do well as written is powers that adjust abilities. Yes, it has Ability Boost, but I'm thinking of things like a villain who drains an ability or or a suit of armor that "doubles his Strength"--or increases it  by +1.

The biggest problem with using Ability Boost is that the ability level drops by one after its use. For whatever reason, there is no Extra that buys this off, though you can make one up. The other is that by default it lasts for level number of panels. (There is an Extra to buy that one off.)

Ability Increase can be used for this sort of thing, with the Source Limit, but the game also lets you say, "As a normal, he's Strength 3". I don't want to get too far into having rules for everything because that way lies the Hero System. It's useful for suits of powered armor, though, without having to go, Transform: Grants wearer the following powers...

How do you drain abilities? Nullification doesn't explicitly touch abilities under 7 (they're not powers), but you could create an extra that will let it. Something like, oh, Nullification Extra: affects abilities, Limit: Extra only lets you create the equivalent of Champions' Will Drain. I would probably let it affect Stamina by default (it does in the comics, I think).

What else is tough to do in ICONS?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Of Mandrill and Woman...well, women

This guy is certainly up there in my list of favourite losers. (There's a nice sequence in New Avengers comic where he possesses Spider-Woman to attack Spider-Man. That comes after one of my favourite character bits where Spider-Man explains why he won't kill Norman Osborn.)

Anyway...the Mandrill.

I can't immediately see how he would fit into the Jobbers of Evil (I think he'd be at cross-purposes to them), but you know he's gotta be involved....

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Min-Maximoff Thing

So I threw together generic Maximoff twins. They are not representative of any comic, movie, or TV show, but they're a reasonable basis for you to build any particular Quicksilver or Scarlet Witch.

And yes, I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Conversions of Characters

This is just a reprint of something I wrote on Google+.

Conversions for ICONS

Now that I've done about a dozen A:EMH conversions for ICONS Assembled (not all are posted), I have some ideas about the conversion process. Understand that this is me thinking, and it in no way binds you to my ideas. For instance, I notice that ptah3 on the Yahoo group and I have different takes on some characters. Mine isn't right and his isn't wrong—they're just different.

So here are some guidelines I've find useful in doing conversions.

Less is more.

If it's a rarely-used power, then maybe it's a stunt. Randomly-created characters top out at 6 powers—I expect that long-running other-media characters have more powers, but ask yourself, “Can this be a stunt?” Example: Wasp can grow as well as shrink, but the only place I remember it is the episode Ultron-5.

How are they going to use the Qualities?

Can you imagine saying, “Because I'm The Strongest One There Is I can rip the arms off Ultron”? Or the GM saying, “Because you're The Strongest One There Is they are afraid of you and call the army”?  Sure, some Qualities are going to be mostly-positive or mostly-negative, but try to find a flip side. (For me, this is the area that really differs from the first release.) Every significant fight should offer the characters a chance to earn Determination as well as spend it.

Try finding what the character's stories are mostly about—Walt Simonson once said that Thor's stories are often about the parent he can never satisfy. 

Look at the source material.

Several times I thought that Alternate Form was the answer, but it just doesn't behave the same as the character does. Just because they say something ("Made of ionic energy!") doesn't mean it transliterates to game terms.

Look at the rules repeatedly.

I worried about whether the Hulk should have Life Support (cold) because of the time in the Arctic, and then I realized that at Strength 10 he was never going to fail his exposure Strength roll. Life support was not necessary in that case. Stuff like that always catches me off-guard so you might as well be wary too. I was very proud when I realized that the Uni-Beam could be a stunt of the repulsor beams.

Beware levels over 8. 

They should be really special. Once you have one character who's Strength 10, you want another one to fight him, and a third who has Damage Resistance 10 who can't be hurt by him. That way lies inflation. In ICONS, a character who is Strength 7 will sometimes win a Strength challenge against a Strength 10 character, despite the "fact" that one can lift about 10 times more. You don't need Resistance To Damage every time, either: in ICONS, Resistance is very powerful. A level of 8 is the best in the world; a 9 is the best of the century. A 10 is legendary. 

It's your game.

Scale everything together for your game. This is especially true if you're mixing companies for source material. Who's stronger, Superman or Hulk? Depends on who's publishing or writing the comic. In your game, you get to choose what's true in your world.. 

Earth's Mightiest Heroes Villains: The Masters of Evil


Here are all the Masters of Evil from Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, gathered in one place.

Thinking about them as a group, the best they have going for them is numbers. Otherwise, they're kind of heavy on the hitting.

Ranged attacks--well, many of them have a ranged attack.

* Zemo has his blaster.
* Chemistro's ill-defined power is useful only at range.
* Living Laser is only useful at a range.
* Whirlwind and The Executioner can do things at range, but they prefer to be in there hitting.
* The Crimson Dynamo can, but tactically he seems like a guy who clears out the mooks and then tries to hit things.

Most of them are useful in hand to hand combat: the Abomination soaks up damage, the Crimson Dynamo soaks up damage, the Executioner soaks up damage...

And the presence of Iron Man on the team drives a quarter of them to insane acts.

Despite their reputation, they're only okay against the Avengers if Zemo has a plan. Think about them carefully if your heroes are significantly different from the Avengers.

Heroes who aren't affected by magic or who  have a lot of powerful ranged attacks are going to yawn, pick them off, and ask when it will be tea-time. I suspect you could take them apart with the proper mix of characters just because those characters hit the weaknesses of the Masters of Evil. (Hmmm...maybe it's time to haul out the Mythic GME and try just that.)

Worldbuilding a setting

I have been thinking, off and on, about a setting where only women have superpowers.

My point was to increase female character representation in games, but then I realized that men could still build a suit of powered armor, or train obsessively, or be a robot or an alien. In the end, only women can have what we used to call "radiation accidents."

So the point I thought I would be making doesn't apply. Still, let's see if this might be a playable world with anything different about it, and you'll probably learn more about my assumptions and prejudices than anything else.

Oh, wait: one type of man might have powers--XXY males, but a very rare subset of those. (Klinefelter's syndrome.) You could easily do a "first man with powers" story using that as the sting at the end. Klinefelter's is about 1 in a thousand, and you multiply that scarcity by however frequent powers are... It would be really rare.

It's common for superpowers to show up about World War II. If only women can be born supers or transformed into supers (presumably the necessary genes are on the part of the X that's missing in men, and it's a rather complex recessive to boot), then powers probably only show up on the home front. Radiation accidents are probably restricted to women who have gone to work--the Rosie the Riveters, so to speak. I assume that WWII would have gone pretty much the same as it did in our world, until the end, when the desperate Germans might put the uberfrau into the fight.

Spies might have powers; espionage organizations are less squeamish about using whatever is available. 

The presence of the female exceptions might spur the occurrence of the male characters--gimmicks, for instance. 

I'm going to hope that if there are women who can bench press tanks around, there might be a bit more equality for women. So there are early gains for women that displace the Women's Lib movement: the fact that the men can say, "Well, these women are special" means that they can still oppress the majority of women. So the Women's Lib movement shows up later...say, the last part of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s...even though they make strides earlier and have less of the Donna Reed image. Say that The Adventures of Steeletto was a 1950s show, starring a female paragon and her male handler. (Steeletto and Captain Reed got married by season 4, in 1961.)

There might be some interesting men versus women teams, though: all gadgets and training against "real" superpowers. Because I don't think your political stance is determined by your sex, there'd be pro-government super teams and anti.

This delayed onset of true liberation for women means that by 2015, women are starting to be effective in the business world and show up in politics. (Maybe one of the female senators first elected in the 1970s is a formerly-active super.) On the other hand, I suspect it would be more in-sync with gay liberation. Except for the possibility of increased damage (can you imagine if tear gas in Ferguson triggers someone's super genes?), I don't see race relations as being better.

Maybe it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I don't see the world as hugely different than it was in the 1990s in our timeline. Technology might have moved ahead--we have all those men doing gimmick stuff. Medically, pharmaceutically, the FDA would surely have mandated testing on women as well as men: the government would want to know if the new drugs were going to trigger a wave of supers, for instance. I think we'd be ahead on medicine that way.

Magic would probably stay referred to as witchcraft, because only women could do it. 

It does mean that there would be little chance of Superman pretending to be a human: the mere existence of powers would say that he's not a genetically normal human. There might be some interesting fallout there. 

What do you think? Am I way off base? Have I missed something obvious?

Earth's Mightiest Heroes Villains: The Griffin


It turns out that I have a weakness for loser villains. I like them, and I think about ways to make them effective...or just funny.

In that spirit, here's the Griffin, a set of characteristics that never seem to amount to anything. Oh, the individual fight might be tough but he makes no plans and is obviously a pawn for others. Even Nick Fury uses him this way.



CLOSEUP of someone laying down a Slim Jim, then stepping away.


CUT TO the place where the Slim Jim was. It's gone.

PULL BACK to reveal CARR with a sack by his side, methodically laying down Slim Jims as he backs away.

 Good boy. That's a good boy.

SERIES OF CUTS showing CARR backing home, slowly, laying down Slim Jims all the way.

TITLE CARD: The Jobbers of Evil.

CUT TO INT LIVING ROOM. DUVAL and PARKS are on the couch.

What a day. First, I go to case a bank in Atlantic City, and it gets robbed while I'm there. Squirrel Girl got them. Amateurs. I mean, Squirrel Girl.


Merci. Then I went to buy some liquor--because of the stress--and discovered that in the confusion someone had lifted my credit card, the one I paid extra for so it wouldn't be questioned.

The gold one.

So I had to steal the liquor. Fortunately I was in the city. Won't be traced back here.

(Watches DUVAL drink)
I had a rough day too. I had this craving for a s'more. Like you cannot believe. But when you're made of light, you can't.

A s'more?

Graham wafer, marshmallow, chocolate. Oh my god. Heaven. Better than sex.

Watch your mouth.

CARR enters and goes to the FRIDGE. He starts loading his sack with meat.

Hey, guys.  Oh, hey, Paul, I borrowed that credit card of yours. I needed some Slim Jims.

That's where it went. Slim Jims? They're like a Euro a pack.

I needed six hundred. My credit card wouldn't cover it.


Why is the Griffin in our parking garage?

I have a plan.


Iron Man first, then Hawkeye.

Think of Hawkey as a warm-up.

People are going to find the Griffin, and we'll be found. You know what that means.

Squirrel Girl.

See, I was thinking you could petrify him. We could store him that way. We have an empty storage space.

I'm not going down every hour to stone him again. What if I'm late?
Besides, the storage area is full.

Full? We don't have anything--

This is why you disappear every hour. You're not smoking at all.

Linda. She likes it. Being stoned, I mean.

That's just one person. We could still--

Well, she called two friends, and they called...

How many are there?

PARKS're storing them there?

I make a little cash from renting it. It's off the books.

CARR and PARKS look at him.

Just at night. It's cheaper than an apartment.
And some of them pay me with favours.

How many? Total I mean, not favours.

DUVAL pulls out a small notebook, pages through it. 

DUVAL, sixteen, because Miranda went back to her mother.

Paul, we've got the Griffin in our parking garage. I figured you'd be able to store him. You can't if the storage room is full.

Well, that's why it was a bad idea for you to lure the Griffin.

Okay. We've got three doctorates between us, we can figure this out.

What about that polymer you invented that makes the change permanent?

Kills them. And I like Linda. And Sophie. And, mon Dieu, Jennifer. How could I forget Jennifer?

I'm a little uncomfortable with mass murder anyway.


Trying being a black man with an academic degree and a criminal record.

Trying being a light beam.

Listen, Sunshine...

Gentlemen... Mes amis. We have a problem here.

Right. Can we train the Griffin? Calvin got him to eat the Slim Jims.

You've never had a dog. We can't train him in one night.

I have an idea.


I refuse.

It does make sense.

I will not be a laser pointer to lure him away. I have my dignity.

Look, we have the Griffin during the day and the women at night. Until we figure out what to do with him.

I wonder if Purina makes a chow for him?
(The others are looking at him.)
He can hunt for his own food at night.

I can't eat. I can't drink. I refuse to become a laser pointer.

We'll watch Voyager with you.


Seven of Nine is very hot.

Who cares? The holodeck. Hard very, very hard...

(He can't believe he's saying this.)
Yes. The holodeck is

Every episode with the holodeck?
I'll do it.

TITLE CARD: The Jobbers of Evil.

Earth's Mightiest Heroes Villains: Ultron-5


Well, in honour of the movie (which I haven't seen yet), here's the earliest villainous version of Ultron from Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

In play, he can stunt like crazy, earning the heroes Determination points that they will need later. The qualities ensure that he will always close off whatever they used to defeat him last time, but there will always be something the heroes can use.

In fact, thinking about it, although you're always using the "Oedipus mechs" quality, each time you'd probably want to re-word it to present some aspect (so to speak) of the Quality that they can use this time. I never thought of it before, but that's probably a good way to use the whole business of learning qualities. Don't tell them the exact wording of the quality, because you might want to use the villain again. (Loser villains like the Griffin have straightforward qualities you don't bother to reword; that's why the heroes go, "Oh, it's the Mandrill or the Griffin again.")

Anyway. I present the hideously expensive world-shaking unlimited Ultron:


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Leadership and Villains


I admit that I frequently wondered what the point was of buying Leadersip for villains. After all, villains don't have determination, so the business about team determination didn't apply. It seemed like flavour to give to villains.

So I did as I often do and actually read the rules. In the description for Leadership is this line:

"Leadership is also a useful specialty for tactical maneuvers to learn, create, or activate qualities."

It can improve the attempt of a villain team to learn the Quality of a hero, which is great. Don't forget to apply the context of the team--the villain team Gravel Pit (Granite, Peastone, Chip, and Excavator) probably can't use Chip's Leadership to discover that the heroine Lextalion is secretly Prudence Juris, ADA, but they might be able to use it to help discover that her teammate Mudslide loses his shape shifting power if it gets too cold (Quality "Fair Weather Friend").

I might even go further and let the villain's Leadership oppose heroic maneuvers to try and discover villain Qualities. The leader has done things to cover up that they're all vulnerable to electrical attacks, for instance. 

Earth's Mightiest Heroes Villains: Baron Zemo


Ah, the last of the cartoon's Masters of Evil. I have to admit that I frequently mixed up the names of the Barons Strucker and Zemo. Even though they have quite different looks, mechanically they're kind of similar.

I'd have to play him to know exactly how Zemo differs from Strucker. I upped his physical stats a smidge from Strucker's to make him closer to Captain America, but there's not a lot there that's different. The sword is more powerful because, hey, it's a glowing energy thing.

I know the show mixed bits of the father and son (from the comics) but since I wasn't reading about them, I don't know much more than that.

Baron Zemo

I wonder if making both Hydra leaders Barons wasn't supposed to be a commentary on nobility and Nazism.

I also wonder if the Masters weren't supposed to hit most of the Avengers as foes. Iron Man has both Living Laser and Grey Gargoyle and Crimson Dynamo, Thor has Enchantress and Executioner, Captain America has Zemo, Wasp has Whirlwind, Hulk the Abomination, and Hawkeye gets Chemistro. If they enrolled Man-Ape, they might well have had everyone.

Tactically, they don't seem varied enough to me, but you haul them out when Zemo has an idea.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (so far)


Below are all of the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes conversions that I've done so far. Villains will get a separate post when there are more of them.

I haven't done all of the Avengers...merely the ones who piqued my interest. And I'm basing these for the most part on the cartoon series, usually the first season (because that's the one I've seen the most).

  • Black Panther As mentioned elsewhere, I'm not happy with this build. The suit has "absorbing" powers used for invisibility/concealment and when he's fighting Radioactive Man, but I only have invisibility there. Still, perhaps he stunted the Life Support power for that episode.
  • Captain America
  • Hawkeye
  • Hulk
  • Iron Man
  • Thor
  • Wasp
Ant-Man I've thought about; probably he'd have Shrinking 8 and Growth 8 with a mutually-exclusive limit, and ant control. Ms. Marvel I'm not sure; I haven't really rewatched her stuff that much.


Probably the Thing, Wolverine, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. When I get to the New Avengers episode, I might do them. The rest of the Fantastic Four...they show up on occasion.  There are nice versions of several of them already out there, so I'm not sure that my voice needs to be added to the mix. And instead of the various Guardians of the Galaxy, Fainting Goat Press has a set of supers who look just like them, and are as good as anything I could do.

I acknowledge and respect the intellectual property rights of Marvel. The characters and images belong to them.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Some ICONS tricks, part II


If you are converting a character from Champions, and said character has an NND, how do you represent it in ICONS?

Today's idea--

The attack is an Energy Drain, Extra: Ranged, Limit: Blocked by X, where X is whatever stops the NND.

No, it's not exactly  the same, but it's as close as I come today.

Vulnerabilities are a different thing.

I want a villain to take extra damage from a certain type of Attack, like the Champions vulnerability. Normally it's a limit on the defence (Resistance to Damage 8, Limit: not vs. cheese). 

Depending on the effect you want, I might try different vulnerability wordings.

If you want to be nibbled down, maybe my original thought--"Fire is a degree more effective" so even an effect of zero is treated like a moderate success.

Or maybe "Fire is twice as effective!" So a fire aura of 3 is treated as if it's a 6.

Steve's "Fire! My only weakness!" is great if what you want is stunning. I could justify the other responses, too

Minions could have "Kill it with fire."

Earth's Mightiest Heroes Villains: Chemistro

This guy, I have no idea what he's doing on the Masters of Evil. Aside from fight Hawkeye and prove that the Enchantress is a ruthless cookie, I don't see a purpose. 

Okay, maybe that's the purpose. 

At least in the comics he has noble goals, with lousy execution. (Though I have to wonder what a car company is going to do with a transmutation least, with cars.) In the cartoon, he's cannon fodder.

But cannon fodder with fashion sense.  (Well, relative to other super villains.)