Monday, October 30, 2017

A Bad Guys Campaign


I know that Steve Kenson has said that Determination is for heroes only. And in general I'm against the idea of a villains campaign. Morally ambiguous, sure, but out and out villains...? Even though there have been good villain things (like Necessary Evil), they tend to be about bad guys being forced to be good guys.

And this weekend I read the first volume of Gail Simone's Secret Six. And a bunch of more broken but still functioning individuals will be hard for you to find. I immediately thought of doing it as a roleplaying campaign, with a similar setup: All the bad guys are forming a coalition. You don't want to. That puts you in their bad books.

Trivial to do in Hero, but I haven't run Hero for a long time. You could do it in Mutants & Masterminds but there's be fluctuating power levels to contend with. You could do it in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying but my guys don't like MHR. Savage Worlds, of course, but I don't have the super powers supplement.

And then I circled back to ICONS, even though I'd dismissed it. Because Steve said that bad guys don't have Determination; he didn't say that they can't get Advantages or Trouble.

So if you were going to use ICONS for a villain campaign, you just don't give them Determination. Any time they need an Advantage, the players have to use a Maneuver or a Tactic.

I haen't thought about how that would affect a campaign, but I'm willing to accept suggestions.

It's something to think about, anyway.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"There are too...many...of them..."


Over in the G+ ICONS community, Hallam Rickett asks about overwhelming numbers, such as Captain America attacking a Hydra base, where there are too many and the heroes end up captured. Steve Kenson already answered but I get to be both more orthodox and less orthodox, so I'll repeat and expand on my answer here.

First of all, what do you want narratively? (I don't think you should dictate everything that happens to your players, but sometimes you want to skip over some non-essential stuff or avoid having it send you into the weeds.) If you really want to do an adventure about how resourceful the heroes are without their gadgets or whatever, then you essentially set the terms and let them go.

In ICONS terms, you narrate the capture ("There are too many of them. When you wake up...") and give them each a Determination point to sweeten it. This sort of thing is (in my experience, as a person who has made many many of the mistakes that gamemasters can make) best done to begin the session or end it. You're framing this session or next session.

However, sometimes you're okay with them winning ("There's only like 200 agents on the island...") but you want it to be unlikely.

The fastest way is to use a pyramid test or two. If you're trying to model the experience of it being tougher after the alarm is sounded, maybe you use two pyramid tests, one representing before the alarm and one representing after. You figure the average difficulty of hitting an agent is 3 or 4, so that's the difficulty of the first test. The second test is harder—the agents are fighting smarter now, so the difficulty is 6 or 7. Everybody can contribute to the pyramid tests, so each one is probably a page or two.

But as variations:
  • Use a single long test (requires two massive successes) but it escalates: the difficulty goes up by one every time failure, or every attempt.
  • Use a long pyramid test for each player character, rather than having everyone contribute to one pyramid test.
  • Use a pyramid test for each area they want to clear out, difficulty determined by the level of the opposition and whether the alarm has been raised.

Another way is to model the agents as a character that represents a horde. Fights take longer than tests, however, so this eats up more of your session.

Look at your individual agent, and fold any weapons or Martial Arts skills into Coordination and Prowess, because we're going for something like speed here even though we've decided to use a fight. Ignore body armor, which you might have lovingly crafted for individual agents, because we're going to abstract it all into Alternate Form Fluid, using the Damage Resistance in that to represent both body armor and that there are many agents.

A horde of agents might be:

Horde of Agents
Blaster Rifles or whatever they have to attack6
Alternate Form Fluid Represents that there are lots of agents. Brings Damage Resistance 6, Stretching 6 to represent agents being in lots of places and how destroying some of them doesn't get all of them. Adjust level based on strength of hero attacks and number of agents.6
Fast Attack, because there are lots of these agents. Assume they can attack twice more; that's a compromise between lots of attacks and time spent rolling dice8
Regeneration Every 10 pages, the number of agents replenishes because more agents show up10
  • Horde of agents; every part is a minion but the whole isn't
  • The "Alternate Form Fluid" attribute can be nullified for a page by smart tactics or moves
  • Some quality reflecting the nature of the agents or a special ability

First, unlike what it says in the rules, in this case the Fast Attack doesn't have to be used to Coordinate attacks. You can, maybe you should, but I would say that in this case it doesn't have to be a Coordinated attack.

Second, maybe they have some equivalent to Growth or Wrestling when they get down to grappling with the heroes...individually they might not be strong, but if you get twenty agents hanging off you, well, it might get treated as a much stronger foe.

Third, if you want the agents to be unbeatable unless something smart is done, you say that the PCs have to use Advantages to neutralize the Alternate Form Fluid...the heroes do something smart, it counteracts the damage resistance of the Alternate Form, and the attack can do Stamina damage. Otherwise, the agents are nearly unbeatable if the Alternate Form is set at the same level as the highest PC attack or higher. (I might not count Combining attacks to increase effort as smart on the part of the PCs...depends on the players.)

Again, you might vary it by having each area of the base as a "horde" character, so you have the Lab horde, the Living Quarters horde, the Airfield horde, and so on. And this has the advantage that if some player does something clever, like using the security system to lock various agents in place, you aren't forcing yourself to a fiction that if the one horde character is defeated, they all drop unconscious. Really, you'd claim that the other agents surrendered or something in that case, but this way lets you have them if you need another fight later.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

So, what else to do?


As I've said repeatedly, I'm thinking of a second campaign, one that isn't on Wednesday nights and isn't on Roll20. And while probably it will be the same sort of thing, that does deserve thinking about.

For instance, if I make it an actual group and an actual campaign and think less about the casual drop-in aspect (though not abandoning that entirely), other possibilities become available.

Here are the things I've been thinking that I could do. Let me know if you have a particular interest or distaste for any of these ideas. (And forcing the campaign into a particular model might require some tweaking of ICONS, but we'll see.
  • Teenage Mystic Heroes There's some kind of threat that affects anyone over 21, so Merlin (yeah, that one) has gathered some heroes to train them. He hopes they'll be ready in time. All the characters would have the Quality "Youth" in addition to their regular three, and there'd be a bit more soap opera.
  • The Nexus League At the Crossroads of Dimensions, a team of heroes stands ready to right wrongs that might threaten the multiverse. Usually the threat is in our dimension, but sometimes it isn't. The heroes are more in the Justice League/Avengers model...they're not averse to calling in the local heroes, but usually they are the biggest good guys on the block.
  • Better to Burn Out Street-level scope, the group are the heroes of a large cohort that suddenly got powers. This is probably not connected to Strange City. The catch is that every use of powers hastens your eventual demise. (You still don't know when you were going to die; powers mean it will be sooner.) Now, other members of the cohort don't care about the never-ending battle...they figure they're doomed, so why not have a good time until then, and those are largely your supervillains.
  • Reddin Klah A sword-and-sorcery use of ICONS, rather like the Warlord's Skartaris or the Forgotten Land. This is the least superhero-y of them all, but still allows for superpowers as magic or ancient technology or mutant abilities.
  • Trying To Get Out This is a nebulous idea, but it would follow some heroes who are trying to retire, the heroes who want to be their replacements, the villains who don't believe it, and the normals associated with them. Very soapy, and I'm not sure that it isn't a bunch of email exchanges instead.

As I say, the end result might be a standard sort of hero campaign, but I have been considering those other ideas and trying to figure out if I'd have enough stories.

Episode 6: The Saga of the Swamp Things


Only one player, but it had been so long since I ran that, well, we went ahead. I didn't want to do the whole session I had planned so the exterior portion, which would have been half of the original session plan, took up the whole thing. We got more experience in stunting powers, which is good... The session is sort of serialized because of this, though, which I regret.

This account is long, because it's kinda a brain vomit. There's a chance I'll come back to it later and do a shorter, more readable version.

When last we left off, our heroes had captured the thief from the strip club robberies and discovered that it was a repaired robot, robot that was giving off tau radiation. While Nathan, the owner of the robot, was easily dealt with by hiring him and paying back the money he had stolen ($586.00 in mostly singles), the teenagers who then attacked were slightly more difficult. They were George Turner (age 13), Lily Gloom (age 15), and Landslide (no identity yet, but turned into a 16 year-old boy when they put the power neutralizers on him). Still, those three were arrested and we open in the police station, where Gold Tiger is interrogating Gerorge Turner.

(Credit where it's due: George, Lily, and Landslide are part of the Young Anarchists, created by Ade Smith in the Fainting Goat adventure, Lair of the Wrathmaster. Most of the Improbable Tales adventures are excellent, and the ones I don't regard as excellent just are not to my taste. Anyway, aside from names and powers, I've invented some backstory for them that isn't too different from the one in the module but is, shall we say, congruent to the backstory in the module.)

TL;DR summary of events:

  • Gold Tiger offers George a job
  • Dr. Warp is from the 1960s
  • His hideout is an abandoned laboratory in a swamp
  • The liberal and casual use of tau radiation has caused the muck to become human-like swamp things
  • PCs fought them before getting in to the secret base
  • They now have Professor Jelinek and a device that sucks up tau radiation with them
  • They might have shut down all the robots, or they might have shut down just one—they don't know yet

The Long Version

George apparently knew where the robot came from and needed the robot, nicknamed "Liza," to get into the base's security. The robot was implicated in a number of thefts (though legally the robot has no culpability: it's a tool). Gold Tiger used Spectre and his crazy-high Willpower score to intimidate George and get information. He did this not-on-the-record: Gold Tiger got the police to shut off the recording equipment (well, they turned off the audio, and George hides his mouth from the cameras).

George was not willing to reveal the location, but he would show it to them. Gold Tiger counter-offered: he'll hire George, George will get to work with cool stuff, and George stops this life of crime.

Basically, the police weren't going to charge George, Landslide, and Lily with anything related to the fight at Nathan's place unless Nathan pressed charges (and Nathan was waiting for a hint from Gold Tiger on whether he should). Landslide was being held until they figured out what his identity was, and Lily was wanted because she went all Carrie on a school dance back in June. All three are minors but they probably wouldn't be tried as adults; Lily didn't kill anyone in her school dance thing, but some people were hurt. So Gold Tiger could take George, because there won't be any charges. The others had to stay.

George agreed to the terms, got Gold Tiger's number because he had to text it to his mom, who works nights.

Gold Tiger, Spectre, George, and Liza flew out to the location of the secret base, which was in the swamp on one side of town. (So far, Strange City has nearby deer hunting and a swamp; the uranium mine is at the edge of the swamp.) There was an abandoned lab there, which was researching ways to improve crop yields, in our nod to Alec Holland. (Spectre created a hard light platform for himself and George, and Liza or Gold Tiger was flying it. Although George had a bag of parts, he had no overt assembled equipment: that had been taken from him.)

On a scan of the area, Gold Tiger found the security perimeter—all recent off-the-shelf equipment, which communicated wirelessly with the security center. It took Gold Tiger about thirty seconds to exploit a known flaw and he had access and control of the security sensors. Because the swamp has alligators in the swamp that have managed to survive the winters (invasive species are a problem here, too), the sensors ignored anything smaller than about 40 kilograms. George, Lily, and Landslide wouldn't even be noticed.

Gold Tiger also found a secret entrance in a dead tree about half a mile (about 800 meters) from the abandoned lab. He prepped Liza (stunting ESP) so that he can see through her eyes. In conversation with her while he's doing this, it became aware that Liza sort-of recognized the area. She was having some cognitive dissonance because she had associated Nathan's house as the place where the Master lived, but being in the swamp activated subsystems George hadn't known about.

Liza went in the secret entrance. The shaft went straight down: it was clearly meant for fliers, because there was no elevator. There was a ladder, which George got on. The inside of the dead tree was metal, and covered with moss and fungi. They began descending the tunnel after Liza, but they were going much slower, hampered by George and Spectre on the ladder.

Spectre asked if anyone else could hear the sound—a kind of rhythmic thrumming that crackled. Gold Tiger scanned the airwaves and didn't find anything.

Liza entered the base via a big metallic door. Gold Tiger saw her be scanned by some device; the word "Anomaly" appeared on an old-fashioned CRT screen, and two other Lizas (femmebots?) showed up and escorted her to a mechanical bay, strapping her to the robot equivalent of a car hoist.

Gold Tiger issued a shutdown command, hoping to shut down all femmebots in the area. He did not know if it worked, because it shut down Liza, and his remote sensing experiment ended.

This was about the point when they noticed that Spectre was not himself, as tendrils of moss and fungus started growing out of his nose and mouth. The Affliction attack quickly knocked him unconscious. Gold Tiger noticed that the moss on the walls was following them.

There were two skeletons at the bottom of the shaft. The moss flowed onto them, creating a pair of moss men, or if you prefer, Swamp Things. (This was the week before Halloween, so maybe things had an eldritch bent.)

George was willing to help, but he blew the Intellect roll for Gadgeteering (both gadgeteers had this problem, that night). Gold Tiger alternated between attacking one, which was fighting him, and attacking the other one, which was wrapping itself around Spectre and sucking the life out of him.

Eventually Gold Tiger jury-rigged some of his missiles into a light-based attack that we modelled as an Affliction, and it worked reasonably well. It destroyed them.

That was the point when Gold Tiger got a faint scratchy phone call from Professor Jelinek, who was outside. "I knew that uncontrolled Tau radiation would have this effect! There's a ruined car here and the tau-powered moss is using the skeletons near it for a endostructure!"

Gold Tiger flew out and located the flare that Professor Jelinek had sent up. He didn't see Professor Jelinek, but he did see a 12-foot-high pile of writhing and undulating moss; it turned out that the Professor was at the bottom of it. (The moss was treated as a muck monster with Growth 2.)

Professor Jelinek failed his gadgeteering roll, what with being under a huge pile of sapient moss, but Gold Tiger managed to distract it. It budded some small duplicates, but Gold Tiger was whittling it down. Then Professor Jelinek finally made his Intellect test and his gun sucked up residual tau radiation in the pile.

Yes, because tau radiation was involved, Professor Jelinek had been contacted by the police. He saw pictures of Liza and recognized her as being modelled after his late wife, Maria. Given that, he knew who had to be behind the spate of tau-powered weapons: Hieronymous Warkstein, known as Dr. Warp, who disappeared in the 1960s, shortly after Professor Jelinek won the hand of grad student Maria Slavicek. Professor Jelinek put together what he could from the apartment and followed the trail of tau radiation out to the swamp.

And as we left the session, Gold Tiger, George, Spectre, and Professor Jelinek were standing in that underground access corridor in front of a giant metal door, the same one that Liza went through.

Your muck monster:
Muck Monster
Specialties Stealth Master (+3)
Plant Control (Plant Control)6
 Extra: Fast Growth
Plant Body: Alternate Form (Fluid: Brings Damage Resistance 5, Stretching 5)5
 Extra: Detect through plants (ESP; medium of plants)5
Striving for eternal rest by eliminating tau radiation
He's a Plant (includes extra degree of damage from herbicides, fungicides, light, etc)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Yes. The ICONS Drop-In

SYSTEM: ICONS I'm reasonably healthy. I have spoken to the boy about not having a rehearsal in our space. My wife is occupied. Yes. We can have ICONS Drop-In tomorrow night on Roll20, at 7:00 pm Eastern. Just so folks recall (and for anyone new...) The heroes were trying to track down the distributors of new weapons that are essentially super powers and work of radiated energy. (For your Nikola Tesla moment.) They have a clue: a fembot from the creator, who can get into the secret base, according to another miscreant caught in the last session. We'll begin wherever necessary to get the characters involved.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mystery ICONS

SYSTEM: ICONS Someone over in the World of Supers group on Facebook, someone asked for a suggestion on how to do a Mystery Men style campaign, and what system you'd use. I spent some time thinking about what a Mystery Men campaign is. Here's my description, because it bears on how you bend ICONS (or Supers or Mutants & Masterminds) to it:
Heroes with only one or no powers, who strive to do good anyway.
If we look at the movie Mystery Men (who I dimly remember), they were something like:
  • The Shoveler, who had a weapon, and probably some skill and a low Super-Speed or Fast Attack related to, uh, shovelling.
  • The Bowler, who had one blast that wouldn't miss, but just the one
  • The Blue Raja, who could throw silverware
  • Mr. Furious, who had super-strength (maybe), keyed on being angry
  • The Spleen, who could create, as I recall, a noxious smell
  • Invisible Boy, who could become invisible, but I don't recall what made it useless
In most cases, there's a single power or no power, and some kind of personality defect that makes them, well, largely useless. (A step up from Mystery Men would be the Awesomes, who would be characters with more powers...and personality defects that make them, well, largely useless.) So requirement one is that one of the character's qualities has to describe some personality defect that turns what might be a useful ability or super power into something less useful. I think that's the most important part: it doesn't matter what the powers are, if the personality isn't actually, well, heroic. Now, those are not particularly strong powers on that list. The strongest is The Bowler's bowling ball, and that's probably at best a level 6 blast. It might be lower, because most or all of the people it knocks out are minions, but we'll say that it's a 6. It has a number of limitations (it's a device, so that might be the Source limitation; she doesn't seem to get Determination for it, so it might be a limitation). Now, it's relatively easy to say, oh, only zero to one powers; additional powers have to be extras on the first power. (It's kind of like a theme, which is an idea I explored earlier.) You have to change the character creation process, but that was pretty much a given as soon as we tightened the kind of campaign it was. So most characters have zero or one power. If you need extras, you take limits. A limit can offset an extra or add 2 to the level or offset the power's "cost" when figuring determination. There are two possibilities on power level: the power level is restricted in the game, or it isn't, but the benchmarks have been changed. The limit seems like it might be level 4, and there's only one power. Higher levels are possible by taking limitations. So the limitation Source turns a level 4 into level 6. The super-speed that the Shoveler has is level 1, but the limitation might raise it to level 3. (Or maybe it's Fast Attack level 3.) Or maybe the benchmarks have been changed...each level does, oh, half of what it normally does. The last thing that might need to be changed is Determination. In regular ICONS, Determination plays a large part in letting characters with fewer powers be as effective as characters with more figure your Determination by subtracting the number of powers from 6. Well, since these characters are actually less effective, you have at best one power. Instead of figuring the determination as the result of a substraction from 6, what you subtract from is 2. You never have less than 1 Determination, so it's not awful if you have an extra. (Well, I suppose for a true loser experience, you could have less than 1 Determination, but I'm not going to play with that rule today.) Instead, if you have extras, maybe you have to think about limitations that offset the Determination cost. What I might do in ICONS, then, is:
  • The character requires a quality that makes them ludicrous
  • Powers are limited to 4 at best, though higher levels are possible by applying limits
  • A character has only one power, though additional powers are possible as extras to the main power
  • Determination is changed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Yes, there will be a drop-in tonight.

SYSTEM: ICONS It is, uh, quarter to six as I write this, and I should have let people know earlier...but. Yesterday I went in to work for the first time in a year, and that was a looooong day, and it kind of ruined me today. But back on the horse... If we can. Tonight at 7:00 Eastern, Roll20.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A thought

I don't think I've ever done a session where the bad guy is attacking because he or she has a crush on one of the heroes. (I have been watching the web episodes of Justice League Action Shorts and that came to mind during the Lasso of Truth short.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Something found

SYSTEM: ICONS So, uh, I have a confession to make. My copy of Microsoft Word stopped working about a year ago. There was an update, and it stopped. And I didn't tell anyone. (And it's Word 2010, so Microsoft just kept saying, "Not supported any more. Buy a new one.") Anything I was working on, however, was lost if it was in Word. Well, yesterday it started working again. Another update that corrects whatever Microsoft did with the first one. I have a certain amount of stuff to look through, but in the meantime, here's an adventure I was toying with involving the Supergirl TV show. It takes place after the first season, and some of the sections have nothing more than a title and an introductory paragraph. But you can see what I was doing, way back when.

The Lobo Adventure

“If there's no collateral damage, you're not doing it right”

You know how some stories have a deeper emotional resonance? This ain't one of those. This is a story of fighting, revenge, and property damage, and the heroes caught in the middle.

My theory is that the players will be fans of Supergirl, not roleplaying, so I've been more instructive than an adventure might usually be. If you're an experienced roleplayer, you might be able to get by with the scene summaries.

This adventure is for two to three players and a game master. Players take the roles of Supergirl, Hank Henshaw/J'onn J'onzz, orz Alex Danvers. I haven't had anyone playtest this, so I have no idea how it will work in play.

If there are only two players and one chooses to play Alex Danvers, you might need to adjust some of the fights to make them slightly easier. If the players are losing, then the GM should remember that hero points and determination points are meant to overcome this kind of imbalance. Find excuses to give out more points, and encourage them to spend the points.

Adventure Summary for the Players

This adventure starts with the arrival of Lobo.

The DEO already knows about Lobo, but Supergirl does not. The standard package given to DEO agents who might encounter Lobo is in section 1.3. It’s up to the players (if any) of Hank, Alex, and Supergirl if Supergirl knows this information at the beginning of the adventure.

The adventure assumes that all of the events of season 1 have taken place, except the arrival of the Kryptonian pod. (We ignore that.)

Scene 1: The Threat

This introductory scene takes place in two locations: it's the brief introduction where the player characters learn that there's a problem. Each exchange is a little setup to show where the characters are coming from. Make them fast so that the player who is not involved is not sitting for long, or give the non-involved player an NPC to play.

1.1 Al's Diner Parking Lot

(Players: Hank, Alex, or both. Obviously, skip this scene if no player is portraying Hank or Alex.)

Hank and Alex are in the parking lot of Al's Diner, talking to a waitress and the owner. Hank and Alex are dressed in suits as FBI agents.

This is the parking lot of Stan’s Diner, and it’s certainly an incident scene.  There are ten chalk outlines of bodies, small folded cardboards from clue examinations, and one ambulance, whose attendants are checking out the last person. (No one died, but the other nine people are in hospital or custody.)

A gang of ten local toughs objected to their coffee in an attempt to leave without paying for it, Al and Darlene objected that the coffee was fresh, and the toughs left. The man followed them outside and fought them. The last one is being checked out by ambulance attendants.

Sample Al and Darlene conversation

Al says, "We seen him before, big guy, gravelly voice. Way he dresses, I figure he's a what do you call it, Darlene?"

Darlene: "Goth. Eye makeup, wild hair, vest. He always orders pie. He likes the apple pie."

Al: "I make it myself. Secret is the cardamom."

Darlene: "This guy, he usually tips well, but sometimes it's foreign money." She smiles, showing dimples. “He likes me.”

If asked, she has some of the coins.  To the DEO agents, they are clearly extraterrestrial in origin.

Hank and Alex realize that Lobo is back in town. They automatically know everything in the DEO handout, but succeeding at the skill roll gives them extra information.

Hero Point and Determination Point opportunities

If the player or players do any roleplaying at all, getting into character when talking to Al and Darlene, provide a point. If you add a brief combat where the remaining thug surges from the ambulance and rushes Al or Darlene and the player stops them, provide a point.

If you want to try the skill system


Roll a d6 and add INT; the GM rolls a d6 and adds the difficulty of 3. Higher roll wins.


Result Information
Failure No additional information.
One degree of success Lobo knows where the DEO is because they tried to arrest him once. Before the remodelling.
Two degrees Lobo hasn't done anything yet—other information from Darlene and Al indicates that he gets pie before and after a job.
Three or more degrees Lobo is probably alone, because he dislikes sharing a job. He will work with other people, but he doesn't split the pay.

If there is no Supergirl player, and you want to try the combat system

The remaining thug surges from the ambulance where he' seeing treated to attack either Darlene or Al, and the players have to stop him non-lethally. You don't need full stats for him, and use the minion rules: one hit that does any damage, and he goes down. (Warn the players that real opponents are tougher.)

Prw 3 Crd 3 Str 4 Int 2 Awe 3 Will 2

Stamina 6

The End of the Scene

The phone rings. It is Vasquez. "Sir? Lobo is standing here. He's not doing anything. He's just waiting."

If there is a Supergirl player and they haven't already called Kara, she says, "I've already called Supergirl." If pressed, Vasquez says, "Sir, he's fought Superman to a draw. It seemed prudent."

1.2 CatCo WorldWide Media

(Players: Kara Danvers Obviously, skip this scene if there is no Supergirl playing.)

Kara has just come out of a meeting when her phone rings. Vasquez briefly outlines the problem and requests her help. As she's hanging up, Cat Grant is looking for her.

She can choose to leave or to make an excuse to Cat Grant, or to ask for help covering from either Winn or James.

Give the flavor of CatCo, but don't make it difficult for Supergirl to get to the DEO. If the player chooses to do something idiotic, it has consequences later but for now Kara simply has to get to the DEO.

Hero Point and Determination Point opportunities

Again, if the player attempts any kind of roleplaying, reward him or her with a point. There aren’t many opportunities for a point here, but one might show up.

If the player decides to spend a point, Kara avoids failing at generating the excuse.

If the player wants to try the skill system

ICONS Roll a D6 and add Kara's Willpower. The GM rolls a D6 and adds Cat Grant's willpower of 4.

If Kara fails, Cat requests that Kara keep her phone handy and will phone her at some awkward moment, but lets Kara go. If Kara succeeds, Cat waves her off.

1.3 The DEO Informational Summary About Lobo

Anyone associated with the DEO knows the following information, which is given to agents who might encounter Lobo.

The player for Supergirl can decide whether Alex has already told her this information, or whether Alex phones her and tells her while they're both heading to the DEO.







Bounty Hunter/Mercenary



Known weapons:

Restraining chain

Bolter rifle

Frag grenades


Strength, resilience, regeneration, self-cloning


Concerned with completing mission. Relishes violence and collateral damage.


Fond of Al's Diner. Likes the pie.

Claims to be last Czarnian because he killed rest.



Each separated body fragment grows into a clone of Lobo.

Threat range is A: Carggite - T: Kryptonian

2.0 At the DEO

Adjust this scene as necessary if either Hank or Kara is missing. For the purposes of this scene, any non-player DEO agent other than Alex is a minion, and is knocked out by any damage at all.

By the kind of coincidence that happens in roleplaying games, all of the player characters arrive at the same time. Lobo is still standing there, staring at the DEO staff. He is in the main room, positioned so that he can see the main screens. He is fully armed. (Really, who was going to take his weapons?)

In the background, DEO agents are clearing the lab of expensive equipment. They have not removed much, and the carts of equipment might be used later for throwing and hitting.

Lobo is in the middle of explaining his “ideal date” with Vasquez. It involves a bar brawl in a place he knows in the Omega system…

Vasquez breaks off to tell the players that Lobo has resisted all approaches by DEO personnel. They didn't try to arrest him because the director hadn't given them orders and because he hadn't made any moves. Vasquez is not the first person to have an ideal date described.

Lobo frequently looks at the prisoner screens, which show each prisoner in sequence. Notable prisoners that show up are the White Martian, the K'hund, Jemm, and Non. (If a player asks, the DEO has the parts of Indigo in a drawer in the morgue, and the inside of the drawer is not visible by camera.)

Lobo addresses the player characters. “Yer here. Good. I wuz gettin’ bored. These nerfs are not competition. But a Martian?” Substitute a Kryptonian if no one is playing Hank. “That could be a fight. And I wants a fight.” He cracks his knuckles.

Give the players a moment or two. Really, Lobo is waiting for the computer systems to go offline, which can happen as soon as you want, but from a play standpoint, we want this fight.

If Hank's player tries, he cannot read Lobo's mind. There is a small beeping and Lobo says, "You're trying to read my mind, ya bastich. The main man is prepared f'r ya. A Lonothian whipped up a little mental shield for me. When we fight, it'll be the way I like it, bloody and brutal."

Don't give the players time to do much, but let them do something.

Now the cameras go offline. All the screens displaying the prisoners go blue and display the text OFFLINE. Lobo grabs a frag grenade and says, "It's playtime!" He tosses frag grenades into the middle of the DEO agents. For the convenience of the GM, they are knocked unconscious. He also throws a grenade into the Armory, and all the guns go off. That knocks unconscious any other DEO agents who aren't Alex or Hank.

The noise of all those guns shatters the glass walls of both the armory and the lab.

If both Hank and Kara are player characters, one of the shots hits Lobo and breaks a piece off him.  (Give the players a Hero point or a Determination point.)

If the players spend a turn or two getting innocent unconscious DEO agents to safety, that's being heroic, and deserves another Hero point or Determination point.

The piece quickly grows into a clone of Lobo, so now there are two Lobos. He looks at the first Lobo and says, "I know the plan, ya dumb bastich." The clone is naked, so he takes a pair of pants from an unconscious DEO agent. "What? I gotta keep my PG rating," he says to no one in particular. Because that takes a little bit of time, this Lobo enters the combat at the third round.

Now there's no one left but the player characters, one or two Lobos, and Alex (if she is there, whether she is a player character or not). Combat officially begins. Roll Initiative to determine the combat order. The clone Lobo enters at the third round of combat, but for convenience is at the Initiative of the original Lobo.

If there are two heroes and if possible, the Lobo with the hook and chain begins by restraining the hero he is not fighting, so that he can concentrate on just one target. (If Alex is a player character, he mostly ignores her.) If he manages to restrain Kara, she can still use her heat vision or her freeze breath while restrained, and try to get free. Her Extraordinary Effort advantage means that she can do two extra actions if she chooses to use Extra Effort. To restrain her flying, Lobo will hook the chain to something so she can't fly after him. If she chooses to try, she can demolish anything she is hooked to.

After five rounds, lights in the corridor to the isolation chambers start flashing. "Yeah, I remember your fraggin' plan," says Lobo. "I'm comin' ya (unmentionable)." He takes off down the corridor.

Hero Point and Determination Point opportunities

The players each get a point if Lobo gets wounded by the Armory going off.

A clever use of powers gets a point.

Any hero who tries to protect or make safe the fallen DEO agents gets a hero point for being heroic.


Lots of property damage. Punch people through walls and computer screens. Use consoles as clubs. When Lobo fights, things get broken.

If the Lobo characters look like they're going to win, they'll fight until they actually win, and the game continues with scene 3.0. If the Lobo characters look like they're going to lose, and there are still unconscious DEO agents there, they'll split up: one Lobo tries to create a situation where the roof will cave in and endanger the unconscious agents.  The other heads down the lit corridor. (If there is only one hero, Lobo heads down the corridor while causing maximum property damage.)

If the Lobo clone is the only one to stay conscious, he fulfils the mission, running down the corridor to help the other Lobo. If the other Lobo has already left, the Lobo clone will leave.

2.1 The Fraggin’ Plan

One or both heroes should follow. If no hero follows, Lobo gets away with Non, and you don’t need to play this scene.

Any character following the fleeing Lobo sees that all corridors are dark except the one that Lobo is supposed to use. Because of the layout, J'onn or Supergirl cannot fly at full speed and catch up with Lobo. (The Flash could, but he’s not here.)

The original Lobo finally goes into an isolation room with Non, who is doing push-ups in his isolation chamber. Non is noticeably more muscular than previous appearances.* When Lobo enters the room, any player following him can see the kryptonite radiation lights turn off.

The door to Non's chamber is open. "Come on, ya bastich," growls Lobo. "I been hired to get you out of here."

Non does not move unless J’onn or Supergirl comes into the room. Then he attacks, attacking Supergirl if he has a choice.

Astra appears on a computer screen and tells Non to follow Lobo. (Indigo is imitating her on-screen.)

*Non has essentially been lobotomized. DEO characters know that his primary entertainment has been isometric exercise, and the kryptonite lights have made it possible for him to bulk up, because there really is resistance.

Lobo encourages Non to fly straight up, to the outside. He then follows.

2.2 Following Lobo

Non is as fast as Supergirl, and Lobo is perfectly willing to jump off Non and onto Supergirl or Hank for a fight. Following Lobo won’t be particularly successful: he’ll willingly quit traveling with Non to have a fight with J’onn or Kara.

2.3 Following Lobo’s Clone

If there is a remaining Lobo clone, they can bring him down or track him to his new destination--the place where Lobo parks his Space Bike.

The DEO can attempt to bring him in, but Hank suspects that the clone will re-stock and then decide to kill the other Lobo so that only he is the Main Man.

Which is, in fact, what he does. Following Lobo’s clone takes them to scene 4.0. You can still play scene 3.0, but it provides an alternative way to get to 4.0.

2.4 The Heroes Win

If the heroes win, they’ve made an enemy of Lobo, who is presumably locked up in a cage.

You can end the adventure here (and if they won, maybe you should). However, there are still questions to be answered. Who took control of the computer system? It can’t be Indigo or Livewire--one is in the DEO “morgue” and the other is in an isolation chamber.

3.0 For the Winn

If the computer system has been compromised, Winn gets to deal with it. He works at it all day. (If you’re in the first season, you can play a scene where Kara covers for him at work; she gets a Determination point for it. Or you can play a scene where J’onn imitates him, or where J’onn as Hank as an FBI guy goes and “commandeers” him from Cat, because of something that Toyman did. What, he can’t say. But he needs Winn.)

At the end of that time, Winn gets Kara, Hank, and Alex together to give his report at Kara’s apartment. For reasons that will become evident, he doesn’t want to do this in the DEO headquarters.

Read this as Winn’s report.

“You’re screwed. I don’t see any other way to say this. You have three different computer systems checking each other here and they’re all compromised. The hacker left so many holes and security breaches that a twelve-year-old with a Gameboy can get access to your system now. I’d blame Indigo but she’s in the morgue. The only bright side is that the damage was done in the last two weeks. It re-establishes itself very cleverly, but a full system restore should clean it.” He chews his knuckle. “I mean, I’ll check that version too because maybe I’m wrong about when it was compromised, but that looks like it’ll work.”

The DEO is vulnerable while it’s being done. Physical backups have to be brought in from the secret place in New Mexico where they are stored, and each computer system takes eight hours to restore.

3.1 The Obvious Clue

After Winn restores from backups, the system responds by taunting him and letting him know that he made a mistake: he's given Indigo what she wanted.

3.2 The Breakout

The various isolation chambers are opening one by one. In this case, it's not being done remotely—Winn has taken the whole place off line so that the restore can be done—but the "broken" Indigo is on the base. They've got to find her and knock her out, and for every few turns they take to track her down, someone else is freed from confinement.

Don't make this too long: we don't have write-ups for too many characters. If you let characters escape, they'll probably leave to create problems for future scenarios. Otherwise, have them encounter Indigo just as she's about to release the first one.

4.0 The Indigo Warehouse

Once there was a working Indigo copy, Indigo told it what it needed to know. The copy then left and created more backups but its ego is such that Indigo can't activate them unless there's a need. Attacking Indigo would be such a need. The heroes show up, several Indigos get activated, big fight ensues.

This season's Supergirl...

I liked the season premiere.

But you know what? (And I offer this without legal claim because it's just an idea.)

I'd like them to do an episode that presents the Cyborg Superman as an actual character and explains the name "Cyborg Superman." Essentially, they'd do bits from the last couple of years, mostly from Hank Henshaw's viewpoint, and actually put some meat on him, some complexity.

Which of course makes me think about running the occasional villain-centric episode of an RPG campaign, rather like the JLU episode "Task Force X."

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Has the suck fairy visited any of these?

I was thinking fondly of some films, and I would show them to my children...except I don't know if the suck fairy has gotten to them in the intervening decades.

  • Young Frankenstein

Actually, I was going to make a list, but really, any film from before 2000 might have been visited by the Sexism or Racism fairies. I used to love The Stunt Man but I'm afraid to rewatch it.

Digression...a fantasy world


So I've been wondering why I don't read fantasy much any more. Besides the general oddly-I-don't-read-much-anymore reason, this is what irks me about fantasy right now. (And before I list it, let me point out that (a) this is a personal list, and (b) that I know there are exceptions, but right now I don't have a mechanism for finding the exceptions.

And because I haven't been reading fantasy, I might not even be right about the current state of fantasy. You are free to disagree with my opinions. I might be wrong, and I might change my mind. I'm not saying that these things aren't allowed to exist—they certainly are, but I don't have to read them.

First, personal taste: I like grimdark as a spice, not as a steady diet. So while I enjoy books by Joe Abercrombie, they aren't what I want to read most of the time. If your story is set in a crapsack world, I don't particularly want to read it right now. (A lot of my tastes right now are informed by having cancer: I don't actually want to read something where I have to search hard for the glimmer of hope—I get that in reality, thank you.)

I am tired of D&D with the serial numbers filed off. Various D&D worlds make no sense. I don't mind cod-medieval, but there's so much stuff that comes with it that you either have to justify or explain away.

I am tired of the whole "alpha-beta-gamma" thing happening in the urban fantasy stuff I pick up. I've read some of the original works on animals where they put the idea forward and (a) the representations in fiction and popular culture are nowhere near as nuanced as reality, and (b) I have some trouble applying the popular representation to people because people are a bit more complex than the whole "you're a beta so you're a whimpering coward ha ha ha" thing I see on certain toxic social networks.

I am tired of sloppy worldbuilding. Yes, there's totally a place for something that is primarily symbolic, and I can even accept fridge logic where I won't notice the problem until after I read the book. (Hey, I've read Dan Brown...I can accept fridge logic.) But if the story raises questions to me about the world-building while I'm reading it and I don't catch some hint that this inconsistency will be addressed or even acknowledged later...well, I'm probably not going to read book two in the series, and I might not pick it up again after I put it down. (I don't even mean things like storing energy for weapons, which pretty much everybody gets wrong.)

I am tired of "but the protagonist is special" stories. Well, all protagonists are special by virtue of the fact that it's their story, but they are royalty or nobility, are a mutant, are the Chosen One, or have more midichlorians than anyone else. Yes, that property comes down to us from Ancient Greek drama, where only royalty could star in tragedies.

I am leery of steampunk stories that ignore the classist parts of Victorian society while modelling everything else on Victorian society.

In general, I am leery of Third Artist Syndrome in areas where I'm educated enough to know the difference. (I can't find a good link to explain Third Artist Syndrome; Jo Walton explained it on her LiveJournal once, but she's deleted that account, and the other hit from a Google search is to James Nicoll, who refers to it but doesn't explain it. There might be another name for it.)

(Man, I'm picky.)

So, you know, like my filter that science fiction stories not be "the American Revolution in space," these filters eliminate huge swathes of fantasy.

Ah, somebody quoted Jo Walton's post on their tumblr and now I'm totally going to steal Jo's text, because the original article is deleted:

"The first artist goes out and paints from life. The second artist copies the first artist. The third artist copies the second artist. (I’ve usually seen this analogy applies to fantasy, with Tolkien as the first artist.) The first artist put things in because there were there, or in the case of SF, because they were new cool speculation. The second artist put them in because they were trying to get close to the first. The third artist put them in because heck, that’s what you put in."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Wednesday's Drop In...


Didn't really happen. Only one player showed up. He had an idea for a new character and fortunately the dice gods played along. But my head still hurt and once the character was created, I was glad to quit. If I'd been feeling better, maybe I would have run him solo for a bit, but I just wasn't up to it.

Still, I did show up, so that's a step in the right direction. But if the existing two guys are the only ones who show up on Wednesdays, well, it's nice to have an ongoing campaign but it's not really a drop in kind of thing, is it?

Audio quality continues to be a problem. I said I was going to write up troubleshooting for people and I haven't. So I should do that, and then...

I'll have to think about what to do next. If the point is to expose the game to more players, this isn't doing it (yet).

Possibilities include changing the time or the venue, though that might not be fair to the players who are showing up. I can probably do a second weekly drop-in, but maybe I want to add two staggered biweekly events so there are three different nights of drop-ins. Changing venues is probably important: I could do something over on Infrno, or via Skype, Hangouts, or Discord. Any of the three might have better audio, and I can show images on Hangouts and Skype just by sharing my desktop. Dice would have to be on the honour system, but that's generally okay by me anyway; I worry about cheating because I am weak-willed, but don't actually worry much about others. (I don't cheat, but I'm sometimes tempted. And in a fine example of projection, I suspect others might be tempted too.)

On the plus side, last Wednesday is the first time that only one player showed up, and I have apologies from the other. So that's cool. I don't want to let these folks down, either.

Well. Think think think.

Write-Ups of ICONS Games


Don't recall if I've included this here before. These were all first edition games of ICONS. Most of these are written by and courtesy of James Nicoll. I'm gradually copying the posts of mine over here, so you'll see the addresses change, though the posts are still there.

Hope Preparatory School





I notice I last updated the page this is taken from on June 16, 2011, so this is old information.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

ICONS Drop-In...maybe?


I plan on being there and starting, but I'm not sure whether I'll be able to carry through. I'd like to try, though.

So if you were planning on showing up so you could test equipment...this might be an okay evening?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Daredevil, at no particular point


I said over on the Facebook group that I had a writeup of Daredevil, and then I couldn't find it...because it was on a PDF form I had created to do ICONS combat. I only got it to hero vs. minions, but it was decent enough that I could kill time with my phone entering in two characters and doing little mock combats. I had to calculate the stamina losses for the hero myself, but heck....

Anyway, I didn't have it anywhere else but on this PDF I had stored on a free service, so I couldn't find it. Today I ran across it while looking for something else.

So here. This is sort of a generic Daredevil. It's not the TV version, it's not a particular comic version. It hits most of the known stuff and probably misses some by lots.

SpecialtiesAthletics Master, Law, Martial Arts Expert, Stealth
Powers1Super-senses (Radar sense)
4Billy Club (Strike 4) Extra: Swinging Limit: One or the other, not both
QualitiesBlind; Secret ID: Lawyer Matt Murdock; Justice in all its forms

The master on Athletics lets him stunt off the athletics, doing "impossible" things, and he can certainly use the Athletics for acrobatic moves that make him harder to hit with ranged weapons. He has an awareness of 8, which seems plenty superhuman to me.