Sunday, July 31, 2011


One of the nice things about ICONS is how adaptable it is.  The basic system is quite simple and open enough to mess around with and not worry about breaking something.  This morning, I ran across a very ambitious attempt to do something different with the base system.  SIGILS is an sword and sorcery rules set based on ICONS, written by Mike Olson of Roll Some Dice.  It retains the mini-game of random character creation, and looks like a lot of fun at first glance.  For grins, I decided to roll up a character using these rules and see what happens.

Tyburn the Blade

Prowess  5
Coordination 4
Strength 4
Intellect 4
Awareness 3
Willpower 4

Determination 5
Stamina 8
Spirit 9

Culture: Great City
Backgrounds:  Soldier, Criminal (Murder)

Weapons (Blades)



Enemy - Lord Lazslo Mopas

Tyburn is a River's Ender born and bred.  After a brief stint in a nobleman's private army, he fell into a career as a professional duellist.  In River's End, nobles do not deign to cross swords themselves -- they fight their duels through paid proxies.  At least the smart ones do.  Sadly, Ilen Mopas, heir to the great and wealthy Lord Lazslo, was not a smart one.  When offended by a romantic rival, Ilen demanded satisfaction and drew his own sword.  Sadly, his rival had Tyburn close at hand.  The affair was quick, bloody, and entirely legal, at least as the laws of River's End were concerned.  Lord Lazslo had other ideas.

The assassins came in the night.  Tyburn evaded them, with only his sword at hand and the clothes on his back.  Now he roams the Westerlands, avoiding Lazslo's hired killers and making a name for himself.

Notes and Impressions
Per the Resource rules, I'm unclear as to whether or not he should actually have a sword and a horse.  This may become more clear upon further reading.

All in all, I think the character creation process hangs together pretty well. I could certainly see using something ICONS-ish in a non-superhero environment, but I'd honestly prefer to use Barbarians of Lemuria as my first choice.  Still, SIGILS is a worthy effort and worth further investigation. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cestus Dei...For Reals

Sarah Oppenheim

Prowess  6
Coordination  5
Strength  6
Intellect  5
Awareness  7
Willpower  6

Stamina  12
Determination  2

  Weapons (Blades)

  Affliction 4
  Healing 4

  Identity : Grad Student
  Epithet : The Brass Knuckles of God
  Motivation : Righteousness
  Connections : The Occult Underground

  Social : Public Identity
  Personal : Rigid Sense of Righteousness and Unrighteousness
  Weakness : Immortality Does Not Work Against Unholy/Infernal Powers
  Enemy : The Nephilim

Point Total  47

Sarah Oppenheim was a graduate student at Meridian University, working on a Ph.D. in comparative Qabbalistic traditions.  While pulling an all-nighter, she fell asleep and dreamed of a battle of angels versus demons.  When she awoke, she found herself transformed into something not entirely human.  Set upon almost immediately by a band of demons, she fought them off instinctively, learning of her abilities to take and restore Life.  Realizing she could never return to her old life, she took the name Anthriel (after the Angel of Balance), using her powers to protect mankind from the vile powers of the Unrighteous.

Anthriel's sword is just a normal weapon and can be taken away, broken, or lost.  She carries it partly because it goes with her angelic theme and partly to use against foes who are immune to her Affliction power (and therefore, probably Unrighteous and inhuman).  With it, she does Strength +1 Slashing damage.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Return Of The Games I Want To Run...

But probably never will.  I still find it useful to put these ideas to paper (or blog or whatever) in order to preserve them somewhere.

In Nomine:  Remember when this game was the New Hotness?  OK, well it was with my little corner of the interwebs, but I never got to play it.  The most recent Dresden Files book got me thinking about angels and demons and all that stuff, which led to me actually looking at my In Nomine stuff for probably the first time in a decade.  I'm still not sure what to do with it, but something like "The Prophecy, as directed by Robert Rodriguez" sounds about right.

"The Devil's Right Hand:" The title's from a Steve Earl song I like.  A gritty sandbox western.  Probably using Boot Hill.  It'll probably never happen.

Any sort of extended Barbarians of Lemuria game.  Probably in my own setting or Howard's Hyboria.  Because every time I see a Conan trailer, I get the urge to lay wasted to Aquilonia.

"(Every Day Is) Halloween:" Witchcraft, or some similar urban fantasy system.  Tuned in magi dealing with street level horrors.

There's more, but most of them I've mentioned before, and these are fresh in my mind.  Of course, I'm going to see "Captain America" in a few hours, so any interests I have in anything other than supers will be completely obliterated.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


It seems this post marks my 100th since moving My Dice Are Older Than You over from its old home.  While I'm not sure my content is always top notch, writing here has certainly helped out on the personal sanity front.  Since I started my ICONS characters, I've also managed at least one new post a day for the past three weeks.

To celebrate, here's the ICONS version of my favorite superhero PC.  He was originally created for Champions 4e, but I think ICONS suits him fine.



Prowess  7
Coordination  6
Strength  4
Intellect  4
Awareness  4
Willpower  3

Stamina  7
Determination  5

  Acrobatics Expert
  Martial Arts Master
  Area - Fair City
  Performance (Acting)
  Weapons Expert (Blades)


  Warrior, Poet, Lover
  Identity : Troubadour
  Motivation : Adventure!
  Connections : Fair City's Rich and Beautiful

  Enemy : Capn' Skulldugger
  Enemy : The Troubadour Revenge Squad
  Social : Reputation (Slightly Seedy Has-Been)

Point Total  37

(The above stats reflect Troubadour at the beginning of the Fair City campaign)

Background/History: Many would say his business card puts it best:


Warrior, Poet, Lover

While Troubadour certainly cultivates a mysterious image, it's hard to consider someone who lives his life in the glare of the limelight truly secretive. Troubadour has been active on the superheroic scene for over a dozen years. While little actual information is publicly bandied about regarding Troubadour's past, it's all there if someone wants to look at it.

Born Geoffrey Larrocque, of the Usher Heights Larrocques, Geoffrey was raised in the lap of luxury. As a second son, there were fewer expectations placed on him than his older brother, Andrew, leaving Geoffrey to pursue whatever interests struck his fancy.

Fascinated by his family's history of piracy and derring-do, Geoffrey developed an early flair for the dramatic and flamboyant, a flair that served him well when he was cast as D'Artagnan Jr. in the hit TV series "Young Musketeers". The series ran for four seasons, giving Geoffrey free rein to indulge all of his swashbuckling fantasies. In his years on the show, he became a capable gymnast, fencer, and martial artist.

At the end of the show's run, Geoffrey went off to college, where he majored in Liberal Arts and gained his passion for jazz. One year short of graduation, he left school to travel the world. The trip, however, was cut short by the tragic death of his parents in a plane crash, leaving Andrew in charge of the family fortune.

Andrew, unlike Geoffrey, saw little of value in Geoffrey's interests, the family history or, in fact, anything he deemed "old fashioned". Determined to take the Larrocque name to new heights in business, he decided to sell the family estate and use the funds for start-up venture capital. Horrified at the thought of losing his home, Geoffrey used the remainder of the money from his television days and a goodly portion of his trust fund to buy out his brother's half of the property. Andrew agreed, with the stipulation that Geoffrey keep his distance from Andrew's business interests and do nothing to besmirch the family name.

And so it was that, at the age of twenty one, Geoffrey Larrocque found himself the sole proprietor of a forty five room mansion and an incredible case of boredom. His brother's stipulation limited his social calendar; he missed basking in the limelight; and even the mansion itself seemed less alive. Apart from furtive forays to local jazz clubs, he became more and more reclusive.

Until he had his first taste of superheroics.

One night, as he left his favorite club, Geoffrey found himself in the middle of a superpowered firefight. Blue Beacon was taking on Dumpster Diver and the self-proclaimed "genius of junk" was getting the better of the Sapphire Sentinel. Seeing an opening, he caught Dumpster Diver unawares, knocking the piece of trash out cold. At that moment, a new world opened up for Geoffrey. It was exciting! No, it was exhilarating!

Actually, it was all over the papers. "Geoffrey Larrocque, millionaire and former TV star, defeats noted supervillain."

Andrew was livid. He threatened legal action. He threatened to cut off Geoffrey's inheritance. He threatened physical violence.

In the end, Geoffrey apologized. It seemed the best thing to do. After all, he hadn't intended to make a public splash. If it weren't for those mask-wearing weirdos, none of this would have happened. Wait a minute – masks! Of course! He could don a mask himself. After all, he'd already defeated one supervillain, how hard could it be?

Taking inspiration from his swashbuckling heroes and fashioning himself a costume from old bits and pieces culled from mementos from his TV show, he set forth to fight crime as The Bard. Using a limited knowledge of pyrotechnics culled from the stage, he crafted skull-shaped bombs to aid him against particularly difficult opponents.

It may have been a silly concept and a sillier costume, but it gave him the freedom he craved. As The Bard, Geoffrey could go forth and conquer, without bringing down the wrath of Andrew. He served a short stint with the Sentinels, (as do many fledgling heroes in the Vanguard Universe), but left over "personality differences". Realizing that The Bard identity was just ridiculous, he disappeared from the scene for a few weeks, only to re-emerge as Troubadour. A year later, he had his name legally changed to Troubadour, in order to appease Andrew, whose business flourishes in Empire City. Since that time, he has been a constant, if not particularly diligent, thorn in the side of evil.

Five years ago purchased a jazz club in downtown Fair City, and named it (appropriately enough) Troubadour's. He makes the scene there a couple of times a week, unless he's off saving the world. Troubadour's is one of the top jazz clubs in the nation, attracting every major act and a host of rising stars.

While he's matched wits (and crossed blades, so to speak) with many supercriminals, there are a few that stand out in his rogues gallery. Cap'n Skulldugger has been a perennial thorn in his side (their chosen motifs do seem to attract one another don't you think?). Secondly (and more dangerous) is the Troubadour Revenge Squad. This is a group of women who, having been spurned by Troubadour at one time or another, acquired superpowers and banded together with the intent of making his life miserable, or at least enlightening him to their feminist agenda. The TRS membership currently includes Large Marge (leader with growth powers), The Shrew, Dollface, Digitalice, and Fury (as in Hell hath no...). Given Troubadour's romantic inclinations, the group is always recruiting new members.

Personality/Motivation: Anyone with a business card like that can't possibly have low-self esteem problems. And he doesn't. Troubadour believes in living life in CAPITAL LETTERS. If there are multiple ways to accomplish a task, he will inevitably choose the one that shows his abilities off in the best possible manner.

Still, it's important to note that Troubadour has a strong altruistic streak and a sense of noblesse oblige. He comes from the old-money liberal school of politics and has no problem devoting his time, energy, and money to worthy causes. In some cases, this makes him seem like less a superhero and more a garden variety celebrity since he does spend so much time making appearances. In other cases, his strong liberal politics fairly boil to the surface; he excels at asking other superheroes the sort of hard questions the costumed set confronted in the "relevancy" period of the late '60s and early '70s.

Quote: "Forgive me, my dear, I just have to polish of this ruffian and then we'll get back to this delicious...conversation."

History: In the Fair City campaign, Troubadour started out as a bit of a hero in need of redemption. He was somewhat caught up in his own celebrity and had gotten away from what brought him into the game in the first place, namely the thrill of the chase and the chance to deal with Society's ills head-on. As a member of Vanguard, he slowly moved into a leadership role, and along the way found what appears to be lasting love with his team-mate Gorgon. After her secret identity was revealed and her career as District Attorney ruined, the two of them set out to "Find America, the Real America."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Enter the Cranky Old Man

(Not actually a cranky post, no rants follow this.)

On the way home, I had the stray thought of adapting Santa Muerte into a villainess for ICONS.  Fortunately, a quick visit to Wikipedia informed me of what a bad idea that was.  While I'm as guilty of cultural appropriation as the next middle-aged suburban white geek, there are limits to what is and isn't a good idea.

Instead, I'm going to talk briefly about some conversations I've had with a younger generation of gamers and how their experiences and expectations differ from mine.  These are guys I played D&D with for a couple of years, but they're half my age or younger, having been undergrads at Rice recruited out of the university gaming club to join our crew of old farts.  These guys are my friends and I'm not making judgments about their gaming styles.  If anything, I'm reminding myself to avoid the traps of declaring something "badwrongfun."

A couple of years ago, during one of our "A-Game" breaks, I ran a short (4 session) mini-campaign for Hollow Earth Expedition.  For one of the players, it was his first exposure to a non-class and level, skill-driven system.  After one of the early sessions, after I'd doled out experience, he was flabbergasted by the fact that he could spend the points any way he wanted.  He was so used to being channeled in a particular direction or optimal build choice that he was really sort of paralyzed by the sheer number of options available.

I found it odd, because I often felt constrained by the very limited choices in D&D 3.5 (our main game at the time) and how incredibly important each choice could be in keeping your character competitive, not only with the opposition but as a contributing member of the party.  To me, the freedom to do what you want is much more comfortable than narrow channels, but if it's all you know, I guess it's pretty daunting.

Last night, another one of the younger crew joined us for dinner, as he and his wife were back in town visiting.  He mentioned that he'd tried running a Star Wars SAGA game, but found it really hard because most weapons and armor could only be upgraded twice, so the characters were running out of combat bonuses.  This struck me as an even more alien concept than being weirded out by freedom of choice.  I mean, it's STAR WARS, not World of Dungeon Age.  It should never be about having the most plus-ful equipment.  It's about story and conflict and in-campaign rewards.

Of course, as a long-term supers guy, I'm all about the story and conflicts and in-campaign rewards and not in the least about becoming the most plus-ful.  The most successful Champions campaign I ever played in was created from the outset with no limits on character points.  We built the characters we wanted from the outset, and never worried about experience or mechanical advancement.  It's not an approach that works for everyone, but it worked for that group for years. But supers aside, I just can't imagine running Star Wars as a race to the top of the combat food chain.  But I'm sure it happens.

(In fact, I know it happens.  And happened back in the day as well.  I can remember a long-running "flame war" conducted in the letters column of Dragon in the late 80s, over the legality and feasibility of a munchkinized d6 Star Wars character.  Seriously.  A flame war.  Carried out over the course of months in the leading gaming publication of the day.  I can only surmise the folks in Lake Geneva thought it was hilarious and thus printed new letters on the subject each month.)

I should note that his solution to the problem was to saddle the PCs with a freighter, which they could use to ship goods and turn profits, but in exchange, they had to keep up the payments on it.  When I heard this, I may have said, "Congratulations! You've invented Traveller," but I meant it with my compliments.  Because it's just the sort of story-driving solution I would have used to take the emphasis of the campaign away from who's got a +12 to hit with a heavy blaster.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

(No, I haven't seen the movie yet.  Soon, I hope.)

It's been a very long day.  I just began training a new tech to help take some of the load off me at work and I suspect he's going to work out just fine.  However, I'm tired, and rather unfocused and mostly want to go lay down and read the second half of Jim Butcher's Ghost Story before I call it a night (I lucked out and found it for sale yesterday at the grocery store of all places, a day ahead of street date).

So, I'm going to be a little lazy tonight.  Adamant Entertainment (the terrific folks behind ICONS) have a contest going at the moment.  Stat up Captain America in ICONS terms, post it on a forum or blog, and let them know about it.  The winner (to be chosen Friday) receives a Kindle.  As someone who's been published by Adamant, I don't consider myself eligible for the contest, but I couldn't help taking a crack at my favorite Star-Spangled Avenger all the same, if only to promote it.  So c'mon True Believers! Face front, and stat up the Cap!
Mike Zeck is my hands-down, bar none, favorite Cap Artist
Captain America
Steve Rogers

Prowess  8
Coordination  7
Strength  5
Intellect  4
Awareness  7
Willpower  4

Stamina  9
Determination  2

  Martial Arts Master
  Military Expert
  Leadership Master
  Weapons Master (Throwing)
  Wrestling Expert
  Art (Drawing)

  Invulnerability Device 6  - Shield
  Blast 5 (Blasting) - Thrown Shield

  Connections : The Avengers, SHIELD
  A Soldier With A Voice That Could Command A God.  And Does.
  Motivation : The American Dream
  "No. You move."
  The Living Legend

  Enemy : The Red Skull
  Social : Idealist
  Enemy : Baron Zemo
  Guilt-Ridden Over Bucky

NOTE:  Cap has more determination than he should.  This is due to his experience and the simple fact that he's Captain America.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Essential Elements

Yesterday's post got me thinking about the things I see as being necessary to a good superheroic setting.  Obviously, the specifics will change depending on the tone of the campaign and the stories I'm trying to tell, but I think there are some hard and fast elements that need to be in place for the setting to work.

A Clear Niche For The Heroes:  Somewhere out there, I'm sure there are gamers who enjoy the thought of a superhero team getting together in a rundown apartment around a card table, scrabble for bus fare to get to the scene of the crime, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps from obscurity to World's Finest.  That having been said, I've never met them.  Frankly, I don't think I want to.  That's just not my style.  Likewise, I don't like it when a campaign already has a Justice League or Avengers equivalent and the PCs are going to be the other team in town.  From day one, I want the PCs to be the focus of the campaign, and it doesn't do to have them overshadowed by another group of heroes.  I'm not saying there shouldn't be other superhero teams out there, just that their focus, power level, or geographic location should be such that the PCs aren't rendered second fiddles by the mere existence of a group of NPCs.

A Safe Place:  Typically, this is the team headquarters.  Depending on the setting and campaign style, it can be anything from a secret school for superpowered kids to the disembodied head of a space god floating on the edge of creation.  Regardless, it should be a place where the characters can take a breath.  The Safe Place is by no means sacrosanct: one of the most powerful stories a GM can use is to have the base invaded or taken over by bad guys, but it shouldn't be subject to a full-time siege and it shouldn't be taken away from the PCs without deep and long-lasting story ramifications.

The Pros From Dover:  These are a resource the PCs can access, typically via NPC relationships or favors.  Depending on the needs of the campaign, they may be an independent high-tech laboratory or a cabal of ancient wizards.  Most campaign settings can use more than one such group, so that the PCs have plenty of resources available.  Whatever their focus, the Pros From Dover should never usurp the PCs.  They exist to provide clues, analyze alien wreckage, translate lost scrolls, and have their reality-threatening experiments stolen by the bad guys.  Used properly, they can advance a story or be the impetus for an entire campaign arc.  Just don't let them overshadow the heroes.

A Villainous Eco-System:  Crime doesn't occur in a vacuum.  There are whys and wherefores, and the criminal world is very much a predatory ecosystem.  The weak end up subservient to the strong, and the strong battle over lucrative territories and resources.  And so it should be for the world of supervillainy.  There's a limit to the number of prospective world-beaters a campaign setting can sustain.  I can't point to a hard and fast number, but I know it by feel.  Ideally, a campaign setting should have a handful of "Apex Predators," with successively more villains filling out the lesser tiers, along with specialists and oddities off in their own little evolutionary dead-ends.  The same is true with criminal organizations: it's OK to have a couple of different sets of guys running around in green uniforms with blasters, just as long as each group has its own particular niche in the supercriminal ecosystem.  If there are two that are very close in focus and purpose, then they're as likely to come into conflict with one another for dominance as they are to run afoul of the PCs.  Unless this is an intentional plot element, the focus of the campaign should be on the heroes, not the background details.

The Support Staff:  Typically, this isn't the butler, though that's certainly a viable character for this pool of NPCs.  These should be the regular guest stars.  Generally speaking, I prefer to keep these characters firmly in the normal range.  In Champions some of them would be DNPCs, but others would be contacts, friends, or just interesting characters.  Many years ago, HERO published a book for Champions called Normals Unbound.  It consisted of nothing but normal (or near-normal) NPCs with back-stories appropriate for a superheroic setting.  Better yet, many of them had connections to other NPCs in the book, allowing a GM to populate the setting with a real sense of place.

In-Setting Mysteries:  I mentioned this in my previous post.  One of the things I love about comics is the sense of discovery, the feeling of seeing something new and wonderful.  Unfortunately, this is almost always where published superhero settings fall down on the job, because by their very nature, they have to define the setting (often to the Nth degree) lest the buying public feel they were somehow short-changed.  A variation on this actually ties into #1 above, when all of the really cool stuff about the world and the awesome storylines are all part of the background history.  My bible for superhero gaming is Aaron Allston's Strikeforce supplement for Champions.  It's a fantastic guide on how to run a campaign.  But the Strike Force setting, as described in the book drives me nuts.  Why?  Because at the time it was written, virtually all of the major plotlines in the setting, plotlines that had generated years of gaming for Aaron and his crew, were resolve and tied up in a neat little bundle.  By the same token, all of the cool hidden elements in the Champions Universe and the World of Freedom City were discovered decades ago by NPCs.  To combat this, if I use a canned setting, I inevitably play with the timeline so that cool things like the Blue Area of the Moon remain hidden until the PCs trip over them (unless they're outside the scope of the campaign, in which case I probably ignore them completely).

I'll probably supplement this list at a later date, but these are the big pieces that came to mind.  What do you consider important/essential in your settings (superheroic or otherwise)?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Silent Witness

While I like many styles of superhero comics, I must confess a particular soft spot for big cosmic adventures.  Among the few comics I remember reading in my youth were a Fantastic Four treasury that reprinted the Galactus trilogy and some old issues of "Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes" my grandmother had picked up in a thrift store. The first comic I bought when I got into superhero games was a digest-sized treasury of some of the Legion's best stories.

Today's character fits in well with cosmic themes.  I feel it's a GMs job to populate the world with more than just a bunch of bad guys for the heroes to fight.  There should be interesting NPCs to interact with, but also genuine mysteries to unravel and strange vistas to explore.  And sometimes, even the GM shouldn't be sure of what's going on.  After all, just because it's my world doesn't mean I have all the answers.

The Witness
Real Name: Unknown

Prowess  4
Coordination  4
Strength  7
Intellect  4
Awareness  6
Willpower  4

Stamina  11
Determination  2

  Power Expert (ESP)

  Teleportation 9
  ESP 5 (Sight and Hearing)

  Motivation : To Bear Witness
  Epithet : The Silent Witness

  Personal : Will Not Take Sides
  Social : Unearthly Bearing

From the dawn of the superheroic age, she's been there.  A silent solitary figure, seemingly crafted of gold and iron, observing, witnessing the great events of superhumanity.  None knows from whence she came, or who her vigils serve.  Some claim she is a harbinger of Earth-shattering events, as she always seems to arrive on the scene at just the right time.  Others believe she is an agent of the Motive Force, that these great crises are somehow predicated on her arrival.  None knows for certain, but all know that when one called The Witness appears, the situation is grave indeed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Change-Up And A Reminiscence

I'm having a blast coming up with ICONS characters, but I know that some of the joy I'm getting from it is the feeling of nostalgia the process inspires in me.  The first superhero game I really played was Villains & Vigilantes.  I'd actually tried Superhero 2044, but as many have noted in the past, there's not much in the way of an actual game in that slim volume, so it was tried and discarded rather quickly.  V&V on the other hand, was one of those watershed moments in the life of this particular geek.

It was December, 1981.  I'd just finished my first semester of college, squandering most of it by playing way too much Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer.  I'd never been much of a comics reader.  I'd bought a few superhero comics with my allowance when I was younger, but I managed to get through my early teens without that particular mania.  No, my obsession was fantasy gaming and fantasy fiction, not silly people with capes and tights.

Anyway, school was done for the semester and my friend Michael and I went to a traveling exhibit of medieval arms and armour from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Apart from geeking out over some of the finest examples of medieval ironmongery, I'd hoped to run into the SCA, as I'd been trying to track them down for quite some time.  That particular obsession would have to wait a few more years, as we couldn't stick around for their demonstration.  However, on the way home, Mike asked if I'd mind a brief side trip: he'd recently discovered a store that sold comic books; he'd gotten into a couple of titles ("Arion, Lord of Atlantis" is the only one I remember) and wanted to pick up some more.  He casually mentioned they sold RPGs, knowing that would get me to agree.

The shop was ComicQuest.  They were one of the first specialty comics stores in San Antonio.  They were a little shop in a strip mall, crammed with comics, magazines, and yes, gaming stuff.  And right up front was a copy of Villains & Vigilantes (2nd edition, the one pictured above).  I don't know why I picked it up.  I suspect it had a lot to do with the back cover, which just made the whole game look like loads of fun.  Whatever the reason, I bought it.

Two days later, I was back at ComicQuest, buying comics.  The game was awesome and totally captured my imagination, but I had no idea how comic book stories worked. My character ideas were all stupid.  In short, I was at a loss to run this game, so I turned to the source material to figure it out.  That was nearly thirty years ago.  I've never stopped buying and reading comics and I've never stopped playing supers games.

The following summer, I went to my first comics convention, the Houston Comics Fair (it was also one of my first road trips, traveling with the guys from ComicQuest and working their table in exchange for my badge).  The Comics Fair was an amazing show at the time.  It was held the weekend before San Diego Con, so a lot of folks in the industry used it as a warm-up, or a waypoint as they traveled west.  Having a dealer's badge meant I had pretty much unfettered access to the whole show, including the after hours party rooms.  Pretty cool stuff.  But the really standout moment was running into Jack Herman and Jeff Dee, the guys who'd written and illustrated V&V.  Jeff was trying to break into comics, and Jack was basically just hanging out.  They were about my age, and Jack and I spent most of the weekend blathering about comics and games and games and comics.  Good times.

I think I spent the next two weeks of summer vacation holed up in my room rolling up random V&V characters.  I've still got some of them filed away, but they're mostly pretty lousy concepts.  Still, without those memories, my current run of ICONS contributions probably would have lost steam.  To celebrate the game that got me into superheroes, here's a V&V character I just made up this afternoon and named after my best friend in high school.

Name: Bobby Warren
Identity: Bouncer
Side: Good
Sex: Male
Age: 22
Weight: 160 lbs
Level: 1
Experience: 0
Training: Agility

Body Power: Leaping 648" (3,240 feet)
Heightened Strength B (+18)
Heightened Endurance A (+14)

Strength 24
Endurance 27
Agility 12
Intelligence 11
Charisma 14

Basic Hits 4
Hit Mod: 8.84
Hit Points 36
Power 74

Carrying Capacity: 1,322 lbs
Base HtH Damage: 1d10
Healing Rate 3.2
Accuracy Modifier +1
Damage Modifier +1
Detect Hidden 8%
Detect Danger 12%
Reaction From Good/Evil: +1/-1
Movement Rates: 63" Ground, 648" Leaping
Inventing Points: 1.1
Inventing: 33%

Origin and Background:  Bobby Warren discovered his mutant powers on the eve of his fifteenth birthday when training privately for a track meet.  His attempt to beat his personal best at the long jump ended up beating the world record by over half a mile.  Better yet, he was completely unharmed by the landing.  Realizing he had no future as an athlete, he decided to use his powers for good as Bouncer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Horror of Horrors

Three weeks ago, I was wondering why I still had this here blog thing, especially given my lack of motivation and inability to focus on a single topic for anything resembling a useful time period. 

Two weeks ago wrote up my first ICONS character for it on a whim.

Since then, I've managed to post something daily.  With one or two exceptions, it's been a new ICONS character.  I think this is what they call momentum.  It's a pretty good feeling, all in all.  If nothing else, it's been therapeutic during a rather rough stint at work.

Here's another character.  Let me know what you think about my approach to his origin.


Prowess  5
Coordination  3
Strength  4
Intellect  5
Awareness  4
Willpower  4

Stamina  8
Determination  *

  Occult Master

  Paralysis 7
    Close Range
  Emotion Control 7 (Fear)

  Fear Itself
  Minion of Hell

  Plays With His Victims
  Cannot Abide Sanctified Ground

Point Total  42


(From ICONOGRAPHY: An Illustrated History of ICONS Comics)

The Fearmonger (or as he was labeled in his first appearance "Fear-Monger") got his start as a throwaway villain in the pages of Peerless Adventure Tales (1943), providing a threat for the six page backup story featuring Fearless Farraday, "The World's Bravest Man."  The Farraday stories were humorous adventures featuring a clueless everyman whose schtick revolved around him being so unaware of the danger around him that he seemed to be afraid of nothing.  In this particular story, Fear-Monger appears without much in the way of an introduction.  The reader is told he is a devil from the pit, a friend of Old Scratch.  He immediately sets to work, frightening the good people of the unnamed city Farraday calls home.  Of course, our hero blunders into him.  Through a series of misadventures, he manages to frustrate Fear-Monger's attempts to frighten him at every turn.  Finally, the demon throws a tantrum and vanishes in a puff of flame, releasing the citizens, who declare Fearless Farraday a hero once more.  Vanquished, Fear-Monger was consigned to the dustbin, like so many other Golden Age villains.

Until 1996.  ICONS comics had recently introduced The Revenant, who rapidly developed a strong fan following. To leverage his popularity, the editors launched a massive crossover event called "Fright Night."  The story, which affected all ICONS comics, took place over the course of a single night, wherein a mysterious master villain (later revealed to be Lord Kisin) brought forth many "Lost Souls," in actuality, long-forgotten magical villains from the ICONS back catalog who were revived in the series and set loose upon the world.  One such recipient of this remake was the now renamed Fearmonger.  Gone was his generic devilish look, replaced by a more reptilian cast to his features and bat wings.  His background and motivations were also fleshed out, revealing him to be G'rarsht, a demon devoted to the creation of fear.  He battled both the Revenant and The Hanged Man in the original "Fright Night" event and proved so popular that he became a recurring member of the former's rogues gallery.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Deadliest Man Alive!

Yeah, this one's a little silly, but random chance gave me a competent, but completely unpowered character to work with, and I decided my Blogger avatar needed some love.

The Count
Raphael Dante

Prowess  4
Coordination  4
Strength  6
Intellect  4
Awareness  6
Willpower  4

Stamina  10
Determination  6

  Martial Arts Expert
  Area - Chinatown


  Epithet : Master of Dan-Te!
  Connections : The Black Dragon Fighting Society
  Identity : Count Raphael Dante

  Enemy : Green Dragon Society
  Social : Shameless Self-Promoter

Point Total  33

(Lifted entirely from here.  Because it's a totally awesome mix of fact and fantasy that completely does justice to the man.)

During the Spanish Civil War, the noble family of Count Dante fled the country for America, where they changed their name to forget about their homeland and escape any retribution. While he never knew Spain, the Count eventually decided to reclaim his name and his roots when his father died and he inherited the ancestral title.

The Count was an early member of the first American karate associations in the 1950s, and was a black belt by 1960, at which point he became a sensei of his own and helped found the World Karate Federation. To maintain a stable income, he continued to work as a hairdresser ; as his dojo started picking up students, he gradually stopped, though he continued working for his most famous customer - Hugh Hefner, who regularly hired him to do the hair of Playmates before they posed for Playboy Magazines. The suave, manly, confident Dante would often date the girls Hefner sent him.

Count Dante also ran a semi-successful import/export business, but it was mostly a way to pay for his extende trips in India, China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan. Though he was originally trained in Okinawan Karate, during his trips the Count became a black belt in Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Kung Fu, Tai Chi Chuan, Shaolin Boxing, Kempo, Karate, Yawara, Boxing and Wrestling.

In the martial arts world, Count Dante was a rebel. He accepted non- white students in his dojo and among his Black Dragon Fighting Society, which he created to develop and promote his martial arts, the dreaded Dance Of Death - or Dan-Te, the Hand of Death. The Count virulently denounced other sensei for watering down martial arts when teaching them to white students, and was a strong proponent and great effectiveness in street fighting ; many said he had a morbid fascination with the deadliest and goriest techniques. This was several years before Bruce Lee made similar claims about the way Asian martial arts were taught in the West.

By that time, Count Dante was the undefeated Supreme Grand Master of the fighting arts. Count Dante had won the the World Overall Fighting Arts Championship (Master & Expert Divisions) after defeating the world's top masters of judo, boxing, wrestling, kung-fu, karate, aikido, etc. in death matches. On Aug. 1, 1967, the World Federation of Fighting Arts crowned the Count 'The world's deadliest fighting arts champion and master'.

In 1970, the Count (reportedly stinking drunk) went to the house of Muhamad Ali to shout obscenities and challenges ; what happened next is unknown.

In 1973, the Deadliest Man Alive passed audition to become a Hollywood action star, but his blows were so fast that the camera could not film them. He eventually gave up, though several stuntmen and martial artists ended up in the hospital because the Count refused to pull his blows.

In 1975. a rivalry known as the Dojo War erupted between the Black Dragon Fighting Society. Count Dante and his students eventually came to the rival dojo -- the Green Dragon Fighting Society -- for a showdown. The violence ended after the Count was arrested by the police after, while drunk, detonating dynamite he had stuck along the wall of the rival dojo ; during the fight he also gouged out the eyes of several men.

There is a persistent rumor that, in exchange for dropping his prison time, Count Dante was sent to Spain by the CIA, when the Agency decided that General Franco had outlived his usefulness. The Deadliest Man Alive secretly hit the dictator with the dreaded Dim Mak delayed death touch, and his targets died several days later. triggering a revolution.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heroes Of The New Wave: "The Terrible Mister Tolhurst!"

So, the other day I mentioned that I got a lot of mileage out of "Heroes of the New Wave," a game idea Gareth Skarka was working on years before he acquired the Buckaroo Banzai license.  The basic notion, 80s Neo-Pulp was too good to pass up, and while his game didn't make it to publication, that didn't stop me from picking up the concept and running with it (with his blessings).

I initially wrote a one-shot and planned to use a stripped-down version of the HERO System for a Texas RPGnet gathering. Unfortunately, we didn't have as much of a turnout (or space) as we'd hoped, so the game got shelved.  Nonetheless, I'd done a fair bit of work on it, so when I decided to GM something at Owlcon a couple of years later, it was a natural.

But the system had to go.  The previous year, I'd played a bunch of HERO sessions at the con and saw that it could get kind of bogged down, especially with players who were new to the system.  I needed something rules-light, fast, and cinematic.  Something like Feng Shui.  I spent a few numbers playing around with character archetypes, toned down the kung fu in favor of fisticuffs and gunplay, and turned it loose on the 80s.

This was the result:

The premise is fairly simple.  The game takes place in that long-ago time called "The Eighties," when rock star scientists in skinny ties fought the forces of Evil and the music video was mankind's highest artistic achievement.  Basically, "Buckaroo Banzai" meets every Duran Duran video ever made.

The Heroes

Most of the PCs are members of the up and coming New Wave Band, Arms Akimbo.  Of course, there's more to them than just being members of a band.  They're also secret agents in the Hidden Agenda, a shadow war fought beneath the headlines and behind the music.  Working for CURE, an organization headed by the mysterious Mr. Smith, they stand on the front lines between good and evil.

Arms Akimbo are:

Simon: Archaeologist.  Rock star.  International jet-setter.  Covert operative in a secret war for the fate of the world.  How can someone be all of those things, AND gorgeous, and maintain such a down-to-earth approach to life?  Don’t ask Simon, he doesn’t have a clue.  On the other hand, he can tell you where to get the most exquisite curry in Bangladesh, or keep you on pins and needles for hours explaining how he recovered the lost scrolls of Wang Chung.

Billy:  A wise man once said, “Violence is the first recourse of the violent.”  That largely sums up Billy.  He stumbled quite accidentally upon the Hidden Agenda when his first band, Sod-Off Baldrick, ran afoul of the Violence Gang, a crew of English football hooligans who’d been mutated into hideous creatures.  Proving himself useful in that fight, Billy has seen a lot of odd things in this crazy old world, but nothing he hasn’t been able to put an end to with a cricket bat or a shotgun. 

Whirly-Girl:  If it flies, she can fly it.  If it’s got six strings, she can play it.  Whirly-Girl is ten feet of “can-do” attitude in a five foot package.  She’s also handy with a wrench and knows her way around a gun. 

Professor D:  One of the world’s top scientific brains and one of CURE’s most prized weapons in the Hidden Agenda.  The Professor came from humble beginnings, but his dizzying intellect soon catapulted him to the international stage.  Developer of the Digital Extrapolative Virtual Operation, his work allowed the Smart Patrol to work safely in the cryptic computer world of the UnderNet.  With his “Scientific Muse,” the world-renowned supermodel Europa, at his side, he also plays a mean synthesizer. 

J. S. Ulasiewicz, aka "Johnny Slash":  Much like Billy, Johnny stumbled into the Hidden Agenda.  In his case, quite literally, when he fell down a manhole and found the Transcontinental Subway.  Riding the underground at random for a few months eventually found him at a CURE broadcast center, where he proceeded to bombard the greater Sheboygan, Wisconsin area with a steady stream of self-recorded music featuring his band, Open 24 Hours.

Smith recruited him on the spot.

Following them on tour is:

Melody Maker:  The New-Wave Newshound.  Spunky ace reporter for “Video Limelight News” (and its broadcast companion, VNN). “Star” Maker is relentless in her coverage of all things musical and stylish.  When she showed up on Smith’s doorstep demanding an interview about something called the Hidden Agenda, she had him over a barrel.  Cooperate by giving unfettered access to his hottest bands (and agents) and she wouldn’t blow the lid off the story.  Now she’s following Arms Akimbo on their nation-wide tour, ostensibly to cover the band, but really to get more information about this mysterious CURE.

So that's the PCs.  Here's the story:

Arms Akimbo are playing Heebie Jeebies and the place is rockin'.  Or it was, anyway, until the Wild Boys crashed the party.  New Wave-hating punks, they're terrorizing the crowd and trying to rush the stage.  Needless to say, our heroes don't appreciate the interruption and make it clear with fists, boots, guitars, and drumsticks.

During the fracas, Professor D. receives a transmission on his pager (a rather clunky box, but a pager nonetheless).  The camera lingers on the red LED display that reads, "BREAK-IN."  The transmission can only come from the Professor's experimental AI, Miss Sakamoto.  Clearly, his lab is in danger!

Making short work of the remaining Wild Boys, the band (and the ever-present Melody) take to the Tour Bus, Whirly-Girl's signature vehicle, an odd hybrid between a Winnebago and a VTOL aircraft and fly to the scene of the break-in.

While in transit, they receive a transmission from Smith:  Tolhurst has escaped custody and is doubtlessly going to make a try for the Anything Box.  They must stop him from putting it to use, or all mankind will be living in oblivion.

In the Neo-Pulp 80s, scientists dated supermodels.
Upon arrival, it's clear the worst has happened.  Miss Sakamoto is off-line, the Anything Box is missing from the Professor's lab, and worst of all, Europa (the Professor's supermodel girlfriend, his Scientific Muse, if you will) is missing!  Clearly, whoever took the box has kidnapped her as well!

The ensuing investigation reveals a couple of items.  First, Miss Sakamoto was taken off-line by some sort of EMP device.  After a short period, she comes back up and can play back partial security footage.  Clearly the assailants were Skyrates (rhymes with Pirates), a scurrilous crew of airborne mercenaries who strike from their hidden base.  Locating them is problematic.  They seem to use some form of stealth technology and no one really knows where to look for them.  However, some spent shell casings reveal another clue.  They're unique to the very unusual Sigue Sigue Sputnik LMF111 automatic rifle.  There's only one arms merchant that deals in such weapons, the enigmatic J. Division, an emigre from Warsaw.  She's known to hang out at Sprockets, a music venue about two hours away.  To the Tour Bus!

J Division. Arms Merchant
The heroes arrive at Sprockets, a glowing pyramid full of people in black swaying to odd, experimental electronic music.  J. Division is holding court at her usual balcony table.  While the band is terribly out of place here, Melody Maker uses her journalism schtick to ingratiate herself to the beautiful death merchant.  Still, there is such a thing as professional confidentiality and while Ms Division certainly understands "hidden agendas," there are some things one just doesn't talk about.

At that moment, all hell breaks loose.  A flash-bang grenade goes off on the sway floor below, stunning the crowd and even affecting the band.  The sound of breaking glass signals the arrival of a strange figure on a zipline, a man in an oversized white suit wielding two machine pistols.  It's the Psycho-Killer, one of the world's most notorious assassins.  Before our heroes can react, he sprays J. Division's balcony, severely wounding her.  The band manages to put up enough unexpected resistance to drive him off, but not before he's ruined everybody's time.  Ms Division will pull through, though she's barely conscious.  With her last bit of strength, she whispers to the Professor, "Look in the Wastes.  The Skyrates deal with the Renegades.  They're out there...somewhere..."

Once again, air travel is called for.  This time, it's a much more eventful trip.  A transmission breaks into their supposedly secure frequency, "Whirly-Girl, Whirly-Girl, come out and play!" as tracer fire fills the night sky. It's the Skyrates!  A squadron of Stingers, their ultra-fast ultralights is swarming around the Tour Bus.  The heroes take to the gun turrets (of course the bus is armed).  Several Stingers are shot down, but not before one can hit the bus with an EMP missile that shuts down all electronics.  With the help of Billy's muscle, Whirly-Girl manages to bring it in for a dead stick landing without serious harm.

On the plus side, it looks like the same sort of EMP that shut down Miss Sakamoto, so it should wear off.  On the minus side, there are several bullet holes in the fuel tank.  They're easy to patch, but our heroes are going to need fuel, and a lot of it, to get airborne.  If the Renegades were handy, maybe they could barter for gas and information.

Queen Cyn (Like it would be anyone else)
Oh wait, of course the Renegades are here.  Colorful half-civilized nomads who live a lifestyle based on wrestling, motorcycles and dune-buggies, they send their pirate TV broadcasts of the Renegade 'Rasslin Federation around the globe.  And much like the Sioux Nation at Little Big Horn, they have Arms Akimbo surrounded.  The mass of leather-clad savages parts as the "chariot" (a wagon drawn by four motorcycles) of their leader, Queen Cyn arrives on the scene.

Once again, Melody Maker is spot on the scene, reminding Queen Cyn of that time she interviewed her for Video Limelight News.   After a bit of hemming and hawing, Queen Cyn agrees to provide gas and information if Arms Akimbo will take part in a battle of the bands!

The heroes are carted down to The Turbo-Cage, a massive structure of scrap metal and flames, where they face off against the Waste Warriors.  Professor D manages to rig the perimeter to shock anyone who touches it, and his bandmates maneuver them into it.  (Rules-wise, I largely winged this, letting the players describe over-the-top stunts, until it seemed an appropriate time to declare them the victors.)

True to her word, Queen Cyn gives a general location of the Skyrate base.  It's a flying carrier, but it's stealthed.  Fortunately, there are several crashed Stingers near the Bus, and the Professor is able to figure out their stealth technology, adapting it to cover their approach and reveal the Sky-Carrier's location.

En route, they receive another message from Smith.  Strange things are happening throughout the Earth. It's still on a small scale, but Tolhurst is clearly experimenting with the Anything Box. Time is of the essence.

The Pirate Twins!
And thus they proceed to the climax of the tale.  The Skyrate carrier, a massive flying wing crossed with three zeppelins, looms before them.  Undetected, Whirly-Girl crashes the Bus directly through the large windows of the command deck.  Facing them are the Pirate Twins, the leaders of the Skyrates, and a couple dozen minions.  Behind them, on a dais, stands Tolhurst. In his hand, he holds the Anything Box.  At his side...

It's EUROPA!  Indeed, it appears she's changed sides.  Surely it's some form of brainwashing!

All hell breaks loose.  Simon attempts to use his command of strange rituals to counter the Anything Box (he believes it to be a mystic artifact).  Meanwhile, Professor D manages a one in a million leap to clear the Skyrate rabble and run to the dais.  The Pirate Twins unsheathe their cutlasses and lead an attack, in order to give Tolhurst time. Europa merely sneers at the Professor.  He's spent too much time failing to unlock the Anything Box when Tolhurst knew its secrets all along.  Clearly, his mind is vastly superior to the Professor's.

The Terrible Mr. Tolhurst

The Professor uses his SCIENCE! schtick to pull out the device he's been working on for the past two years -- an anti-Anything Box device.  (Yes, it was a cheap gimmick and it was a clear case of the player trying to short-circuit the plot with a rules loophole, but I rolled with it, and described the device as combining forces with Simon's counter-rituals in a heretofore unseen manner.)

Despite their efforts, something untoward occurs.  A rift of some sort opens over the dais.  Awestruck, Tolhurst has the classic "It's beautiful!" moment, only to shriek horribly as an enormous creature, a spider with a human head emerges from the rift and immediately devours him.  The Pirate Twins immediately call off their assault on our heroes and turn their attentions to fighting off this enormous Spider Man.  Bullets prove only marginally effective and it coats a shrieking Europa in vile webbing. Suddenly struck with whatever passes for inspiration in his addled mind, Johnny Slash picks up a piece of shattered window and flings it across the room at the Spider Man, resulting in a truly magnificent shot (the player put a Fortune Point into the attack, which then managed to generate a freakin' +37 bonus to his attack roll) which miraculously sails across the length of the bridge, embedding itself in the Spider Man's head (which now eerily resembles Tolhurst).  The monster falls back through the rift and fades from this reality as the hole in space/time collapses on itself.

A brief exchange with the Pirate Twins tells Whirly-Girl it's time to back the bus up and get the hell out of Dodge.  They'll let her go this time, but they still want her: dead or alive.

Cut to the inevitable final shot of our heroes looking heroic with a caption reading, "The Heroes of the New Wave Will Return, in 'Nobody Walks In LA'."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update Called On Account Of Very Bad Evening

Involving a dead car battery, my wife's car getting rear-ended, and a knee injury.  All of which also kept me from playing Pathfinder tonight.

Monday, July 18, 2011

He Lives To Burn It All Down


Prowess  5
Coordination  4
Strength  4
Intellect  5
Awareness  5
Willpower  6

Stamina  10
Determination  *

  Power (Blast)

  Blast 5 (Blasting)
  Fast Attack 7

  Catchphrase : BURN!
  Motivation : Cleanse It All With Fire!


  Social : Pyromaniac
  Enemy : Fedora Noir
  Weakness : Water

Point Total  44

Jethro Dumont was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  The scion of one of Meridian's richest families, he had the best of everything from birth, just like the story books.  And if the storybooks are to be believed, his great tragedy is that he only wanted for his parents' love and attention, but honestly, he had that too. Unlike the inevitable stories, Jethro didn't grow up to be a spoiled brat who squandered his opportunities.  No, he was an earnest young man who worked hard to become one of the most promising architects in the country.

No, the tragedy of Jethro Dumont's life, if anything, was that he was born and raised in the Deco City. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and in Jethro Dumont's case, his contempt was directed at the city itself.  Not its people, its look.  He hated Art Deco.  He hated old-fashioned buildings.  He hated everything about the city's obsession with looking backwards.  He hated that there were no suburbs, no modern buildings, no efficiency.

Kept in Meridian by his family ties, he strained at the limitations put on him by his clients, becoming more and more frustrated with each passing week.  In retrospect, he should have just left town, and he probably would have, if not for the accident.

He'd gone out on the town with his fiancee, Julia Whitmore (the mayor's daughter) to a premiere at the Bowin Opera Hall.  Sitting in the hall, all he could focus on were the inferior acoustics and the extraneous design elements.  If only they would let him rebuild the inside of this hall with modern materials, the hoi polloi would finally know how an opera should sound.

Sadly, in some respects, he was right.  The Bowin was outdated, especially its wiring and and fire control equipment.  When the fire broke out over the stage at the end of the third act, the place went up like a tinderbox.  Thousands panicked, hundreds died.  It was the greatest single tragedy in Meridian's history.

Jethro Dumont was one of the survivors.  When the flames fell on him, he burned, but he didn't burn.  In a moment, Jethro changed forever.  When the firefighters reached him, they found him dancing amongst the wreckage, laughing madly, and shooting flames from his fingertips.

Initially, the authorities thought he'd started the blaze.  He was certainly mad, and raved about burning things down.  Eventually, the true source of the fire was figured out, and the Dumont family connections allowed him to be quietly committed.  Unfortunately, the security at the sanitarium was not nearly up to the task of holding him and he escaped within a week.  His new mission in life: burn Meridian to the ground!

So, Today, This Happened

Coming next spring from Adamant Entertainment.  Suffice to say, I'm pretty pumped up about this.  About ten years ago, Gareth posted a few ideas for a game called "Heroes of the New Wave," which was basically Buckaroo Banzai with the serial numbers filed off.  He never developed it to fruition, but that didn't stop me from taking the basic idea, re-skinning Feng Shui (and later Hollow Earth Expedition) to turn out three very memorable convention one-shots.

Of course, the one advantage the Dedicated Amateur GM has over any publisher is unfettered access to all of history and pop-culture media.  As a result, my Neo-Pulp 80s (Gareth's term, not mine), was a far crazier kitchen sink of pop culture wonders than the Banzai-verse.

It occurs to me that my write-ups of those games pre-date my gaming blogs by a few years.  Maybe I ought to dust them off and post 'em here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gone To The Dogs

Anyone who's been following this blog for any amount of time knows I read comics. Lots of comics.  In the past 30 years, I've pretty much read every sort of superhero comic that's seen publication: goofy, gritty, deconstructive, reconstructive, you name it.  I don't automatically love or hate any particular era of comics history: there were a lot of terrible Golden and Silver Age comics, and some truly brilliant examples of the genre in the so-called Iron Age.

What appeals to me the most is something that Alan Moore called "Mad, Beautiful Ideas."  The essential crazy things that can only exist and flourish in the world of the comic-book superhero.  This guy here, mentioned in my previous character's history, is one of my contributions to that particular element.
Not quite accurate, but I can't draw a 3-headed dog.

Dr. Cereberus


Prowess  2
Coordination  3
Strength  2
Intellect  10
Awareness  6
Willpower  6

Stamina  8
Determination  2

  SCIENCE! Master
  Medicine Master
  Languages Master

  Telekinesis 5
  Mind Shield 6
  Telepathy 6

  The Science Dog, The Canine Einstein
  Connections : EUREKA
  Motivation : Mankind's Best Friend
  Catchphrase : "Back off human, I'm a SCIENTIST!"

  Social : Dog (albeit a world-reknowned one)
  Enemy : HADES
  Weakness : No manipulative limbs; must use TK or technology to compensate.

Point Total  55

If he had a normal puppy-hood, Dr. Cereberus doesn't remember it.  Bred and mutated by HADES to be a symbolic weapon, he was found in the wreckage of a laboratory destroyed by the Olympians.  Rescued by Dr. Archimedes, the pup found himself in the hands of heroes instead of evil-doers, a fact that had everything to do with his growing up to be Man's Best Friend.  After a few weeks with the Olympians, Cereberus (as he was called at the time) developed the ability to speak. In fact, each of his heads developed its own voice and personality.  All, however, were brilliant. By the time he was five, Cereberus was now Dr. Cereberus, as each head earned its own Ph.D.  Never suited to superheroics, he devoted himself to all forms of scientific endeavor, seeking to better the world for mankind at every turn.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Interruption Continued

Still in Dallas. Today's my birthday, and my wife was up here for all day SCA meetings (she's a major kingdom officer, a big deal with responsibilities and stuff). The Boy and I went to a really great comics store and I picked up the first collection of the new D&D comic. If you're not reading it, you should be. John Rogers (creator of "Leverage" and "Jackie Chan Adventures") writes it and the book is pure joy.

Interestingly enough, in their trade paperbacks section, the shop had an old West End Games Star Wars adventure collection in with the graphic novels (the store isn't a game shop, so it was kind of odd). I'm a sucker for WEG Star Wars, so I grabbed it as well.

Tomorrow, we drive back to Houstopolis, so I hope to get back on track with the ICONS stuff.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Brief Interruption

I'm in Dallas for the weekend and worn out from the drive and the heat. Hopefully, I can have something new tomorrow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rant Over, Back To Supers

It certainly felt good to get that last post off my chest.  It's also nice to know I'm not the only one who feels that way.  Here's another superhero I rolled up tonight.

Zachary I Peterson

Prowess  3
Coordination  4
Strength  4
Intellect  4
Awareness  7
Willpower  6

Stamina  10
Determination  3

  Electronics Expert
  Martial Arts

  Danger Sense Device 4  - Neural Enhancer
  Super-Speed Device 4  - Neural Enhancer

  Catchphrase : Zip! Zoom! To the Moon!
  Just Try To Surprise Him
  Motivation : To Pay Back Doctor Cereberus

  Enemy : Inferno
  Weakness : Epilepsy
  Bad Luck

Point Total  39

Zachary I Peterson (never Zach and always with the middle initial) suffered from epilepsy since early childhood.  As he aged, the seizures grew in severity until not only his quality of life destroyed but his chances of living to see his twentieth birthday were almost nil.  Desperate, his parents enrolled him in an experimental project at EUREKA under the auspices of Doctor Cereberus, the Science Dog.  in a groundbreaking twenty hour surgery, the Canine Einstein implanted a series of microprocessors along Zachary's nervous system.  When activated via an external control that could be worn on his belt, the seizures vanished completely.

With one small side effect.  Zachary found himself overwhelmed by an influx of sensory data.  He became hyper-aware of his surroundings.  What's more, his body seemed to run at the speed of thought.  He found he could run at speeds up to 60 mph, and that his body rebounded from injury at an incredible rate.

So, of course, he had to become a superhero.  And thus Zip! was born.

ICONS Called on Account of Rant

FATE frustrates me.  On paper, it should be my go-to game for everything.  It's got so many things going for it that are squarely in my wheelhouse.

And yet...

The only FATE implementation (which already sounds pretty soulless) I can really wrap my head around is ICONS, which plenty of FATE adherents will cheerfully point out is merely "FATE-derived," as opposed to being the real McCoy.  Fair enough.

The thing is, I so badly want to like it and it's so often attached to concepts that really appeal to me, so I end up purchasing them and then wondering what on Earth I was thinking.  Again.  Because (again, apart from ICONS) every single FATE book I've encountered is roughly the size of the greater Pearland municipal phone book.  Seriously.  Let's look at my collection and run the numbers:

Spirit of the Century:  400+ pages (there are some ads at the back I'm not counting)
Legends of Anglerre:  384 pages
Starblazer Adventures: 632 pages!
Agents of S.W.I.N.G: 344 pages
Diaspora: 270 pages
The Dresden Files RPG: 402 pages (this is just "Your Story," the rules volume, by the way)
And the latest addition to the pile, Strands of Fate: 471 pages

By comparison, ICONS is only 128 pages.

Now, to be fair, a number of these books contain significant bits of setting material.  Agents of S.W.I.N.G, for instance, provides 40 pages of introductory text before moving into character creation and rules systems, which take up the next 183 pages of the game (Approximately.  One can argue that the equipment and organizations rules fall somewhere between fluff and rules.  Spirit of the Century contains a great essay on running pickup games in a pulp style, but the actual amount of text devoted to the setting is pretty paltry, especially considering how many pages are devoted to rules.  Hell, The Dresden Files "Your Story" book is JUST rules.  There's an entirely separate volume devoted to NPCs and monsters and stuff.

I guess what set me off was that I really want to like FATE, and I'd seen some good buzz about Strands of FATE online.  Folks who had similar problems wrapping their heads around the game said this one fixed a lot of those issues.  Since it was only ten bucks in PDF, I grabbed it.  Without looking at the page count.  That 471 pages?  All rules.  They may be good rules.  Hell, they may be GREAT rules, but I suspect it's going to be a while before I figure that out.  Because none of the above games explains to me why they need to devote so much verbiage to what is allegedly a rules-light story-friendly game system.  I'm certainly not afraid of ponderous rulebooks: one look at my D&D or Hero System shelves will dispel that notion.  But no one pretends either of those games are anything but rules-heavy crunch.  I just don't see why FATE generates or warrants a similar word count.

(For what it's worth, there probably will be a new ICONS character up before the night's out.  But this has been building since Tuesday and I had to let it out.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Super-Adaptation Powers, Activate!

One of the real beauties of the ICONS system is the ease with which one can convert and adapt characters from other games and media.  The loose rules, combined with the Aspects allow for a lot of tailoring and wiggle room that captures the spirit of the characters in broad strokes.

For today, rather than doing another random character, I'm going with an adaptation.  In some respects, an adaptation of an adaptation.  I ran this character briefly in a M&M 3rd Edition game this past spring.  But I actually thought her up a few months earlier.  For the game, she actually came out a lot more powerful than I'd planned due to the vagaries of a point-based system, but in ICONS she comes out pretty solid without having a lot of extraneous stuff.  For M&M, she had a different origin (in fact, her origin took place in the first session) and background.  For this, I've returned her to her original roots.

Immaterial Girl

Prowess  5
Coordination  6
Strength  4
Intellect  4
Awareness  6
Willpower  5

Stamina  9
Determination  5


  Acrobatics Expert
  Martial Arts
  Pilot (Spacecraft)
  Science (Astronomy)
  Stealth Expert

  Phasing 8
    Affect world while phased

  Catchphrase : "You're stuck here in the material world, but I am Immaterial Girl!"
  Motivation : Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, And Kicking Villain Butt IS Fun!
  Identity : Kaylee! (Famous extraterrestrial)

  Social : Stuck In The 80s, Out Of Sync With Current Culture
  Rival: Cosmo-Lass
  Weakness : Strong Magnetic Fields

Point Total  45

My origin?  Ohmygawd, how many times do I have to tell you this story?  I mean, gag me...

Anyway...I was born on San Dimas.  No, not IN San Dimas, that's a city on your world.  I was born ON San Dimas, it's this totally nowhere planet about 35 light years from Earth.  Seriously, it was totally gross.  No decent malls or anything.  The only good thing was that my dad was like this important astronomer guy, so we had this massive satellite dish in our back yard instead of a swimming pool.  Most of the time, the dish picked up noise, but it we pointed it at this one spot in the sky, we got this thing called EmpteeVee, which was from Earth.  And it was like, totally bitchin!  And I was like, "Dad, we need to go there for vacation," and he was all like, "No can do, Princess." (He totally called me princess.)  It was like totally too far and we didn't have the technology to get there.  No fair!

So one day, these gnarly dudes called the Klinzhai showed up.  They were like space bullies and they wanted our lunch money or something.  As if.  But they were like totally buff and had guns and bombs and totally wrecked San Dimas.  One day, I was at my school, trying to explain EmptyVee music to my friends (they totally didn't get it) when a bomb went off.  It destroyed the school and hurt and killed a lot of people, which was pretty sad even though they WERE lame, but get this: I DIDN'T GET HURT AT ALL!  At first, I was like "Ohmygawd! I'm a ghost!" but no, I just had superpowers.  Go me.

Like a week after that, the Teenagers From Outer Space showed up.  They're like this superhero gang from all over the galaxy and they were here to kick Klinzhai butt, and they totally asked me to join them.  Well, except for Cosmo-Lass, but she's totally jealous of my style.  And the best part?  They had a ship that could travel super fast, AND they knew how to get to Earth.  Bitchin'!

Anyway, when we got to Earth, it turned out that like a century had passed since the good Emptyvee was on.  And the stuff they play now?  It's totally not music.  But there's some cool stuff too.  Like lots of supervillain butt to kick.  And that hunky Surfer Dude guy in Westguard.  Do you have his number?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whoo-Hoo Greyhawk!

Bors, my Battle Herald, just took a blaster with two charges left on it off a dead Vegepygmy.  He even figured out how to use it without dying.

"Keep 'em off the Streets"

I promised something quite different today.  I think this guy qualifies.  Just remember, heroes come in many forms, especially when random chance is involved.

The Dogcatcher
Stu Murphy

Prowess  5
Coordination  4
Strength  4
Intellect  3
Awareness  5
Willpower  6

Stamina  10
Determination  *

  Power (Possession)

  Teleportation 3
  Possession 3
  Mind Shield 3

  Motivation : Keep 'Em Off The Streets
  Epithet : Dog's Best Friend
  Catchphrase : "Who's A Good Dog?"

  Bad Luck
  Social : Public Identity

Point Total  38

Not everyone has what it takes to be a world-beater.  But that doesn't mean they can't be a hero.  Take Stu Murphy.  An ordinary, working-class Joe who had a decent job with Meridian's Animal Control Department.  Stu probably could've been a cop, but his heart was set on working with animals.  He was good at his job and developed a reputation as the guy who could handle the diciest situations.

A few years ago, this really got put to the test.  Something went wrong at EUREKA and a horror was let loose on the city.  A mutated dog, bigger than a Great Dane, and absolutely vicious, went on a rampage through Ordway Park.  With helpless bystanders trapped in the Rocket Ship, the Police called the superheroes, who told them to call Animal Control, and Stu was the first man on the scene.  Immediately, he moved to defuse the situation.

"Who's a good dog?  C'mon...who's a good doggie?  Hey buddy...leave those folks alone and come over here.  Want some hamburger?  How about we go for a ride in the car?  C'mon..."

The mutated beast took this in for a moment and approached Stu warily.

"Good boy...that's a good dog."

And then lunged at him, it's teeth tearing through his leather jacket like it was tissue paper.  Stu cried out, then fell over comatose.  The dog snarled and moved in for the kill...

And suddenly stopped, turned, and walked directly to the Animal Control vehicle.  It waited patiently for someone to open the back, then walked in.  As the gate was latched it went berserk again, and Stu returned to consciousness, vanished from where he was lying, and reappeared at a nearby ambulance, spooking the paramedics.

Meridian had just seen the birth of its newest superhuman.

Extensive tests at EUREKA revealed that while Stu's abilities were certainly superhuman, they weren't really powerful enough to make him want to quit his day job.  In fact, the ability to possess a dog or cat (or alligator or rampaging gorilla) made him even better suited for his job.  Stu still clocks in every day and works his shift, just like the other animal control guys.  But you can bet he's the first one they'll call when they have to deal with something weird.

While Stu could probably hold his own against normal people or even low-powered superhumans, his teleportation range is relatively short and his Possession less than a sure thing.  And he's just more comfortable using his powers around animals.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Not A Knockoff, It's An Homage

Let's face it: I've read a lot of funnybooks over the years.  I started collecting and reading them a little less than thirty years ago, and I've never really stopped.  Over that time, I've absorbed a lot of information and influences.  And, let's be honest, the superhero genre is a bad one for feeding off itself.  So it really doesn't surprise me when I come up with a character and then, once I get it all out on paper (or screen), I realize that it's got a lot in common with an existing one.  So, today's villain is less a Black Widow ripoff and more of a Black Widow tribute.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Yelena Abramov

Prowess  8
Coordination  5
Strength  4
Intellect  5
Awareness  4
Willpower  6

Stamina  10
Determination  *


  Power (Paralysis)

  Resistance Device 4 (Physical Damage)
  Paralysis Device 4
    Close Range
  Wall Crawling Device 6

  From the shadows, the Black Scorpion strikes!
  Silent, but deadly!
  Destroy the West

  Enemy : All-American Girl
  Hardcore Communist
  Weakness : Sonics

Point Total  48

For Yelena Abramov, the saddest day of her life was her tenth birthday, the day the Soviet Union collapsed.  The daughter of a GRU general (who took his own life only weeks later), the Party was the only world she'd ever known.  After her father's funeral, Yelena's mother agreed to send her to a private academy run by an old friend of the family, ex-General Dmitri Bukharin.  In his final posting, Bukharin headed a top-secret research group tasked with creating super-soldiers.  Officially, they were disbanded, with a number of their "graduates" forming a group of new-thinking civic minded heroes, but this was merely a cover.  Thanks to an operative with precognitive powers, Bukharin had a clear view of what he saw as disastrous times ahead for Mother Russia: the rise of oligarchs who would oppress the people in the name of Western Capitalism, the horrors of Chechnya, and the eventual rise of his hated rival from the KGB to the highest seat of power.  While not every prediction was 100% accurate, they were close enough to give him cause to come up with countermeasures.

Yelena was trained to be such a countermeasure, an assassin to be used against targets within and without the former Soviet empire. Equipped with high-tech armor that allows her to traverse walls and ceilings and a neural neutralizer that allows her to paralyze nearby targets, her first mission involved rescuing a former Soviet spy who was being held by Chechen "advisors."  After this success, Bukharin decided to deploy her to the West.  Adopting the code name Acrassicauda (the Latin name for the Iraqi Black Scorpion - a deliberate misdirection), Yelena began targeting allies of the decadent capitalists and mobsters, mixed in with US Military targets, to sow confusion as to her actual motives.  In the ensuing years, Acrassicauda has racked up a substantial body-count. Along the way, she's also crossed paths with All-American girl on three occasions.  The Princess of Power thwarted Yelena's missions, but Acrassicauda avoided capture each time.  Given the circles in which she operates, a rematch is almost inevitable.

Note:  Yes, the general who trained her shares a name with the most well-known of Marvel's Crimson Dynamos.  For as long as I've been running superhero games, I've used the names of comic book characters for "mundane" NPCs.  So you might find a scientist named Banner, or a reporter named Kent, but they're not superpowered.  It's just a thing I do.

Tomorrow: something quite different