ICONS: The Trouble Pool

In Icons, while the players spend Determination to give their heroes various advantages, the Game Master technically does not have or spend Determination at all. Instead, the GM uses compels of the heroes’ Qualities and Challenges and the creation of temporary Challenges, both of which award Determination to the players. Some of these uses may be essentially identical to player Determination use (giving a villain or other Game Master character an advantage, for example) but do not draw upon a fixed pool of Determination points, like the players; the GM may compel or create challenges at will, as often as desired.

Some find this difficult to conceptualize, or simply unfair, and prefer to idea of the Game Master also working off a pre-determined and fixed amount of points. For those who prefer such a variant, there is the Trouble Pool.

At the start of each game, the GM establishes a “pool” of points, similar to a Team Determination Pool (Icons, p. 19), using the following guidelines:

  • 1 point for each hero in play.
  • 1 point for each major villain or antagonist in play.
  • 2 points for a “master” villain in play.
  • If an antagonist with the Leadership specialty is in play, add that character’s leadership level.
  • Lastly, the GM adds an amount equal to the “stakes” of the adventure: 1 for a fairly routine scenario, 2 for moderate, 3 for major, and 4 for massive high stakes (world-saving).

During play, the GM can spend points from the Trouble Pool for the following:

  • As a Determination point for any Game Master character (see the Determination chapter of Icons for details). If the character’s action affects a hero, the player of the affected hero receives the spent point as Determination
  • To compel one of a hero’s Qualities or Challenges. The player of the affected hero receives the spent point as Determination.
  • To create and compel a temporary Challenge for a hero (see p. 92 of Icons). The player of the affected hero receives the spent point as Determination.
  • To refuse a compel of a challenge for a GM character; this costs a point out of the Trouble Pool and means the Determination spent by the player does not go into the pool (see Compelling, p. 78 of Icons).
  • Retcon or edit the scene (just like the player use of Determination).
  • Interrupt a player’s action with an action by a GM character; the interrupted player received the spent point as Determination.

The Trouble Pool gains points when:

  • A player spends Determination to tag or compel a Game Master character; the spent point goes into the Trouble Pool.
  • A player rolls a massive failure on a test, getting an effect of –5 or less (see Outcome, p. 7 of Icons).
  • A player rolls a failure on a test, and the GM chooses to award that player a point of Determination. If the player accepts, then the hero receives the Determination and the Trouble Pool gains 1 point.
  • A player chooses to “up the stakes,” requesting a point of Determination from the GM in exchange for adding 1 point to the Trouble Pool.
  • An antagonist specifically performs a maneuver against the heroes to increase the Trouble Pool: each degree of success (moderate, major, and massive) adds 1 point to the Trouble Pool (see Maneuvers on the Icons Wiki). This represents villains generally causing trouble or making a difficult situation worse.
  • An antagonist achieves a major goal, add 1 to the Trouble Pool and award all players a Determination point. This is similar to “raising the stakes” on the villain side.

If the Trouble Pool is ever empty (has no points in it), the Game Master loses access to its abilities unless or until it regains at least 1 point through the various means listed above. Like hero Determination, the Trouble Pool “refreshes” at the start of a new game session, either increasing to its starting amount (if below that) or remaining at its current amount (if above the starting amount). At the start of a new story, the Trouble Pool always resets to its starting amount, based on that story (and its characters, stakes, and so forth).

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