Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Confession

I really like the villain-on-a-card thing, whether the card is the size of a playing card, a tarot card, or a notecard. I like the artwork and the way things are usually arranged. I loved the cards in DC Heroes 2nd, even though I lost them to a teething puppy who loved cardboard.

I even thought about producing a deck o' villainy, even if it were just for my own use. I mean, villains usually get used in such a way that you end up having to copy them out anyway, even though they come from Enemies or ICONS Adversaries. But a couple of things stopped me:

  1. First, custom cards are expensive until you get to large print orders.
  2. Second, they'd have to be designed, and I didn't see a useful way of doing that, even if I decided on a size. I'm not a layout guy. The best I could do is to ape ICONS Adversaries.
  3. Third, again they're expensive. Superhero gaming is a niche of a niche, and you just wouldn't sell that many.
I just couldn't see gamers buying them. Taking them as a stretch goal in a Kickstarter, maybe, so long as they got the enemies book or PDF, maybe, but not buying them separately.


Way back in the 1990s, I ran a one-off using DC Heroes that I called Sidekix. Basically, it was an adventure where the Teen Titans surrogates had grown up and most had quit adventuring, but old business drew them together. I had the material on my page on Geocities. The team was the Teen Team (I didn't know about Invincible then, if it even existed.)

Between the time that Geocities went down and now, I lost the files. Today I discovered that some sites saved Geocities stuff. So, for your amusement (and really my desire to save stuff), here is a very long post that is the player information for that. Some of the players are named in square brackets; I hope they don't mind. Looking at it again, I suspect I then added material to make it a sourcebook for GMs. It is, however, firmly rooted in the mid 1990s. (I know that Quicksilver wouldn't work as a character name for something published, but players get to name their own characters.)

I might edit this retroactively to add stats for a more recent roleplaying system. I will also fix the formatting, which is a pain to do on the iPad in Blogger.

Sidekix: Player Information

Once upon a time, a group of superhero sidekicks banded together to create the Teen Team. Though they frequently and vehemently denied it, they were basically a second-string Teen Titans. Over their history, they had a large roster of members, though only five or six were active at any given time. About five years ago, the Teen Team formally

Every year, members get together over Christmas for a week in a lodge in the woods. (Lot of sidekicks are orphans, without families for the holidays.) It's not a big secret — members bring their significant others. It's a chance to unwind, see old friends, etc. (The lodge is owned by one of the Team — he made a fortune off the Sidekix TV series (and the toys and the breakfast cereal and...))

This section describes the Teen Team and the guidelines for creating a new character to be part of the Teen Team. I recommend you play one of the existing members, just because it's easier for me.

The players are former members of the Teen Team but they don't have to be active supers. (Several may have given up the idea of superheroing. Frank Miller once said he always figured Dick Grayson gave up being Robin at 20 and opened a sporting goods store.) Or to get extra wonky players could play current spouses of former members.... (Kind of the adventures of Sue Dibny!)

Friday, February 10, 2017


I was listening to Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff this morning, and Ken Hite mentioned his general preference for providing clearly-provided incentives for things you want the players to do.

Now, ICONS is a general superhero rules set. You can do pretty much anything that happens in comics with it, and comics is a wide-open field, being the kitchen-sink speculative fiction of our time. (It's all in there: Science fiction, Lovecraft, magic, swords-and-sorcery, teen apocalypse romance, all of it.) But by default, ICONS lends itself to mainstream superhero comics from about the sixties to the eighties. I know a lot of people look at the art and go, "Silver Age." You can do so much more, though.

Take, for example, mysteries. They aren't as common as they once were, but the original Elongated Man stories were puzzle stories (for some reason, one of my clearest memories is Ralph explaining why he wasn't the crook even though the ski tracks passed on either side of a tree, so it looked like a stretchy guy had done it). Investigation into the puzzle is part of the standard adventure structure that Steve Kenson lays out in the rulebook, but I'm thinking a more detailed kind of mystery, rather than figuring out where the bad guys are.

ICONS has an obvious incentive mechanism: Determination points. When a player does something you like, reward it with a Determination point. Assigning a particular form of Advantage is a more limited way to do it, and assigning a particular form of Trouble is a stick rather than a carrot.

There are ways to do mysteries in ICONS. If your players aren't particularly into it, do it as a pyramid test. This is the offhand side mystery, where they might need some of the information, but roleplaying the investigation is not possible because of a time crunch or because the roleplaying part is only fun for one of the players. In fact, if one of the players has the Investigation specialty, you might even give them a "Gumshoe-style" bonus, where they get some information no matter what possibly equal to a major success in the pyramid test. The major success is equal to a clue or three (depending on how many clues you have prepared).

While that's a kind of incentive, it doesn't really signal to the players that they should investigate this with roleplaying and so on. Now, since they can spend a Determination point to get a hint from the GM, I suggest that you can do the opposite: They get a Determination point for trying. If they need to, they can spend the point later to get the hint.

It's less desirable, but you can use the stick instead. Perhaps the players get some kind of social Trouble if they don't investigate. The most obvious is "Character suspected of crime and must clear name" but your situation might call for others.

Ultimately, it might boil down to whether your players are on board. While the game system can help with that (by being cool and making expectations explicit), ultimately that's something you have to work out with them.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Melting the bullets

System: ICONS

Because I have an odd brain, I started wondering how hot your flame aura has to be before it vaporizes the bullets shot at you.

Iron melts at about 1500 degrees Celsius, and that's higher than the melting point of steel or brass, so we're going to use that. The boiling point is about twice that. I looked up some bullet weights under the misguided notion that all I had to do was figure the energy that went into that mass...I digress. Most bullets (as opposed to cartridges) are under 100 grams. There are exceptions, but we're wingin' it, baby.

Now, having looked at the math, I now know why (a) my university physics courses didn't touch heat transfer and (b) I'm not going to calculate the heat transfer. Let's just say that any heat involved has to be intense.

There isn't anything in ICONS about blast furnaces or arc welders. (I know, I'm shocked too.)

But at the heart of it, claiming that the character's fire aura vaporizes the bullets is such a comic book thing to do, so I want to keep hacking at this for a moment.

We could stunt it, treating the flame aura as a force field and the special effect as vaporizing the bullets, but that really seems like a betrayal of the comic-book-ness of it.

Now, military-style heavy weapons are damage rank 7. Incendiary bombs start at damage rank 7, and bullets are deformed in hitting materials of hardness 6 or so. So let's say that fire rank 7 is enough to melt a bullet, which is less than 100 grams of lead, steel, or brass, over a panel or three. Fire rank 8 would vaporize the bullet, if the bullet were in it for a panel or two or three. (Fired bullets hurt the target before then, whether it's rank 7 or 8.)

But rank 9 is in linear terms much more than rank 8. So let's say that any character with a flame aura of 9 or 10 really does vaporize the bullets before they hit his or her skin. Oh, you can still hurt them by dropping a locomotive on them: that's a lot of metal to heat up. But you can treat them as having a force field for the purposes of small flammable projectiles. Concrete would probably hurt, but thrown bottles and cans wouldn't even be noticed.

Of course, I just realized that you could spray them with bullets for a long time and suffocate them by making them breathe in all that vapor they've created....

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A One-Shot Idea: Graduation Exercise


Had an idea for a one-shot today. You'd want pre-gens, I think, but I have no experience at one-shots for conventions or whatever.

Some masked adventurer from the forties or even thirties--call him Ulysses Prophet--is well known and is good, his backup plans have backup plans, but even with the life-extension stuff he got from the Lemurians or whatever, he's at the end of his time. Thugs aren't catching him yet, but he's had close calls with some of his arch-foes. So he's been training the player characters, and it's time for the final.

Here's the final: the PCs are locked in the insane asylum with Ulysses' greatest enemies and have to escape without causing harm to the staff, and defeat their main enemy, who will be Ulysses. Equipment will still be on the premises (boxed to be shipped out to the police station). Characters with actual powers are in rooms with power nullifiers.

Ulysses is worried that he might go soft on the characters, so he's had one of the doctors hypnotize him and plant suggestions that he hates the characters. There is a safeword to snap him out of the suggestion, and all of the medical staff know it. (Ulysses isn't stupid.)

Aside from all the clever things that players could think of to escape, here's a freebie: The presence of the PCs makes the asylum over-full, so when the kitchen microwave ovens are turned on, the power to the nullifiers flickers, giving the player one turn with one power. (The microwave ovens have to heat a bunch of meals, so this happens roughly every two minutes for about a half-hour near mealtimes.) A character who is a trained normal will probably find some other way to escape.

You knew there'd be a catch, though, and there are two:
  1. As worded, the doctor said that Ulysses has to hear the safeword, which is bad, because one of his early acts as Evil Ulysses was to bomb the secret tunnel that heads out of the asylum left him deaf. He can lipread (of course he can: we're really talking about Evil Batgod) but that won't counteract the hypnosis. Lipreading won't count, telepathy won't count, reading won't count (illusions of sounds sent directly to his brain would count; so would someone managing to heal him and then saying the safeword).
  2. Also as worded, the doctor left Ulysses not just hating the captured heroes, but loving the villains, so Ulysses is releasing the villains one by one, testing them for faithfulness, and sending them against the PCs.
Now, is that choice of wording accidental, or is it because the doctor is working for one of the villains locked up in the asylum, maybe the one that Ulysses wouldn't release because he's just too dangerous? Depends on how much play time you have.

I'd probably use the Mutants & Masterminds Providence Asylum map (though I have another old hospital building kicking around here). I'd box up the equipment and put it in the truck delivery area so that equipment characters have to fight there, first, and for some reason there are traps.