Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I is for Icons

When it comes to super hero role playing games, none are dearer to my heart than the classic Mayfair DC Heroes role playing game. The game's mechanics, designed by Greg Gorden and Ray Winninger, are elegant. They are easy to learn, quick to play, and versatile enough to handle a world where both Batman and Superman fight villains side by side.

Sadly, this game is out of print and many gamers refuse to play the games we "old fogeys" love so dearly. So what are those of use who love quick and easy super hero action, that also rewards narrative subplots, to do? We could play the excellent Mutants & Masterminds role playing game by Green Ronin written by Steve Kenson. The game took the mechanics of 3rd edition D&D, put them through a laser filter, and refined them into a fine super hero game. But that game -- prior to its recent 3rd edition release -- had fallen under the spell of the mechanical rather than the narrative as its audience grew to include former Champions players in addition to former DC Heroes players. It's still a great game, as is Champions, but it is more mechanical and "wargamy" than the old DC Heroes game was (this is less true of the new 3rd edition).

Those of us who want a more purely narrative game can be thankful that last year Steve Kenson -- there is that name again -- designed exactly such a game for Adamant Entertainment. The game is called Icons and it is a small piece of heaven.

The game's graphic design is inspired by the Bruce Timm cartoons of the 90s. The game takes the easy to play FATE system and makes it even easier. Since it is based on the FATE system, the game is heavily narrative and Kenson has manage to combine some of what is best from both the old DC Heroes and the old Marvel Super Heroes role playing games to make this gem. The system is good for the one shot, or for campaign play. The system is versatile enough to handle both Batman and Superman style characters...without having to create different "power levels" that have different "game balance" math. It's just pure fun in book form. In the grand tradition of super hero role playing games, it is filled with concise -- but useful -- information on how to run games in an entertaining fashion.

There are quite a few super hero systems out there, and most of them are quite good, but few of them can be picked up and played as quickly as Icons.

Adamant has released some excellent adventures in support of the game, and their big villain book comes out next week. Give it a shot.

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