Re: ICONS #3

More re-think, second-guessing, options, and general tinkering with Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, building on what started here.

Puttin’ on the Hits • Damage Options

Steve Perrin dropped me a line to ask about damage in Icons:

“I have trouble getting my group interested in playing Icons because there is no variability in damage. The basic concept is fine, but when they run into a situation where someone with Blast 5 can’t scratch someone with Invulnerability 6, they get dispirited.”

The ability of armor (mainly Invulnerability) to trump damage is intentional: There is a degree of resistance to damage for superheroes that no amount of skill can overcome. Can the best marksman in the world hurt Superman with an ordinary bullet?

That said, a good part of the variability to damage in Icons comes from achieving slam, stun, and kill results on the attack test, rather than any sort of “damage roll”. Even an attack doing 0 (but not negative) Stamina can potentially slam, stun, or kill. So damage 6 versus armor 6 can still result in a knockout even if no Stamina damage is done!

Also, since players make all of the rolls, they can spend Determination to get a massive success on an attack, followed by a massive success on the stun test: rolling damage level against the target’s Strength as the difficulty.

Example: All-Star (Strength 10) takes a swing at Troll (Invulnerability 9) and All-Star’s player declares a determined effort for a massive success, since he’s been fighting Troll to a virtual standstill and time is running out. Getting a massive success on the attack test ends up costing him 1 point of Determination. Now, with a possible stun, All-Star’s player rolls Strength (10) against Troll’s Strength (9) declaring another determined effort for massive success. The roll is a +0, but All-Star has 2 more Determination points, enough to push it to a 14, 5 points over Troll’s Strength level. All-Star’s punch leaves the monstrous villain seeing stars before Troll topples over like a fallen redwood!

Since this can require a fair amount of Determination, the “free tags” approach from the Maneuvers system may provide a boost, although the idea is the heroes will fight the invulnerable villain for a while, trying different things and building up their Determinations until one of them can make the final attack.

Combined Attacks (Icons, p. 67) also provide a way of boosting damage against an otherwise invulnerable foe, even if just to the threshold where a stun or kill result is possible (aided by determined effort in a dramatic moment).

You can also institute something akin to the Power Attack maneuver in Mutants & Masterminds: a trade-off of attack level for damage level. The thing to beware of here is if the trade-off is more than 1 or 2 levels, then it greatly favored skill over sheer power, since you can always trade for more damage. If there’s a reverse option (like Accurate Attack in M&M) but not limit, attack and damage levels become almost irrelevant except as a combined value, and slow (low defense) but tough (high armor) targets become sitting ducks.

The “Newton’s Revenge” option for Damage Variants also tips things away from the armored-types somewhat, opening the “variability” of slams, stuns, and kills up to everyone. It’s generally fairly well balanced, since invulnerable often equals high Strength as well. If it becomes too likely that a massive success with a low-damage will result in a stun, you can always let the bad guy use the better of Strength or armor level as the difficulty for the stun test. Remember, however, that this, combined with determined effort, opens up the possibility that any hero can take out virtually any foe with enough Determination to make the attack.

Ultimately, characters immune to the “I hit him” option are intended to encourage players to think of creative solutions to overcoming their opponents other than pounding on them, with the exact details varying from situation to situation. The Pyramid Tests rule provides a decent system for handling these things in more than an all-or-nothing single test that builds up some tension. (In fact, pyramid tests open up the potential for a whole different (non-Stamina) system for tracking “damage” and victory conditions, which I’ll discuss in a future blog.)

Got a take on damage in Icons? Feel free to drop me a line and tell me about it!