Monday update: Icons and Smallville

Sorry for the lack of weekend update. There really was nothing to post as game night was canceled, instead I attended a play.

Having recently gotten a little extra money I picked up a pair of RPGs I have been eyeing for a while now.

The first is the Smallville rpg, which I initially viewed as a joke and an insult. The show Smallville is pretty bland, only having brief moments of coolness but mostly consisting of angsty pre-superman. I was also upset that DC would have Green Ronin make them an RPG and then provide direct competition with the Smallville brand. That said, I decided to take a look at it and see why it was necessary to make such a game. I came away surprised and impressed.

The game is based on the Cortex system, which is a system I admire for its dedication to the love of rolling dice. Here however they have abandoned the notion of standard traits and skills. Instead you have values (Such as truth, love, justice, power etc.) and relationships. When attempting to do something you add an appropriate value (if supes is trying to catch Lois it might be love, if Zod is trying to sway an army it might be power) to a related relationship. This not only breaks out of long held conventions but could help diversify characters. Those of us who game often know that some systems can be ‘broken’ but the absence of catchall traits could make it possible even for superman to fail. I find this exciting.

Essentially the game is set up not to promote superhero gaming, but to play Smallville the television show. Character creation is done in groups and relationships are carefully mapped out. It places a lot of focus on narrative and acting, less so on combat. With minor working this system could be used to emulate many number of television shows; if you wanted Saved by the Bell the rpg you could do it with this system.

I have yet try the system or really give it a complete read through1 but it sounds very intriguing and I admire the design teams attempt to do something different. I would like to try it at some point but I’m not sure my current group is coherent enough to pull it off.

The second rpg is Steve Kenson’s Icons. Apparently while working on DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3rd ed Mr. Kenson had the idea for a simple, old school rpg. Icons is the result. It was designed for pick up and play, and uses a randomized generation system that provides the complete opposite of M&M’s toolkit creation. It is a short book, weighing in at less than 150 pages, and the overall feel is that of a Saturday morning cartoon2.

The character generation here is accomplished by a series of tables and is intended to give the player a list of elements for him to string together. For example, possibly you might roll up a hero with the ability to bind, paralyze, and wall crawl. That is what the game gives you, but it is not a full character so the descriptors are left to you. From the options given I could see an ice villain, or even someone who has harnessed the power of industrial glue.

This character creation system was part of the reason I initially bought the game. I figured I could roll up simple characters and then flesh them out for my main M&M campaign. However I have found that this system stimulates the imagination so well that I feel the need to run some adventures using it, adventures catering to a more kinetic cartoon feel.

The rules are somewhat vague in a few areas, specifically it lacks a combat run through and features no initiative system. On the other hand it’s very streamlined and requires the players to do all rolling. If a PC hits a villain they roll to see if it is so, if you have a bad guy hit them, they roll to dodge. It’s an interesting idea and I hope run a game pretty soon. I’m also hoping that it proves simple enough that some of my players can pick it up and run a game for me to partake it.

1Lest ye think I am making a micro review off little information I would point out that I have read the book, but not what I’d call completely. Completely implies a slow read that incorporates note taking and rule tests.

2The Saturday morning feel is also accomplished by the very cartoony artwork. Oddly the game talks about killing which doesn’t jive with the cartoon feel.

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2 thoughts on “Monday update: Icons and Smallville

  1. I have to say, I am very interested in the idea of a superhero(tm) roleplaying system that actually randomly generates your power set. I mean, while you may have it in your mind to play a Hulk-esque character, it bears mentioning that he didn’t choose his powers, or even, to be a superhero. It might make it more difficult to go with a cohesive concept — Ignacio Flickabicus turns out to get animal-based superpowers — it stays more true to the idea that’s always behind the minds of people in these capes-and-tights universes, which is that nothing is certain and you don’t choose your powers.

    Also: rules testing. What do you do for rules testing?

  2. Yeah, with this system you really have to start with an open mind and no concept. I’ve rolled up characters who changed completely as I went through each step.
    I had a character last night that I thought would be pretty cool until I realized i had rolled a 1 for one of his attributes…and that changed the entire concept and now I have a really neat villain…that I can’t post here because my players pry.

    And ‘rules testing’ covers a lot of random ground. Basically it just involves carefully reading rules, making sure I understand order of operation, seeing if I have any nagging problems with how things are written (ex: in DC adventures I dislike the rules for how far you can throw something) and then some random tests checking what results i’d get if i used the rules. And then I roll up test characters.

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