Icons Assembler v.1.2 update

Inkwell Ideas, the producers of the Icons Assembler character creation and management app, have announced a version 1.2 update of the software, available from DriveThruRPG. Purchasers of Icons Assembler can download the updated files for free from their DriveThruRPG account.

The 1.2 update includes bug fixes and the addition of options from the popular Icons Origins sourcebook, including additional specialties and the option of creating a form-fillable space on the character sheet for adding knacks, an option introduced in Icons A to Z and expanded upon in Origins.

Icons Assembler steps the user through an automated version of random hero creation in Icons and also offers the means to manually create and save characters and tools for character management during play. For more, visit Icons Assembler on DriveThruRPG.

D&D: Acting to Exhaustion

The fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons breaks abilities down into those usable at-will and those which recover their uses after a short or long rest. Naturally, the more powerful the ability, the less frequently characters can use it. A part of game-play is resources management: Should you use your big long rest ability now or wait until a more opportune moment? Do you know when the next opportunity for a short rest will come, or is the next encounter arriving on the heels of the current one, without a break in between?

Ordinarily, if a character is out of uses of an ability that’s it. It is no longer available to them until they have completed the necessary rest. However, there are times when it may be dramatically appropriate for characters to push their abilities beyond their normal limits, when they really need the use of an ability they’ve already expended. Fortunately, the fifth edition system offers a useful resource in that regard: Exhaustion.

Detailed in appendix A: Conditions of the Player’s Handbook, exhaustion is a condition that measures increasing levels of fatigue as characters expend their physical and mental resources. Each level of exhaustion imposes increasing penalties on the character, and finishing a long rest reduces a character’s exhaustion level by 1, conveniently making a level of exhaustion roughly equal to a long rest in “value.” This sets up the potential for the following variant:

Exertion. You draw on inner reserves of strength and determination to accomplish something. As a bonus action, gain 1 level of exhaustion, and choose from either gaining advantage on your next ability check, attack test, or saving throw, or regaining one use of an ability regained by completing a short or long rest. You do not gain any of the other benefits of rest from exertion.

One use of exertion is largely “free” as the character will remove the level of exhaustion after completing their next long rest, although they’ll have to deal with disadvantage on ability checks until then. Uses beyond the first have diminishing returns, since the exhaustion will take multiple long rests to recover. By level 5 exhaustion, the character is spent, speed reduced to 0 and unable to do much more than collapse against something and rest. Exertion past that point to level 6 means death, although the GM should consider delaying that penalty until the end of the character’s turn, allowing them one last glorious effort.

Exertion and Spell Slots. Exertion specifies “one use” of an ability that recovers after resting. This is incompatible with the recovery of spell slots, all of which recover from a long rest. On the other hand, recovering just one spell slot seems a poor trade-off for a level of exhaustion, so it’s recommended that spellcasters be allowed to recover up to half their class level (rounded down) in spell slots from exertion, with no spell slot greater than 6th level, or recover a single spell slot of 7th level or greater at a cost of 1 level of exhaustion for a 7th-level slot, 2 levels for an 8th-level slot, and 3 levels for a 9th-level slot. This is a version of the Natural Recovery and Arcane Recovery abilities of druids and wizards, respectively, but available to any spell-casting character through exertion (whereas wizards and circle of the land druids can still use it simply by taking a short rest).

Game Masters can fine-tune the requirements of exertion to suit the game, possibly increasing its cost to 2 levels of exhaustion per use, rather than 1, effectively limiting it to two uses (since a third would be 6 levels of exhaustion and death) and eliminating the “free” aspect of one use, since it would take a minimum of two long rests to fully recover from a use of exertion. An even more limited version would require the character to have inspiration in order to use exertion: They expend their inspiration and immediately regain one use of an ability that recovers after a short or long rest. In this case, the GM may or may not also require that the character gain a level of exhaustion. See Acting on Inspiration for more on this notion.

Icons AE out-of-stock at Green Ronin

Icons Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition is currently out-of-stock and unavailable from greenroninstore.com. Interested parties can still get the Assembled Edition book, and all other Icons products, from DriveThruRPG, as usual. The Assembled Edition is available there in both softcover and hardcover editions, and comes with a free pdf edition, character sheet, short sample adventure (“Grudge Match”), blank character figure silhouettes, and an add-on index.

Roll for Alex Fundraiser

RPG industry author Alejandro Melchor suffered a stroke on March 25th, 2019, and was rushed to Angeles del Pedregal Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. Contributions to this fundraiser will go to help Alex and his family deal with the considerable medical expenses and assist in his recovery. Donors receive over $350 in electronic RPG product as a thank you for their donation!

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alex for many years on projects like Mecha & Manga, Out of the Abyss, Modern AGE, and Trinity Continuum: Aberrant and hope that we can support him and his family at this time of need.

Additional donations and support are welcome, via PayPal to vasheek@hotmail.com or at the Scotiabank account number 5579-2091-0083-9130, both under the name of Adriana Melchor Lombardo, Alejandro’s sister.

About Alejandro Melchor

Freelance author and artist Alejandro Melchor lives in Mexico City and has worked in the tabletop gaming industry for over a decade. He has worked for Fantasy Flight, Green Ronin Publishing, Mongoose Publishing, Onyx Path, White Wolf, and Wizards of the Coast, among others.

Some of Alex’s work includes Mecha & Manga and contributions to The Atlas of Earth-Prime for Mutants & Masterminds, contributions to the Blue Rose and Modern AGE RPGs, and to the Six of Swords adventure series and Threefold setting for those games. He contributed to the Storypath editions of both the Æon and Aberrant games for Trinity Continuum and Champions of the Scarred Lands from Onyx Path Publishing, was an author for the campaign adventure Out of the Abyss for Dungeons & Dragons, and was both an author and artist for High Frontier from Mongoose Publishing.

A longtime fan of anime and manga, Alex later became editor of a local fanzine in his native Mexico City and active in fandom. He combines his loves of writing, drawing, and manga in his online webcomic Nahast: Lands of Strife, online at nahast.spiderforest.com. 

Wherever You Are

Logo_ncod_lgWe interrupt our ongoing Icons and gaming-related geekery (which resumes as usual tomorrow) for recognition of National Coming Out Day. In which I come out as:

  • Gay (a Kinsey 6 and double-gold-star gay, if you’re curious).
  • Polyamorous (I’ve been in a poly triad relationship for 10 years now).
  • Pagan (minister and co-founder of a neo-pagan temple; not an orientation issue, but one of religious freedom, which I also believe in strongly).

I’ve already blogged on my favorite “coming out” story and the importance of NCOD and being out, so I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’ll just say that the reason why National Coming Out Day is important, and why I keep coming out—in-person, online, and in social media—is because it still matters, and I’ll keep doing it until it doesn’t. When Joss Whedon was asked why he writes such strong female characters, he said, “Because you keep asking me that question.” It’s the same for being out. It matters to everyone until it doesn’t matter to anyone.

We’ve come further with sexual and gender rights in my life than I would have imagined when I first became aware of my own orientation. We still have a long way to go, however, when it’s still legal to discriminate in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity, when some 40% of homeless youth identify as something other than heterosexual or cis-gendered, when violence against trans-people is on the rise, and when being queer is still a literal death-sentence (or prison-sentence) in many parts of the world.

So “come out, come out, wherever you are,” because visibility matters, you matter, and the willingness to stand up and say, “We’re here and we’re queer” has been one of the greatest forces for change in the modern world.

Superheroes and Lateral Wins

So thanks to a combination of back issue collections released on DVD and my iPad (and the ComicZeal app) I’ve been spending some time in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics, notably the early issues of Avengers and Fantastic Four. While reading Avengers #22 (wherein “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” breaks up and Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch try to find work in a circus — and that’s just the “B” plot!) I was struck by something.

Captain American is up against Power Man, the Enchantress’ latest plaything, with all the powers of his predecessor, Wonder Man. In short, he’s super-strong and invulnerable. Really invulnerable. Cap quickly realizes nothing he can do can hurt this guy, even though he’s got it all over him in the fighting skills department. What’s more, when the rest of the Avengers arrive, none of them can hurt Power Man either: he shrugs off Hawkeye’s explosive arrows and Quicksilver’s super-fast punches, even the Scarlet Witch’s hexes (as this is long before other writers decided she was a certified Threat to Reality™ able to do almost anything).

How do the Avengers win the day? (Spoiler warning if you haven’t read the issue): They hold out long enough for the Enchantress to realize her scheme to frame them and break them up has failed. She takes a magical powder and vanishes, leaving a heartbroken Power Man behind, who surrenders, deprived of his motivation for fighting any longer!

Scenes like this one make me aware of how often in the comics heroes manage to overcome challenges, including “unbeatable” foes, through cleverness, determination, and other “lateral” means rather than the RPG-favored “beat on the villain until he’s out of hit points” (or “at incapacitated condition” to use Mutants & Masterminds vernacular).

I’ve heard many times that putting a villain into an RPG scenario “the heroes can’t possibly beat” is “unfair” and “cheating” on the part of the GM, as if every challenge in an RPG should and must be able to be overcome by a good roll of the dice and a straightforward application of the characters’ abilities. While I have nothing against an old-fashioned super-powered slugfest, from time to time I think it’s healthy for a game and an ongoing series to introduce challenges—and foes—the heroes can’t just punch or blast, but force them to come up with a lateral win.