Jumping Jackrabbits! It’s an Icons Review.

I was perusing http://www.rpg.net, as I tend to do, and I came across a thread where an artist was drawing superheroes on the cheap. I’m talking about a criminally good deal. I looked through the thread some more and discovered it was for something called Wave One, a supplemental product for the upcoming Icons RPG from Adamant. This is the thread that sold me on the game. Frankly, another superhero RPG interests me about as much as another high fantasy RPG interests me. There needs to be something there to spark my interest. The dozens of people commissioning characters for the game that would show up in its first supplement was that spark. I didn’t order a character, but I did pre-order the game.

Fast forward a few months and it still hadn’t come despite not being back ordered and now being freely available. That was unusual, but a quick email off to them and they sent me a second copy. That one came in a few weeks and I was ready to play. Unfortunately, I had other games on the go. Dresden Files and Pathfinder to be specific. So the game got put off for again, that is until we had our regular game of Pathfinder fall through. It was at this point I stepped in with Icons in all its heroic glory.

The book comes in a deceptively small package. It’s bright red and just a little bit larger than digest sized. It’s also about 125 pages long, give or take a few that are ads or character sheets and full color. The art is great. It’s not amazingly detailed, but it has that Silver  Age Comics quality that lends itself to the product. It fits the game perfectly with light hearted yet imaginative heroes lining the pages and cover of the book. The layout is clean and readable with the only thing that caused me any problems was the choice to list powers by group rather than alphabetically.

Icons, as a system, is incredibly fluid and simple. The basic mechanic use two differently colored d6. You roll them and subtract one from the other giving a result between -5 and +5. You add that result to the applicable power level and away you go. There is an outcome chart which rates your overall success between a failure and a massive success. These give guidelines for the players/GM on how to narrate the success. It all comes off as a tad complex here, but in practice it is quick and easy. There are rules that govern the different interactions that characters might have, everything from throwing a bus to searching an area. These aren’t so much additional rules as they are a paragraph or two about using the basic mechanic to accomplish them.Icons also pulls a few ideas from Fate, namely Aspects. They aren’t exactly the same though. Aspects in Icons are things like your character’s catch phrase or secret identity. They can be tagged and compelled for bonuses/penalties much like in Fate, but this is by no means the focus of the system. The Aspects also have a counterpart in Challenges. These are more negative aspects which might be called flaws or drawbacks in another game. They cover things like dependents or weaknesses. These Aspects are a good fit for the game, but they do feel a little bit tacked on to me.

The focus of Icons, rightly so, is that of your heroes and villains. On this end Icons accomplishes everything and more. You’ll find just about every power accounted for in the pages of Icons, in fact most of the book consists of these powers. While the tables may initially feel rather sparse, once you add your characters specific flavor to them you’ll find that you could potentially create almost every character in the Marvel and DC universes. Unusually, one of the best things about the game is the random character creation. Through rolling on a number of different charts you generate a complete character from origins through powers. It is up to you to decide what exactly a character who gets their powers from an alien source and is able to stretch their limbs and read minds is exactly. How do the powers fit together and what your back story are exactly are up to you. This is where the game shines. It is indescribably fun to sit down with your group and see what everyone gets. In our one-shot of the game we ended up with:

  • The House, a Russian wrestler whose powers come from a magical championship belt
  • Doctor Dick, the man with the healing stick and mind control helmet.
  • The Martial Arts Man, the lost disciple of Mr. Miyagi (he fell off the post, was knocked unconscious, and drifted out to sea)

As you might guess, we weren’t playing the most serious game around, and I don’t think Icons is a great fit for serious games. You’d be better off sticking with Mutants & Masterminds, Hero System, or Wild Talents for that.

Tucked in near the end of the book is my favorite section of Icons. It isn’t the biggest, weighing in at only two pages, but it is useful. It’s a random adventure generator. It doesn’t exist of more than two columns and the step of randomly generating a villain, but that’s all you need. It’s exactly what you need when you are running a spur of the moment pick-up game. We used it and I generated an Illusion using villain whose mind can’t be read. He was an intelligent character and I decided to call him The Suit, a faceless suit-wearing Lord of War type evil businessman type villain. This worked out pretty well because what did I roll for the random adventure? Steal Invention. That’s all I needed to get the game going. I had characters start out in Doctor Dick’s secret underground superhero hospital. We decided that’s where all the heroes in our metropolis go for medical care. It was here that they saw the breaking news of the theft of a prototype power source where it was being unveiled at a conference. From there the heroes followed the trail which ultimately lead to a secret auction and a showdown with The Suit at the ritzy Epsilon Hotel. It was a cheesy adventure in the best sense of the word. Lots of camp, lots of laughs, and more than a few double entendres courtesy of Dr. Dick. The adventure generator might not be sophisticated, but the superhero genre lends itself well to improvisation and a campy setting is also very forgiving on the improv front. It works perfectly with Icons and further cements itself as a great standby game.

The adventure generator isn’t the only tool for a GM thrust into an unexpected game. There are numerous sample villains and heroes along with an adventure that should be good for at least one game. It’s the small details like these that make the difference between a good RPG and a great one.

Icons is what you get if you take Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds, and all your favorite comics and then toss them in a blender. It has charmed itself a place on my game shelf. I won’t be using it for a long term campaign anytime soon, but for one-off games it is now at the top of my list. I’d recommend it to people that want light-hearted supers games and for people that like to play fast and loose with the rules. It isn’t a game for crafting your ultimate hero and I don’t think it has tried to be. If you like camp and golden or silver age comics then you owe it yourself to try a game out.

PS: I couldn’t think of a way to work this link in to the review proper. So I’m putting it down here. Check out Sigils, the Fantasy setting to put over top of the Icons engine.  I certainly plan on taking it for a spin.

[Tags]Icons, RPG, Adamant, Superhero, Tabletop , Role Playing[/Tags]

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