Re: ICONS #4

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

Different Damage

A thread on RPGnet is discussing an idea similar to a topic also touched upon in Icons Team-Up, namely alternatives to Stamina for determining damage and victory conditions in conflicts. It’s a concept I’ve touched upon in the Icons Wiki and my Moral Victories blog post as well. Here are some further thoughts on the matter.

Effect vs. Resistance: Attacks work as given in Icons: test acting ability (typically Prowess or Coordination) against an opposing ability (also typically Prowess or Coordination) to determine effect (effort minus difficulty).

Example: Electric Judy (Prowess 6) does a leaping kick against a Prowess 4 thug. Judy’s player rolls a +1 for an effort of 7, minus difficulty 4, or an effect of 3.

Add the effect from the test to the effect ability of the action (Strength for an unarmed attack, power level for most powers) and compare it against the resistance ability (typically Strength or Willpower) to determine outcome.

Example: Electric Judy has Strength 6 due to her android construction. Her player adds 3 for the attack test to get a total effect of 9. The thug has Strength 3, so the outcome is a 6.

Applying Outcome: There are two basic ways of applying outcome. The first is to use the table on page 7 of Icons and the guidelines for Pyramid Tests (in Team-Up or on the Wiki): a massive success means victory for the acting character and defeat for the opposing character, while lesser outcomes incrementally move towards victory/defeat, with two major successes equaling a massive success, and two moderate successes equaling a major success.

Example: In the prior example, Electric Judy scored a massive success against the thug, taking him out of the fight. If Judy had been fighting Skeletron (Strength and Invulnerability 8), her effect of 9 would have been only a moderate outcome (and, technically, would have only been effect 8, since Skeletron’s Prowess is also 1 higher than the thug’s).

The other option is to give character’s a “track” from 1 to 5. When the track hits 5, the character is defeated. The effect of a test fills in the box corresponding to its number on the track (or the 5 box, if it’s over 5). If that box is already filled-in, it “rolls up” to the next box until it reaches an empty box, and fills that it.

Example: In Electric Judy vs. the thug, the result is the same: effect 6 fills in the 5 box on the track, taking the thug out. In Judy vs. Skeletron, effect 1 fills in Skeletron’s 1 box. Another identical hit from Electric Judy would then “roll up” to Skeletron’s box 2, and so forth, allowing Judy to eventually wear him down. In this approach it would take her five such hits to defeat Skeletron, while in the prior approach, it would have taken her four (since four moderate outcomes add up to a massive success).

Minimal Success: Icons Team-Up introduces the concept of minimal success (a total effect of 0), moving that result out of moderate success and leaving moderate an effect 1–2. A minimal success attack (a graze) is half Stamina damage with a minimum of 1. Under this approach, a graze has a maximum effect of 1, regardless of effect vs. resistance level.

Example: If Electric Judy rolled a –2 attacking the thug, getting effort 4, that would be exactly equal to the thug’s Prowess for a graze. Although her Strength 6 would normally score at least effect 3 (a major success) after subtracting the thug’s Strength 3, this hit only does effect 1.

What About Armor? So how does armor (particularly Invulnerability) work in this approach, with the use of a resistance ability? There are a number of options:

  • Armor provides a bonus to resistance ability. It should not be a direct addition to two 1–10 scale abilities, however, or strong characters with armor become truly invulnerable! In this case, divide armor level by 2 to 3 to reduce maximum bonus to +5 to +3 or so.
  • Armor substitutes for the usual resistance ability, so only armor levels above Strength actually matter. Invulnerability’s rolled level must be at least Strength+1.
  • Armor protects against certain types of damage. For example, if you want more lethal damage in the game, have Strength provide reduced (or no) resistance against shooting and slashing attacks, with armor protecting at its full level.

Slams and Stuns – Consequences: With effort on the action test influencing effect, how do things like Slams, Stuns, and Kills work into this system? By default, they don’t, since anything less than a massive success has no effect other than incrementing the target closer to defeat. However, you could repurpose the concept of Consequences from Team-Up to add these things back into the system.

Essentially, rather than filling in the track, a character can choose to suffer a consequence: a moderate consequence blocks a moderate (1–2) outcome while a major consequence blocks a major (3–4) outcome.

A moderate consequence is generally one panel worth of disability: losing your next action due to a stun, getting knocked down, momentarily entangled, and so forth. It goes away after a panel, but gives your opponent a momentary advantage. A major consequence imposes a challenge on the character for the rest of the scene, one opponents can potentially tag, and giving one “free” tag where the hero earns no Determination (or the player spends none to tag on a GM character). This is essentially a spin on the “Lasting Injuries” on page 72 of Icons. It also works with the Maneuvers system, which essentially looks to create consequences rather than inflict losses.

Massive Consequence Option: By default there are no massive consequences, since the consequence of a massive loss is defeat! However, the GM can allow the option of taking a massive consequence for a hero in dire need to shrug off a massive loss and keep on going. This should be a serious, permanent change in the character: loss of a power or powers, loss of a limb, or something equally big and not easily undone.

Alternative Resistance: You can play around with the combination of action vs. opposition and effect vs. resistance to get a lot of different options to achieving success. While there’s the traditional Prowess vs. Prowess and Strength vs. Strength, there’s also Strength effect vs. Willpower resistance (inflicting pain rather than “damage”as such) or Intellect vs. Awareness (tricking a target) or Willpower vs. Willpower (contests of will) and so forth. It provides alternate avenues for characters who lack a particular effect level, such as sufficient sheer damage to overcome a target’s resistance. It may also lead to more effective means of tagging certain aspects and making use of them.

Alternative Pyramids and Tracks: Stamina in Icons lumps all damage into the same category, whether it is a punch, a bullet, or a mental blast. It’s possible to create differentiated pyramids or tracks under this system, separating out different types of “damage”. Examples include physical, mental (even “moral”), emotional, lethal, nonlethal, fatigue, and so forth.

Alternate tracks, like alternate resistance, allow for a different range of tactics to achieve victory.

In this case, it may be possible to shift accumulated losses from one type to another, to help prevent rolling-up. For example, a hero might shift a moderate loss on the physical track to the mental track, to avoid another moderate loss making it a major (especially if there’s already another major loss on the track). This kind of shift may cost Determination, be something anyone can do X number of times a scene, or some combination thereof.

If you try any of this stuff out on your own, or have your own approaches or thoughts on conflicts in Icons, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you!