Thursday, October 27, 2016

Qualities and the Grizzled Gamer

While I lay here with Mystery Illness...

I've been thinking about Qualities lately, Advantages, and Maneuvers. It seems to me—and I hope I'm not repeating myself too often here—that the whole business of putting Qualities on things can just be a framework for interpreting what our group always did, back in the early days of Champions.

Again, if you're comfortable with the "I create the Choked and Can't Recover Quality with a Prowess maneuver and immediately pass the extra Activation to my teammate," then don't bother to read this. You don't need it. But among my group of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, we had trouble figuring out how to frame it in terms of things we know.

So I figured that I'd present a situation or two, how we would have handled it in the olden days, and how it might be handled in ICONS.

Situation: You want to create a patch of ice that's slippery, so the villain skids allong the floor and falls down.

Olden Days: Fine, you do that (the hex is DCV 3, remember). The villain will have to make a DEX roll to stay upright, modified by--how much Ice Blast do you have? 8d6? Sure, -5." (For stuff like that, I used to use -1 per 10 active points. House rule, I think, but few game systems that I used really handled that nicely until Champions got into the territory where it was so fiddly that I didn't want to touch it.)

ICONS: You have an Advantage? No? Okay, use a Maneuver to lay down a patch of ice. It's fine motor control to make it Treacherously Slippery, so make a Coordination roll against, oh, this isn't hard, 2 plus...I rolled a 3. Five, then. You have Coordination 3 and rolled a 5, so you have 8, so it's immediately activated. Sure, I'll call it Trouble that delays them for a page.

Essentially the same physical action (somebody rolls against Dex or Coordination), different explanation.

Situation: The jury-rigged electrical panel throws off a spark that sets the area ablaze.

Olden Days: Well, you just made the roll to re-wire that electrical panel to feed all the electricity to the Chronosyntastic Infundibulator, so I'm going to say that a spark leaps free from your jury-rigged wiring and sets the cheap indoor-outdoor carpet on fire. You try to put it out with your foot while aiming the Infundibulator, but you have to stand essentially still.

ICONS: You're out of Determination? A maneuver might..oh. Right. Your Intellect sucks. How about tactics? I'll give you the rewiring if you accept some Trouble. Fine. One more thing to deal with...a spark leaps off the rewiring job and sets the cheap carpet on fire.

So the big difference here is that in the old way, I just imposed the fire as a fun consequence (for some value of "fun"...I know there are nights when the players just joke about making their "Catch Villains" roll). Here it's actually a trade, where I suggest it, and the player gets to choose whether they want the advantage, want to roll the maneuver, or just want to take a different route.

Situation: You want to impress everyone in the room and get all the normals out.

Olden Days: Okay, you make a Presence Attack. Oooh. Sorry, man. The normals pause for a phase. Oh, Storm King, you're going to try, too? (or) Good roll on the Presence Attack, and the normals walk out in an orderly fashion.

ICONS: Impressing people is Willpower. You want to impose a Quality on them so they it Orderly Dismissal. We'll do will versus Will as a maneuver. You have a 5, they have a 3, but I rolled a 5 for them, so versus 8. You have to have a Moderate success for the Quality to be Activated, unless— Oh. A 3 is just a Marginal success. The Quality is there, but it isn't Activated. Oh, Storm King, you're doing to spend a Determination point and Activate it. Well, you're next, so you bark, "Now, people!" and they start filing out.

Yes, using the whole Qualities/Advantages thing means claiming a little extra number fiddling, but the end result is pretty much the same. The difference is that if the original player's attempt is Marginal, then some later player can spend a DP and activate this new Quality on the same page. We used to use cumulative Presence attacks in the same way.

Just looking at it now, it seems to me that in the old way, we accepted the rolls and made the narrative conform to the rolls without hiding anything ("His presence attack sucked, so we had to fight with the waitstaff in the kitchen") or consequences were imposed by the GM. In the ICONS way, there's more of an effort to create narrative as it's going on, and to barter about consequences.

Doesn't mean I'm any better at it. Old habits are, you know, old.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Adventure Aids from Dungeontown

So much of the adventure writing advice out there is for dungeons. Some people love dungeons. I get a GM advice thing and really, it’s a D&D/Pathfinder thing. It’s three-quarters full of “this is how to construct a dungeon fast” and “twenty-seven encounter types for the wilderness” and “six enchanted items.”

I prefer superheroes. But almost nobody is going to make a subsistence wage from selling to superhero GMs.

So let’s look at the dungeon advice and see how we can port things over. At worst, what can we steal?

But before I even start that, I gotta ask: why are you playing superheroes?


While there are many reasons to play any genre of roleplaying game, games with dungeons tend to be focused on different satisfactions than games with superheroes. If the itch you’re scratching is largely the same, hey, this might work for you. If it’s not, you’re going to be unsatisfied.

So if you want to satisfy your tactical ambitions, dungeon advice is going to work. If your interest is the encounters and you’re going to sift story out of it, dungeon advice is going to work. If you’re playing because friends are playing, dungeon advice is going to work. If you want to be fundamentally awesome from minute one in a way that the zero-to-hero fantasy progression doesn’t provide, then porting over dungeon advice might not work, but it might. If you want to tell morality tales with modern dressing, dungeon advice might not work. If you want soap opera with a genre dressing, dungeon advice will definitely not work.

Understand, I’m not saying that games with dungeons can’t satisfy these urges. They can. But what I’m saying is that the five-room dungeon and lists of encounters and drawing a dungeon map before any other planning, all of them presuppose a kind of narrative that isn't the superhero narrative.

But maybe it can satisfy you. Maybe the various dungeon things can help or inspire, though.


I forget who pointed it out, but dungeons are a kind of plot. Each room is a scene, and doors are a way to get from one scene to another. Things start off easy and get harder. Sometimes they just get harder relative to the characters’ current abilities, sometimes they expect the characters to get better as the dungeon progresses, but there is a kind of progression.

A five-room dungeon is an adventure. I don’t know if it was the original 5-room dungeon model, but this article over at  suggests five rooms that map darned well to five stages of a story and different player satisfactions:

  1. Room 1: Entrance and Guardian
  2. Room 2: Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge
  3. Room 3: Trick or Setback
  4. Room 4: Climax or Big Battle
  5. Room 5: Reward or Revelation

If you allow the fact that superhero games don’t have “reward” in a treasure sense, the first four rooms fit with some wiggling into the four stages that Steve Kenson suggests in ICONS: Threat, Investigation, Challenge, Comeback.

In that sense, great. And in fact, if you’re coming from a fantasy or F20 background, maybe that’s a useful way for you to think of superhero adventures. You grab a theme or central concept, have the players encounter the concept somehow, do a thematically-related puzzle or roleplaying challenge, plan a setback, and then have a fight. Here, let’s compare two. In a dungeon, the Entrance needs to explain why no one else has ever looted this dungeon before, while in a superhero story, “it’s new” is usually the reason.

Stage5 Room DungeonSuperheroes
The Threat
A giant spiderweb that hid a particular cave is now torn away and loathsome spiders are spilling out into the countryside. But don't worry: there are still plenty of spiders in the cave to fight, even in this room.We'll assume (because the season opener of Supergirl is on my mind) one of the characters is vulnerable to Neonite.

The players intercept the latest in a series of drone attacks on scientific R&D locations
Puzzle / The InvestigationThe entrance to the next chamber is blocked by the dead body of a horrendous giant wasp. Gotta move it to find out.Investigation shows that from this site, unlike all others, something was stolen: a solar power device unique in its range of radiations to absorb, and the more radiation it absorbs, the better. (It might turn out that the other attacks got rid of other places that might produce it with the plans.)
Setback / The ChallengeInside the next chamber is a big mother of a spider, and after a battle that was tough but not as tough as they thought it would be, they win...The next attack is easily stopped...but turns out to be a diversion because the bad guys have stolen a fist-sized sample of Neonite, the dangerously radioactive mineral that totally doesn't affect normals.

The cyborg powered by the Neonite shows up on cue and kicks their butts by first defeating the character vulnerable to Neonite
The Big Battle / The ComebackWhich is when they discover that the giant wasp planted its young in the spider, and by killing the spider, they've hurried the hatching process. The big battle is against some number of newly-hatched deadly giant wasps.With a daring plan, the heroes fight the cyborg again, this time winning
RewardThe spider has gold, gems and scrolls from the travellers it brought back to feed its children.Technically, superheroes don't get rewards, but maybe they learn more about the creators of the cyborg

Now, aside from the fact that neither of these adventures is particularly good, they do have the same high points. The puzzle in the case of the supers adventure is a bit more investigation than figuring out how to move a dead bug, but I was making this up in both cases and we’re all just lucky that I managed not to make the supers one about cloning or the food of the gods, and therefore essentially the same adventure.

But articles like “How to make your next dungeon a Hallowe'en experience!” might be useful as a source of inspiration, rather than things you can take directly.


Something I see often in my perambulation around the web is the list of encounters or ways to make encounters interesting. Something like “12 Tavern Encounters” or “Six Slippery Traveling Salemen” generally.

Tough to make them relevant. Again, there’s certainly nothing you can take directly, because the idea of the F20 encounter is baked right in, but sometimes you can steal attitudes or motivations. Heck, if you really want to, you can put these stolen attitudes in your own table. A table can certainly help when your players back you into a corner and you have no ideas.

Eleven Reasons to Pick a Fight With the Hero
Roll (2d6)Reason
2If I can get him to beat me up, then I'm in no shape to answer questions from him/the police/my spouse/go to work tomorrow.
3Keep your attention on me, okay, so we can lift something—anything—from the only member of the Super Six with pockets.
4If I can get video of him throwing just one punch I can sell it and pay for the operation that the kid needs.
5My significant other just broke up with me, and it'll just show them if I get beaten to a bloody pulp.
6Everyone knows that hero name doesn't randomly attack innocents, so I won't get hurt, and I'll look cool in front of that person I want to impress over there.
7I am sooo drunk that I don't realize he's obviously more powerful, and he's blocking my way to the pinball machine. He's not so tough.
8This hero always talks people down, right? I'll gain serious cred and not get hurt. Or am I thinking about the other guy?
9I've been paid to do this, and I'm willing to do it because I am in desperate financial straits. (You as GM will have to figure out what the plan is for paying. Humiliation? Fact gathering?)
10Hit me. Tricia at the nail place/the psychic/Dr. Seven says that will give me powers/cure my leukaemia/cancer.
11Go ahead. Kill me. I can't do it myself.
12Pain is kinda thrilling.

And you notice that for one of them, I had to pretty much say, “Hey, here’s a hook but you gotta figure out the rest.”

Sometimes the random encounter table is locations. You can make that work by transferring the attributes of the place to a modern or comic book location. Still, it’s one of those things where you should probably do it yourself ahead of time and have a handy table yourself.

Six Ways to Describe the Warehouse (Instead of Abandoned or Deserted) (roll 1d6)

Roll (1d6)Description
1Dilapidated, run-down, untended, rat-infested, broken skylights
2Clean but stained, smelling heavily of bleach, windowless, industrial, many forklifts
3Wooden, surprisingly large, sheet-metal-clad, double-sashed windows high up
4New, concrete, equipped with floor drains, access to sewers, security system
5Future tech, roboticized, computerized, automated, not obeying shutdown instructions
6Dirty, busy, well-used, crowded, with a sign that says 4 Days Since An Accident and the 0 right beside it and numbers past 5 are missing.

And here, have one more:

Themes for a themed super (probably villain)
Roll (2d6)Theme groupSpecific examples
HolidaysPresident's Day, Memorial Day, Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Labor Day
Emotions or states of mindLove, Hate, Fear, Madness, Ennui, Like, Prejudice, Greed, Jingoism, Lust, Unrequited love, Duty, Paranoia, Shock, Awe
Elements, modern or classicalEarth, air, fire, water, wood, metal, diamond, gold, silver, platinum, uranium, phosphorus, sodium, neon, radium
Elemental concepts or forcesfire, light, heat, shadow, magnetism, sleep, darkness, gravity, electricity, nuclear force, transmutation, cosmic radiation, X-rays
Classic monsters or old monster namesVampires, werewolves, Frankenstein's monster or golem, ghost, cannibal spirit, Springheel Jack, revenant, Djinn or genie, kraken, ogre, giant, medusa, sphinx, cyclops
Animals, usually huntersLion, puma, jaguar, wolf, wolverine, honey badger, weasel, myrmidon, ant lion, termite, cricket, grasshopper, wasp, hornet, stinger, crab, shark, hammerhead, mako, grizzly, cheetah
Evocative thingsBlood, sand, bone, hair, blob, rust, grass-roots, thunderstrike
Things or acts of powerGenocide, slaughter, sniper, wrecking crew, demolition, groundswell, blitzkrieg
Games or game piecesChess, Gammon, pawn, knight, rook, castle, king, queen, bishop, quarterback, draughtsman

No, Seriously, Like Dungeons

You can make the adventure take place in a dungeon-like environment. (I mean a place with restricted movement, not some BDSM club.)

Most superhero adventures are a bit more like a wilderness hexcrawl thing, but there are a couple of superhero tropes that can be treated like a dungeon.

The most common is the base. Most comics with a base have done an us-against-the-base issue. The Danger Room (Wreck Room, The Kitchen, whatever you want to call it) is a limited version of it. Another is the enemy base, often combined with the heroes-have-lost-their powers idea.

Dimension-hopping can provide something similar: each dimension is an encounter.

Something I’ve never tried is using some other fantasy system to represent the dream dimension and run an adventure on two parallel tracks.

The Supergirl TV show...characters in ICONS Part II

Note as of October 7, 2017: I just realized I double posted part 1 instead of posting both parts. I'm editing this to include the other characters, but won't change the title to say "Part 2" until I'm done.

  • Previous caveats apply.
  • I leave Maxwell Lord as an exercise for the reader
  • Changes from the second season won't be here, though I might do a second season post that includes some of those characters.
  • Characters get listed Determination only if they're heroes and player characters.

Catherine "Cat" Grant

Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
3 3 3 4 4 4 7 6
Specialties Qualities
Business: Expert (+1), Martial Arts (+1), Arts (Journalism) Expert (+2)
  • Queen of All Media
  • Loves her boys
  • Adores Clark, rivals with Lois

Okay, I snuck in one Season 2 thing in the Qualities, but feel free to replace it with Wealthy. At the end of Season 2, it's revealed that she does know Supergirl's secret identity.

Winslow "Winn" Schott, Jr.

Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
3 3 3 5 3 3 6 6
Specialties Qualities
Science Expert (+2), Technology Master (+3)
  • Self-taught in almost everything
  • Bad name by association, and craves love
  • Is this awkward?
Cellphone, laptop, vintage toys. In the second season, the DEO sometimes makes him wear a tactical vest in the field.

Winn has a specific character arc in season one, which involves becoming not infatuated with Kara. In the second season, he became the go-to technobabble guy, but he also got a girlfriend and showed tremendous loyalty there.

James Bartholomew Olsen

Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
4 4 4 3 4 4 8 6
Specialties Qualities
Art (Journalism) (+2), Art (Photography) Master (+3)
  • Connected to Superman and Supergirl
  • Make justice and the system better
  • Infatuation has always made me do strange things
Signal watch.

It's reasonable to assume that he actually has lots of specialties and obscure knowledge by virtue of having been Superman's pal and being shoved into things a lot. We don't see much evidence of it in the show.

In the second season, he gets an upgrade in specialties and powers (and probably a point of Coordination) through the Guardian identity.


  • Heat Breath (Blast) 7
  • Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    4 4 9 2 5 2 11
    Specialties Qualities
    • Pliable and Unformed
    • The Opposite of Supergirl
    • Forming
    • Flight 7
    • Invulnerable (Damage Resistance) 7
    • Ice Vision (Blast) 8

    You can justify higher levels for the powers to make her truly a mirror of Supergirl, but I figured she was in the ballpark but not quite the same.


    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    7 4 8 4 5 6 14 1
    Specialties Qualities
    Power (Binding), Stealth, Wrestling
    • The Last Czarnian
    • The Main Man, a Mostly Honorable Mercenary
    • If There's No Collateral Damage, You're Not Doing It Right
    • Super-Sense 1 (Can track someone anywhere)
    • Hook and Chain (Binding) 10
    • Bolter Gun (Blast) 7 Extra: Frag Grenades (Burst)
    • Tough (Damage Resistance) 5
    • Regeneration 5 Extra: Immortality 5

    We heard him alluded to on the show, so I did my version of Lobo for ICONS and for this setting. Though Lobo can clone himself (the Duplication power), it's not under his control, and it's best used as a GM fiat thing. If it happens while fighting the players, they get a Determination point.

    Lobotomized Non

    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    6 5 10 2 6 2 12
    Specialties Qualities
    Martial Arts, Technology Expert (+2)
    • Last Son of Krypton
    • Lobotomized
    • Some Feelings Remain
    • Flight 8
    • Damage Resistance 7 Limit: Not vs. Magical Effects
    • Heat Vision 8
    • Super Senses 4 (X-Ray, ultrasonic hearing, +1 range hearing, +1 rng sight)
    • Freeze breath (Strike) 7 Extra: Burst

    This Non is more like the Donner Non. Totally non-canon, but I started a Supergirl adventure, and he features in it. So does Lobo, for that matter.

    Second season characters should probably include Miss Martian, Mon-El, Lena Luthor, Lillian Luthor, the Parasite, and more. Superman you can probably do by subbing Specialties and Qualities into the Supergirl writeup.

    The Supergirl TV show...characters in ICONS

    I did these a while ago...these are characters from the first season of the TV show. A couple of things to note...

    • Supergirl is not as powerful as she is in the comics. Yes, she can lift a tremendous amount, but lightning and electricity (for example) can hurt her. 
    • The quality "Last child of <planet>" encapsulates pretty much everything about their species strengths and weaknesses, so the quality would be used for extra powers or weaknesses to, say, Kryptonite.
    • These characters traditionally have many many powers. Stunt like crazy if using.
    • I have to admit that I made the Martian Manhunter's strength a 9 just because we're claiming that Kryptonians are at the top of the charts. Things like Supergirl flying faster than Superman might be a result of a quality or it might be an actual ranking thing. (Look at Non and Supergirl if you want to do any other Kryptonian.)


    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    4 4 10 4 6 4 14 1
    Specialties Qualities
    Business: Specialist (+1) Last daughter of Krypton
    Flight 8 A Mission to Accomplish
    Damage Resistance 7 Limit: Not vs. Magical Effects
    Heat Vision 8
    Super Senses 4 (X-Ray, ultrasonic hearing, +1 range hearing, +1 rng sight) Stronger Together
    Freeze breath (Strike) 7 Extra: Burst

    I just defined "Freeze Breath" as a Burst Strike, but the default use seems to be to freeze things, which might be Energy Control (cold) or Stunning (paralyzing a person) or telekinesis (as when she sucks in poison gas or could have saved Kelly, James, and Winn). Choose your base effect and stunt the rest.

    Her powers grow over the season, or the writers are confused; in the encounter with the Toyman, quicksand holds her, but by the end she's lifting a hundred million tons.

    By the end of the second season, she might have a specialty related to journalism.

    Martian Manhunter

    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    6 4 9 4 4 6 15 1
    Specialties Qualities
    Athletics, Leadership, Mental Resistance Master (+3), Military, Stealth Last son of Mars
    Mental Awareness 1 Fire! My only weakness!
    Telepathy 7 Extra: Rangeless Limit: not Kryptonians
    Transformation (Humanoids) Extra: Effect Flight Limit: One or the other 7
    Phasing 4 Moral compass for the DEO

    He almost always flies as J'onn, but he does fly as Supergirl once. I choose to regard that once as a stunt that cost him an Advantage.

    Alex Danvers

    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    5 4 4 4 4 3 7 4
    Specialties Qualities
    Athletics Expert (+2), Investigation, Martial Arts Expert (+2), Mental Resistance, Military, Stealth, Science Expert (+2), Technology Expert (+2), Vehicles Agent Danvers of the DEO
    Pistol (Blast 4) Badass Sister of Supergirl (aka "She'd be the hero on any other show")
    Body Armor (Damage Resistance) 3
    Loyal to Those Who Saved Her from Herself

    She has lots of determination points to try and do cool things. By the rules, stunts off skills have to be based off a skill you're expert or better in, so she's an expert in lots of stuff. The downside to the "Badass Sister of Supergirl" quality is that she is protective and jealous, and you can bribe the player to do stupid things.

    The funky ID card is part of being a DEO agent and is covered in the Quality.

    Stuff like the kryptonite sword or the kryptonite battlesuit is a plot device, not a power or equipment.

    White Martian

    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    6 5 8 4 6 7 14
    Specialties Qualities
    Power (Transformation), Stealth, Wrestling Hates green Martians
    Transformation (humanoids) 7 Limit: Concentration Deceptive by nature
    Wall-Crawling 4 Extra: Leaping
    Super Senses 1 (Mental Awareness)
    Telepathy 7 Extra: Rangeless Limit: not Kryptonians

    In my imagination, every Martian has a suite of powers, and the ones represented on their character sheets are the ones they use most often. The Mental Awareness covers both the use of Martian abilities (both J'onn and the white martian track each other with it), and a general awareness of psychic abilities. We don't see the latter much, so a Limit might be reasonable...but it is reasonable. The Leaping might be Flight: it gets used as Leaping (mostly) in fights in enclosed spaces, but as Flight in open spaces. Either might be a stunt; Super-speed gets used twice, but I chose to regard that as a stunt. I also regard the weird breath thing and the mucous strands of binding as stunts or plot devices.


    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    6 5 7 7 6 8 15 1
    Specialties Qualities
    Martial Arts, Technology Expert (+2) Computer Program Made Flesh
    Life Support 10 Revenge is a Dish Best Served
    Computer Control Extra: Effect ESP (medium computers) 7
    Teleport 7 Extra: Rangeless Limit: Medium of computers Extra: Phasing Extra: Selective The Most Dangerous Prisoner in Fort Rozz
    Malleable body: Shapeshift 4
    Often stunts Slash (sharp nails) or Stretching or Regeneration

    The Teleport is properly a part of Computer Control, but I added so many extras trying to get the one-handed choking thing that I kept it a separate line. I suppose "Dimensional Travel (Computers) Extra: Selective Extra: Choose where you come out 1" might have done as well: the Selective means part of her can come out and the Choose where you come out lets you emulate a slower Teleport.

    Master Jailer

    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    5 4 6 4 5 3 9 1
    Specialties Qualities
    Athletics Expert (+2), Investigation, Martial Arts, Military, Stealth, Technology Former Guard at Fort Rozz
    Energy blast or thrown stick (Blast 6) Finish Alura's mission with execution
    Body Armor (Damage Resistance) 6
    Binding (chains) 7
    Stretching (chains) 3 Idolizes Alura
    Gadgets 5

    Okay, Supergirl is held with chains and she burns through them with heat vision instead of just breaking free. Instead of making the chains. I choose to treat the situation as four chains acting like +2 (four opponents), so she was effectively bound by Binding 9, and her first roll didn't succeed as a Strength maneuver. It being early in the game, she didn't want to spend Determination to beat the Bound Quality, so she used the easier heat vision.

    In the same way, his body armor clearly handles DEO weapons, which are as good as rifles. I called the whole thing Damage Resistance 6, but you could be justified in saying Damage Resistance 7.

    I threw the Gadgets in to cover things like the energy guillotine and the red sun light, but they could arguably be called plot devices. I suspect if he showed up again, though, he'd still have some kind of gadget. Military specialty could go, but I assumed that the guards were a paramilitary organization.

    Lady Beast

    (I just liked her, but I had to make up a lot.)
    Prowess Coordination Strength Intellect Awareness Willpower Stamina Determination
    6 4 7 4 4 3 10
    Specialties Qualities
    Vehicles Former prisoner of Fort Rozz
    Super-senses 3 (ultraviolet vision, enhanced smell, location sense) Star pilot and smuggler
    Tough Hide (Damage Resistance) 3 Big ugly monster

    Monday, October 24, 2016

    Just a note

    The reason you're seeing anything from me is that I'm in the hospital with a mystery thing. I have been in an out for a week and all the obvious answers turned out to be wrong.

    Now, you don't have to worry about my intestinal bleeding, but know that there will probably be a flurry of posts and then nothing.

    Problem Powers 3: Astral Projection

    Random power creation is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing when it forces you to think in new and creative ways. It's a curse when your particular mental well is more like a puddle.

    Astral projection is one of those, for me. I see it, and it is itself, a much of a muchness, and what else is there to say?

    Don't know. So let's look at it. Here's the power description for Astral Projection, from ICONS: The Assembled Edition.

    Astral Projection can send your astral form (the vessel of the mind and spirit) out from your physical body, allowing it to travel elsewhere. Your astral form has Flight and Phasing at your power level and full Life Support. It can observe, but not affect, the physical world and cannot be detected by physical means, although Spirit Detection and Telepathy reveal it and you may choose to be seen and heard, when you wish. You can use mental powers against non-astral beings, but with +2 difficulty. Your powers work normally against other astral beings. Your body remains in a coma-like state, although you are aware of any harm befalling it. Should your body perish while your astral form is away, you remain trapped in astral form.

    First thought: I didn't realize it, but Astral Projection is pretty good for a ghost, actually. (Kinda like it's made for them.) Flight and Full Life Support and Phasing? In a ghost, the fact that your body has perished away is taken for granted. Next time I have to actually design a ghost for ICONS, I'm heading for Astral Projection. I can still think of situations where it wouldn't work, but they're rare. (And add a possession power and you have Deadman.)

    Second thought: It and ESP have a fair bit in common. If you have, say, Astral Projection and Mental Blast, you might well get a closely similar effect from ESP, Mental Blast, and Rangeless. The ESP version is easier but Astral Projection has more range, though: you are limited in how far your ESP goes, but not your Astral Projection. (It's a plot device if either ESP or Astral Projection goes to other worlds.)

    So you could use Astral Projection as a gadget that places your "awareness" (not in the game sense) in a different place. That would be a non-mystical way of doing it.

    You could also have a Dimensional Travel that teleports you to the Astral Plane. Anyone with Astral Projection can get there using the power, but the Dimensional Travel ability moves your body into the Astral Plane. (Presumably there's some doubletalk explanation why astral selves sent out via Astral Projection work with the real world, while the Astral Plane starts out looking like our world but gets weird as you need it to.)

    In fact, maybe the Astral Plane and the Dream Realm are closely connected: dreams sometimes leak over into the Astral Plane and vice versa. Something like that would make Astral Projection a little more dangerous: the astral self is in danger of being attacked by a rogue nightmare.

    Like decking, travels on the Astral Plane read great, but they can be a solo event that the others only take part in. Be wary of that.

    Problematic Powers 2: Dream Control

    Problematic Powers 2: Dream Control

    When this power shows up in my rolled-up characters, my hope is that I can trade Dream Control for an Extra on something else.

    Not because Dream Control isn't a cool power, or that I think that it shouldn't be there. Dr. Destiny has Dream Control, and the issues of Sandman where he appears are fearsome. He has a slightly different flavour of Dream Control than is in the ICONS rulebook, but it's pretty definitely Dream Control.

    Here, this is what Dream Control is, according to the ICONS: Assembled Edition rulebook.

    Dream Control is the ability to manipulate dreams. You can control your own dreams, choosing what you dream. More importantly, you can implant images into the mind of a sleeping individual, like the Illusion power, but rangeless.

    Part of the problem, for me, is that Dream Control is a weirdly delayed power, not conducive to a lot of games. The power wielder enters the minds of sleeping individuals and can implant images. Useful if you have to get help and they don't know about the power, but not exactly something that makes for dramatic action:

    "If only Deus Mex Anima knew where we are!"
    "I'll put an image in his sleeping mind."
    "You've been to his house?"
    "We had a sleepover there once. You couldn't come; you're a girl and have cooties."

    I digress.

    So it's not that I think it's not a valid power, but rather that I think it's not a particularly interesting power as normally used by players. I don't recall Dream Girl doing much with it: as I dimly recall from my Legion-reading days, she was mostly about the precognition. Dream Control for players (not villains) is used for psychotherapy. It's a utility power.

    Maybe the ability to control your own dreams is the key part. We invent some way for the villain to enter your sleeping mind, and the villain is trapped there. Some people use Telepathy for this (the battle between Psimon and Miss Martian on Young Justice is clearly a telepathic battle), but you could use Dream Control in the same way.

    The hard part would be getting the opponents there.

    Maybe you could have a Teleport that's thematically an Alteration ray: instead of phasing you or turning you invisible, it puts you in his head, or the Dream Realm. They get to act "normally" (given where they are) for the first panel because you're suffering from teleport shock. In my reading of ICONS and Great Power, there isn't an Extra that makes Teleport offensive, so it's thematically part of Alteration Ray, but get your GM's approval.

    When heroes have it, it seems to me like either it's a secondary power ("MindMan can read minds, send tremendous blasts of mental energy, fly, and control dreams") or it's the whole point of the adventure. Characters trapped in some other person's head can use Dream Control to change the dreamstuff around them, or characters who have ventured into the aboriginal Dreamtime have unusual facilities that will help them control their environment.

    I suppose you could also do a campaign like a superhero campaign, where the heroes venture into a head every week. In that realm, they're superheroes, but everyone has some degree of Dream Control. It would be risky to run because you don't want to make light of people with actual mental problems, but it might be a short campaign about dealing with the mental parasites from Dimension Xarg. Every week a new victim is brought in, but one of the powers these parasites have is to make the subject immune to sleep: they've walled off the subject's dream realm. There's a time limit to how long they can make the subject sleep. The heroes have to go in, and defeat the aliens. As the campaign progresses, they get to people who have been possessed longer, and their dream realms have been turned into factories for these parasites and the "tools" they use.


    Not as useful an ending as the discussion of Aquatic, but I hope it has sparked some ideas for you.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2016

    Problem Powers 1: Aquatic Thoughts

    Aquatic Thoughts

    Problematic Powers I: Aquatic

    I've got a certain amount of time to kill, because I suddenly got put in the hospital for a procedure and probably surgery. (Let's just say that if I get to go home after the procedure, it's bad news because they've discovered Awful Things.)

    But nonetheless, I'm thinking about ICONS and certain powers that make my eyes roll up and my skin itch. Fair? Probably not. And heavily influenced by other games that I have played and where I live.

    Aquatic... My first reaction

    Man. What a sucky power, is what I used to think. I mean, sure, if your ability is to be in an enclosed life support system, or you can breathe air with your own miniature SCUBA rebreather...I mean, Batman and Iron Man both did that. That was cool, and in the Champions days, that was cheap. Heck, I could afford a gadget as a rebreather for my Batman, homage.

    The thing is, I also live in a town which, while it has a river, was the last stop for river freight before the rocks made the thing impassible.

    But in ICONS, well, getting the power Aquatic when you only have four to six powers total? What a huge chunk of your power budget (so to speak) spent on the ability to breathe underwater...and frankly, the survival rules in most superhero games are so geared to the heroic that the hero can dive into the lake, have the fight, and make it to the surface without much of a problem. (ICONS requires a strength test every panel after the first.)

    So here's what Aquatic gives you.

    Aquatic characters are equally able to function underwater and on land. You can breathe underwater and your Coordination and Awareness while submerged equal the higher of their normal levels +1 or this power’s level. You can swim at a speed based on your half your power level (rounded up) on the Benchmarks Table. As an extra, your Prowess and Strength also increase to your Aquatic level or gain 1 level (whichever is greater) while you are underwater.

    Now, looking at that, it's pretty cool. It sounds like a good power. So clearly, my biggest problem is that the two models for Aquatic are really Aquaman and Namor. Both are rulers of Atlantis, and both live primarily under the sea.

    Except here in land-locked MyTown, we don't have water.

    So clearly, if I'm going to make Aquatic a relevant power for me, I have to think about putting water into an adventure.

    Let's eliminate the idea that we're going to set this in the middle of the ocean. (We could, but that's a cheat.) We might set it in a shore town, but a bit off-shore is as foreign as the middle of the ocean, and a boat doesn't call for Aquatic, it calls for flight or swimming. Where is there water in my southern Ontario town, and maybe there'll be water in your town as well.

    Rivers and Lakes

    There are rivers and lakes in the area, but we've never made use of them for game purposes. The rivers are actually kind of pointless—if you got your head wet going across one, I'd be surprised—but the lakes...well, the lakes should be fine. We have an abandoned quarry that filled with water; we have several lakes; and we have a lake that's actually a city reservoir.

    So what can a villain do with a lake that makes good use of Aquatic?

    Well, he or she can hide things down there. Or might be looking for something there: maybe someone else stole the samples from the biotech lab and hid them in a lake. It's cold down there, and if the box is water-tight, dry inside. Yes, you could get the same result with Life Support (breathing), but the additional Awareness and movement differences make your Aquatic character better under water than most SCUBA divers.

    The secret base or the missile launcher might be there. (I ignore its construction under water.)

    One that I like is that there's some race of fish-men and Aquatic is essential to talk to them...because they can't talk out of water.

    A variant is the swamp or bog. There's a long tradition of building your bad-guy secret HQ in a swamp, going back at least as far as Super Friends, and the guy with Aquatic can ignore half the dangers.


    Please note that I didn't say sewage. Cities have water sewers, too, and during a rainstorm those puppies might be full. Shame if that were the time they needed to get to the secret headquarters, or the enclave of outcasts who have taken the professor hostage, or the mutant human-alligator cross living in the sewer system and who guards the enclave.


    Aside from some contrivance like in John Updike's "The Swimmer," there are a lot of swimming pools in this town. Some of the big ones (public outdoor pools) or the university pools (required to be Olympic sized) might hold something. There's chance that someone or something might be living in the secret chambers between the main pool and the hot pool.

    But there's a second kind of pool that's in our town that I recognized while driving a few weeks ago: water reservoirs for factories. I don't know if these are private places to hold water before the manufacturing process, or hold some kind of toxic residue after the manufacturing process, but they're there. Imagine that they're toxic, so going into them dissolves SCUBA gear. Yet the Aztec idol for the mystic ceremony was dropped there. The hero with Aquatic goes. It's like voluntarily walking into a cloud of poison gas, and no one else could do it.

    The Wet End

    Yeah, to use these you'd certainly have to be thinking about the Aquatic power while putting the adventure together. But one of the reasons we play superhero games is so that our characters can look cool, and here's a venue where the character with Aquatic can look cool.

    Friday, October 14, 2016


    I can't actually get to this site from any of the new places I go. 

    Have to come up with some other mechanism for this blog's revival.