Monday, June 29, 2015

Sample of play (ICONS, pt II)


When last we left off, it was with an origin. The second scene is later, once they have their powers. In ICONS, where they were originally rolled, they look like this:
Midden (formerly Dr. Ivey)Little John (John Seward)
Weapons (Guns)SpecialtiesScience (Master)
Plant Control6PowersGrowth
Extra: Phasing
Limit: Only when grown
Life Support (eat, sleep, pressure, radiation)4
ESP Limit: Medium (plants)6
Teleportation Limit: Medium (Plants)7
  • The right thing to do is the hard thing to do
  • Mute plant-mound monster
  • Smart about science, dumb about people
  • Career criminal
  • Telepathic link to talk to Midden, under Seward's control
  • Pulls wings off flies, too

For our purposes, Seward has already discovered he can "talk" to Ivey, who cannot talk out loud.
Because of their close nature, Seward knew that Midden can teleport, but that he required plants, so he carefully put Ginger on top of a nearby building.

Seward refuse to tell Ginger that her fiancé was still alive, because it tortured him more.
Mythic: Is it a residential house? Chaos 5, critically no. Call it a mall near the correctional institute, two stories tall.
Put her down! Midden commanded.Midden: Determination 2, Stamina 9
If you insist. She has a fifty percent chance of surviving a fall from this height, but if you`re willing to take the risk… replied Seward, still in his giant form.Little John: Stamina 11
Put her down safely!

Oh, safely. Well, why didn't you say so? Seward pounded a hole in the pavement and placed Ginger in the pit.
I say the asphalt is Material 6 for this sort of thing; Strength 7 (+6) vs the ground, which I'm going to say is Strength 6 (+1) Effect 6. He does. There's a nice giant fist-sized pit.
The pit was too deep for Ginger to climb out, even with the rubble at the bottom. The walls were earth and gravel. Seward pulled out his massive hand and laughed. "What power!" he said. "And you can't stop me." Ginger didn't know if he was talking to her or the police; his mumbling through the trip here showed that he was not particularly sane. She huddled out of his sight.

Lying there amidst the smells of earth and asphalt, she heard the hissing. Her first thought, insanely, was Snakes. But no; the giant man—Seward—had broken pipes that ran beneath the surface of the road. With luck, she thought, one of them was pumping out water: then she could swim up to the lip as it filled. She searched for the source of the hissing noise.

Not water: gas. Gas would fill the hole and she would be unable to breathe. She would suffocate in the hole. She was about to yell when she realized that she didn't want to fill her lungs with this mixture of gas and air. Breathing shallowly, she looked frantically for a different way out. There was a root jutting out, at about waist height. It was crusted with dirt but looked maybe two fingers wide. With luck, she could get her foot on it—

It snapped. It was too small to bear her weight.
Ginger was safe. Ivey turned his attention to Seward.

Maybe I can't stop you. But I can slow you down. Plants grew wild and swiftly over Seward's feet and legs.
Midden tries to grab Little John with his Plant Control power. To hit is Willpower against Coordination (5+4 vs 6+2). It hits, but it’s only a moderate success. Little John is now -2 to actions (as Wrestling). Midden: 2 Determination Points.
Little John, however, was willing to struggle against the plants. All he needs is a moderate success to escape this partial hold. Str 7+1 vs Binding/plant control 6+1. Moderate success, so he's free. (He could have shrunk down and escaped that way, but he was relishing the power.)
He pulled and tugged and broke the plants, with the scent of sap released as he tore free. He grinned.

Idiot, thought Ivey to himself. Of course he's strong. What if we fight big with big? He teleported to the tree near Little John, but instead of coming out of the tree, he became the tree.
Midden stunts growth off his plant control, using a DP and his Smart about Science aspect. He's now 24 feet tall and nearly as strong as Seward (strength 6 instead of 7).
Seward launched a fierce attack. Midden's plant-like nature diffused most of the blows but the cumulative result was that, for the first time, Midden hurt. His new body could be damaged—Seward gets to act. He punches Midden: Prowesses and relative sizes are even; Growth grants its level in damage resistance, so Midden has resistance 6. It’s a marginal success, which is half damage, but Midden’s damage resistance soaks that up.
Midden swung and missed, surprised by pain. Seward roared with laughter and attacked again, but Midden was prepared this time, and none of the punches landed.Bad rolls.
Meanwhile, in the pit, Ginger was surrounded by the stench of gas. Gas is odorless, she thought inanely. They add mercaptans for the smell, and the pit stank. She dimly realized this: You scream or you die. She screamed. She didn't know if each breath she took was air or gas. Had she waited too late? Unconsciousness blanketed her.

Midden heard the screams and turned. Seward kicked him hard.
For abandoning the fight to go save his fiancé, Midden gets a Determination Point. Seward hits, and manages a moderate success, so Midden takes 1 Stamina. Midden: Stamina 8, Determination 2
Midden reached for Ginger—but she was unconscious, huddled on the floor of the pit, and his large leafy body was too clumsy to pick her up. He feared all he was doing was pushing her into the ground.

Seward took the opportunity to kick him again.
Seward would miss if Midden were paying attention to him. Midden: Stamina 7, Determination 2.
Midden teleported out of the giant body and to the bottom of the pit. He gently picked up Ginger and made his arms grow to gently lift her out of the hole.Now Midden tries a maneuver, using his Science specialty to think about what plants need to grow, and succeeds spectacularly. He stunts stretching, growing his own plant body.
Seward chuckled like boulders colliding and picked her up again. So long as he carried her, Midden would follow. Seward began to walk away.Ivey gets a Determination Point for going with his scientist/man nature.
No! He was no further than he had been at the start of this fight: Seward had Ginger and was walking away.

Because you're fighting him like a superhero. Fight him like a scientist.

Of course. First he had to get Ginger away from him. He remembered the intangibility trick that Seward had pulled back at the apartment complex. All he had to do was attack— Ah. Like that.
That's another maneuver, using his Smart about Science aspect; only a moderate success, so he can't use the Advantage until next page.
He skipped after Seward, teleporting plant to plant, going blocks at a time, pushing himself farther than he had known he could travel. Finally he was ahead of Seward, as Seward was about to pass a tree that was an easy fifty feet tall. Midden appeared in it, and dropped onto Seward.

That's your big plan? asked Seward, as he turned intangible. I beat that before.

Ginger fell through his intangible hand.
The Advantage is letting him do a Teleport and a catch (next bit).
Midden had been waiting for this: he teleported beneath her—and caught her.This is a teleport and a catch, so it's difficulty 3+1 for the catch, and Ivey's going to burn a determination point for a +2. (He can, because it's not like he gets a second chance.) This is a Coordination roll. He rolls a +5, for a total effect of 6, a massive success. (It turns out he doesn't need the extra effort, but the Determination Point is still gone.)
Seward tried to stomp them but there was a mass of plants there and he couldn't quite reach them.Mechanically, Seward just missed, but Midden's reaction roll was high enough that I wanted something to be justified by it.
Ivey set Ginger down and finished weaving the hut of trees and grasses over her.This is a straightforward use of plant control. The hut has a hole so she can get out, by the way.
Seward, frustrated, kicked at Midden again, but the plants were still in the way.Seward missed his roll.
Now Ivey looked at Seward and reached out to touch the man’s foot.Ivey uses tactics: he’s accepting a -2 to being hit for this Advantage, and uses it to stunt Affliction.
A pain stabbed Seward's gut. It grew like a fire, a ball of bright anguish in his stomach.Seward fails the strength roll. Seward loses 6 Stamina; he's got 5 left.
Seward tried to crush Midden, but the pain was too great—he toppled over when he lifted his foot. Midden watched. No emotion was evident on his monstrous face. Actually, he just missed, but by enough that I'll grant the falling over.
What--? asked Seward.

Your gut fauna. I made them grow. Your body needs to be in balance.

There were sirens in the distance. He waved his hand and the hut crumbled away. Ginger would be safe, now.

Ivey—now Midden—left.
Seward fails the Strength roll versus the Affliction again, bringing him to -1.

Today's NPC: Harry Crewswater

SYSTEM: Any supers game

Harry is a commercial real estate agent, dealing for the most part in warehouses, offices, and factories. He worships Donald Trump while being critical of him, he is a Tea Party conservative, and he donates to all political parties. Harry is kind of a creep, loud and obnoxious, but Harry does have his own code of ethics and a sense of survival.

He needs them.

Harry rents property to supervillains.

Ever wonder where those bases come from, those wonderfully recondite underwater lairs, those abandoned warehouses with the Coming soon: Condos, fall 2007 signs out front? Harry rents them.

It started with his cousin, David, who's serving life in a certain maximum security prison. David made Harry's name known to certain supervillains who were passing through the prison. Now his reputation is self perpetuating. Whenever supervillains hire on thugs, someone is sure to mention Harry's name, and Harry's rules.
  • Harry never meets with a client under the client's real name or known aliases
  • He insists on the first month's payment up front
  • He refuses to know anything about the client's real plans
  • Everything has to be discussed according to the fiction. This is important, because the feds have several times gotten a warrant to bug Harry's phone and office. If a client uses a known name, Harry refuses to do business with him--the tapes are full of him saying that he cannot do business with the Subtle Squid, or Doctor Faux, or the Bomb Cats. 
  • He refuses to eat or drink with the client. 
  • He conducts most business by phone, except for the final signature, for which he sends his duly appointed representative, Ernesto. Or Claude, or whatever his name is. Harry's on his fifth one. (Most of them quit, not being as tough as they thought they were.)
Harry also can't be swayed by threats to his cousin David (of whom he is not that fond, anyway), nor by threats to his wife, Marissa (of whom he is definitely not that fond anymore), or by threats to his kids, who in his eyes are mostly a tool for generating tax deductions and spending his money.

A threat to one of his mistresses might slow him down, but instead he would probably call the cops. Because if these guys had resources, they wouldn't be dealing with him.

Now, one might wonder how Harry actually makes money off supervillains, because most of them stiff him for subsequent rent or get caught by superheroes. One might suspect an organized crime connection, and one would be right.

Organized crime owns the construction and demolition companies that get called in, and Harry receives a nice kickback from them by letting them know that a property has been rented, and will probably be available soon in a damaged condition. The mob does the demo job or, if the villain is caught elsewhere, cleans out any equipment left behind and sells it at a profit. Harry's kickback doesn't have to be declared on taxes, and brings Harry up to the almost-lavish lifestyle he enjoys.

How do the PCs get involved with Harry? Mostly, they don't. Harry is a reason, rather than a gaming opportunity. However, he might come to the attention of the PCs in several ways.

First of all, a PC who has an obscene streetwise ability might know about him. Certain police officers do, and they know that Harry works very hard to be clean legally. They also know that if they really, really need to find a supervillain hideout, there's a thirty per cent chance they can do it by pointing concerned citizens who are not burdened with search laws (that is, certain heroes) at Harry.

Second, a PC who likes data crunching might well notice that six of the last twelve supervillain hideouts were rented by the same company. This could lead to a visit to Harry, and a return visit from the Mob after Harry complains.

Third, a PC might actually be investigating violence against David, in prison.

Fourth, it's a reason for a mob member to know things he shouldn't, if a PC leans on him.

Here's how Harry might look, in ICONS:

Harry Crewswater, Real Estate Magnate

SpecialtiesBusiness Expert Law (real estate) ExpertPowersNone
  • Deeply connected with the underworld
  • Cares about the appearance of honesty
  • Wants more stuff, more power, more leverage

Who you gonna call? Ghost, busted.

I was running (oh, that feels so nice to say) Aquazombies of the Kriegsmarine the other Sunday night, a Fainting Goat Games adventure for ICONS. The adventure has a certain mystical bent (and my descriptions were made more squamous and rugose by the fact that I've been playing a lot of Trail of Cthulhu lately), and one of the characters it offers is the Necromancer, who can be either an NPC or a PC. (There are options to keep him from taking over if he's an NPC.)

Mostly because I didn't want to have an extra character to think about during the adventure, but also inspired by a player character comment, I seriously abbreviated him and gave him a new name. If you're running an adventure where you need someone to handle the occult exposition but you don't want them to take over, this might be a useful solution.

Gramarye (Steven Lafferty)

Steven was a witch or warlock, whichever term you prefer. He was, in fact, exceptionally gifted and was in training to be the Master Mage, or Sorcerer Supreme, or whatever you call it in your campaign. He was, however, impulsive, with a tendency to solve things by learning the Cliff's Notes version of the problem and then improvising. Earth's current Master Mage is a supervillain (see the Warlock in the Villainomicon). The Midnight Syzygy, a loose confederation of magical traditions and schools, has been trying to elevate someone the job. Steven was by lengths their best candidate.

The Midnight Syzygy had groomed him, sending him on increasingly difficult tasks, and with luck in a mission or two or three, he would be able to take on the current Master Mage. He was that close. He had got to the point where they sent him to deal with dimensional incursions before the Master Mage learned of them.

Unfortunately, when you learn the Cliff's Notes version of the problem, the opponent has abilities that you have not bothered to learn. Tyrhogon the Wick (aka Tyrhogon the Dispossessed, Tyrhogon the Conqueror, Tyrhogon the Destroyer, etc.) was the one. His/its name refers not only to the fact that he/it has used up ("burned") several dimensions, but that he/it can possess new forms and makes use of them rather rapidly. Steven met him in battle on the astral plane...

...and Tyrhogon stole his body. With his body came a host of abilities, and the battle was essentially decided. Only the interference of the supervillain Master Mage decided it.

Without a body, Steven was doomed to the realm of the dead, unless he could find something to house his spirit. He did: a grimoire, a book of hedge magic.

He still has his knowledge of magic and occult lore, and he can risk going to the astral plane (it has a two out of three chance of letting him back into the book). He might even stunt possession (with permission) to take over a body, but that would be rare (such as when a player can't make a session). Mostly he has telepathy. He acts as a voice in the head, giving occult information to the player. He also tends to go on at length about the opponent's abilities and skills (a distraction that is often good for a Determination point, in ICONS).

He might choose a single player as point of contact (I chose the PC without Mental Resistance when I used him). He might choose a player because they have some point of contiguity or similarity (they have the same great-grandmother, or both were born in the same place, or both have loved the same reincarnated spirit, or whatever).

The ICONS Writeup

In ICONS Assembled, he might look something like this:

Gramarye (Secret ID: Steven Lafferty)
Coordination-/4Awareness4Martial Arts, Occult MasterTelepathy Extra: Detection (occult events) Extra: Rangeless8
Strength-/4Willpower8Astral Projection Limit: Unreliable6
  • Impulsive but working on it too too hard
  • Bound to a book
  • Knows about everyone occult

He is ashamed and doesn't tell his name, referring to himself only as Gramarye. He will dole out the information to the PC a bit at a time (in contrast to his usual style) if he deems it necessary for the PC to know.

As a book, he doesn't have physical abilities, but they are given should he actually get his body back. In that case, the Telepathy becomes Magic. As a person, he might have Force Field, Flight, and Blast as learned stunts. He'll also probably carry deep guilt over whatever Tyrhogon did with his body in the mean time.


Oddly enough, he immediately suggests a couple of adventures. (I know, you're shocked.)

  • One voice in your head sounds pretty much like another. Someone knows about Gramarye and his special relationship with the PC(s). The villain makes mental contact with the PC, pretending to be Gramarye. The PC might well be used to doing odd things on Gramarye's request ("Why am I opening this bank vault, again?") This might set the PC up for being accused of evil or make the PC the unwitting instrument of betrayal, or might "simply" set the dimension up for horrors to invade.
  • Tyrhogon still has his body (it's worked quite well for him for the past year or two) and it's effectively only in middle age from him overclocking it. And Tyrhogon returns, possibly in a long drawn-out scheme involving spies, scouts, and sentinels, or possibly Tyrhogon has been influenced by the impulsive nature of the body and just Does It. Tyrhogon comes to our world. It's easy now: the body is native, so it doesn't count as a dimensional incursion, and the current Master Mage doesn't look at it. But Steven knows, and the PCs are the only ones he can tell, even if it means revealing his past. If they win and wrest his body for Steven, lower the Magic score to 6 to represent the time spent out of his form, and gradually let it build up again.
  • Assuming that Steven got his body back, interdimensional mystic bounty hunters show up to deal with him for the sins he committed as Tyrhogon. Steven needs help, and he does have this bond with the PCs....
  • Everything I've just said is a lie. It's also possible that "Steven" is the former supervillain Master Mage, trapped in a book by his successor, and he has chosen this method to get the PCs to get the current powerful body of Tyrhogon the Dispossessed. Once he has it, he will regain his status as Master Mage, and probably attempt to banish or kill the PCs.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sample of play (ICONS)


From time to time (okay, twice before) I use the Mythic GME to try out a system for superheroes. My baseline is ICONS so here is how the two little fights/scenes went in ICONS Assembled.

The two scenes involve two characters fighting as normals, and then a second fight after they've had their transformations into supers.

The Origin

The characters are Dr. Alexander Ivey, an unphysical brainiac with a too-lovely-by-half fiancee and a need to do the right thing, and John Seward, a career criminal who has escaped custody by killing his guards, and is trying to hide in the experimental tau reactor on campus:

Dr. Alexander Ivey John Seward
Science (Master)SpecialtiesWeapons: Guns
EquipmentFire axe (Slashing 5, Extra: Bashing 4)
  • The right thing to do is the hard thing
  • Smart about science, dumb about people
  • Career criminal planner
  • Claustrophobia
  • Sadistic, and pulls wings off flies, too
    Dr. Alexander Ivey checked the pulse of the correctional officer. Dead, like the other one. The crash alone wouldn't have done it, so presumably they had one or two prisoners for transfer.
    Poor men.

    First, why they were here in the first place? Prisoner transfers shouldn't even go by the campus. But Carstairs Avenue was torn up. That’s why.

    He should wait for the police, but time was of the essence. Where would one man go? The campus was barely populated, this being between semesters. An engineering building, of course—they were in the engineering section—but which one?

    He peered through his glasses. The little penlight was fine for finding the right key but for spotting a blood trail, because surely the van crash had injured him... There! He followed the spatters without stepping in them—he was mindful of the evidence—until they went through the gate of the safety fence around the experimental reactor. Damn.

    He texted his fiancé. Ginger would make sure the police came. He should let the police handle it, but he had seen the reactor. Sort of his child, since his math had led to it, and then Simon Rickover had started on the engineering problems.

    Simon had shown them the current experimental prototype: it was a suitcase-sized thing, all jury-rigged parts. He said it might be self-sustaining. It was small: assuming it really used tau radiation and given the size, the blast might be as large as the whole city, but given that it couldn't even be self-sustaining yet, maybe only the building. Certainly that's what Simon had told the administration. That's why the building had a safety fence around it: as a precaution.

    A precaution with a cheap padlock.

    The building had belonged to biology before engineering grew; Ivey didn't know it well, but he knew where the reactor was. He dared not turn on the lights. The beam from the penlight was almost no help, but it showed that the big staircase was clear. Maybe even dusty.

    He would go to the reactor and, if the prisoner appeared, shut it down. Simon had showed him where the controls were. That would be the safest course for everyone. The need for silence slowed him.
    I've treated them as NPCs for the origin, for two reasons:
    1. With a proper use of Determination, this fight could go on for a long time, and I don't want that.
    2. Come on, I'm doing this solo. Really, they're all NPCs.
    Ivey arrived at the reactor—the old greenhouse—just to see someone's foot disappear inside the building.He just gets it because there's no story otherwise.
    All secrecy gone: Ivey ran and threw open the door—Does Ivey notice? Awareness 3+2 vs Stealth 4+6, No.
    The room seemed empty. But he had sworn—Seward attacks by surprise; Seward is Prowess 3+2, Ivey is 2+1, Seward hits Ivey for 5 Stamina, so he has 1 left. (Seward’s using the fire axe.)
    Ivey saw the blow in time to move so the fire axe missed his head but it met his shoulder and the world dimmed for a moment. He heard something crack and feared it was his clavicle—he tried to punch, the way they'd shown him in that one karate class Ginger had dragged him to, but it hurt to move his arm.

    Another swing and the guy would hit. He could smell the stink of the man's sweat, and the fresh-copper scent of blood. He wrapped his arm against the other man, trying to stay inside the axe's range.
    Prowess 2+6 against Prowess 3+5, total Effect of 0. Marginal success. Seward uses his turn to break free (strength vs. strength: 4+6 vs. 3+1. Seward’s free, and because it was a massive success can act again. He swings the fire axe. Seward misses and hits the console.
    Ivey charged him, trying to get inside the swing of the fire axe. They slammed against the console. Seward twisted free, and, panting, Seward brought down the axe. Ivey twisted, rolled away, and the axe bit into the console behind his head. Ivey twisted away: pain shot through his shoulder, and blackness ate the edge of his vision. He gasped and staggered upright.Ivey rushes him, getting a generous +2 because Seward is trying to pull the axe from the console. His attack is 2+5 and Seward’s defense is 3+4, for a marginal hit, so Seward takes a point of stamina but rolls away easily. Ivey takes half of one point, which is none.
    Seward swings and misses: 3+1 versus 2+6. That’s such an awful miss, I’m going to say the axe got stuck.
    When he could see again, Seward was struggling with the axe, yanking to get it out of the console. Sparks flew. Ivey glanced at the screens—the temperature was too high; the tau reactor would blow soon.

    Ivey tried to warn him, but nothing came out of his mouth when he tried to talk. He was already out of breath. He might be able to knock Seward out, pull him free: no, he didn't have the strength in his arms. The only thing that might move him was the charge.
    A failure on Seward’s Strength roll. He’ll have to use his fists.
    Ivey lowered his head and charged again, but Seward was ready. Ivey trusted to his speed, though he wobbled as he ran. He missed.

    Seward tripped him as he went by; he was unconscious as he hit the ground. His last thought was of Ginger: an apology for failing her.

    Seward grinned. Now he could swap clothes with the goniff and get rid of the prison uniform—
    Ivey misses. As he’s sailing by, Seward hits him for a Moderate success. Ivey can’t handle the blow; he’s unconscious.
    The reactor exploded.

    Well, this has gotten quite long. I'll do the second, super battle tomorrow. I assume I have done something wrong, somewhere, so feel free to let me know about it.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2015

    Small Town Heroes

    "You're a stranger here. Oh, a superhero? We've had a couple of those. The county isn't that small.
    "Ayuh, Tommy Church tried being a dark avenger of the night and all. We had to get him off the corn silo a couple of times. He was stuck, like. Turns out there's noplace to go from there.
    "Mary Sheridan got hit by them gamma rays and got real strong. Her husband Case, he kinda used her instead of replacing that old tractor, and, well, Case had an accident. Mary was clear the other side of the county at the time, though the OPP didn't look particularly close. She's done all right since then. Still hasn't replaced the tractor, though.
    "Oh, you're looking for supervillains? I'd suggest the Tim Horton's by the high school. Had my car keyed there. 'Course, it were prom night; a bunch of us were waiting to drive our kids home in case they were plastered."

    There's something about the whole "small town heroes" thing that appeals to me, even if "small town" in this context means "small city." Superheroes really are a phenomenon of the large metropolis: the equivalent of New York or L.A. or Tokyo or London. Most of the tropes associated with supers get bent or completely inverted when there isn't much crime, when you can name all the town's prostitutes or drug dealers without thinking a long time, or where there just aren't tall buildings to swing off or brood from.

    Comics have played with this several times (I know Spider-Man has been stuck without buildings to swing from, and I suspect that Great Lakes Avengers played with it, but I didn't read GLA.)

    Still, how could you do a game about them?

    One possibility is the "school for supers" campaign. The school is placed out here in the country because, well, there's less to destroy if one of the kids loses control. Yes, sometimes they have to pay for a cow or a crop, but on the whole, it's cheaper than the insurance rates would be. Mostly the interaction would be in the school, but there could be some interesting "Townies versus Students" stuff, along with the kid who has no powers but wants to be a masked vigilante and wants so badly to get into that school.

    Another possibility is to have the Smallville "meteor monster of the week" scenario: Somewhere near Mule's Foot, Arkansas, the Gengineer left a secret lair that's not detectible. His gadgets and equipment are all over the county or counties, and are creating supers on a regular basis. "Those Foreman boys! They're so susceptible to the Gene Virus. I swear, they're three years behind because of all the time they've missed in school on account of being monsters or whatever. Good thing an infection only lasts two weeks. Stop them, dear, and then you can have another piece of pie."

    A third is one that I used in an unfinished short story: they really are the only supers in the area, except for visitors. If they're teenagers, the school has had to put in special equipment to deal with them; they probably get ostracized by other kids; people are asking them when they're going to move to the big city "like the real supers." And then someone with actual super powers comes to town.
    • If you're doing a convention adventure or a one-off, it's a villain or villain group, looking for a place to lie low or where there's no opposition. "Look, we can hit seven banks before Windmiller can fly here from Megacity." The PCs have to deal with it. (And in my unfinished story, that was the situation: the protagonist had no intention of being a hero, his friend was a gadgeteer and wanted to be a hero, and then the Cool Kids came to town to rob banks, and then it got mixed in with the puberty/romance sort of thing.)
    • If you're doing an on-going session, it's a hero trying to retire. The hero can function as a mentor of sorts, and half the opposition is old foes looking to settle a score. The retired hero might not even have powers any more, or might be a trained vigilante but has suffered a crisis of nerve or lost a limb or something. It's up to the locals to stop the foes. As the campaign goes on, the heroes start to accumulate their own enemies, of course.
    If I were going to write up a campaign setting, I would choose the very last one.

    Another possibility is that the PCs are a mix of locals and transplants: perhaps this is where the government resettled all the victims of the Power Virus, who have powers but a tendency to go mad and try to take over the world (well, county: some of them aren't that powerful). You get some interaction with the locals, possibly including the retired heroes or the ones sent to watch over them ("Please don't send me to watch them! My mom lives there! I will have to put up with questions about whether I'm serious about anyone seven days a week!"), and you get interaction between the people affected with the virus.

    A last possibility is that it's the location of a supers retirement home. I've been thinking about writing up The Golden Age retirement home, but in previous incarnations I've always had it in the mountains or on an island. There's no reason it couldn't be someplace rural.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2015

    A Different (to me) Way to Run

    The other day, when I pointed out that each time I essentially run a con session, it was true, and yet it was the first time I had ever thought that. (I guess I'm not a terribly reflective person, but I guess my wife could have told you that.) I often run games as though I were still in my twenties (I know, I came to gaming late) and I could get my friends together for a six or eight or twelve hour session, some of which would be just riffing dialogue. Now, some great dialogue came out of that ("Are you guys saviors, or what?" said the ghoul, after the party disposed of some extraneous body parts from a regenerating beast by giving them to the ghouls) but it's also a style of play I can't do any more. None of us have time.

    What I had evolved to was presenting the adventure as a mind map: big circles for events that had to happen, small circles connecting them for facts that had to be doled out or for characters who had to be there, things I often forgot. The rest would be improvised, between the players and myself. Here's one I did for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying "Breakout" session:
     And here's one I did while I was figuring out the Terror in the Toybox scenario I posted lo these many aeons ago:

    There was always a general sense of unspooling: we'd start with the opening and move from there. If we got to the end by the finish of the night, great! Usually we didn't--I'm famous in my group for following the digressions that the players want to take, so that "Waterloo Gamers Syndrome" means that a three session adventure takes eight.

    Now, I don't want to get rid of some of that sandboxiness: the players should always be free to follow what they find interesting, and I will flag it and make sure it comes up in play (if not this week, next week, if I'm running). And I don't want to do railroading: I don't want to say, "No, you have to do this now." I'm perfectly happy with making stuff up if I have judged the players wrong, and they want to investigate something else, or assign great importance to something I thought was a throwaway.

    In a way, the game is a set of events we play; the story is the meaning we apply to them later, in a kind of pareidolia. (Here's a Scientific American article on finding patterns where there are none.)

    Still, the events aren't totally random. I usually have something in mind: a big bad for them to fight, and we figure out what the clues are along the way. I've just done it in a loose style.

    But time is short. So why not work backwards, like I imagine you do for a con session? (I've never actually been to a gaming convention that I can recall, so I have to guess.)

    Let's say that we're doing the Toybox adventure above. There are five parts and an epilogue. I've got three hours, one hundred and eighty minutes. That would be about thirty minutes a part. That's good for a start, but really, we'll spend longer on the last bit and on setting up in the beginning (I'd define the beginning as the hook--the first bit--and the definition of the problem or mission--that's the second bit). The middle is a bit more fluid. If this is a thing I get to run because Jim can't make it tonight, well, there ought to be a chance for the players to be their characters. Maybe we'll spend a whole hour on the beginning. Say forty-five minutes for the end. There are no surprises there, just a dilemma to solve.

    So that's a hundred and five minutes, which leaves us seventy-five. Really, it's an hour because there will be chatter and catching up and so forth. So now the rough timeline looks like:
    1. The beginning: Hook ("The Loose Thread") Fifteen to thirty minutes.
    2. The beginning: Problem ("The Frayed Edge") Thirty to forty-five minutes.
    3. The middle: Attempt to solve ("Unraveling Seams")
    4. The middle: Reversal ("Lost Stuffing")
    5. The end and possibly the epilogue. Conclusion ("The Empty Skin") Forty-five minutes.
    Now I can look at my watch and go, "They've been stalling talking to Jason for a long time. Almost an hour in; better wrap this up." Or, "Hey, we're at forty-five minutes and we're not even out of the hook yet. Man, did I misjudge. Let's cut the middle down seriously." Or, conversely, "We're already attempting to solve fifteen minutes in? Man, did I misjudge."

    Does this work? I dunno--it's a new thought to me. "Planning." But I'll try it.

    (I'd still rather play all sandboxy and let them go wherever they want...but that way lies months of gaming, and Jim will be back soon...)

    Monday, June 22, 2015

    Today's NPC: Magda Berlioz, CPA

    Magda Berlioz, CPA

    SYSTEM: Any

    Magda first comes to the attention of the PCs because she's a tax accountant, working for a firm hired either by one of the PCs (in secret or hero identity) or for the team, if there is a team. Magda is young, unmarried (to the displeasure of her father), and has a bright future ahead of her. She's built rather like an Olympic shot-putter, but she has a cheerful disposition, and she's pretty sure her boyfriend will propose very soon.

    And she's just been handed the job of handling the taxes of the PC|team, now that old Mr. Courtemanche is retiring.Things are looking good for Magda.

    The PCs soon get to know the way that Magda is frustrated by their inability to keep proper receipts, and their tendency to claim things like "extradimensional mileage--work expenses" (if she's the accountant for a hero identity or identities). Magda is very happy when her boyfriend proposes (he's an insurance underwriter). They might even get to know that her mom was a serious granola-crunching hippy who raised Magda on a commune after she split with Magda's father, and cast "good luck" spells on her every full moon. But they certainly know that she's a good accountant who finds every allowable deduction for them.

    That's when Magda gets possessed.

    It probably happens on a trip to the hero HQ to discuss some deductions, triggered by accidentally brushing against some mystic object, but it might happen when she shakes hands with a magical hero or, frankly, the stars might just be right.

    She becomes temporary housing to a powerful extraplanar deity, maybe one that calls itself a god, maybe an Elder Thing, but one with a mission of conquest.

    I'm sure that the heroes can defeat the entity and send it back to its home dimension; that's what heroes do.

    Except that Magda isn't really the same after that. Not that her personality has changed, but her fiance breaks it off for fear that some night he'll be sharing the bed with Czernobog, and she's put on notice by her company. Yes, possession is one of the risks of associating with superheroes, but it never happened to Mr. Courtemanche.

    Magda can probably rebuild...except that first possession has wrought one more change: it's given her the Quality "transient housing for the incorporeal". If there's an entity in search of a body, it will probably get Magda, which means that the PCs will see her outside of tax season.

    Magda tries to make this work...she puts the heroes on speed dial, except of course that once she's possessed she doesn't want to dial. Proactive heroes probably have her on a list. "Weird clouds over city? Check Magda and other usual suspects." She gets fired, tries to open her own business. She probably has the heroes as clients, maybe other exceptional individuals. ("Well, I think that as a werewolf, you can reasonably deduct the cage and manacles. Can we get some kind of affadavit from a recognized sorcerer?")

    The Quality cuts both ways. If someone else is possessed, the players can try to encourage a helpful spirit into Magda. However, they might get something inimical. Also, if she's possessed by something relatively weak, like a revenant with unfinished business, it might get ousted halfway through by Zargox, Eater of Souls, which would mean that the current fight against Earl of Evil over there just got to be a fight on two fronts.

    It's possible that one use of the Quality is that she retains bits and pieces of the god like abilities of the possessors. That will be handy when Paul is trying to kill her.

    Paul, you see, is one of the previous hosts and possessors of the Quality. But he's old now (it would awful but telling if his last name were Courtemanche), and powerful extraplanar entities no longer try to possess him. (He's the shabby and dilapidated motel when compared to the bright new building that is Magda.) Paul's thing is that after he gets possessed, he feels better. A little of that life force gets left behind, and sure, he might die sooner, but he feels better. His joints don't ache, he can sleep better, and he can work small bits of magic.

    The PCs can get involved with Magda through their taxes, the incidents created by one of Magda's "tenants", through the police catching Magda as she's possessed and creating an incident, or through the death attempts that Paul makes. She's a gateway to get them involved in the unfinished business of a revenant, and possibly a romantic interest for a character.

    Here's how she might be written up in ICONS as the PCs first meet her:

    Magda Berlioz

    SpecialtiesBusiness Expert
    PowersNone (yet)
    • Darn good tax accountant and CPA
    • Dad's traditional, mom's a granola flake, I don't want to be like either of them
    • Transient housing for the incorporeal

    Saturday, June 20, 2015

    Random Encounters in Superhero RPGs

    I don't know which of Arneson or Gygax was responsible for the random encounter, but to me it's both narrative and non-narrative. Narrative in the sense that it provides material that the players can select among in creating their own narrative (kind of Darwinian story-telling) and non-narrative in the sense that these encounters have nothing to do with the story/adventure. If the adventure or arc of the campaign is about looting, er, cleansing the tomb of the lich-king, the  meeting with the kobolds in the frontier town on the way there has nothing to do with the story. It provides color, yes; it probably provides the PCs with enough XP to be able to tackle the first challenge in the tomb of the lich-king. In the hands of the right DM/GM it might reinforce themes in the adventure or campaign, and from a story point of view, it says you're telling a longer story, because you have time to spend on these interludes. (Of course, there can be no story, just an evening of random combat encounters. But we're going to ignore that for the moment.)

    Most of which doesn't apply to superhero games in general and ICONS in particular. Color is good, sure, but combat provides experience in only the loosest sense, and there aren't levels to be concerned about. You probably don't want the random encounter to be too hard, because you don't want it to steal focus from whatever you have planned for the evening.

    The rolls for Champions disadvantages were a kind of random encounter that were personalized for the campaign: DNPCs, Hunteds, and Rivals were rare (8-), moderate (11-) or common (14-). If a particular disadvantage got rolled, it was probably going to show up somehow.

    Bearing in mind these purposes (buffet assortment to see what the players want to follow up on; color; soap opera), here are some ideas for random encounters in a superhero game. I have included two combat situations, but only against minion-quality foes, so the PCs should make short work of them.

    Even moreso than in other games, if a random encounter doesn't make sense in context of the game, don't use it.
    2d6 RollRandom Encounter
    2Unusual type of minions (such as zombies shuffling out of graveyard for normal heroes)
    3Informed that enemy has escaped custody/been freed
    4Loved one tries to get closer to hero
    5Fan tells hero of approval
    6Uncomplimentary article or comment from member of public
    7Loved one explains new interest that could be a source of trouble later
    8Date with romantic interest
    9Hero has chance to do good deed
    10Persistent NPC fakes being victim of crime to get interview
    11Enemy publicly claims to have reformed
    12Loved one wants to break it off

    Obviously, there could be many more, but this is a random (ahem) sampling. You could subdivide it like this:
    1d61d6Random Encounter
    1-21Trouble at work
    1-22Good news at work
    1-23Extra obligations at work
    1-24One of the neighbours needs help
    1-25There's a superhero request and the person with PC is oblivious to hints about ending this conversation
    1-26A relative/old friend visits
    3-41Fan tells hero of approval
    3-42Someone fakes being victim of crime to get interview
    3-43Hero has chance to do good deed
    3-44Loved one has interest/new problem that could be a source of trouble later
    3-45Loved one arranges a date/party, possibly at a bad time
    3-46Loved one wants to break it off
    5-61Store robbery
    5-63Informed that enemy has escaped custody/been freed
    5-64Enemy publicly claims to have reformed
    5-65Uncomplimentary article or comment from member of public
    5-66Unusual minion spotted in crime (e.g., zombies in a street-level crimefighter campaign; plant monsters; etc)

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015

    Converting Mutants and Masterminds into ICONS

    Someone else (not me!) wrote a guide to converting M&M characters into ICONS. They wrote this about second edition M&M, and first edition ICONS.

    Now, the best way to handle this is to conceptualize the character and write it fresh in ICONS. But the conversion guide was written for second edition M&M, and third is now out, and, well, I have a nit-picky view of the world. So, in a fine example of the tech writing art, I decided to update it, without bothering to check whether it gave good results originally.

    I reproduce it here, but with a bunch of caveats:

    • First, a numerical conversion like this isn't a good idea.
    • Second, I didn't write this originally: I only updated some sections to reflect third edition M&M, and I didn't even check those (beyond running a couple of numbers).
    • Third, apparently the characters generated by this are wayyyy out of scale.

    Still, with apologies for not giving credit to the original author, I put it here to make it easier to find. The original post was at

    The conversion is for 2nd edition M&M. I've taken a stab at a third edition-ICONS Assembled version because someone will want it...but a better choice is knowing both systems and converting by "feel" rather than by numbers. A much better choice.

    My opinion only: in general, I feel like in ICONS a level of 8 in something is best in the world. When you get to level 9 and 10, you're talking best in the universe/century/millennia kind of territory. Nobody should ever be saying, "Oh, my character has only level 8 in this." A character with level 8 in a power can take on and succeed against a character with level 10. (Of course, the opposite is also true: it depends on the powers involved, and the lower-power-level characters might need to team up.) The Troll, for example, is an epic villain. With a Damage Resistance of 9, he is tough to beat: players have to team up or use his qualities...and if they have a character with Mental Blast, he falls apart.

    Please remember that I didn't write the original, of which vast swathes remain. I only updated it.

    The following will look ugly; I don't know if you can even do tables here.

    General conversions: powers and abilities

    First number is M&M 3rd edition, the second is ICONS Assembled. Convert against this chart and you'll still have only a rough guideline that needs to be adjusted.

    M&MICONS AttributeICONS Power
    * Maybe a candidate for a Quality as well.

    So, those abilities...

    This is the M&M Fighting ability. If you really care about the powered/non-powered thing, consider using Martial Arts to achieve Prowess levels higher than 6 with non-powered humans. Remember also to add in advantages and skills that enhance melee attack bonus. What you're looking at is how good the character is at his/her best. You might want to do this last, after looking at skills
    Use the average of the agility and dexterity plus any ranged attack bonus and defense bonus feats rolls to determine the number used for conversion. You can improve ranged attacks with the Power or Weapons specialties. Again remember that non-powered humans can be boosted with the Power or Weapons specialties.
    This is converted from the M&M Strength ability. Consider superstrength and your heavy load lifting ability when determining Strength; ICONS doesn't distinguish between lifting and fighting.
    Convert the Intelligence ability.
    Use the average of the Perception and Insight skill totals. Yeah, technically Insight should be Will based, and you can do it if you want, but I've seen better effects averaging them. Except when I don't.
    Use the average of your Will Save and Presence and compare it to the Stats and Powers Chart.

    Skills to Specialties

    When determining Specialties, determine what your character is really good at: those are the things that might be specialties. In ICONS there are no requirements to have a specialty in order to do something: any shmoe can try Medicine (as first aid). Yeah, skill monkeys are still difficult, but since you can say "Science" and mean all of them, it's not quite as painful.

    In both systems, the skill/specialty rank adds to the character's ability, so consider comparing the sum in both cases to see if you need a specialty at all. If your doctor in M&M has INT 10 and Medicine 5 just so he can be a doctor, consider putting the doctor bit in a Quality and leaving it out of the Specialties entirely. Your character will probably need fewer specialties because the ICONS specialties are looser. (The ICONS version will get fewer specialties, as well.)

    Remember that most of the fighting skills are absorbed into Prowess and Coordination, above. You can still add them as Martial Arts, Wrestling, or Power specialties, but consider whether you need to.

    But, assuming the skill ranks are seriously different from the ability...

    If the skill is less than 6 in M&M, don't even consider buying a specialty unless the character is meant to be an idiot savant

    Skill, M&MSpecialty in ICONS

    Yes, I think the rules allow you to have an ICONS character with rank 10 in something and a Master specialty, but why? Remember scale. If that level of expertise is important, maybe you need to re-scale your game.


    ICONS doesn't even have advantages. Most of them are going to be roleplaying handwavy things. If you want the GM to use them as plot hooks and make a big deal of them, maybe they could be a Quality. Something like Fearless, consider if you want to be fearless. If you really, really want it—if it's at the core of your character concept—then consider something like Resistance: Fear effects. But really, that's probably better done as a stunt if you have a Quality that somehow alludes to it. There's a different feel between a character with the Quality "Man without fear" and someone with Resistance 5: Fear effects.


    Pick what ever powers fit your character and use the chart for the ranks. You should pick the powers that best representation of your hero and leave the rarely used or less used powers for using power stunts.

    In doing conversions from other systems, I've noticed that there's a difference in feel between a power or ability that's mimicking something a normal person could do, and something that's just plain super. When you convert damage or strength, you have guns to compare against. Mind Control, not so much. Because of this, super super powers might be converted as if they were a lower rank but I have no idea how much.
    If a power can have a specific limitation, consider a Limit for it. If the limitation affects multiple powers or the whole character, maybe it's a Quality.

    In M&M a character can have a lot of powers in an array for relatively little cost; there's no equivalent to arrays (or Multipowers, for the Hero Games players). In that case, consider Magic or Gadgets or Cosmic Power. All three allow you to pluck powers from out of a hat or utility belt for the cost of a test. Or have a Quality that generates many determination points that you can use for stunts.


    Here you can tie up a few of the loose ends like complications and advantages that might not fit into ICONS. There are only three of them now, so look for things that can be advantages and limitations.


    In my experience, Determination points are more powerful than Hero points, though that will depend on the GM. It also applies only to player characters.

    Benchmark it!

    Consider the scale you're working at. It doesn't matter if the conversions aren't appropriate for the original game, what's important is that they work relative to the current game. Batman has different abilities depending on whether he's in Detective comics or Justice League.

    This goes along with scale. Look at the benchmarks for both games. If your M&M character could not lift a building but your ICONS ability says you can, drop the ICONS strength level down.

    Now take it out for a test drive. Tweak it.

    But really, I think you'd be better off starting with the idea and working from the ground up.

    Monday, June 15, 2015

    Today's Power: Make Evil Duplicates

    Something like the power to touch someone and make an evil duplicate is clearly in the realm of "the GM says it, and it happens" variety. It feels so Silver Age to me. But as a GM myself, I gotta wonder: can you do this with the rules?

    As I say, it's probably better to make it GM Fiat, and that's what I'd recommend, but we're exploring. And maybe we'll end up with something that players can use.

    I'll need to use Great Power to make this work; I have to do some fiddling with Extras and Limits.

    We start with a description. The bad guy touches the hero with his Ebon Rod of Xorex and poof, a duplicate instantly springs up, except he or she is Eeeeevil, and ready to fight the hero to the Comics Code Approved unconsciousness. We don't need to do this an infinite number of times; four or five evil duplicates should be sufficient, and the bad guy can only duplicate a person only once per battle. (Or once per adventure; that sounds equally Silver Age.)

    One possibility is Servant. The problem with Servant (as it always seems to be) is that the created servants have no mental abilities. You can't really make an evil duplicate, though you can make a robot duplicate. I could invent an extra for that, but I have wonky rules for myself for creating extras. For this kind of thing, I don't want to handwave it away and say, "Oh, there's an extra on that."

    Power Mimicry might be another way to go: Power Mimicry, Extra: Affects Others, Limit: Extra Only.  That turns someone already of evil mind into a copy of the hero's powers, but it doesn't quite feel like an evil duplicate. It's an evil mimic, sure, but it's not quite a duplicate. Plus you have to add on some other extras, like Mental Duplication, Specialty Duplication, Transformation (limited to their form). And to make sure it works, it has to be Power Mimicry 10.

    Except that one of the terms of the power is that if you're knocked out, the mimicry stops. It doesn't sound like you can handle multiple people, unless you invent an extra to do that. I'm not comfortable with that extra, either. (Though for people like The Composite Superman or the Super-Skrull, it might be just the extra we want.)

    Okay; so let's try the other obvious power: Duplication.  If you want to duplicate four heroes, you need Duplication 4, Extra: Instant, Extra: Affects Others, Limit: Extra Only. Let's add another Extra/Limit pair: Extra: Multiple targets; Limit: Only one copy of each. That feels to me more like what we want. What about the evil self part of the description?

    How about a Secondary Effect, either Mind Control or Emotion Control? It could be Emotion Control that only instils a hatred of the original person, or we could go for full-on Mind Control. (Or we make it GM's Fiat) So that would be Extra: Secondary Effect (Emotion Control), Limit: Only hatred of the original, Limit: Situational--Only duplicates created by the Ebon Rod of Xorex.

    What if we add another modifier onto the Duplication, which somehow makes the duplicate vulnerable to mind control from the holder of the Ebon Rod? I'd probably make it an Extra, because it's an advantage to the wielder.  (You don't need it: The duplicate is an NPC character, and if the GM wants it mind controlled, it's mind controlled, darn it.)

    If we go Emotion Control, we leave open the interesting possibility that people who aren't the target can get through to the evil duplicate. Maybe that's a loved one or a teammate, but someone convinces the evil duplicate to trash the holder of the Ebon Rod.

    With Mind Control, you don't have that, he's just evil. His Qualities might be in opposition to any good ones. The add-on looks like this: Extra: Secondary Effect (Mind Control), Limit: Situational--Only duplicates created by Ebon Rod of Xorex.

    If you're mindful that players might want this strange brew, maybe you should add this to the Duplication: Extra: Duplicate susceptible to mind control from holder of the Ebon Rod. If only NPCs are going to use this mix, you don't need to. NPCs do whatever you as GM tell them to do. But if players are going to use it...

    You know what? Mind Control or Emotion Control are just bogs to get trapped in.  By analogy with the whole Marked Thrall limit, we're going to create an Extra that's only necessary because we threw Affects Others into the mix: Extra: Duplicate has opposite moral orientation than original.

    Now the power looks like this, where X is the number of heroes we have to deal with.
    Duplication X; Extra: Instant; Extra: Affects Others; Extra: Duplicate is moral opposite of target; Extra: Multiple targets; Limit: Only one duplicate per battle per person; Limit: Source (Ebon Rod of Xorex); Limit: Extras only
    That's four extras and three limits, so a player could actually have the Ebon Rod of Xorex as a tool for the cost of two powers....

    I'd also let a player spend a determination point or advantage to weaken the last limit; by using a strength or coordination maneuver, they could get the villain to touch himself with the Ebon Rod, and they'd have a good copy of the villain to fight on their side....

    If you want, you can eliminate the Instant extra and in fact make it sloooow. (Maybe the duplicate is actually a clone grown in a vat somewhere.) Then the evil duplicate is let loose in society to wreak havoc on Our Hero's personal life. Which the duplicate knows all about, because it's comic book cloning.

    Saturday, June 13, 2015

    A Place For Your Players

    It seems to me, and I seem to be late in life coming to this, that there has to be a place for your players in your campaign world. This could mean niche protection (making sure that each player is unique), but I am thinking right now about campaign worlds and histories.

    A problem I have with a lot of published settings and home brew settings (mine included) is that all the cool stuff has happened to other people. There doesn't seem to be anything for the PCs to do that's big or important. As creators, we're so interested in filling in the blanks that we fill in every bit of space, like the artist in Tim Powers' Drawing of the Dark.

    When some awesomely awful threat comes up, you don't want the players to say, "Hey, let the analogue of the Avengers or the JLA handle it."

    One way that you can handle it is scope: yeah, the Avengers protect the world, but the players have Hell's Kitchen! That's fine if that's what the players want, but if you occasionally want to throw in some world-destroying monster, you have to expect the PCs to hand off the ball. "Hey, this Cthulhoid thing just showed up, and I've got you on speed dial for just such an emergency. How soon can you get here?" And, in fact, you can spin a whole evening out of the holding action while they're waiting for the experts to arrive. ("Nobody said it could duplicate itself! Why didn't Professor Wyrd send along notes?") If you're usually happy playing at that level, that's great.

    Another kind of scope is concentrating on only one particular kind of threat; I ran a campaign where the heroes were all involved in the mystical side, and someone else in the group ran the campaign where the heroes were "regular" heroes. (I believe we even had a crossover.)

    Another way to handle it is by having the PCs be the first or greatest superheroes. They get the threats no one else can handle because they are the Justice League or Avengers analogue. You can have heroes who are the greatest or you can have them simply be the first heroes that ever appeared.

    Closely related to that are that the PCs are legacy heroes who have been called to step up and replace the big guns.

    It's possible that you could go the route that both Base Raiders and Necessary Evil have gone, and all the heroes disappeared before the campaign started. (Base Raiders made the villains disappear, too.) The PCs can't call anyone in, because they are all that's left.

    The intermediate is that the PCs are the B-team. They handle their own stuff, but when the heavy hitters are off-planet or are incapacitated, the PCs get called in. It's a nice way to spend most of your games on city- or country-wide threats, but occasionally throw in some cosmic ones.

    Another way to occasionally throw in something big is the secret history. For whatever reason, they can never tell anyone, so they have to handle it themselves.

    On a meta level, don't create so damn much history when world-building. Those neat things, let the players encounter them. Make sure that the NPC heroes are no longer useful or are busy.

    Friday, June 5, 2015

    Have some Champions

    Hmm. I did not do all the characters in the Big Blue Book. Probably me shooting off my mouth before doing the work.

    Still, I did do some of them, so they're all here in one document. I'm unlikely to be touching any more Champions stuff, but it's not impossible.

    Some Hero Games Conversions to ICONS Assembled

    An updated version in PDF (Updated because of (1) math errors and (2) my understanding of powers always evolves.)

    It occurs to me that you can use whatever kind of conversion method you want. As long as you're consistent, at least the characters will be scaled to each other.

    Thursday, June 4, 2015

    Converting from Champions

    Okay, let's get this out of the way first: I think the best way to convert a Champions character to ICONS Assembled is to start with a couple of notes about the character (strong; generates ice and shapes it; berserker hatred of killers) and build the character from the ground up. You'll get something that works in the context of the game you're actually playing, and you won't sweat about how big you should buy that 0 END 6D6 NND (not vs. people in knitwear or slogan T-Shirts).

    Nonetheless, +Fabrício César Franco asked how it might be done, and I gave some ideas, and then I had another idea, and I have now spent several days converting characters from the Big Blue Book. I haven't done but one combat to test them, but after I have (if I ever do), I'll come back and change this text.

    Some caveats:
    • This method assumes point-buy because it's clearly not random. That's fine if you're the GM and you're converting stuff, because you can just do whatever: there's no real point limit on you. If you're a player, well, then you have to think about the point limit that the GM has set. That might mean shaving all sorts of things, or buying extra things because the character turns out to be mind-bogglingly cheap. It's your life. 
    • This method produces a ballpark kind of character that you're still going to have to tweak. For instance, if you look at a character with resistant defenses in Champions, an assault rifle does about 2d6+1 killing, so 12 rPD is going to make your character immune to guns. It will take Resistant Damage 5 to do the same in ICONS and maybe you don't want to spend the points there.
    • Make liberal use of the benchmarks in both games. If a character has 60 TK, is that equivalent to ICONS Telekinesis 8? I don't think so. If something has 15 rPD in Champions, it will stop a bullet from an assault rifle, but a straight numeric conversion to ICONS won't give you that result. Look at what the power is supposed to be able to achieve, and benchmarks are one way of doing it.
    • There are pretty obvious breakpoints in character stats in Champions. Lots of characters tend to be DEX 21, 23, or 26. They're all going to end up as Coordination 5. You might have to adjust that.
    • There are lots of details in Champions that aren't in ICONS, so things get left on the floor.
    • This method calls for square roots. Everything gets rounded, and you played Hero System, for goodness' sake, so you shouldn't be afraid. You can manage just by remembering the squares from one to ten   (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100). Maybe I'll put a convenient chart below to help.
    Now that's out of the way, let's get into the method. I'll do Spidermonkey from the Asesinos at the end of each part and we'll end up with a conversion.

    Converting Champions to ICONS Assembled

     What's the character's basic concept? That will be your touchstone, and you'd start with it anyway if you were doing this conversion in my preferred way.
    Spidermonkey is an intelligent mentalist spider monkey who hates humans. What else is there to say?

    Characteristics to Abilities

    Champions has fourteen characteristics; ICONS has six abilities. How to convert them?

    With square roots, of course. Take the square root of each characteristic and use that as your starting point. ICONS doesn't do any "this is more useful so it costs more" stuff, so just use the final characteristic. We'll do Prowess last, so don't rush into it.

    Strength is pretty straightforward. Unless Ability Boost fits the concept, Strength converts to Strength.
    Spidermonkey is Strength 13, which is pretty close to 16. She'll be Strength 4. That's pretty strong for a spider monkey. (A baboon or a chimp, I could see it.)
    Coordination is the square root of Dexterity.
    Spidermonkey's Dexterity is 23, so she'll be Coordination 5. Because I know that Shrinking grants a certain difficulty to be hit, I will keep in mind that I might want to drop Coordination to 4 or even 3 during the Tweaking stage.
    Intellect is the square root of Intelligence.
    Spidermonkey is a smart monkey, but is she a genius monkey? We'll just convert straight. The square root of 20 is 4.47, so we'll round it down to Int 4.
    Awareness is usually the same as the square root of Intelligence unless the character has lots and lots of levels dedicated to noticing things.

    Willpower is the square root of the better of Ego or Presence, because Willpower in ICONS determines your ability to impress people. If you have to choose (you have a high EGO low PRE schlub), use that concept and keep in mind that you might have to add something like "Unimpressive" to a quality.
    This problem does not come up with Spidermonkey: her EGO is 20, her PRE is 10. Now, the square root of 20 is 4, as we showed above, but she is a mentalist monkey, so I'll bump that to Willpower 5.
    Prowess is handled by looking at levels and comparing the character's OCV to what you think it should be relative to a similar character in ICONS. Remember that a trained soldier is only Prowess 4.
    Spidermonkey's OCV is 8, so her Prowess could be the same as her converted DEX (5), but despite that the picture shows her with a knife, she has no hand-to-hand levels. Plus she's going to get something added from the Shrinking. Let's call her Prowess 3, and let whatever bonuses she gets from Shrinking be the rest. When we're done, I hope she'll be Prowess 5 with bonuses, but I wouldn't be unhappy with 4.
    So our tentative abilities for Spidermonkey are: Prowess 3, Coordination 5, Strength 4, Intellect 4, Awareness 4, Willpower 5. 26 points. If we have to shave a bit, we can knock a bit off Coordination and Strength.

    Skills to Specialties

    Champions has far more skills than ICONS has specialties. Take a look down the list. Ignore anything with a skill roll of 12-; it's just an application of the ability, and they already have it (unless the ability governing it is terrible).

    A higher skill might call for a specialty (unless the ability governing it is wonderful). Mentally group the remainder and see how many you can compress into a few ICONS specialties.

    Here's a rough and partial guide for translating those really high skills. Use the concept as your touchstone, and don't include the specialty if you don't have to.
    • Acrobatics, Breakfall, Climbing, and Contortionist are all covered by the Athletics specialty.
    • Background skills often turn into the appropriate kind of specialty (Business, Medicine, Law, Art, et cetera).
    • Combat Driving is covered by the Driving specialty.
    • Combat Pilot is covered by the Pilot specialty.
    • Interrogation, Persuasion, and Seduction might be the Psychiatry specialty.
    • Criminology, Deduction, and Conversation or Interrogation I would cover with the Investigation specialty.
    • Computer programming, Cryptography, Demolitions, Electronics, Mechanics, Security Systems, and Systems Operation, are all covered by the Technology specialty. I'd probably include Weaponsmith here too if the character is good at fixing and maintaining every type of weapon.
    • If the character knows fewer languages than his or her Intellect, make a note about the languages somewhere and move on. If the character knows more languages, well, consider buying the Linguistics specialty. Frankly, unless the character is about languages and not being able to talk to someone is going to be a plot point, I wouldn't worry at all.
    • Lockpicking and Sleight of Hand are covered under Sleight of Hand.
    • Disguise, Mimicry, Ventriloquist, Oratory and maybe High Society are different types of Performance.
    • Paramedic and Forensic Medicine are under the Medicine specialty (along with PS: Doctor).
    • Science skills turn into Science specialty.
    • Stealth and Concealment are the Stealth specialty.
    • Streetwise is something I often ignore: it might turn into a general criminal quality or it might be the Law specialty.
    • Tactics is probably represented best by the Military specialty.
    • Weaponsmith is a weapons specialty if the character specializes in a type of weapon.

    Martial Arts in Champions is more about doing damage; I use the Strike power to represent a +1 to damage. Out of an obscure sense of fairness, I usually buy it to one level less than Strength, though I suppose it could be rank 1 if you needed the points.

    Levels to Specialties or whatever

    Different levels turn into different things. Levels with a specific power or powers turn into Power (name it) specialty.

    Hand-to-hand levels turns into Prowess or maybe the Martial Arts or Wrestling specialties.
    Thank goodness that Spidermonkey doesn't have many skills. I see that she has Acrobatics and Breakfall; that's enough for an Athletics specialty. There are three languages, but someone with Intellect 4 can speak that many, so I make a note of them ("Speaks English, Spanish, Spider Monkey") and move on.

    Perks and Talents

    Mostly I ignore them. They are usually there to fill out the concept. Maybe they can be subsumed into a quality. Maybe not.

    Powers to Powers

    For your rough approximation, you want the square root of the number of active points in the power. Ignore any active points that are just there for reduced or eliminated END.

    I'm not going to do a power-by-power comparison.

    Most of the powers in a Multipower or Elemental Control can be stunted, so pick one or two that you think will be used a lot and stunt the rest. If there are a lot of powers in the multipower (such as a utility belt), consider one of the powers that is meant to simulate other powers: Gadgets, Magic, and Cosmic Power.

    One of the tricks that shows up a lot in Champions is a character with both Density Increase and Growth. My thought is, do you need them both? Compare them to your concept. Remember that Density Increase and Growth each add 1 to your character's strength if put in; maybe that will change your character's strength level. They each give additional Damage Resistance.

    A character whose schtick is speed (has a SPD of 6 or better) should probably have Fast Attack.

    When you need to think about an NND, look at Affliction, Energy Drain, or Stunning to model a similar effect. Stunning and Energy Drain both offer your choice of being opposed by Strength or Willpower when you take the power.

    Power Drain in Champions  might be Energy Drain with an ability extra, or Nullify. Champions Power Transfer is what used to be ICONS Power Theft:  Power Mimicry with an Extra.

    For both Shrinking and Growth, figure out what the character's actual size is, and buy ICONS Shrinking or Growth based on that.

    Spidermonkey has this shrinking thing going. She's got enough shrinking to be about a foot tall. In ICONS that's Shrinking 4. It's permanent. If it were only a short guy, I'd think about making it Quality, but she's pretty small, so let's say Shrinking 4, Limit: Constant. She gets +2 to hit and avoid being hit, an automatic "Small" quality. That ups her Prowess a bit. I don't think she needs more than 4 Prowess in total, so I'll adjust the ability down a bit so it totals 4.
    She has these mental powers: TK, 6d6 Ego Attack, and 12d6 Telepathy. I have no idea which powers really get used in play, so I'll say that TK and Ego Attack are the two main powers she uses and the Telepathy will be a stunt. They each cost 60 points, which is level 8, so she's a very impressive mentalist. Like, among the best in the world is what it says to me. Hmmm. That's not really my concept. I want her good but still needing a team. Let's look at the benchmarks. Her TK can lift 6400 kg in Champions: more than a truck, less than a tank. A straight point conversion would be Strength 8, but looking at the benchmarks in both games leads me to a level of 6 or 7. We'll say 7 for both of them, and possibly change it later if it's not suitable for the game. She now has Mental Blast 7, Telekinesis 7, and she'll stunt Telepathy when she needs it.
    As a spidermonkey, she has tracking scent (Super Senses 1) and a prehensile tail. Are they going to get used much? Probably the tail, but the tracking scent? Extra Body Parts (tail) gives her Fast Attack at her Extra Body Parts power level. She's not a particularly fast physical fighter, and you're rarely going to run into something where she feints with her hands and then pow the tail hits them. (Someone like the Lizard sometimes does that, so it's not out of order.) I'm inclined to say Extra Body Parts 1 and call it done. I might take it off entirely if the character is too expensive, and just stunt it, pointing to the Spidermonkey quality she's sure to have. I'll tentatively write in Super Senses 1, as well, but can stunt it if necessary. How often do you track someone for more than one scene? It's usually a bridge to the next scene.  (As a gamemaster, I'd probably make finding someone a pyramid test, and Spidermonkey's player can activate the Spidermonkey quality for +2 on tests. No need for a power at all.)
    So for powers, she looks like Telekinesis 7, Mental Blast 7, Extra Body Parts (tail) 1, Super Senses (tracking scent) 1.

    Disadvantages to Qualities

    Look at the disadvantages and see if you can create a Quality that includes them but also has some upside. If you're converting a villain, you want to make sure that there are some Qualities that the heroes can use against the character.

    In Champions, characters often have several disadvantages which are all reflections of the same underlying trait: "Always prefers to fight blondes; berserk if injured by a blonde, 8-; 3d6 susceptibility to hydrogen peroxide and hair bleach." 

    Read through the flavour text, too, if this is a published character. In the roleplaying notes, you'll often find something useful.
    You know she's got the quality "Mentalist Spidermonkey". So that's one.
    She hates humans to the point of being vicious to them. Is it better to be vicious to humans or to hate humans? Either could encompass the "Enraged when captured" disadvantage, but how are they for the advantage side of Qualities? I run through some in my mind, but I'm fuzzy-headed right now. We'll make it "Hates living humans" and move on.

    There are several disadvantages about superiority; that could be useful. I don't think the weakness to Ego Attacks is particularly useful, but if the GM has read the Champions version of the character sheet, he or she knows that I'll play it that way. I'm going to add "Uplifted" to the "Mentalist Spidermonkey" quality and tell the GM that the "Uplifted" can be used for good or ill.

    Back to superiority and always being in charge. Maybe I'll go with "Wants to be the alpha female" and add Leadership to the list of Specialties up above (assuming that the nominal leader has bothered to put Leadership on his or her list of specialties).

    The Sample, Ready For Tweaking

    A bit of tweaking has already been done.

    Spidermonkey, a conversion

    Prowess 4/6 Coordination 4/6 Strength 3 Intellect 4 Awareness 4 Willpower 5
    (second number is to hit and to be hit, with Shrinking figured in)
    Determination Stamina

    Specialties: Athletics, Leadership

    Powers: Shrinking 4, Limit: Constant; Telekinesis 7; Mental Blast 7
    (Used the Limit to counteract the Determination cost of the Shrinking power.)

    Qualities: Uplifted Mentalist Spidermonkey; Hates living humans; Wants to be the alpha female

    Cost: 44 points

    Not bad. With the remaining point, I'll probably increase the Willpower to 6, so Spidermonkey is a better mentalist.

    Quotation on Qualities

    Over on the ICONS mailing list (icons-rpg at Yahoo), John Clark asked a question about using Qualities and Trouble. (Following material quoted with permission.)

    Initially, he thought the idea was essentially, "Take some Trouble, get an Advantage."

    Which made sense to him, and I've often played that way. If you need an advantage so that you can push a power, taking trouble is a great way to get one. Sure, you can access the Uni-Beam but it will burn out your communications system. That sort of thing.

    But John goes on. He said, "But then I realized, after reading the Tactics section again last night, that Tactics only allows you to take on Trouble so you can activate a Quality, in order to get an Advantage.

    "If a character has to activate a Quality to use Tactics, if they don't have an appropriate Quality of their own to tag, would they have to go through the discovery process to find or create one first?"

    All of this assumes that your character hasn't got an appropriate Quality.

    This is what I suspect is the relevant text from ICONS Assembled:
    Tactics: A character can choose to accept trouble (see Trouble, following) for the ability to activate a quality, such as accepting increased difficulty in defending against attacks in exchange for activating a quality to gain improved effort in making attacks (an “all-out attack” tactic).
     To get to the implication, John also added, "If a character has to activate a Quality to use Tactics, if they don't have an appropriate Quality of their own to tag, would they have to go through the discovery process to find or create one first?"

    Steve Kenson responded. First he said essentially, that if the Trouble=Advantage thing works for you, do it, even if it's not rules-as-written.

    Then he expanded:
    Strictly according to the rules-as-written, yes, assuming the player absolutely couldn’t find a creative application of one of the hero’s existing qualities for the tactic.

    Otherwise, you are supposed to come up with a new quality, either using the maneuver rules, or “borrowing” an existing quality from your opponent, the environment, etc. (that is, one established by the GM).

    However, there is a bit of a loophole: I allow players, when they choose to cause trouble for their own characters, to take on a temporary quality associated with that trouble for the character, which can ALSO be activated for advantage, using the DP earned from the trouble!
     That does eliminate some of the extra complexity.

    In fact, that's why I let Qualities be  tentative for the first few sessions.  It might be an  important part of your character to have "Hunted by an anti-mutant organization." That signals to the GM that you want it to be part of future games (important!) but does it help if you need to do a stunt or improved effort when dealing with Monstron, the Beast With A Thousand Appendages?

    A large part of it is learning to write the Qualities well. Ideally, you want double-edged and specific Qualities, but a Quality you can activate in a large number of circumstances is better than a really specific Quality you can't. "Known mutant" is probably better than "Hunted by an anti-mutant organization" because you can twist it in a lot of different ways. Yeah, the anti-mutant organization can show up (here, have this determination point), or you can call that number for the pro-mutant organization you got on a card at the rally, or you can push some ability, or even recover, saying, "Because I'm a mutant, I can push myself further and therefore get a full recovery this panel." (Someone will now argue by listing Ten Things You Can Do With The Quality "Hunted by an anti-mutant organization".)

    I'm looking forward to reading Steve's "Q is for Qualities" in the hopes that it talks in part about writing good Qualities, even if his ideas contradict mine.


    Wednesday, June 3, 2015

    Sampling That Conversion

    So I did run a test fight, and discovered that my conversion of Drain to Nullify was a bit too effective. In Champions, drains affect active points, so it's common to see strength or will drain, because characteristic drains are a place where you get bang for your point buck. Still, they take a while: you whittle folks down instead of "turning them off." In bog-standard ICONS, though, you turn things off. 

    I think that's just Drains, though...still, I will go ahead and modify the conversion of Leech to match what I've discovered.

    Clearly, somebody has to test the various powers to see that they're roughly effective.

    Clearly I need to convert everyone in the BBB and see how it works....

    Monday, June 1, 2015

    Sample Champions Conversion: Obsidian

     And here's Obsidian, who is a surprisingly cheap character. I haven't played him for decades, so I don't remember if I've missed anything vital.

    Maybe Steve Kenson can tell us whether he intends for the additional Strength +1 from Growth to combine with the +1 from Density to give +2 to Strength. I suspect he does; with a random roll system, this sort of thing can happen. (Subject to the usual limit of 10.)

    (Mathematically, they don't necessarily.)

    Duh: Forgot the link:

    Here's Obsidian.

    Sample Champions Conversion: Leech


    I was curious about how my suggestion to Fabricio   might work, so I tried a Champions conversion or two from fourth edition, I think. (Whatever Classic Enemies was.)

    This might not be a fair test, because right off the bat, I chose a character with a power that's not easily represented in ICONS. However, if you're willing to accept the more wargaming side of gaming, then Champions characters fit right in. I have Obsidian kicking around here, and I'll do a sample fight of Leech against him. With luck, I'll remember to post it.

    Update much much later... So apparently my brain doesn't work. Drain in Champions is essentially Nullification or Power Nullification in ICONS. Power Mimicry has an advantage to do attributes only; it sounds to me like you could have an advantage to apply your Nullification to abilities under 7. (Or did I already say that?)