Icons Annual 1

A Year of Icons to Enhance Your Game

Icons Annual 1 is the first collection of content for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying created for the Icons Patreon online and supported by patrons and the Icons community. This collection of articles includes:

  • Rules! Expansions and in-depth looks at some of the core Icons rules, from pyramid tests to damage effects and more, which you can use to enhance your Icons games.
  • Settings! Modular setting material for your games, ranging from alternate Earths suitable as settings unto themselves or places for your heroes to visit, to factions and groups of characters like the cosmic Gemstar Guardians, the mythic Tuatha DeDannan, or the criminal Division. Drop them into your own setting or build whole new worlds around them!
  • Options! Optional rules and expansions for Icons, from how to keep specialties “special” and how to make your villains last longer in a fight to more on devices and equipment and answers to common game system questions.

Icons Annual 1 gives you a year’s worth of Icons content all at once in one, easy-to-reference book. It makes a great companion volume to other essay collections like Icons A to Z or Icons Presents to supplement your options for systems, settings, and supplementary material for your Icons game!

For those who prefer their Icons content “a la carte” you can also get the chapters of Annual 1 as individual PDFs on DriveThruRPG for just $1 each, although you save by getting the whole book at once, of course. Icons Annual 1 is on sale now over at DriveThruRPG!

If you prefer not to wait until 2023, the future contents of Icons Annual 2 is being created right now over at the Icons Patreon. All you need to do is sign up as a patron!

Boon Dice

Boon dice are an added option for D&D 5e games, an ability similar to an epic boon (Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 230) but available to lower-level characters and a bit more versatile. Dungeon Masters should decide when and if a character gains boon dice as an option. It could be a boon all characters are granted as part of the campaign, acquired in exchange for an ability increase or a feat at the appropriate level, or acquired similar to a magic item (up to and including attunement by the character). Boon dice can represent the blessings of certain powers, an innate heroic quality of certain characters, or the ability to draw upon some supernatural power within the context of the campaign setting, to name a few possibilities.

Boon Dice

You have a number of “boon dice” equal to your Proficiency Bonus. The size of the dice is determined by your level: They start out as d4s at 1st level, increase to d6s at 5th level, d8s at 11th level, and d10s at 17th level. You regain all expended boon dice after completing a long rest.

For each point of Proficiency Bonus, choose one of the following things you can do with your boon dice. You cannot spend more than one boon die on a single option or roll.

  • Roll a boon die and add its value to the result of an attack roll you have just made.
  • Roll a boon die and add its value to the result of an ability check you have just made.
  • Roll a boon die and add its value to the result of a saving throw you have just made.
  • Roll a boon die and add its value to the result of an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw you have just made with a specific ability, chosen when you acquire this option.
  • Roll a boon die and add its value to the result of a damage roll you have just made. On a critical hit, you have the option of spending two boon dice to the damage roll (an exception to the normal one die per option rule).
  • Spend your bonus action, roll a boon die, and regain that amount of hit points.
  • Spend your reaction, roll a boon die, and add the result to your Armor Class against an attack that just hit you or the next attack against you (your choice).
  • Spend your reaction, roll a boon die, and reduce the damage you just took by that amount. If the damage is reduced to 0, the attack counts as having missed.
  • Spend a boon die to immediately reduce your level of exhaustion (see Appendix A of the Player’s Handbook) by 1 level.

When you gain a level, you can choose a new set of options for things you can do with your boon dice.

Save vs. Traps!

So Twitter was discussing the notion of the old-time D&D trope of “find traps” as in “I search for traps” which often takes the form of player characters creeping along through an adventure, playing a game of verbal cat-and-mouse with the DM and rolling endless Wisdom (Perception) checks to see if they find a trap or not, with cagy responses like “You don’t perceive any traps…”

I mentioned that the whole process of “finding” traps, that is, noticing them before it’s too late and they go off, should be a saving throw in D&D. After all, saving throws are literally the rolls you make to avoid hazards—like traps. Sure, you make saves after the trap has gone off, but what about before in order to avoid that? Initially, I thought a Wisdom save, since Wisdom (Perception) checks are usually what you use to find traps, but then I thought: an Intelligence save!

Intelligence saving throws to detect and potentially avoid traps have the following going for them:

  • Intelligence is one of the most under-utilized ability scores for saving throws. There are just five instances of it in the Player’s Handbook, versus 49 for Wisdom saves.
  • Of the existing Intelligence saving throws, they often involve detecting when “something’s not quite right” like an illusion or a false memory. Makes sense that they might also take subtle things the character notices, put two and two together, and come up with “this may be a trap…”
  • The classes proficient in Intelligence saves are: Artificer, Druid, Rogue, and Wizard, the prime trap-makers, which only makes sense they’d also be good trap detectors. It also means you don’t have to be proficient in the Perception skill to be good at dealing with traps.
  • It makes Intelligence less of a dump-stat for characters who mean to be wily and avoid traps. Certainly makes sense that the fairly unintelligent barbarian or even sorcerer is more likely to fall victim to a trap.
  • Classes that have special trap-detection abilities may get a special ability to add their proficiency bonus to Intelligence saves solely for the purpose of detecting traps, or they might get to use a different save (such as Wisdom) for that purpose.

Best of all, making detecting traps into a saving throw means there’s no need to roll secretly or be cagey about it. The roll happen the moment when a character could trigger the trap: If the Intelligence save succeeds, they notice the trap is there in time to (potentially) avoid it. If they fail the save, they trigger the trap. Either way, they know there’s a trap there!

Since it’s a saving throw and not an ability check, benefits that affect saving throws—which, again, are meant to avoid or minimize harm—apply, but not necessarily benefits that apply to ability checks. It’s definitely a notion I’d like to try out in my next trap-filled dungeon!

That’s Wild

So, for the sixth year in a row, the top viewed article on this here website (by far) remains The Hidden Potential of Wild Shape, my weird little musings about druids shapeshifting into dinosaurs and swarms of things (even if the official ruling is that isn’t an option). And “by far” I mean by like a thousand or more views! In honor of that, and Albin Leathalvin, “The White Wolf,” my half-elf druid/barbarian from the Ten Towns, I offer the following super-specific wild shape feats:

Beast Speech

Prerequisite: wild shape class feature

When in beast form from wild shape you can speak aloud normally, in any language known to you. This does not allow you to cast spells while in beast form, even spells with only verbal components.

Additionally, you gain the benefits of speak with animals while you are in beast form.

Nature’s Rage

Prerequisite: rage class feature and wild shape class feature

You have learned to combine assuming a beast form with invoking its animalistic fury. You gain the following benefits:

  • You can enter rage and use your wild shape ability as a single bonus action on your turn.
  • If you suffer damage from an attack, you can enter rage and/or use your wild shape ability as your reaction that turn.

Swarm Shape

Prerequisite: wild shape class feature

When using wild shape you can assume the form of a swarm, provided that the swarm’s form does not violate any of the other limits of your wild shape ability, including CR, flying and swimming speeds, and being a type of beast that is known to you. Thus a swarm of rats would be a viable shape at 2nd level (CR 1/4, no flying or swimming speed), a swarm of insects at 4th level (CR 1/2, no flying speed), and a swarm of bats, quippers, ravens, or flying insects at 8th level (flying speed). Transforming into a swarm of poisonous snakes requires the circle forms features (from Circle of the Moon) and at least 6th level, for a CR 2 swarm.

Giant-Size Icons: Evil Rising

This Evil Unleashed

Evil Rising is a collection of seven exciting adventures for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, introducing heroes to a variety of villains and their sinister schemes:

  • Grudge Match: The heroes come between to destructive powerhouses before they can destroy downtown.
  • Danger in Dunsmouth: Horror in a seaside town as a trio of witches see to raise an ancient monster from the deep.
  • Jailbreak! A test of a new super-prison becomes a death-trap at the hands of the Killer Gamemaster.
  • Murder of Crowes: The mysterious murder of a rural teenager leads to a spree of sinister attacks.
  • The RetConQuest: Heroes in an alternate timeline need to learn their true identities and overcome a villain who has changed history.
  • The Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac: Can the heroes prevent Dr. Zodiac from assembling the full power of all twelve of the Zodiac Gems?
  • The Skeletron Key: The theft of a military super-weapon leads the heroes to discover an even greater threat.

Hours of excitement and adventure as your Icons heroes overcome the threat of Evil Rising!

Get Evil Rising now at DriveThruRPG!

The Needless Queers*

Why Some NPCs in Your Strixhaven Game Should Be Queer—Even If They Don’t ‘Need’ To Be

Three couples, two same-gender, and one probably different gender, dance together at a fantasy masquerade ball.
At Strixhaven, as in life, representation matters

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos for Dungeons & Dragons casts the player characters as students at a magical university and includes many of the aspects of university life, such as needing a job and forming relationships. Some of those relationships are good, others not-so-good, and still others…not so clear. Towards those ends, the book presents optional rules for things like work and extracurricular activities and building and maintaining relationships. It also includes a set of nonplayer characters (NPCs in common gaming parlance) that the player characters can get to know over their four years at Strixhaven including, potentially, as romantic interests, although the actual rules are deliberately vague in terms of what “beloved” status means in terms of a relationship, apart from the intensity of the feelings involved.

In order to maximize their “availability,” the relationship characters in Strixhaven have what I like to call “Schrödinger’s orientation.” Like the theoretical cat that is both alive and dead until you open the box to look, the NPCs are of indeterminate romantic and sexual orientation until a player character expresses an interest in them, at which point their orientation at least includes that player character. They are designed as “blank slates” the players can project their interests onto, as is often the case for “romanceable” characters in video games. While I don’t think straight and queer characters are necessarily interchangeable (we have different life experiences—although that’s a whole different essay) I do think this is a reasonable and efficient approach when having only limited space to describe potential supporting characters—short of having to detail Strixhaven’s entire diverse student body.

That said, there is a tendency in our culture, a pull towards heteronormativity, towards “default straightness.” That is to say, in much of Western culture, particularly American culture, people are assumed straight unless “proven” otherwise and an “indeterminate” orientation can sometimes be unconsciously pre-determined. If, for some reason, there are no potential non-heterosexual romances or relationships within your Strixhaven campaign, there may be a tendency to simply flip all of the remaining NPCs to that assumed “default” straight setting.

I’m going to ask you to consider not doing that, and here’s why: It’s unrealistic.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m bringing up realism in a game involving talking owl-people, spirit-possessed statues, and a magic school founded by dragons. Nevertheless, while “realism” is sometimes used as a cudgel in the RPG hobby to browbeat people with supposed notions about medieval culture or mores (usually not ones based in actual historical research) that’s not what I mean. In this case I’m talking about simple statistical realities.

Given that queer people exist in the world (and on the campus) of Strixhaven and throughout the D&D multiverse and given there are sixteen detailed nonplayer characters for the player characters to get to know over the course of their school careers, realism says that at least some of them must be queer, right? (Indeed, one of them is most definitely transgender and another nonbinary.) Even if there’s no particular chance of some of those characters having a romance with a player character, some of those NPCs must still be queer, right? So I recommend that, as your Strixhaven campaign progresses, and romantic interests and relationships start to sort themselves out, consider deliberately and overtly shifting some of the NPCs from the assumed “straight” column to openly LGBTQ+ in some fashion, whether they’re being romanced or not. Indeed, just because an NPC is involved in an opposite-sex relationship doesn’t mean they can’t also be queer: bisexual and pansexual people exist, and do not stop being who they are just because they’re in an opposite-sex relationship. Likewise, some people are polyamorous, and not just because they’re looking to stack up beloved boons.

Why? Again, because it’s realistic. The player characters in a Strixhaven campaign are going to have a diverse group of friends, acquaintances and, yes, rivals and frenemies, and some of them should be queer. Even if some of the relationships between player characters and nonplayer characters in your campaign are not heterosexual, some of the “unattached” NPCs may still be queer, because queer people also just exist, and we have queer friends, acquaintances (and, yes, rivals and frenemies) without necessarily being romantically involved with them. Indeed, some of those unattached or uninvolved NPCs might even be asexual or aromantic.

To limit the decision about which Strixhaven NPCs are queer solely to the player characters’ romantic interests is to fall back on that tired notion that LGBTQ+ characters need a “reason” for their sexual and romantic orientation or gender identity, something that “furthers the plot,” when no such demand is ever made of straight, cisgender characters. Like all of the various other qualities that describe us as individuals, gender and sexuality are not “plot” but character development and fictional queer people do not need a “reason to exist” any more than real queer people do. We simply are.

Therefore, as you read Strixhaven: A Cirriculum of Chaos and prepare to run it for your players, consider adding some “needless queers” to your game’s narrative. It’s realistic, it’s inclusive, and you may find that it paints a more detailed picture for the players of a larger and more nuanced world—and isn’t that the kind of broadening experience university is all about?

(* I use the word “queer” to mean “non heterosexual and/or non cisgender” and have done so for well over 25 years now. I find it simpler and more inclusive than the LGBTQIAA+ or “QUILTBAG” abbreviation. I understand some people find “queer” a slur, or have experienced it as such (as I have), and I respect if they prefer not to claim it, but I feel it is a term we have reclaimed and made our own and use it as such.)

Hero Pack 1 Assembled

Ten years ago, Icons line artist Dan Houser released the first of a series of “Hero Packs,” character collections inspired and created by the Icons community. Now the first of these has been updated for the Assembled Edition of the game. Hero Pack 1 presents a collection of ninety diverse characters from the history of Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, created and inspired by members of the Icons community and re-envisioned by artist Dan Houser.

  • Hero, Villain, or…? Some of the characters from Hero Pack are heroes, others villains, anti-heroes, or even ambiguous figures who might be hero or villain depending on the situation.
  • Inspiration! Use the characters from Hero Pack as inspiration and a jumping-off point for creating unique characters in your own Icons games!
  • Examples: The characters in Hero Pack offer examples of power configurations, abilities, qualities, possibilities and more you can use for your own games.
  • Standees: The digital version includes an 11-page PDF of printable character standees for all of the characters in the book.

Updated with all-new art based on the original Hero Pack release, with game information updated to the Assembled Edition of Icons by designer Steve Kenson. It makes a great companion volume to villain collections like Icons Adversaries or Rogues to supplement your options for allies, adversaries, and oddities for your Icons game!

Get Hero Pack 1 Assembled now at DriveThruRPG!

D&D: Power Surges

I was filling out the D&D Classes Survey from Wizards of the Coat the other day. It is clearly aimed at looking at play experience, since it asks you which classes and subclasses you have played before unlocking the opinion questions about them. One of the things I noticed from my own experience, was that, while I have played a wide number of classes: 1) I have favorite subclasses and not as much experience outside of them, and: 2) I couldn’t offer an opinion on many of the high-level class abilities, because the characters I played never made it to those levels. I have played a lot of D&D, but few, if any, of my campaigns have made it up past 15th level. Many more haven’t even made it past 10th.

That led me to think that it’s unfortunate that many campaigns deny players a chance to experience what are supposed to be the pinnacles of their characters’ potential, which led me to consider the following option:

Power Surge

You have access to one use of a higher-level feature of your class. If this feature is ordinarily permanent or long-lasting, it lasts for a minute once it is invoked. If the feature affects or is performed in a single action or round, then it lasts for only that use. The class feature operates at the level of ability you currently possess or its minimum operational level, if your current level is insufficient, and uses traits (ability scores, bonuses, save DCs, etc.) you currently possess.

So, for examples, a lower-level barbarian might gain one use of a brutal critical or one instance of indomitable might, a fighter might gain an indomitable saving throw or use of a maneuver they don’t normally possess (perhaps even with an increased Superiority Die), a lower-level paladin might gain a minute of aura of courage, a Circle of the Moon druid one use of elemental wild shape, or a spellcaster one use of a spell higher level than they can normally cast (using their highest level spell slot to cast it).

The Cost of a Power Surge

At the end of an encounter where a character performs a power surge, that character gains 1 level of exhaustion, reflecting the strain they have exerted in extending their abilities. At the DM’s discretion, higher level power surges (or ones with a larger difference from the character’s current level) may impose multiple levels of exhaustion, although rarely more than 3.

If you want a harder power surge cost, the resulting exhaustion is half the difference between the character’s current level and the level of the power surge feature, rounded down, which effectively limits a power surge to an 11-level difference (5 levels of exhaustion) since 6 levels would kill the character (although it would be quite a way to go!).

Acquiring a Power Surge

Characters acquire the ability to perform a power surge as a boon granted by the DM, similar in some regards to a charm (see Supernatural Gifts in the Dungeon Master’s Guide). This may come from an in-game agency like a deity, powerful creature, wise mentor, spirit guide, or the like, or simply occur as a story-related event, much like Inspiration. Indeed, a power surge can be thought of as an “advanced” use of Inspiration for giving a particular character a “spotlight moment.”

When a surge is granted, the DM specifies what class feature it grants, or may offer a choice of class features; the surge is not good for whatever higher-level feature the player wants! The feature may be negotiable, based on player input, but the DM has the final say in the matter, taking campaign considerations into account (see Power Surge Considerations, following).

Power Surge Considerations

Naturally, power surges are things the Dungeon Master should permit carefully and sparingly, with an eye towards not disrupting the flow of the game too much. Some higher-level class features may be too powerful as power surges, depending on the current level of the character and the overall conditions of the campaign and adventure.

At least, a power surge should be a rare event, something that doesn’t happen more than once per character level (at most) and probably less often than that. It shouldn’t necessarily be something players can plan around or expect, but that shows up at moments of dramatic importance in the campaign. It’s also an opportunity the DM should spread out amongst the player characters—with no one character getting two or more power surges in a row before the other characters in the party have gotten an opportunity.

The availability of a power surge may require some adjustment to the challenge level of certain encounters, but then a power surge is supposed to be impressive, so it is all right if it happens to make a difficult encounter easier than it would otherwise be. Just be prepared to adjust things behind the scenes if necessary, should a power surge come off as anticlimatic rather than an epic peak or finish to an encounter.

Icons Print-on-Demand Price Increase

As you may have heard, changes in print-on-demand services over at DriveThruRPG will mean an increase in the cost of the “premium color” option for printed books, starting in July, roughly a 30–40% increase in cost. This is due to the arrangement between DriveThru and their printer, and not something publishers can control, apart from lowering already tight profit margins on print-on-demand titles.

I’ll be looking into some additional print-on-demand options for Icons titles, including the “standard color” option and possibly even lower-cost black-and-white versions for some titles. However, implementing these options may require a significant investment of time, and my priority is on providing monthly content for the Icons Patreon, along with updating some of the classic adventures and Dan’s Hero Pack products, so new POD options may be slow in coming. I appreciate the patience of all current and prospective Icons fans, since Ad Infinitum Adventures is pretty much a one-person production shop (me) with Dan providing artwork and some writing as well.

So, if you have been holding-off on picking up that printed Icons title, now is the time, before prices go up!