A common question about ICONS is its lack of an initiative system although, technically, it does have one:
“Typically, the conflict starts off with the panels of whichever side initiates: if a villain launches an attack, start with the villain’s panel. If the heroes spring into action, begin with their panels. Once one side’s actions are resolved, go to the other side, then back and forth until the conflict ends.”
— Conflict, ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying, page 55
So, there’s no system for it other than “Whoever goes first, goes first.” Usually, that will be fairly obvious. In situations where it is not, or if a group prefers a more detailed or mechanical initiative system, here are some options:
Initiative Ability: Characters act in order of a chosen initiative ability, from highest level to lowest, before starting a new page and going back to the top of the list. This is typically Coordination, although it could also be Prowess (particularly in close combat) or Awareness. It can be the highest of a set of abilities, or the lowest (using the guidelines for Limiting Abilities on p. 57 of ICONS). Focused effort (ICONS, p. 79) can substitute another ability for the initiative ability, Intellect is a common choice. Certain specialties (Leadership or Military, for example) may add to initiative ability, as may certain powers (such as Danger Sense or Super-Speed).
Initiative Test: As, Initiative Ability, except each character rolls a test with that ability and uses the effort at the initiative level, adding some randomness to the process and allowing for Determination use to come into play. For even more randomness, re-roll the initiative test at the start of each page, potentially changing the order.
Determination: In addition to affecting tests for initiative, Game Masters may add the ability to spend Determination to go first in the action order on a page. Multiple characters spending Determination to act first go in regular initiative order, followed by characters who did not spend Determination. “Bidding wars” of multiple points of Determination to go first are possible, with a losing player earning the points bid by a villain as bonus Determination, much like a compel.
Die Roll: Each character (or side) in a conflict rolls either a single die or an unmodified test (d6–d6 with no ability level applied) and then acts in order from highest result to lowest. Either keep the results (and order) for the whole conflict, or re-roll each page.
Heroic Style: Taking a page from MWP’s Heroic Roleplaying, one player (chosen by the GM based on who initiates, as described above) gets to go first. That player then chooses who out of the characters in the conflict acts next, who chooses who acts after them, and so on, until all eligible characters have acted for the page. The last character to act chooses who goes first on the next page, and so on, until the conflict is over. This includes Game Master characters, with the GM as the “player” choosing for them.
Surprise: Characters who act without their opponents aware of them get a free page of action before the conflict truly begins. Per ICONS (p. 68) a surprise action gets a +2 bonus to overcome opposition, or the GM may wish to consider the target’s opposing ability level lower (or even 0) for purposes of the test. For attack tests, this makes a major or massive success much more likely!
Simultaneous Action: Nobody “goes first” unless one character or side is surprised or unable to act. All actions are resolved simultaneously, which may negate the results of some characters declared actions. Thus it’s possible for an attack to miss because its target has teleported away or turned invisible, or for two characters to successfully knock each other unconscious.
If you try out any of these various initiative systems in your game, feel free to leave a comment below about how it worked out, send me an email, or share on the ICONS Yahoo Group, the Ad Infinitum Facebook page, or the ICONS Google+ Community.