Saturday, July 7, 2012

Can ICONS Do Gritty?

A sentiment I've seen on occasion is that ICONS is only good for Silver Age-y, bright and shiny superheroics.  I think some of that is due to the artwork in the official products, which is intentionally rather cartoonish.  But the rules themselves are pretty style-agnostic, and cover lethal damage on page 70.  So, really, it's just a matter of perspective and description.  Like anything else in a superhero game, it's a matter of what you want to emphasize.

Which brings us to this charming fellow...

David Armbruster

Prowess  7
Coordination  5
Strength  6
Intellect  5
Awareness  6
Willpower  4

Stamina  10
Determination  2


  Blast Device 4 (Shooting)
  Swinging Device 5
  Invulnerability Device 3

  Catchphrase : "Go Ahead And Run, You'll Just Die Tired."
  Connections : Armbruster Industries
  Connections : Detective Andrew Drake (Maverick Cop)
  Epithet : Scourge of the Streets
  Motivation : Justice

  Enemy : Little Augie Caesar
  Enemy : The Octofather
  Personal : Cruel
  Social : Obsessed

Point Total  47

From birth, David Armbruster was marked for greatness.  His father, Owen Armbruster was a renowned industrialist and philanthropist, but he also subscribed to some unusual notions of child-rearing.  David was raised by a team of specialists, top men and women in their fields.  From an early age, he was put through strenuous physical exercise and training.  His mind was similarly challenged, as were his senses.  In short, David was being raised to achieve the very peak of human potential.  The elder Armbruster did this out of a true sense of public service.  He dreamed that, one day, everyone would benefit from such an regimen and humanity would progress far beyond its current achievements.

As he grew older, David's education included ethics and philosophy, along with the practical skills he would need to one day run his father's company.  In short, he was shaped into a veritable superman.

And then, it all came crashing down.  Owen Armbruster died, cut down by a mobster's bullet in an ill-advised attempt to rob a charity benefit.  For all his education, David lacked the means to cope with the loss of his father.  He became obsessed with justice and with destroying the criminal element in Meridian.  He threw himself harder than ever into his physical training, incorporating martial arts and weapons skills until he became as expert in them as he was in everything else.

Taking up a crossbow (a nod to the Armbruster coat of arms), he donned a costume and stepped into a world of violent retribution.  The criminal underworld would pay for what they took from him. And he won't stop until they're in prison or in the grave.

Can ICONS do gritty?  Hell yes, it can.


  1. DOOM by Misfit Studios and some of the Vigilance Press stuff certainly falls well outside of the Silver Age and/or Animated Series style supers play, if not being out and out gritty, so I would agree that at least some of that sentiment comes from presentation and not actually gameplay.

  2. I'll have to give DOOM a look. I've read the Vigilance Press WWII stuff and agree that it's a very different approach.

    Presentation is a big part of it. But folks also overlook the way Qualities and Complications can add to the grittiness. For instance, Arbalest's "Cruel" complication means he gets determination for being unnecessarily violent.

  3. Why couldn't you go gritty with Icons? I thing the rules lend itself to whatever niche of the genre one desires. The game is more imagination than mechanics. It's open to Frank Miller grittiness to Kirby's cosmic calamities and everything I between

  4. That's more or less my point, bliss. But people still seem to think it can only handle 4-color stuff.

    Fact is, with superhero games, a lot more emphasis is given by the customers on the art style. I saw it before when Hero released the "Champions: the New Millenium" material. While there was a lot of outcry over the Fuzion game engine (which really was a pretty poor initial effort), there was just as much rage over the setting itself, which was immediately decried as a 90s Image knock-off. And if you drilled down to the core of their critique, almost always it came down to the art, which had been produced by some third-rate Jim Lee imitator.

    The art colored their opinions so strongly that they couldn't or didn't see that the written setting material was actually a very solidly put together traditional superhero setting that avoided most of the sins of the 90s.

    (I suspect if ICONS had been full of Miller-esque illustrations, people would be asking if it could handle Four-Color stories.)