FAE: Shifting Approaches

This is more of a post-let than a detailed post, but it was an idea that occurred to me and I wanted to get it out there for anyone who might benefit from it or do something interesting with it (which, by the way, is carte blanche for you to do so, if you feel so motivated).

In Fate Accelerated Edition, characters use different Approaches to perform actions, choosing from Careful, Flashy, Forceful, etc. (or whatever other names the Approaches are given).

One classic element of fictional conflicts is encouraging, forcing, or tricking an opponent or rival into using an Approach that puts them at a disadvantage: get a normally careful foe angry enough to attack with abandon, make a somewhat dim-witted rival overestimate his own cleverness, put a forceful, flashy character in a situation where being sneaky and subtle is called for (or vice versa).

This is essentially Creating an Advantage except, rather than sussing out or creating an aspect, you’re shifting the conflict to a different approach. So, on a tie or success, you get a sense of the opponent’s weakest approach and get to shift the conflict there for one exchange. If you succeed with style, you keep it there for two exchanges and, at the GM’s option, can spend a fate point to keep it there for an additional exchange.

Example: Two sword-fighters  are facing-off, and it quickly becomes clear they’re evenly matched in the Quick and Flashy department, so one tries to taunt her opponent with a Flashy maneuver to get him angry enough to try a Forceful attack. On a tie or success, she goads her foe into taking a Forceful approach for the next exchange, perhaps giving her an opening for a Quick attack. If she succeeds with style, her foe is so unhinged, he goes Forceful for the next two exchanges at least.

Addendum: Why is this any better than just creating an advantage or getting a bonus? Apart from the flavor of it, shifting approaches can have a more variable bonus (depending on the spread between the subject’s best and worst approaches applicable to the situation) plus it can potentially deny the target access to stunts based on a particular approach: If your foe’s best stunt is based on being Flashy, for example, and you force him into a situation where he has to be Sneaky, then that stunt is likely off the table for the moment, giving you an added advantage.

ICONS Scale Adjectives

Toying around with adjectives for the ICONS 1–10 ability scale:

  1. Weak
  2. Poor
  3. Average
  4. Fair
  5. Good
  6. Great
  7. Fantastic
  8. Incredible
  9. Amazing
  10. Supreme

The mid-range (2–7) matches Fate Core for the most part (although ICONS knocks out the “Mediocre” level, having just two below Average). Overall, I like the contrast between the “normal” (3–6) and “super” (7–10) adjectives.

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!

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!

Re: ICONS #2

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

Powers and Abilities (well, Abilities anyway…)

The six abilities in Icons are ripped off from an homage to Marvel Super-Heroes, minus the somewhat superfluous Endurance (the “E” in FASERIP), which got combined with Strength, so you’ve got Prowess (Fighting), Coordination (Agility), Strength (duh… Strength), Intellect (Reason), Awareness (Intuition) and Willpower (Psyche). But was Endurance the only superfluous ability to remove from the mix? Maybe, maybe not.

The Prowess/Coordination split largely de-emphasizes Coordination as the sole ability for physical actions, but Prowess is the ability voted Most Liked to Be Considered a Skill. Mutants & Masterminds 3e has a somewhat similar split (between Agility and Dexterity) but both are more raw “abilities” with combat skill for either handled by… well, combat skills. Prowess does allow for the higher-Prowess, lower-Coordination character, but so do the appropriate combat specialties. Are there many characters likely to have more than three levels of difference (a Master bonus) between their Coordination and fighting ability? There’s certainly a case to be made for taking Prowess out of the mix and folding its uses into Coordination.

Coordination and Strength are pretty safe: one is the overall physical “action” ability and the other is the overall physical “effect” ability.

Likewise, Intellect and Willpower are pretty safe. Sure, you could collapse all of the mental abilities into a single one like “Mind” (and some systems do) but there seems to be some benefit to differentiating between a character’s smarts and force of personality. Some have more of one than the other, while others have both.

Awareness exists largely to divorce a character’s ability to notice things from either Intellect or (even less obviously) Willpower. One of the oddities of the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game (aka “Marvel SAGA”) was assigning sensory powers and tests to the Willpower ability. Personally, I blame Mr. Fantastic, who is often portrayed as the classic absent-minded professor: brilliant, but somewhat oblivious. However, while Reed Richards might not pick up of a lot of social cues, he’s plenty sharp when it comes to noticing things where it counts. Likewise, Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super-Heroes tends to get wrapped up in his thoughts (and ignores some social niceties) but he still sees patterns and clues well enough. Do we need Awareness, or is Intellect—modified by specialties and occasionally limited by challenges—enough?

For that matter, do we need abilities at all? A number of RPGs—including many versions of FATE, A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying—do away with traditional “ability scores”. Characters have ratings in certain things they are notably good or bad at but, otherwise, a kind of background default is assumed (and left unspecified). Icons could likewise skip assigning any abilities at all unless they’re notably above or below average, like a scale of 1, 5, 7, and 9, for example (or 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, for slightly more options).

Speaking of the scale, some find the 3–6 range of “normal human” too limiting (technically, it’s 1–6 for normal human, including both of the below average levels). Is three levels for the full range of human achievement above “average” sufficient? For a superhero RPG, probably, since most super-types who are “above average” are often way above average. If anything, three levels may be too many in that regard.

Of course, we have to keep in mind two things: First, that many “normal humans” in the comics do have superhuman abilities. Chances are good that Reed Richard’s Intellect and Hal Jordan’s Willpower are higher than 6 in Icons terms.

Second, even if that’s not the case, specialties even things out. Batman may (arguably) have “only” a 6 Intellect, but he’s also a Criminology Master, raising his ability to the high superhuman range even before his “Dark Knight Detective” quality comes into play. Captain America may “only” have a 6 Prowess, but he’s a Martial Arts Master, making him a superhuman fighter. In fact, the Determination system is set up to reward characters like this, since specialties are not included into the calculations for starting Determination. A hero with “only” human-maximum abilities and a lot of specialties can also have more Determination, as the aforementioned characters do.

Paring down the Icons abilities to just four (Coordination, Strength, Intellect, and Willpower) does have some appeal: a nice 2-by-2 “grid” of Physical and Mental abilities (Coordination & Strength/Intellect & Willpower) and Action and Effect abilities (Coordination & Intellect/Strength & Willpower). Plus it is a rip off of an homage to the Marvel Super-Heroes Adventure Game. On the other hand, we lose having the same number of abilities as sides on the die, which made some things easier (largely on the random tables).

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

Re: ICONS #1

I can’t speak for other game designers but, if it weren’t for deadlines and the need to produce, you know, an actual product at some point, my game designs would never truly be “finished.” Instead, they would just undergo more and more playtesting, revision, minor tweaks (and sometimes even major revisions), and then spin off entire other ideas, leading me to put aside that game for a while and go through the process all over again with another design, until I came back to the game with a fresh perspective to start running and playing it again, ad infinitum.

Because I’m always looking for ways to make things “better”. I put that in quotes because it does not necessarily mean objectively better (although there are ways to do that to writing and game design, too) but better in my own esteem, closer to “finished” than it was before, even if finished is a value of infinity I can never completely reach. A lot of that “better” is purely subjective, different ways of describing or approaching things with different esthetics.

So it is with Icons, amongst many other projects. Since the game was published, I’ve continued to tinker with it. I’ve run it. I’ve played it. I’ve set it aside. I’ve watched and listened to others do so and, of course, I’ve thought about it, sometimes even when I should have been thinking about other things. As a way of processing some of those thoughts, getting them out of my head and down in words, I’ll be blogging about them on here. So…

Playing at Dice

One of the things I’ve considered about Icons is the dice. The game uses 2d6, one die designated positive, the other negative. The player rolls them and subtracts the negative die from the positive die to get a value from –5 to +5 as a modifier to the character’s ability level for a test.

Overall, I like the probability curve of the dice, and I like the accessibility of using two standard six-siders (despite my fondness for Fudge dice): who doesn’t have a couple of d6s hanging around? So I haven’t thought so much about replacing the dice. What I’ve thought more about is how the dice are rolled.

The existing system is fairly simple. Still, the player has to differentiate between the positive and negative die, and has to subtract one from the other before adding the result to the ability level. This is a bit more complex than die rolling in, say, Mutants & Masterminds, where it’s a single d20 roll + trait rank.

One option is the “high-drop” variant: essentially the same except, rather than adding the positive and negative die, you drop the die with the higher absolute value and just use the value of the lower die as the result. So if you roll +3 and –4, you drop the 4 and the roll is a +3. Doubles cancel out to +0. The probabilities are actually the same, but there’s no subtraction involved, although the player still has to differentiate the two dice.

Another I like is to “split” the dice: rather than having the player roll both (and in Icons, only players make die rolls) have the player roll the “positive” die and the GM roll the “negative” die, but rather than subtracting, the negative die is rolled and added to the difficulty set by the GM. Again, the net probabilities are the same, but this way the player only rolls and adds one die and the subtraction occurs as part of the regular effect vs. difficulty comparison.

Example: A player rolls a Coordination test for a hero to clear an obstacle. The player rolls 1d6, gets a 3 and adds it to the hero’s Coordination of 5 for an 8 effort. The GM has set the difficulty for the test at 4 and rolls a 2, for a total difficulty of 6. That makes the outcome of the test a 2 (8 effort – 6 difficulty), a moderate success.

This option is a bit more like M&M in that the player rolls and adds only a single die. I’m still not sure if the 1d6 roll feels too simple: there’s an argument to be made that a fistful of dice feels more “powerful” or “heroic” (it’s the premise Hero System has operated on for decades). This approach also gets the GM rolling dice, which can be seen as a bug or a feature depending on how you feel about the only players roll approach. It does, on the other hand, make everything an opposed roll, which makes PvP stuff easier.

As with a lot of system tweaks, it’s not necessarily that any of these alternative approaches make the system objectively “better” (in purely mathematical terms, they’re actually all the same) but they do have slightly different feels to them which can affect the experience of game play. If you’re in an Icons game, feel free to try them out and, if you do, drop me a line and let me know how they work out for you!

Marvelous Initiative

So there’s this new superhero RPG on the block called Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. You may have heard of it, created by the licensing mavens at Margaret Weis Productions, led by Cam “Mr. Fantastic” Banks, using the oh-so-hackable Cortex+ (that’s “Cortex-Plus”) system.

Amongst its various game systems twists and turns, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MHR for short) features a novel new initiative system: in essence, one of the players gets to go first, based on consensus and description of what’s happening in the scene. The Watcher (that’s the Game Master in MHR) can spend some Doom Pool dice (a GM resource) to have a non-player character go first.

The interesting part is whomever goes first decides who goes next, with the caveat that every character in the scene has to get one turn before the next turn starts, and whoever goes last in the turn gets to decide who goes first in the next turn. So, you can definitely play things so all your friends (and fellow heroes) go first, then all of the GM’s bad guys, but if the bad guys go last, the GM can choose one of them to go first on the next turn and give them all of their actions before the heroes get to go at all. Plus the GM can still spend Doom Pool dice to interrupt the action order any time. So some degree of back-and-forth seems sensible.

One nice thing about this approach to initiative and turn-taking is that it’s eminently easy to borrow to use in other games! So, a few thoughts on Marvel-style initiative in…

Mutants & Masterminds

The standard M&M initiative system is cyclical: at the start of a conflict, roll an initiative check (d20 + initiative modifier) for each character (or group of minions) involved in the conflict. Characters then act in order from highest to lowest each round before starting back at the top of the order. Certain actions, like delaying, may change a character’s place in the initiative order but, otherwise, it’s fairly static.

Applying the MHR approach to initiative essentially removes the need for advantages like Improved Initiative and Seize Initiative, except possibly as fire-breaks against the GM using a complication (the M&M equivalent of spending Doom Pool dice) to interrupt the initiative order or allow the villains to go first. This might cost the GM an additional hero point (awarded to the player of the character with the appropriate advantage).

The MHR approach likely means actions in M&M conflicts would vary more, as each player (and the GM) chooses who goes next in the action order, rather than staying with the same order from round to round. This can be good for variety, difficult if the GM has character sheets or stats arranged in a particular order to keep track of them during the conflict.


Icons has an even simpler initiative system: the heroes go, then the villain(s), and back and forth until the conflict is over.

The MHR approach mixes things up a bit more, allowing for villain actions to be potentially interspersed amongst the heroes’ actions, depending on who is chosen to go after the initial player. All of the “action” (in terms of die rolling) falls to the players, since villain actions are framed more in terms of the heroes reacting to what the villains do: the players roll counter-actions rather than the GM rolling villain actions.

Much like spending Doom Dice in MHR, the Icons GM would award Determination to the players in order to interrupt the action order or to have a villain go first as a challenge in the scene.

Whether you’re looking to play Marvel Heroic Roleplaying or just rifle through its pages for clever ideas you can lift for your own game (or hack its game system into something suitable for, say, Dungeons & Dragons…) check out the latest member of the superheroic RPG team; there’s a lot of power there!

Re: Animated • Avengers “A Day Unlike Any Other”

avengers26Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

“A Day Unlike Any Other”

This is it: the season finale, featuring the Avengers versus a vastly empowered Loki with the fate of the Nine Worlds hanging in the balance! Continue reading

Re: Animated • Avengers “The Fall of Asgard”

avengers25Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

“The Fall of Asgard”

The arc of Season One of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes reaches a peak in the next-to-last episode as Loki reveals his master-plan sitting on the throne of Asgard, having claimed the power of All-Father Odin himself! Continue reading

Re: Animated • Avengers “The Ultron Imperative”

avengers23Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

“The Ultron Imperative”

Ultron is defeated at a heavy cost to the Avengers, but is Ultron’s threat truly ended, and is the Avenger’s teammate Thor truly gone? Doesn’t look like it! Continue reading