Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween adventure: The ghost at the party

Halloween and superheroes are kinda opposed to each other: a horror story is about loss of control and superheroes are all about having control (they have different powers). But we can certainly dress a superhero story in Halloween/horror trappings, and if it looks enough like a duck, perhaps it will quack.

Loss of control is certainly a theme, but it usually happens with villains such as Mysterio, whose whole gig is putting the hero off balance and doubtful. They tend not to be written as actually horriffic, though. The Man Who Has Everything is a horror story, but it's not presented that way.

So instead, we're going to dress up an adventure in Halloween clothes...a costume, as it were.

We could go for an obvious and physical villain, such as a vampire or werewolf or mummy or  a humanoid swarm of insects or worms...eww; I'm saving human tent caterpillar nest for later), but for this one, I think we'll go totally non-physical.

A ghost. This is mostly because I wondered how the heck you make ghosts scary...they never do anything (well, okay: there's possession and poltergeist activity, but your basic ghost doesn't have the superpowers of even a bug-zapper). But if we're just dressing it up, well, we can say that the ghost is trying to get revenge on the bad guy.

So this has a simple structure: the bad guy wants something, the ghost gets the heroes involved and puts them on track every time they're in danger of getting off track, providing directions of the place to run to, or where the bad guy is. The ghost is mute in the normal, physical plane.


A PC is looking at a map of the city (even a transit map) and a ghostly finger comes up or out through the map, right where the Van Doo mansion would be. The PC gets a sudden chill.


Any player characters who live in the city know:

  • At that place in the city is the Van Doo mansion, which has been held for over a century by a trust fund, but recently sold to a young man. We'll call him Luther Canning, but really, whomever works in your campaign is fine.
  • The story is that if you're in the house at midnight on Hallowe'en, a ghost appears and grants you a wish. (The trust has to clean it up every year because someone breaks in.)
  • Luther Canning is going to host a costume party: tickets are $100 a piece, but some are being given away free.

The story and the party are all people re talking about.

Without a roll, anyone who asks can find out:

  • Years ago, the mansion was owned by the Van Doo family, wealthy industrialists who made their fortune off the backs of the working class. 
  • The Van Doos were philanthropists, too, but most of that drew to a close when their children Judas and Peter were born. 

With actual investigation (that is, a roll of some kind; the better the roll, the more of these they get), they find:

  • The children, Judas and Peter, were conjoined twins, They lived a solitary existence to avoid being treated as freaks. 
  • The twins' parents died natural deaths before their sons were in their teens.
  • One of the twins--apparently Judas, but the two were identical--suffered some kind of accident that left him a vegetable, and left the other in sole charge of their body. He had an operation in Europe that removed the other, and he married later, several times. Alas, all his wives died, and he died childless before he turned fifty.
  • The young Van Doo men received packages from Asia and Europe.
  • Records from booksellers and antiquarians (or occultists) indicate that someone was fascinated by black magic, because many of these packages contained grimoires of black magic.
  • Some of the books contained actual spells, though they were stolen from the house and never recovered.
  • Luther Canning didn't buy the house; he fulfilled certain conditions of the trust and had it given to him.
If that isn't spooky enough to get them involved, some time before midnight on Hallowe'en night, a young man appears to any PC who isn't at the mansion (preferably in a way that looks like he's stealing from an occult bookshop). The young man looks like Luther Canning, the one who bought the mansion, but his back is curiously bent (and Luther Canning is supposedly at the mansion and party). He runs like a deer, though, disappearing even when the PC thinks he is caught.

A PC with astral vision can see the young man when he vanishes....but a PC with astral vision should know this is some kind of occult mojo.

The chase leads to the Van Doo mansion. Clearly the young man went inside.

The party is in full swing, and things are great. Whether the PCs are inside or outside, they might well notice the men closing the metal shutters over the windows. 

If asked, the men say, "Hurricane shutters. In case there's a storm."

The young man appears just in time for the characters to see he's going down to the basement through a strong door.


The basement has the rooms shown below, and they are decorated as for a house of horrors. There are columns to hold up various rooms (those are the circles)

After coming down the stairwell, guests are supposed to go in a counter-clockwise direction. The room to the furnace/"crematorium" is locked from the stairwell side, if it happens to be closed when the PCs come down. The rooms are:

  1. A graveyard at night, with  zombies (paid employees in costume) crawling out of the grave and grabbing at guests, which leads into...
  2. A mausoleum (the former cold cellar), with the shelves made up as crypts. Vampires (more employees) are exiting the crypts; one might even be threatening the guests. There is an iron gate at the end that opens to the door, and the door leads to...
  3. A dungeon torture chamber, with items like a rack, a Judas chair, a brazen bull, a strappado, and burly torturers in hoods.
  4. A crematorium, with a box built around the furnace, so it looks like a crematory furnace, and a blackened flaming corpse exiting the furnace; flaming arms grab for the guests, who can then exit through the door and go back upstairs. There are two doors out, but one is locked. It leads to...
  5. The room for the black witchcraft ceremony. This is the room where the reincarnated Judas Van Doo will kill a sibling in order to get the power placed in this new body. While he's in this room, he has access to the power, but he doesn't have it outside the room.

The walls are lead-lined, and the material strength is high enough that any normal human (up to strength 6 in ICONS) can't break through.  There are air vents, so someone with shrinking or intangibility or just jeezly great strength can break through the walls.

The young man--now the reincarnation of Judas Van Doo--has his powers. He has really four powers, though they might all be the result of a generalized sorcery power:

  • He himself is a shapeshifter, and knowledgeable about the black arts. The more power he uses, the more he will look like Judas Van Doo, strange scar, bent back, and all.
  • He is resistant to damage, either through his shapeshifting abilities or as the result of a localized spell.
  • He can make objects become what they appear to be.
  • He can animate objects.

If one of your player characters is actually mystic, there might be some mystic resistance.

As the player characters move through the rooms, he makes the various things come alive for them:

  1. The zombies really attack.
  2. The vampires really attack.
  3. The torture devices in the torture chamber come alive, and attack.
  4. In the crematorium, the flaming corpses become actual demons, who attack.
  5. The PCs must then get through the last locked door. (It's okay if the PCs go through the wall and cut the gauntlet short, but then various things from the different rooms will follow them, and they'll have as much of a free-for-all as you want.
And, as the players move through, the young man -- the ghost of Peter Van Doo -- is just out of reach until he appears in the red square of the witchcraft room. He is not visible to Luther, which might confuse some players.

Luther has a victim--a sibling, preferably of Luther's but any sibling will do--bound on a table in the middle of the pentagram. There are runnels to catch the blood and guide it down to a fancy ceremonial jar under the table. When filled, the power will be complete Luther's, even when he's out of the room, but it has to be filled by midnight (but not started before whenever the players get there...he couldn't do this before sunset, and the nearer to midnight the better).

And before the players enter, Luther makes the cut, and the blood starts to flow.


If the players have dealt with each problem along, the way, all they need to deal with is a sorcerous shapeshifter who doesn't have to pay attention to the victim any more and can fight them. (He won't turn into a snake; apparently it never works.)

There are two conditions that have to be fulfilled as closely before midnight as possible:
  • The jar must be full of blood. It is fastened in place, but a clever PC might be able to free it or redirect the blood or remove the jar somehow (or break the jar, but it should be very tough).
  • The victim must be brain-dead. Dead-dead is acceptable, but brain-dead will work, too.
If necessary, the ghost becomes visible to unnerve Luther/Judas. If the clock starts striking midnight (you can hear it throughout the house), Luther will abandon any fight to try and smother the victim.

A Peek Behind the Scenes

Just so you can see how much I jump around, here are bits of the original draft:
Ghost story. Right.

Let's suppose that bad guy X once killed the victim, and once a year--on the anniversary of the murder--the ghost can try to make it right. The ghost can't do anything: it doesn't suck powers away. It can be scary, sure, and it can create the illusion of itself somewhere (those with astral vision will be able to see the real ghost; the illusion is always at the same place the ghost is, it just looks solid).

(In fact, Young Justice did exactly this: the lovely episode with Zatanna and Artemis out on the town on Halloween. I'll try not to imitate Young Justice, but some of the choices I'm going to make are the same.)

It's tidier if the murder gave our bad guy magical powers, so he or she is equal to the heroes. We can claim otherwise...someone mean enough to kill is probably also mean enough to take the superpower pill when it's offered...but I want this tidy so you can drop it in anywhere. (If you have a character who can act as a psychopomp, such as Deadman or the Phantom Stranger in DC, then perhaps you could re-jigger that.)

The murder is not recent; it happened long ago, but the Bad Guy--I'm thinking out loud, so there isn't a name yet--has only just escaped from his last imprisonment. Actually, the justification for the Gentleman Ghost appeals to me here: the ghost reappears every time the Bad Guy reincorporates and comes to the fullness of his power (as they say). So the bad guy has reincorporation, but at a plot device level: he is always born on Halloween, and that night, the ghost reappears.

So they're twins. Metaphorically, anyway, so we'll make them real twins. To be even more uncomfortable about it, they were conjoined twins, joined at the chest. And to effectively kill the good twin, the bad twin had to essentially make the other twin a vegetable--he couldn't kill him because that would be killing himself.

Okay, this is nicely gross for Halloween...but what does the bad twin want, and how do the players discover all this juicy grossness?

Clearly the bad twin has become a shapeshifter of some kind, because he wanted to get rid of the other twin. (Perhaps there was a story about him leaving the city and coming back after a miraculous operation.) He (It might be an interesting dichotomy if the good twin was gay and the bad twin wasn't, but I think that would derail the adventure.)

We want a haunted house, so the twins were the only scions of a wealthy family...the Van Doo family. (Doo plural sounding like the French Deux, for two.) The house is still there, maintained by a trust that the bad twin set up. Because the power vessel is there.  There is some magical power, but it goes to a power vessel when he dies. He set it up that way with the reincarnation, because he had to get rid of his current body; that one had remnants of the other twin.

The names Cain and Abel seem rather obvious, and Chang and Eng has the wrong ethnicity for North America. Let's try Judas for the bad twin (called Jude; the heroes won't know it's Judas unless they look at a birth certificate) and Peter for the good. Jude of course survived and got better looking each year, after the "miracle" operation. His first wife died in childbirth; his second wife produced a single child (a daughter) before she died, and his third wife ran away. Because of her, there are stories that Jude practised black magic.

(In fact, he was trying to prepare his child as a vessel for his mind, but when he had no children, he had to switch for the reincarnation plan. Mystical tomes and such are a clue, if necessary.)

We can start in one of several ways, the day before Halloween:

  • If a character is a teenager or a young adult, there is a party going to happen in the basement of the Van Doo mansion. The character hears about it. (There is a story that being in the basement of the Van Doo mansion at midnight on Halloween gets you a wish granted from the ghost of Peter Van Doo; the mansion's management company has to clean up every year.)
  • A small medallion like a gear is stolen from a private collection. The players might investigate that.
  • The mansion is made available to a young man. When quizzed about it, the management company says that they are obliged to make it available to anyone who can answer the three questions left by Jude Van Doo in his will. The characters might choose to investigate that, because it seems odd...

Because of that and all the other stories that have arisen about Judas Van Doo, there is another story: being in the basement of the Van Doo mansion at midnight of Halloween will grant you a wish from Peter Van Doo's ghost. And every year some one breaks into the mansion to stay there until midnight. (The management company often has to clean up.) So that can be part of our hook: someone is planning a big party in the basement. It's illegal, and the party will have illegal substances. The players might hear about that and want to be there or investigate.

Characters who research the Van Doo family know that Jude Van Doo purchased mystical things, and not all of them were legal. (I rather like the idea of the "good" twin, empowered by some action of the heroes, forcing his way out of the chest of the bad guy, and pushing him inside. In fact, if I were writing a story, that's what I'd do.)

Okay, let's back up for a moment. We want only the good elements here.

  • Background: Conjoined twins, one killed the other, ghost, powers stored in urn, bad twin reincarnates. Halloween is important.
  • Latest reincarnation gets the house with the powers. The urn, or power cistern, is built into the house. Magic users will recognize this.
  • Party on Halloween night. Reincarnated bad twin plans to kill lots of people to move the power into his body. Only one death is necessary, but he has grown to appreciate excess.

And this is why it is a mistake to look at anything I haven't finished yet.... You can see things that I abandoned, and you're free to incorporate them if they appeal to you and work for you.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trap, trap, who's that tripping across my trap?

Over on the Supers RPG Facebook page, Christopher Hatty asks whether there are any supers RPGs with good advice about traps.

Alas, I don't know. From what I've read, there was some advice in the old Champions books or in Adventurer's Club, and I remember that the Mutants & Masterminds books had some as well. Mostly, I remember Aaron Allston pointing out in an article that players hate being caught in deathtraps...and yet, they're such a part of the genre that you don't want to skip them.

So thinking very briefly and superficially (that's how I do everything) about traps, it seems to me that there are really three kinds of traps in fiction:

  • Traps that can be avoided
  • Traps that must be endured
  • Traps that must be escaped
This is a general thing; it's most common in superhero stories, but it shows up in all kinds of pulp and adventure fiction. And depending on your goals in the story/roleplaying session, traps can move from one to the other, and frankly, if a player has a brilliant idea, a trap that was supposed to be endured may well be avoided..

A trap that can be avoided

Really, this is a chance for your heroes to show off. They know which button to depress, which wire to cut, where to stand so the needle doesn't fly out, are wearing the lead suit so the argonite doesn't affect them, whatever. The trap might be subtle or it might be obvious or it might be totally inappropriate for their powers. ("I can fly...what is a pit trap supposed to do?") but it's a chance for the heroes to show off (if they get it) or an opportunity for the villain to wear down their resources before the confontation.

To this way of thinking, a puzzle is a trap that can be avoided: if they figure out the puzzle, they avoid the damage that happens if they didn't figure it out.

A trap that must be endured

This is the untraceable poison that is working through the hero's system.This is the mind gas that Mysteriman dosed them with.  This is the trap that they didn't avoid.

These traps are rarely lethal by themselves (though they may look lethal, with the time limits frequently imposed), but they are devices that even the playing field or tilt it in the villain's favour.

To some extent, this is the Iron Maiden slowly closing on Lana Lewis, girlfriend reporter, or the hit men crossing town to kill Aunt June, but those are more like traps that must be escaped: you want the hero to come up with a clever way to avoid it.

A trap that must be escaped

This is another chance to show off. The classic is the deathtrap: a device or situation so fiendish that the hero has no obvious escape, and yet we want them to escape. ("Your utility belt is gone! The room is bathed in the rays of a red sun! In three seconds I will release a pack of wolves!") Sometimes the escape is by avoiding the doom ("By looping the wire around this lamppost, I create an electromagnet that will ionize the air and pull the laser beam to one side!") or managing to escape the hungry wolves for long enough to slip into their crate; a cage that holds a wolf might not hold a prehensile person.

But, as I said earlier, this is also the doom that will be visited on the loved ones. Yes, there's an argument to be made for "realism" but in a superhero story I hold my heroes to a higher standard: they don't fail to rescue Lana Lewis or Aunt June, just as they don't get offed by the deathtrap. The cost might be high (in a game resources sense) but it should be something they can pay.

Trapping the player characters

I find it odd that a player will not object to the threat to Aunt June but will object to being put in the room with the closing walls. Yet it's true, in my experience. Perhaps it's because the deathtrap is a result of the PC's failure, something in direct contrast to the usual assumption of character supremacy. Or maybe it's just as simple as players wanting to feel that they or their characters are smarter than the characters they read about, and most deathtraps are, well, dumb. (I love them, though?)

You can bribe them by giving them hero points or the equivalent. I find that they're better about it if you defeat them in battle fair and square first...but if the villain could defeat them in battle, why not just kill them? The only answer I have is, it's comics.

But it's worth noting that of these three types of traps, only one (the trap that can be avoided) involves actual dice rolls, to notice or disable the traps. The other two are much more about the situation: managing to persevere despite the Argonian Flu or managing to escape the deadfall while still saving Aunt June.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alternate ICONS Character Generation

It occurred to me about twelve seconds ago (I have poor impulse control) that there's a possibly interesting alternate way to create characters in ICONS.

We first define a couple of templates--for this example, I'll use the ones below, but we could use the templates in Mutants & Masterminds or any other game. This is how I could create a character as a GMC in a hurry. It makes a 45 point character. This is meant to be an even quicker and dirtier way to create a character. If you want real nuance, use the real ICONS method.

Ignore the origins list. Your character will have an origin, but it's narrative flavour; it doesn't give you anything mechanically.

Stats: 20 points. Usually, you have some idea of the kind of character you want.  If you don't even want to assign that, here:

Powers: You get a power out of each group: Offensive, Defensive, and Movement. You might want a sensory power, too, but you don't need to pick one. If you want, use one of the powers to bump up an ability, so a brick can have a higher strength or a mentalist a super-high willpower, or a genius a high Intellect. Now pick:
  • A power at rank 7. 
  • Two powers at rank 5.
  • Another power at rank 3.
If you want an Extra, you either use up one of your powers or take a limitation on the same power. They balance each other out.
Personalization: Spend 5 points on anything, provided you never exceed rank 10 on something.  Specialties come out of these 5 points.

Qualities: One is your secret or public ID, with a guarantee from the GM that it will generate as many problems as benefits. The other two are developed in play.

Sometimes the powers are almost self-evident, sometimes they're not.

So, for example:
  • A Brick probably picks Strength as one of his rank 5, and has a total strength of 9, a Resistance to Damage of 7, a Leaping of 5, and Super-Senses of 3.
  • A Blaster might pick Energy Blast 7, Force Field 5, Flight 5, and Danger Sense.
  • A Controller might pick Gravity Control 7, with Binding as the base power, Telekinesis 5, Extra: Burst 5, and Flight 3.
  • A Gadgeteer might pick Energy Blast 7, Force Field 5, Interface 5, and Gadgets 3.
  • A Mentalist might pick Telepathy, Teleportation, Regeneration, and Detection.
  • An Oddball might choose to be a winged interstellar policeman, with Immortality 7, Strike 5, Side Effect: Nullify 5, and Flight 3.
  • A Shifter might pick Transformation 7, Resistance 5, Regeneration 5, and Phase 3.
  • A Warrior might pick Speed 7 (his car or plane), Energy Blast (bow and arrows) 5, Fast Attack 5, and the 3 point power gets added to Coordination.
Anyway. That's the idea. It's less random than random creation, but you still get to pick some without going the whole point-buy route.

Supergirl impressions

I was left vaguely disappointed by the premiere. I had to think about why, because I thought the acting was great, the special effects were decent (some great, some not so great). (Occasionally I thought the lighting was bad, but it was bad in a way that made sense for the setting, I just would have preferred that they cheat on it.)

The big reason I was disappointed was that I felt I had seen it all before--and I had. In the trailer, which contains most of the juice from this particular episode. But having seen the trailer multiple times, this felt like a slower version of the trailer...I expected the next beat in the trailer and got a bit of dialogue instead. So it felt clunky, but I'm not at all sure that I would have thought it was clunky had I come to it pure.

So in that sense, I thought it was decent--certainly decent enough that I'll make my real judgement over the next few episodes.

My other disappointment is probably personal. The pilot had a lot to do: it had to get the show picked up (for starters); it had to introduce all the characters; it had to introduce a problem that was going to take all season or longer to resolve (the prison); there had to be an action story, because we had to make clear that this was an action-adventure series. The pilots for Arrow and Flash did these things. In addition, it had to explain why we weren't seeing the oft-referenced-but-never-named cousin.

But because the whole thing was tied up in an hour, introducing us to the new status quo, I felt like they hit some of the beats...not mechanically, because everyone hits those points...but a bit less gracefully than I would have liked. Kara's life, ending when she comes out of the closet...and commercial break. First attempts (which I thought were fun, really)...and commercial break. Downturn, which ends with heartbreak...and commerical. And redemption, leading to the new status quo. Often the structure is less obvious, or is obscured by ongoing threads.

Of course, a pilot doesn't necessarily have ongoing threads..

Characters had to be sketched out in the briefest of ways. Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen got a bit; Callista Flockhart as Cat Grant got a bit, and Jeremy Jordan as Win Schott got a bit. Enough that I'd like to see real development there...they intrigued me.

Chyler Leigh got some very on-the-nose dialogue, while I would have preferred that it be more indirect. Poor David Harewood didn't get much besides antagonistic plot stuff (though the line about Alex's abilities pleased me). I'm sorry that Dean Cain didn't get actual dialogue, but I understand it. I hope we'll see better and more in the future.

The villains got to chew scenery, which is fun for them, and sometimes fun to watch. It was certainly okay here.

So I think it was a decent pilot. Sure, maybe it would have been different if it had been picked up by the CW instead--the two networks have different styles--but it was decent.

Now we see how they're doing...what changes as it's an ongoing, where they cut corners on the effects shots, and what they get to do.

If they're going to keep up references to her cousin (they probably won't make them as numerous as here), it would be nice if there were some mention of meeting for self-defence training: both of them have learned on the job, as it were, and each of them needs the opportunity to work out with someone just as strong. (That can be a throwaway line..."What was that move?" "Been working out with my cousin.")

I'd like it--though it might not work for everyone--if the prisoner of the week ongoing actually led them into the real villain of the season. (We might have already seen the villain of the season.)

So I'll keep watching it, cautiously hopeful.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Generic Super...uh...girl?


In honour of the premiere of the CBS series tonight (and no, I didn't see the leaked pilot), here is a quick generic Supergirl. She's more of the iconic sort than anything in particular, though "Rash, brash, and bold" plays to recent portrayals, since as created by Otto Binder (and Al Plastino, I think) she was a typical subservient female. (It was the times, I think; I don't mean to imply anything about Binder.)

The higher Intellect is because she hangs out with Braniac 5 in the future, so you know she's not exactly dim. She's also been shown to have an interest in science in some of the relatively recent comics, such as the Sterling Gates run.

Other powers, such as super-breath and seeing in the dark, are left as stunts.

If you want to fit her into the Fallen ICONS posts, she's clearly a second attempt at creating a human-alien hybrid who was given false memories of her earlier life on the alien planet. When her "cousin" revealed the deception to her, she didn't believe him, and left the planet on a kind of Wanderjahr, attempting to find the remnants of her alien homeworld.

(Hmmm. It just now occurs to me that Clark should have been spending time with her when he found her, trying to learn more about Krypton. There is a certain loveliness to the idea that he came to the Midvale orphanage every week to take her to dinner, saying, "Tell me more about Krypton." (Well, she might have just whispered it in her room, knowing that he would hear her. No, it's not at all creepy. *shiver*))

NameSupergirl (Linda Lee Danvers)Prowess4Intellect5Determination1
SpecialtiesAerial Combat, Mental Resistance, Science
Damage Resistance Limit:Not vs magical effects8
Blast (shooting) Heat vision7
Super-senses: +1 Enh. sight & hearing, microscopic vision, telescopic vision, X-ray vision5
QualitiesConstantly learning how to be a hero
Girl of two worlds
Rash, brash, and bold

Or, to but a Fallen ICONS spin on the character description:


The same project that produced Exemplar also produced Pinnacle. Once the alterations to his genome had been shown to be stable, they produced a woman, a dozen years younger. There was never any intention that the additional genes would breed true, but as a precaution the project gave her a cover story as Daniel Hugo’s alien “cousin.” They also spent much longer programming her with the alternate history that they wanted...years, in fact.

When Daniel Hugo leaned the truth about his and her origin, she was on the alien dimension of Alpha-Nile-8, leading a retaliatory strike against the leader Umbra. She lost people there, and the last thing she wanted to hear was news about the government that had sent her there. Rather than believe Daniel, she retreated into her alien identity, creating monuments to her fallen civilization.

After her foster parents, the Danners, died, she became Lee Danner less and less, and Pinnacle more and more. She is as vulnerable to Xenite as Exemplar was, but she has had most of it gathered up and destroyed.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Power of the day


So about six minutes ago I had this idea for someone whose power is sort of duplication, but each duplicate represents a different part of the character's personality...and who has different powers. She or he splits and the new character represents something else. Sometimes the character pulls out the butt-kicking side, sometimes the brainy side, sometimes the manipulative emotion-controlling side, and sometimes the transformative "I'll change to be with you" chameleon side.

This is not a power that I immediately said, "Hey, it's easy to do."

This is kind of like Alter Ego, in that it's a different set of powers and a different character, and kind of like Duplication, in that both versions are around. (Otherwise, it would be straight Alter Ego.)

But it suddenly occurred to me that you could do it like this:

Duplication, Extra: Side Effect (Alter Ego)

Every time the duplication goes off, boom, the Alter Ego goes off for the duplicate. And you can either use a straight there-are-n-duplicates (except when narratively interesting)  or you can take the Dial-H-for-Hero serial extra on Alter Ego, and the character never knows what duplicate he's going to get, whether it's a known duplicate or some other aspect of personality.

As a GM, I'd probably ask the player to not go with the serial Alter Ego duplicate, just to keep things faster at the table.

EDIT the first: This is, of course, the Crazy Jane/Black Annis power, which I only just realized.

EDIT the second: Or, as pointed out by the lovely and talented Fabricio, you can do serial Alter Ego power by having the player or the GM generate a series of heroes that the character will turn into.  Depending on the degree of trust between GM and player, the GM might want to look them over before the game, but they're all likely to be gone soon. (There is the plotline where one of the supercharacter refuses to turn back--the Miracleman Jr. scenario--but the player and the GM will probably agree on that, because it isn't the concept of the character.)

Boytoy in ICONS


Made up in about ten minutes on my lunch hour. Fidelity to concept not guaranteed. Cost seems excessive. Might be okay.

Boytoy, from the Clique

Heridfel's writeupICONS
Character's Name: Boytoy
Alternate Identity: None
Power Level: 10
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 1500 lbs.
Hair: None
Eyes: Lavender
Description: Per Crooks!
History: Per Crooks!
What that says. I'll make his Origin: Artificial
Str: 12/30 (+10)
Dex: 12 (+1)
Con: - (-)
Int: 10 (+0)
Wis: 10 (+0)
Cha: 2 (-4)
Prowess: 2
Coordination: 3
Strength: 8 (Density+Origin)
Intellect: 3
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 5
Combat and Saves
Attack: +0, +10 grapple
Defense: 16 (flat-footed 13)
Initiative: +5
Grapple: +23
Toughness: +14
Fortitude: -
Reflex: +7
Will: +5
Stamina: 13

  • Skills: Acrobatics 6 (+7), Bluff 14 (+10), Drive 8 (+9), Notice 5 (+5), Pilot 3 (+4)
  • Feats: Attack Specialization 5 (grapple), Interpose, Move-By Action

  • Athletics, Drive, Military, Pilot, Wrestling

  • Density 9 (27 pp)
  • Protection 10 (10 pp)
  • Immunity 43 (Fortitude, mental effects, critical hits, own powers) (43 pp)
  • Speed 5; Enhanced Improved Initiative 1 (6 pp)
  • AP: Flight 3
  • Morph 4 (vehicles, 2 pp/rank; Drawback: Always same color scheme (-1)) (7 pp)
  • Growth 6 (Flaws: Size-only (-2), Drawback: Full Power (-1 pp)) (5 pp)
  • Obscure 8 (visual, radar) (24 pp)
  • AP: Snare 8 (Extra: Area (Cone, behind Boytoy))
  • AP: Trip 8 (Extras: Area (Cone, behind Boytoy), Sustained, Independent, Opposed by Acrobatics Check; Flaws: Limited: Only affects moving targets (-1), Range (touch))
  • AP: Environmental Control 8 (Hamper Movement (2 pp/rank) Linked to Distraction (1 pp/rank), Cone Area (behind Boytoy))
  • AP: Paralyze 8 (Extra: Area (Cone, behind Boytoy), Alternate Save (Reflex); Flaw: Slow-Only (-1))

  • Density 6 Limit: Constant Extra: Doesn't affect Coordination
  • Life Support 10
  • Super Speed 2
  • Transformation 6 Limit: Tell Extra: Growth
  • Gadgets 5 Extra: Instant Extra: Burst Limit: Only built-in functions (see list over there...Dazzle, Paralyze, Ability Drain (movement))
Non-combatant: Boytoy will not take any action that directly results in a Toughness save for any targets (-2 pp)
Like, totally an android
Can't hurt sentients
Costs: Abilities (-14) + Combat (12) + Saves (11) + Skills (9) + Feats (7) + Powers (127) - Drawbacks (2) = 150 ppPoints: 70, I think. Man, that's a lot.

No blocking, no wimping, and the apocalypse engine

(An aside before I start: I am totally going to call some superhero plot device the "apocalypse engine.")

I don't own any games that are powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), but I will--I've backed Masks and I'll get a copy of it sooner or later. But I see comments about it, and about Worlds in Peril. And this question came up, along with an answer (and of course I can't find it any more...the title was something like, "How to Ask Nicely in DW").

But the answer suggested that there is no just-riffing move for the GM. If the players asks for something (the title You don't do a simple information check. What the GM says has to move to story forward: say yes, introduce a villain, make a conflict out of it.

That's very much the improv "no blocking, no wimping" rule. Whatever you do, it matters.

It's interesting to me that you restrict the GM in this way. (Presumably you also restrict the players....there's an SRD for Dungeon World, isn't there? I should read it.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fallen Icons: Square Peg, formerly Flexiguy

Used to be, you could see sideshows at circuses. Freakshows. In this more enlightened age, they don't show up, now. Instead we have the Internet and streaming video.

Some people let other people see them. One of those people is Square Peg.

She's not attractive, as women go. Her arms and legs are too long. She obviously wears a wig, because sometimes it is askew. And she always, always, always wears a bodysuit like the one Flexiguy used to wear. It's not visible all the time, but it's there.

Square Peg looks like a church lady, but she performs. She'll do anything nonsexual and nonlethal that you ask and pay for. She swallowed live fish (twenty-six of them). She's rolled in disgusting things. She once kissed a clown.

SpecialtiesPerformance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Wrestling
Morally flexible.
Embarrassing secrets to spare.

Getting to know Square Peg involves getting through layers of secrets. Like an onion.

Square Peg was Flexiguy, who was Chuck "Moray" Marston, back in the 1940s. He never seemed to age, and he fought crime for years.


People have been born, lived, raised families, and passed away in all that time.  The crooks seemed to get meaner. People in general got less sunny, less tolerant of his way of looking at the world. A guy who could pretend to be a very nice desk set seemed as out of place as, well, desk sets.

He'd been adopting a woman's appearance for years in order to get in and out of places in disguise. One day, it seemed like just too much effort to change back. To stretch at all, in fact, or fight crime or do, well, anything. He's stuck in that form.

Well, he still needs to eat. So he does what they pay him to do.

What does that mean for the PCs? Well, one might be related to him, or one might need something that he knows. Someone might be suspicious of his cover identity--Peggy Rest doesn't seem as old as she should be, given that her history starts with her as a middle-aged adult in 1989.

A fresh infusion of the flavoring agent might help him. (Is Gin Gold still around? Is there someone who remembers what the secret ingredients were?) And he needs a reason to live...someone with a bright view of the world might help. Someone who figured out who he was...someone clever, like the PCs.


Chuck "Moray" Marston was a gangster on the way up. He got put in charge of the Gin Gold factory robbery, but there was a double-cross, and a shoot-out, and then Marston fell into a vat of flavoring agents. That saved him from being shot dead. He crawled out (dying) , managed to overpower the night watchman who found him, but collapsed before he made it two blocks. He collapsed in front of a brownstone.

The old man who owned the brownstone had been a monk, and he cared for Marston. Under his influence, Marston decided to turn over a new leaf. Before he left, Marston discovered that his time in the flavoring agents had given him a new power: when he wanted, his body was as pliable as putty. He decided to put it to use as a superhero.

He toyed with a number of names (such as The Pliable Punk, Malleable Max, Elastic Man, Mr. Bendtastic, or Darknight Ductility) and decided to be the Flexible Freak. However, when someone asked his name, he blanked and what he got out was, "Flexible...guy." The newspapers turned it into Flexiguy.

SpecialtiesMental Resistance Expert, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Wrestling
PowersTransformation (objects) Limit: Tell6
Extra: Damage Resistance
Extra: Stretching
Life Support (vs aging)1
QualitiesSecret (ex-crook)
Came from the dark side to the lighter side
Morally flexible


Unlike every other Fallen Icons post, this one is genderswapped. Mostly, the name appealed to me. But also, if you have significant amounts of Transformation, choosing a sex is, well, optional.

Square Peg is rather a bleak, dark view of existence. It certainly doesn't fit with the character Jack Cole created, but for me, it certainly feels like what happened to comics. If you could manage some kind of a comeback story that ended up with Flexiguy being in a happier place, well, that would please me.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A thought adventure

Warning: This is a long one.

A thought adventure using the ideas I had the other day.

We take, oh, Batman. The Joker is a standard villain for him. I don't have a writeup for him, but the Joker is about chaos and the Batman is about restoring order, so that's the problem in some way.  I have no idea how many points we assign the Joker, so let's do it without assigning any points, see how many we rack up, and that might give us an idea of what significant and insignificant mean here.

I'm going to try to create a story using the rules I've laid out, but if there's a conflict, story wins and I'll amend the rules. And remember, I'm not trying to create deathless prose; I just want it to feel like a story.

(It might be nice if this were a helpful tool for creating stories, but if it isn't, I don't care. That's not its purpose.)

Thoughts and commentary will be indented, like this.

Stage 1: The Threat

We quickly introduce Violet St. Germaine, Bruce's girlfriend of the moment. (A point!) They are at a charity ball (another point!) that has to do with some imposing-order or helping kind of thing...orphans. They're trying to give families to orphans. Bruce is all over this; he doesn't want other kids to go through what he did. Okay, so the story has something to do with putting orphans in families...making the standard nuclear family, I guess. So the Joker's plan will make more orphans, or kill the parents. I don't know what, yet, and I don't have to.

The Joker attacks the ball, mostly because he says he's trying to draw out Batman, but Bats isn't showing because he can't get away (another point). He robs everyone (because a little extra cash isn't a bad thing) and mentions that there's nothing wrong with orphans. He was an orphan, and he likes the way he turned out. He decides to kidnap Violet St. Germaine to bring out Batman (another point), they finish tying people up, and he shoots Bruce, who is trying to attack. (Another point!) Bruce takes out some henchmen, but the Joker gets him. Only wings him, though, because Bruce is fast. Still, Bruce will have the complication of a wound for a while. They leave, with Bruce lying on the floor, possibly bleeding.

Points so far:
  • Introduce a character (Violet)
  • Introduce a theme (the charity ball)
  • Set stakes (put Violet in jeopardy)
  • Lose to villain
  • Complication (Bruce is hurt)

We'll try five points. So the Joker is a five point villain? I don't know, but really, I'm not sure that the threat stage needs a point value. It needs certain things to happen, but it might not need points.

If it really is something in that range of points, then the thing to do is decide on the length of your story and set down the die with that many faces, turning it up to remind you. So as soon as you get your first point you plunk down a D6 and increment the count on it; once you reach five (or six), you can fulfill the end condition for that stage. Maybe the number of faces would correspond to the length of the adventure: D4, D6 are short adventures. D8 and D10 are long adventures. D12 is really long. D20 is for crazy people.

Stage 2: The Investigation

Leslie Thompkins  helps Bruce but says, "You've been shot! You need to rest!" Bruce says he's had worse and immediately falls down (a point). He has to rest.
Under the current setup, we don't get points for introducing characters after the threat stage, just for reusing them. So we don't get points for introducing Leslie or Alfred to the adventure. We get points if they show up again, though.

He wakes up at home...Alfred brought him home. Bruce being Bruce, he doesn't want to ask for help, even though Dick Grayson or Clark Kent or whomever would help. No, he's going to take the disadvantage of the winged arm and go with it. Still, he hasn't figured out how to where the Batman costume with the sling.
Point for adding the complication that he can't wear the costume.

As Bruce Wayne, he checks on the police. They have nothing. They haven't even been notified that the Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum yet. (That sounds like something I can reincorporate later.)

Well, Bruce Wayne is on the board there, so he can make a tour of the asylum and try to get some information. He manages to browbeat Dr. Phillips to let him see the Joker's cell. (It's empty. They discovered the dummy when the police called.)

Bruce spots something odd that explains how the Joker got away...the cell literally has a revolving wall. An old escape mechanism that someone has refurbished. The list of people with access gives him a place to start investigating.
Now, that solution feels like it's worth a point--it gives Batman somewhere to go. Does that fit any of the criteria I've already mentioned? Maybe it's a plot device, though I had in mind things like "the raygun that makes you a turtleman". Still....

The cells were refurbished by Lantern Gate, a security firm that specializes in high-tech places. Bruce goes there, claiming it's for the charity from last night. (Point for reincorporating that device, though.) Maybe he claims it's for the hotel, or for the charity itself. The manager at Lantern Gate--call him Mr. Strom--gives him a line. He knows it's a line, but Bruce Wayne can't force the issue. Batman could.

All this story stuff is great, but what about superhero action?

Alfred (take a point for reusing him) has his Batman suit jout in the car but strenuously objects to him doing his thing. Bruse costumes up (except for the arm, where he can't fit the costume over the bandage so he's got a bare arm down to the gauntlet) and rigs up a sling.

Hmmm. I think that there should be some rule or complication that enforces the idea that encounters have effects. That's part of what the reuse thing does, though of course it can be abused.
He sneaks inside and thugs come out from the back room and say that Mr. Strom did well, but they're not going to release his aged mother just yet.

Do I get a point for doing the thing where Strom might become an orphan? Nah, it's just a callback to the theme rather than something meaty. It doesn't feel like it is a consequence of anything in the story so far, it feels like it's decoration that reminds of us the theme.

Well, the day that Batman can't take a pair of gunmen even with one bad arm is the day he retires. Fight scene, resolved by the game system involved. I'm going to assume that he wins, because it's so in his wheelhouse. Strom did do the work in Arkham Asylum, because the crooks had his mother. And yes, they work for the Joker.

 Now Batman has got to rescue Strom's mother and Violet.
For that complication, I will take a point, though: that's going to have effects. That's probably the way to think about it: does something have consequences?
Amazing detective work follows and Batman figures out where the thugs came from ("This mark on their's tarry, but it isn't tar. It looks like the stuff they use in hospitals to keep the dust down. There's a medicinal smell. Their car has a chalk mark on the wheel, so they parked at a meter...the only  medical place it could be is (make up a name) Ravenwing. The place has been closed for years.") That detective work is a function of the game system, not this system. He has Alfred drive him there, because (a) he doesn't have the Batmobile and (b) his fight has had effects.
Is that a new complication from being winged or is it just following through on the original? We'll take a point, just to see. But it feels like the larger rule is not "reuse" but rather "take a point when something from earlier has an effect."
He goes to Ravenwing and sneaks in. Here he discovers Strom's mother (yay!). Wounded and at a disadvantage, he fights the thugs there. Whether he wins or loses, he discovers the Joker's plan and discovers that the Joker's plan is to kill everyone in the city over puberty...making them orphans.

That's enough points but he has to know where to go. So if he won the fight, there might be some clue that sends him to the right place (and we'd lose a story point because he'd rescue Strom's mother). If he lost the fight, he'd still find a clue, but Strom's mother might be there.

We'll assume that he won because hey, he's the Batman.

  • He can't wear the costume (complication)
  • Reuse the theme of the charity ball
  • Reuse Alfred
  • Lose a point for managing to costume up, when we said he couldn't
  • Added complication of finding and rescuing the mother
  • Get a point for having the being winged affect him even though he decided to get costumed up
  • Lose a point for resolving the Strom's mother thing
  • Get a point for raising the stakes
  • Get a point for having the theme involved
Six points total. Kinda feels like the midpoint of a comics story, though...maybe one from the Bronze Age.

Stage 3: Challenge

I think this time we'll make it harder on him. The Joker has actually hired some superpowered help, ostensibly because he was worried that Batman would bring one of his superpowered playmates, but that gives us someone for Batman to beat (or be beaten by) without invoking the main villain. I guess the main villain should be called the big bad or the boss or something. I'll think about that.

Let's invent somebody...we want to reflect the theme somehow, so let's call him Boy Hunger. The super power involves weakening his opponents...some kind of weakness added to a starvation kind of mind control. The weak-minded become gluttonous killing machines, probably with an enhanced ability to hit. Since Batman has the complication of the injury, we'll make it by touch, or by being near. It's quite Batman-like to have the secondary villain affect other people.
The delivery mechanism for this thing is going to be the elevated train: it will spray the chemical all along the route of the train (yes, I just made that up). Batman needs to get to the train garage, where they're going to fasten it to the train.

At the train garage, there are a number of unconscious people--it doesn't take detective work to find them. He doesn't see the Joker, which tells him that he's too late, but Violet is there. (Take a point for character reuse!) And so are several thugs and Boy Hunger. Fight scene...

The fight is a game system thing, but it's obviously the thugs and then Boy Hunger uses his power on Violet and...oh, let's reuse Alfred because he's there. Let's say that the other thugs, the ones that were outside looking for him, bring in Alfred, and Boy Hunger uses his power to make both Violet and Alfred into awful things, who attack him. (They'll feel awful about it, later.)

Now, either Batman wins or he loses. If he loses, you get an extra point for losing. If he wins, well, he still has to get to the Joker but now he knows that the device is already on the train. (You see how we've structured this so that we don't say the device is there until we discover that we need the points, so it isn't?) Either way, it's not enough points. The advantage of him losing is that of course the thugs will take him to the train.

Let's assume that he wins the fight, because the story still has a place to go. I know that's story thinking and not gaming. But we would want the points from losing, so that we can move into the end game. (Are people going to game this way? Maybe. But if you come up with a good narrative reason why you lose this fight, that's not a bad thing. You just have to deal with it later. Winning against a capo like this should be good, though, so long as it's not the Big Bad.)

Boy Hunger gets away. Maybe we'll reuse him later, maybe not, but we have a choice.

  • Reuse of Violet 
  • Complication: Personal use of Violet and Alfred
  • Didn't lose the fight, but he didn't get the current villain. Should that be worth a point? I don't know how to phrase it yet, but this might be worth a point. Should we count winning against a capo as worth a point? It signifies some kind of story movement.
  • Are Violet and Alfred rescued? Yes, I think they are. So that's wrapping up a complication. Might be worth a point at this stage.
  • I would count that the fact that the device is in place and about to go off (It's on the train! about to destroy all the adults in Gotham!) as ratcheting up the stakes (making them immediate), then he's got another point, and we end the stage.
Is it worth rescuing Violet and Alfred at this stage? By the rules I've laid out, it's not: you need the point. From a story point of view, it is: now that you've "used" Violet and Alfred with Boy Hunger, it feels like you can't use them in the last chunk of the story. (If the Joker had taken them away, totally worth it: they still have value. But because I chose to use them here, not so much.) So in the future, either wrapping up a complication in this stage is worth a point, or beating a capo in this stage is worth two points. I also think that there might be some usefulness to distinguishing between the consequences of something earlier, and an actual plot twist. Like, as a story, the fact that there's another superhuman involved is a twist that means Batman doesn't end the story with this confrontation. If those are distinguished, maybe that's a twist. (And if this were a story, I'd totally introduce Boy Hunger sooner, so it's not a surprise when he shows up.)

 Stage 4: Comeback

 Because Alfred's being checked out by doctors, Batman is driving the limo himself, trying to get to the train. He's got the radio tuned to train chatter, so he's following the train's progress and thinks the Joker is going to release the agent when he gets to the center of town, the most densely populated section.
Maybe a point for him driving the limo, increasing the chances of someone making the Bruce Wayne-Batman connection? Maybe if this weren't the end game. No point for forecasting the plan; that feels more like a plot device to get him to the confrontation.

Also because we don't care about little details, the train has to slow down to make a curve, and Batman's plan involves speeding up so he can jump to it, even though the limo will be destroyed when it hits a concrete abutment. He makes it, possibly through the use of a game mechanism such as Last Ditch Effort.
We might consider losing the limo as a spend on his part to get another story point. It's a resource that he's burning up. Think about that.
 The jump does horrible things to his injured arm. (Point!) He works his way up the train to where the Joker is. Before he enters the car, he unhooks the other cars.
Feels like there should be a point for that, for trying to save innocents. Probably that's a game-system thing: acting in accordance with his drives or qualities.

Now it's Joker against Batman. There are probably other people around--people who didn't notice the white-faced green-haired lunatic--but maybe not; maybe Joker's henchmen cleared everyone off the car first. (We'd ask our oracle.) Batman has only one extra point here, and he needs to make five in order to beat the Joker. So we'll go up against the thugs first (for a point).

They go down. (It's Batman, after all.)

Are we going to bring in Boy Hunger? I don't think so: it really feels like a mano a mano throwdown at this point. But what I set up has Batman with only two or three points, and he needs five.

So Joker, who is not without his own resources, slips on his gas mask.
Does that count as ratcheting up the tension? Because it means that the button press is imminent. That would give Batman three or four points.
Joker notices the hurt arm and taunts about it. "The obvious conclusion is that you're Bruce Wayne."
Complication? If this were part of a campaign, I'd allow the point, because it's such a comic book thing to do for a series. In this case, I'll allow it anyway because it clearly plays into one of Batman's complications, and it can be reincorporated if we do another story. So Batman has four or five points. If we're not allowing that other point, Batman can't win. Except that winning gets him a point, which means he can.
So here's how I might play it out the ending:
  • Batman loses the fight with the Joker. I allow a retcon (allowed in ICONS and several other supers games) that makes it work: When the Joker knocked him down, Batman used something or other he took from the lab to disarm the bomb, so that even when Joker presses the button, it doesn't work.
  • Batman wins the fight with the Joker. Hey, he won. No problem.
But those endings are problematic. Have to think about that.

I think there's a decent skeleton of a system here, but clearly it needs some flesh and muscle.

I'll make some modifications and try it with my own characters, which don't have this kind of backstory.

Team resources: some thoughts about headquarters

What do you want your team to have? What are the resources that they share? What are the freebies and what should they work for?

While you could use the excellent location-building rules in Stark City for this, I wouldn't get a blog post out of it if you did. I'll also skip specifying a system on this one, though I'll use ICONS for the examples. (Later, I might come back and add examples written in other systems.) ICONS, in fact, doesn't talk much about headquarters and team resources, because they are mostly plot devices.

Which they are, but I'm going to talk about them anyway.

(If you want to build team resources because they're really extra-special, maybe you could have a "Team Resources" power: every level or rank of Team Resource gets you five points of resources. Some of the resources are levelled--the size of the headquarters can be small, medium, large, or extra-large--and some are not--communicators for everybody!.)

Almost every team needs a place to meet and some kind of communication. The other common resources are contacts and vehicles.

I have run a campaign where the heroes met in a back room at a coffee chain: the Circle Perk. (That was Wild Justice, my reaction to Dark Champions, where they fought against the excesses of the Blue Moon Killer.) Still, the heroes probably want a more private place to meet, and they might want other equipment. Here are some ideas for your standard crimefighting, beat-the-conquerors kind of team.

Size. How big is your headquarters? I think there are four useful categories:
  • Small: a back room somewhere, a hidden desk when a wall turns around, a private garage
  • Medium: an apartment, a hidden section of a floor in an apartment, your magical study
  • Large: a floor in a building or a hidden basement, a forgotten subway station,
  • Extra-large:  a building on an island in the river, a satellite orbiting the earth, a pocket dimension
Hidden/Obvious. A hidden headquarters is underground (a cave, an abandoned subway station, a warehouse basement, what used to be a speakeasy, a wide (dry) section of rain sewer, or a forgotten long distance repeater station), or disguised (a back room in a dance club), invisible (the thirteenth floor of a building, hidden by magic). Obvious is the free default. It's in the phone book. It's the penthouse of Vigilant Tower. It's the, Hall of Justice.

Inaccessible/Accessible. An inaccessible headquarters is tough to get to. There are three levels.
  • The first is accessible.
  • The second suggests that anyone could get there if they knew what to do (knew the combination for the entrance, turned widdershins six times and said the magic phrase, pressed the buttons for twelve and fourteen on the elevator at the same time, hired a plane to get to the Fortress of Solitude). 
  • The third requires special abilities (the Avengers card, the strength to move a giant key, dimensional transport magic). It's your call whether you think a satellite above the earth is the second level of accessible or the third...given how it's used in the comics, usually the third.
Accessibility is also security. A receptionist at the front is accessible, while a magical bioscanner is utterly inaccessible. I can see the virtue in separating them, but I think for the most part it's difficult. If something has loads of security, it's just a different flavour of inaccessible.

A headquarters is usually also accompanied by one or more qualities: Secret magical school, interdimensional train, teleporting street.

A headquarters can also have bonuses to skills or specialties. The description of the place serves as a source of qualities that the player can tag for +2 to the effort or to actually do something. "I'm in the library where we have lots of old information, so I get +2 to Occult" or "Here in the lab I can do mass spectroscopy, so that's a chance to do/redo Investigation."

I'd also avoid using set numbers for anyone trying to get in. Instead, I'd use the accessibility quality to create trouble for anyone trying to get in stealthily. Something that's inaccessible is a minus to their attempt; something very inaccessible is a double minus.

Weapons and durability can be modeled with powers. This is where you want an exchange rate between the advantages that the players put in and the number of points you can spend.

Senses (the TroubleAlert?) are probably best done with Qualities rather than trying to make ranges work, because the range rules in supers games are usually meant for people, not machines.

Communications are probably best described by their limitations. So what kind of information is transmitted (only voice?) and how far? Can it be overheard? Can it be blocked? In my games, communications are usually an excuse to keep everyone involved because they're going to talk anyway. Sometimes I care that character X is not there (and the players are good about it), but usually I'm fine if they communicate. Off-hand, I can think of the following:

  • Radios (voice, short range, can be overheard, don't work everywhere, device complications)
  • Smartphones (voice, occasionally visual, can be overheard, don't work everywhere, global range, device complications)
  • Mind link (usually voice but can be enhanced, range has to be defined, can't be overheard, not so good for characters trying to hide things, usual limit is conference call size, switchboard complications)

Communications also have a security aspect which you might want to spell out.

Stuff like sign language for stealth missions is usually spoken by the players and invented by the players as necessary.

Vehicles can often veer from the pure plot device category, as the characters hide in the vehicles or use the vehicles as weapons. They are the resource that are most likely to have to be statted out.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (a bunch of links)

A while ago, I did a bunch of ICONS versions of some of the heroes and villains from the first season of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. While all those posts are still there (really), I thought it would be good to gather the links together in one place. These are links to Google docs.

I was intending to put the right disclaimers on them and put them on the ICONS wiki ... I think I did some of them ... but heck. That takes a while, and I'm not so sanguine about the future of g+ as I was back then.

I'm just copying and pasting links here. I haven't gone back and looked at the posts or the files, so it's possible that I'll include something that I hadn't finished or that hadn't been fixed. Do let me know.

So. A:EMH writeups in alphabetical order.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

More thoughts about solo superhero RP

Well, actually the rest of yesterday's thoughts.

What I was thinking was that alone, you'd have something to emulate story structure above the whole scene/conflict thing. MHR does this a bit with the Doom Pool. I was thinking of a more generalized version that could be grafted onto anything.

Again, this is me thinking out loud. I haven't tested any of this, and I've optimized my thoughts towards superhero games.

An adventure is broken into four parts. Larry Brooks calls them Setup, Response, Attack, and Resolution, but we’re going to go with Steve Kenson’s terms, because they’re specific to superheroes: Threat, Investigation, Challenge, and Comeback.

Each stage garners you story points of some kind, and you need a certain number of points to get to the next stage. The number of points you need starts at the point level of the opposition. So part zero is that you have to figure out who or what the opposition is worth. (You don’t have to figure out what the opposition is, but what it’s worth.)

Another decision we make at the beginning is to pick one of your complications or qualities or challenges, and say that the villain’s plot (whatever it is) is going to deal with that. It will mirror it, exacerbate it, result from it, or whatever. So a secret ID might mean that you have a secret identity plot. If you don’t have formal qualities or disadvantages, then look at the description of your character for something that causes the character trouble. You also have to figure out what the value of the adventure/problem is. (I have not yet figured out how to decide on the value; this is spitballing.)

At the end of each stage, you fulfill the ending condition and spend the story points, so you start the first three stages with no points. You do get to keep excess points in the transition between third and fourth stages because the excess points become tokens that help you win at the end.

Stage Threat Investigation Challenge Comeback
Get points for
  • Lose to villain
  • Introduce a character or plot device
  • Introduce the problem
  • Create stakes
  • Find a reason not to change your problem area
  • Reuse a setting
  • Reuse a character or plot device
  • Learn about villain
  • Scuttled by problem
  • Find a reason not to change your problem area
  • Create or raise stakes
  • Reuse a setting or character
  • Attack villain
  • Introduce a complication
  • Deal with problem and fail
  • Deal with the consequence of a complication you introduced
  • Reuse the plot device
  • Reuse a character
  • Resolve a complication
  • Use information learned about villain
Lose points for
  •  Nothing. Usually this sequence is quite short in comic book adventures, so everything gets you points and nothing loses them.
  • Win a fight with the villain
  • Deciding to attack villain directly
  • Ignore problem
  • Lower stakes 
  • Undo effects of an earlier complication
  • Win a fight with the villain
  • Lower the stakes you've established
  • No idea at this point. What sort of thing do you want to discourage, or that should end in failure?
To end: Enough points and…
  • Hero decides to act
  • Hero decides to get something that will solve the problem, or to set in motion the plan to attack villain
  • Hero fails because of problem
  • Hero deals with both problem and villain.
Other rules
  • If you go against the villain, and he loses, that’s part of his plan.
  • Maybe a lower point here?
  • If you go against the villain, and he loses, that’s part of his plan.
  • Again, if the villain loses, he has a contingency plan, either something that works better if he's in jail or a revenge-from-beyond-the-grave thing
  • Can’t introduce new significant characters, powers, etc.
  • Extra story or plot points can be used for special effects, like Determination in ICONS (though I don't know how well that will work—will it unbalance games that already have a determination point mechanism, or does it replace that mechanism?
Note that you can introduce characters settings in any of the first three stages; you just don’t get points for it.

Next I'll try a thought adventure.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Solo Superhero RP

My gang likes superheroes (we started with Champions, a couple of decades ago) but it's not the only thing we play. Right now we're playing Trail of Cthulhu, and 13th Age is next on the docket.

But really, I don't play at all right now--I've just started a job with a seventy-five minute commute, so I'm out of the house at six AM and generally get back twelve hours later. (Actually, seventy-five minutes is the time going there, when I can avoid traffic. On the way home, I can't particularly avoid traffic, so it's usually a little over two hours. And I'm driving, so I can't do work while I'm driving.)

I'm still trying to sort things out organizationally: I'm dropping all sorts of things on the floor. (Sorry to all of you I owe things.)

If I get to roleplay, well, it will probably be solo, except for the occasional play-test that I organize and which has to happen and which I have no idea how to make happen yet. But I digress to wail.

Anyway, on the drive in this morning, I was thinking about solo superhero games. ICONS and the Mythic GME work well (in my experience), but I think Supers! would work just as well. Even DC Heroes might work. I find that Mutants & Masterminds, Champions, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying have too many bits for me to track; they don't end up being a good solo experience.

I think there are two flavours of solo roleplaying, at least as far as superheroes is concerned: solo roleplaying that adapts existing adventures, and solo roleplaying with improvised adventures.

The first is nearly a subset of the second. The game you're using handles task resolution, whether it's done on a task basis or an outcome basis. As long as you know what you have to do, you're fine. The solo part of it seems to fall into a couple of areas:
  • Scale the opposition to the hero(es)
  • Generate the kind of randomness you find when multiple people are adding to the mix
  • Make less visible the things you aren't supposed to know
(I assume that Steve Lopez' dictum applies here. We're trying to be fair to ourselves.)

The improvised flavour changes how you scale the opposition (it's not about ways to adapt, and some way of creating the "story" part of it. That's not strictly necessary, but it's rather like the difference between masturbation and sex--the story adds the emotional component.)

Like so many of my posts, this is less finished than abandoned, but here you go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Presenting...Liveboy and Deadgirl!

I was reading something about politicians that brought to mind the old saying, "The only thing that could bring him down is being found with a dead hooker or a live boy."

That sounds like a pair that fights crime, to me. Still, I have no urge to write Strange Hooker Corpse, the Series, so try this barely more wholesome pair. I just stole time from work to scribble this down.


Was he born with the power? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it was always there but it took the lightning bolt to make it active. 

Oh, yeah. In his late teens, he got hit by lightning. He was into hair gel and leather clothes with many zippers at the time, so the current theoretically passed through him, with the only obvious effect being that he can't wear a timepiece without it stopping. (That includes a smartphone...if it can display the time, it won't work for him.) His name is Garth. Or Mark. He's not sure, but he responds well to the "ar" sound. 

That was in the nineteen fifties. He doesn't really age any more. Okay, that was two effects from the lightning. Three, maybe: sometimes the past is hazy, and when he remembers it again, it's not the same. He's not really keeping track, though. He's generally a happy guy. Zen masters like him. He lives in the moment a lot. 

And he can animate anything. (Okay, that's four.) It's easiest if it was alive before, of course, but really, anything under a few hundred kilos. (He doesn't do trees....okay, he once did a bunch of saplings because this lady in a tree nursery had been really awful to him, but that's it.)

If you're thinking, this guy doesn't sound like much of a hero, you're right. He's not. That's where Deadgirl comes in.


(Note that she's not Dead Girl, of the X-Force. She's Deadgirl. She'd date Boston Brand if he weren't so creepy looking. And they weren't both, you know, dead.)

Liveboy still isn't sure exactly what he did (it mostly matters when she's a pain) but she lives in him. He's like, a condo for her. It's painful and difficult for her to leave during the daytime (though she's done it a few times), but trivial at night. She's in astral form. And she has the kind of drive that must have made her a fearsome thing when she was alive. She was in her late teens when she died, too. She says eighteen just to make things easier but really, it might have been a couple of years either way.

She's a ghost. She's got the usual assortment of ghost/astral projection powers. She can't easily possess people but she can make things move. She can see on the astral plane. Once she went into somebody's head to see if he was a sociopath or not; apparently they're different inside.

She doesn't leave an astral cord between Liveboy and herself. He's just where she lives, and she finds him much easier to manipulate than some other shmoe.

She has a couple of goals:
  • Find out who she was, and why she died. (Also when she died. Her existence before being in the Elysian Fields is kind of hazy.)
  • Stop it from other happening again.
  • Stay away from the Elysian Fields...she thinks they're kind of like crack for dead people.
  • Help Liveboy figure out who he is. (He's never asked for this help; she's just taken it on as a project.)

The Stories

She gets them into trouble and he reluctantly goes along, because she has a tendency to attract necromancers, werewolves, witches, and notable skeptics and then they show up at his residence du jour.

House rules...ICONS

System: ICONS

There have been several posts on G+ and the FaceBook group asking for house rules. I'm going to put them here where I can amend them.  Because often I don't even know that it's a house rule.

I only discover it's a house rule when I go and try to check the rules for evidence, and then discover that it's something I mis-remembered or made up out of the whole cloth. Plus, I play a mix of original ICONS and The Assembled Edition—not intentionally, and I try to hew closer to the assembled version, but I've been playing a long time, so it happens. When we discover that the rules do or don't allow a certain thing, we might just do it that way from then on, or claim that there's a whiff of GM-ium in the air that allows it.

Advantages and Improvised Anything: Because I'm old...uh, old school...I often just do stuff if it makes sense in the narrative. I could do it with Advantages and stunts, but  often I just do it. Now that I've thought about Advantages, I can do it with them, but it would take concerted effort to get me to do it the "right" way. So I probably won't.

Fast attack...with yourself: I allow characters to use Fast Attack to combine attacks with themselves for a +1 to the attack. A character who combines and pushes can have +2.

Improvised weapons: So someone does X damage with a strike...for example, we'll say 4. If the hardness of an object is between X and X-3, I say that it does add +1 to the damage, but is damaged or destroyed. (Actual weapons can be different. A pair of brass knuckles could be defined as Strike 1, but you can claim that they're made to do striking. They're probably good up to Strength 6, because you don't hear about people accidentally deforming their brass knuckles in their fist.)

Stretching with improvised weapons: In the Stretching description, it says that you use the lesser of Prowess or Stretching to hit someone. I pretty much ignore this. I don't want it to be difficult to hit someone with a I want you to suddenly have an effective Prowess of 1, but you get better if the pole is longer. Ewww. If the Stretching is 1 or 2, I just take one off the Prowess to reflect that it's not something you're used to. (And if it's one of your powers, I assume you've trained.) (If I were more mechanically minded, I'd subtract the Stretching from the Prowess, but I'm not. Minus one is enough for me)

Specialties on Slam and Stun rolls: With me, you can use any applicable Specialty levels on the rolls for Slam or Stun attacks. So if you have, say, Wrestling you can apply that level to escape attempts or to the roll to see if you Stun. But you have to pick one place to apply each level of if you have Power (Blast) Expert, one level could be +1 to hitting and one level could be a +1 for slamming.

Temporary Qualities: I don't know if it says this in the rules, but certainly I let my players and characters pick up a quality for a few episodes if necessary. Often they're bad qualities, but not always. I generally don't worry about buying them off...that happens naturally in the narrative...but I suppose you could use the experience system as given.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Advantages, and the getting thereof


Just a caveat: What follows is my interpretation, not holy writ handed down by Steve Kenson.

One of the things that happened when ICONS reappeared as The Assembled Edition was the addition of Advantages. My guess is that Steve Kenson looked at all the things he was doing with Determination Points, sometimes without spending Determination Points, and decided he needed a more generic name and method.

So the first thing to remember is that you can still spend a Determination Point and do what you did before: you can use Determined Effort or Push a Power or Retcon something. That's pretty much the same. But now, instead of saying, "Oh, you spend a Determination Point to do that," we say, "Oh, you spend an Advantage to do that."

Now, a Determination Point gets you an Advantage, and an Advantage does pretty much what a Determination Point did before. So that part hasn't really changed. In fact, if you want, you can ignore all the rest of the stuff and keep playing that way. If you're happy with it, great. I'm not going to call you out.

But there are situations where you should have an advantage over your foes, and you don't have Determination Points, or where it should just come about as a consequence of doing those things. You shouldn't have to spend Determination Points in order to scare someone because you're dangling them off a really tall building and you claim you'll drop them if they don't talk. You shouldn't have to spend a Determination Point to know that the robot is, duh, a robot and that while mental powers might not work, dunking it in seawater might do something.

That's the other part of what Advantages are for.

So we're going to ignore the spending-a-Determination-Point method for getting an Advantage for the rest of this post. It's a given. We're even going to ignore the whole Get-compelled-by-your-Quality-to-get-a-Determination-Point. Also a given.

Not quite a given is the idea of giving yourself Trouble. This is like being compelled. It's the generic version of being compelled. Any time you give yourself Trouble, you get an Advantage in return. Sometimes the Advantage is immediate (the GM says, "You have an Advantage") and sometimes it's in the form of a Determination Point (which you can spend for an Advantage...Determination Points are really just a way to store Advantages for later).

There are three ways to get yourself an Advantage:
  • A maneuver
  • A tactic
  • It's lying on the scenario ground, free to take
The last one is the easiest. If the place you're in has the Quality "Gloomy Victorian mansion" and nobody has turned on the lights, the GM probably says, "You get +2 on your Stealth Effort." That's a use of an Advantage, but nobody talked about Advantages. You don't have to pay for it because there it is: it's dark. Go for it. You're in an Aardian healing machine; your regeneration gives you some of that drained Strength. It just is. Accept it.

The big difference between a maneuver and a tactic, it seems to me, is that one is paid for by taking a test, and the other is paid for by taking Trouble.

Let's take the fire-breathing robot I mentioned the other day. There's a weak spot in the mouth.
  • A maneuver would be to roll awareness and see if you noticed the weak spot in the mouth. Maybe you make the roll, maybe not. If you make it well, you might get two Advantages out of it. Hey, if your awareness is 8 and you have telescopic vision and you happened to be looking at the robot when it belched flame, you've got this pretty much locked up. 
  • A tactic would be to go in the mouth and accept the Trouble that it has these powerful jaws and maybe you won't be able to get out before the next gout of flame. Now, if you're resistant to fire and you have phasing or something, maybe the GM says that's not Trouble at all. But if you're in danger of being turned into a bacon bit, well, that is Trouble. It has to disadvantage you to be Trouble.
Coming up with a maneuver is usually pretty easy: you make an appropriate roll. Obviously, you're going to try and slant things to your advantage...if your character's Prowess is 7, then maybe you want your feint to be a maneuver, because you're pretty sure that you'll make the roll:
"On this turn, I feint to the left of Gasbag, so that I can get an Advantage and increase my effort by +2 on my next Slam roll against him."
On the other hand, maybe your Prowess isn't so high, but you're tough. Instead, you're going to use a tactic that makes you easy to hit, but increases the  chance of hitting.
"On this turn, I stand perfectly still, trying to entice him to come in closer so I can hit him. I'm going to take the Quality Easy Target until I move, so others don't have trouble hitting me. I'll use the Advantage for +2 to my effort when I swing at him."
Of course, nothing says that the Trouble has to be long as your GM agrees, you can make it anything that inconveniences you.
"I really need an Advantage, but I'm out of Determination Points and I can't think of a clever maneuver. Okay...this fight is going on longer than I thought it would, so I was supposed to meet my sweetie, Francis Honey, at the theatre, and I'm late. I want to take the Trouble Sweetie Ticked At Me."
 You can use Advantages with improvised weapons. I'm sure I've seen this mentioned somewhere.
"He's too far away? I uproot the streetlight standard (that's a Strength maneuver) because I want an Advantage that I'm going to spend on Stretching 2."
"I throw the tanker truck at him, so my ranged attack is effectively Burst."
ICONS isn't the only game with Advantages and Qualities, of course.

It takes a bit to get your mind around it, but the Advantage system and the Qualities are quite flexible.