Players can influence the outcome of tests and conflicts using their heroes' Determination.
You can spend Determination during the game for several different things, described here. Heroes gain and lose Determination as the game progresses and the characters face different challenges.
A hero's use (and acquisition of) Determination is influenced by various aspects of the character. Players define these aspects when creating and playing their heroes and the GM does the same when creating the villains and other characters of the game.
Aspects essentially describe the character in terms other than their abilities, they involve who the characters are rather than what they are capable of doing.
Aspects come in two types: qualities define the character's generally positive descriptive traits, whereas challenges generally describe difficulties the hero faces.
By their very nature, aspects are broad and somewhat vague. Some aspects tend to come up in play more often than others. However, since all aspects are governed by the use and acquisition of Determination, their "value" is essentially all the same.
The following are types of qualities to consider for your hero. You can have up to five to start off and you can have multiple instances of one type and none of another: the categories are not restrictive, just for reference.
Your hero has a particular catchphrase, battle-cry, or pithy saying, such as "It's Clobberin' Time!" or "I Say Thee Nay, Villain!" or even "Sweet Christmas!" You can tag your catchphrase quality by saying it at the appropriate time for a suitable action. However, you (the player) must say the catchphrase in a suitably dramatic fashion!
You can have multiple catchphrases, but it is fairly rare for a hero to do so; most are just minor variations on a theme, which do not necessarily count as separate qualities, such as "Holy [insert exclamation here]" or "Great [name of deity]!" The complex rhyming spells of a comic book sorcerer may also be considered catchphrases, belted out at dramatically appropriate moments.
Many, if not most, heroes have the Connections quality, which represents the various important people in the character's life. While heroes are sworn to protect people in general, they typically have families, loved ones, friends, romantic interests, and so forth, people special to them in some way.
If you have the Connections quality, you can declare any number of people important to your character, but this can be a double-edged sword, since the GM can also compel your aspect by placing a person you have declared a connection in danger! (See Tagging and Compelling Aspects in the following section for more information.) So the more people you are connected to, the more easily both you and others may tag your aspect!
As a quality, Connections are assumed to provide your hero with some help, if only in the form of motivation. If a hero's connection is solely a challenge, see the Challenges section.
An epithet is a title or descriptive phrase applied to your character, often used in dramatic dialog. Examples include: Man of Tomorrow, Maiden of Might, Master of the Mystic Arts, and World's Greatest [fill-in the blank]. It typically describes something about the hero's style, powers, or qualities beyond just abilities.
You can tag an epithet in a situation where the GM agrees that it applies.
Singular Epithets: Some epithets are unique, such as "World's Greatest" anything, since only one character by definition can have that epithet. The GM should ensure that the character with the epithet really does qualify for it! The only case where more than one character can have a singular epithet is when two or more are competing for it. In this case, the aspect can be compelled to put those characters into competition whenever they encounter each other: two heroes who both have "World's Fastest Hero," for example, can be compelled into a race or some other test of who's faster whenever they get together. Plus there could still be the "World's Fastest Villain"...
Heroes are more than just a colorful costume and a collection of powers (or, at least, we hope that they are). The identity quality deals with a description of who the hero is outside of the costume and mask, touching upon other aspects of the character's background, personality, and life. Examples include Billionaire Playboy, Mild-Mannered Reporter, Freelance Photographer, Exiled European Prince, or Alien Soldier, to name just a few.
You can tag your hero's identity quality in situations where it might come to bear: an Intrepid Reporter might be able to acquire information a colorfully clad and world-famous hero might not. A Wealthy Industrialist has access to certain resources, and so forth. The GM might compel your aspect to introduce challenges dealing with your identity: a meddlesome boss, a threatened corporate takeover, an oath or obligation to your homeland (or homeworld), and so forth.
It takes more than the acquisition of powers to make a hero. After all, villains often go through the same origins. What makes some choose heroism over villainy? In short, what motivates someone to become a hero?
A motivation quality describes what made your character take the hero's path, and what keeps him or her on it, even when things get tough. It might be vengeance for some wrong the character suffered or an unflagging belief in truth and justice, god and country, or that with great power also comes great responsibility. It could be the thrills and excitement of the hero game or the need to be rid of some unwanted power or ability.
You can tag your hero's motivation when dealing with situations where it makes the difference between giving up and pushing ahead. The GM might compel your motivation to encourage headstrong actions in accordance with it.
Although the five types of qualities listed here cover the major ones associated with superheroes, you are not necessarily limited to them; they are intended as a framework to help guide you in choosing, rather than a set of restrictions. If you have an idea for a particularly good quality for your character that does not fit into one of the previously described categories, discuss it with your Game Master. So long as it describes your hero well and provides interesting story and roleplaying hooks, why not use it?
Challenges are aspects similar to qualities in that they serve to describe things about your character. Unlike qualities, which tend to have both positive and negative sides, challenges are all about the things your hero works to overcome. While the GM can compel challenges, earning you Determination, you cannot tag them to gain bonuses or use Determination yourself; you need to use your qualities for that.
Also like qualities, challenges come in particular categories or types and you may choose up to five to start with. Unlike qualities, your hero does not have to have any challenges. The fewer the challenges, the less hassle your hero faces, but the fewer opportunities you have to earn Determination. Plus challenges put the spotlight on your hero, if only briefly, so they ensure you more action, more challenge, during the game.
Sometimes it just seems like the universe hates your hero: when this challenge is compelled, bad things happen. Your hero's car might be booted or repossessed, the rent might come due when there's no money to pay it, a critical device might stop working... pretty much any cruel thing the GM can think of that does not outright remove your character from the game. Like other challenges, you can stave off Bad Luck with Determination temporarily, but sooner or later it will get you.
Heroes make enemies, often lifelong archenemies. This challenge involves an enemy with a specific vendetta against your hero. The GM can compel it to have your enemy show up or gain an advantage over you, such as springing a trap or ambush. Note that just having your enemy show up in an adventure does not necessarily constitute a compel, unless the enemy gains some advantage in the process.
Let's face it, superheroes often have issues, sometimes a lot of issues. Personal challenges are just that: They may be psychological, ranging from claustrophobia to a berserker temper, or physical, from being confined to a wheelchair to blindness. Whatever the case, the GM can compel your hero's personal challenge in any situation where it might be a hindrance. In the case of psychological challenges, it may temporarily dominate the character's behavior (panicking when confronted with a phobia, losing control when angered, etc.).
Superheroes are not usually the most normal folks. Even if you ignore the form-fitting colorful costumes, some heroes look downright weird. This leads people to make assumptions and react negatively to the hero who looks like, say, a classical demon or a rocky monster. It can make it difficult for a hero to get a point across, deal with the public, or otherwise make a good impression when one is needed.
Other social challenges can involve a hero with a bad reputation, or subject to certain social prejudices, basically anything that causes other people to react poorly to the hero or to judge him or her unfairly.
The Achilles' heel is a major element of many superheroes, a specific weakness or vulnerability, be it to a metal, color, time of the day or night, or strange radioactive mineral. This challenge is basically something the GM can compel to give your hero a handicap, from a loss of powers to a life-threatening situation, such as a hero who needs water to survive or dies if exposed to a particular substance for too long. Weaknesses are ready-made for villainous death traps and ambushes, and provide a way to make otherwise "invincible" heroes vulnerable enough to defeat. Compelling your weakness lets the GM inflict pretty much any effect short of killing the hero outright.
Tagging and Compelling
Aspects come into play in Icons by being tagged or compelled.
Tagging is simply a matter of you, the player, noting that the aspect is relevant to the current situation and bringing it to the Game Master’s attention, such as, “I think my ‘Dark Detective’ quality might be relevant here” or “Sounds like it’s ‘Hammer Time!’ as my hero might say.” You can also tag other characters’ aspects: this involves declaring the aspect you are tagging and how your hero is interacting with it. If you don’t know other characters’ aspects, guess! Sometimes they’ll be fairly obvious. When they’re not, you can make an appropriate test (usually Awareness) to figure them out.
Tagging lets you spend Determination in certain ways related to the aspect, particularly for Determined Effort, Retcons, and Stunts (see Using Determination).
The GM can also compel your qualities and challenges, essentially choosing a particular quality or challenge and offering you a point of Determination for accepting the consequences of it. For example, the GM might say: "Your Bad Luck chooses this moment to rear its head and the fire escape gives away beneath you" or "Looks like the crowd isn't reacting too well to your strange appearance" or the like. If you accept, you get the point of Determination and play continues with the effects of the compel.
You can refuse a compel, but it costs you a point of Determination to do so, and you don't get the point you normally would for accepting the consequence of the compel, essentially losing out on two points!
Option: Choosing Aspects During Play
While the standard in Icons is to fill out a hero's qualities and challenges during character creation, it may be that you do not have ideas for five of each right away. Good ideas for aspects often suggest themselves while you are playing the character and have a better feel for what works in the context of the adventure and the series. Therefore, the GM may wish to implement the following optional rule.
Players must define at least two qualities for their heroes upon creation. They do not have to define any challenges (as heroes aren't required to have any). At any time during play, a player can choose a quality or challenge to fill-in one of the character's blank "slots" in the aspects list, until reaching five qualities and five challenges.
So, for example, if a player decides during the game that her heroine is attracted to the handsome federal agent working with the heroes, and wants to have him as an ongoing element of her character's supporting cast, she can ask the GM for permission to make him a Connection quality.
You may also allow players to replace existing aspects of their characters in this fashion, provided the old aspect either has not yet come into play (in which case it is essentially a retcon and "never existed") or is no longer relevant: the hero does not have that connection any more, his appearance or motivation have changed, and so forth.
You can spend Determination during the game for different benefits: improving your hero's efforts (Determined Effort), playing to your hero's strengths (Focused Effort), shaking off some damage (Recover), changing or adding certain details to the story (Retcon), or allowing your hero to perform an unusual trick or power effect (Stunts).
During the game, a test may be important enough for your character to make a determined effort. When making a determined effort, state the desired outcome of the test (moderate, major, or massive success). If the rolled effect isn't enough to achieve the desired success, spend 1 point of Determination per two levels required to make up the difference and you achieve it.
So, for example, you declare your hero is going to swing down and catch his falling girlfriend before she can hit the pavement, saying you want at least a major success. You roll the dice and get an effect of 0, a moderate success. So you subtract 0 from 3 (the minimum for a major success), getting 3 levels. Spending 2 points of Determination, you push the result up to 3 and get a major success!
Determined effort has a cost: once you declare it on an action, you must spend at least 1 point of Determination, even if the effect of the roll is what you wanted. So, in the previous example, if the effect had been 4 (enough for a major success), you'd still have to spend 1 point of Determination for the determined effort. Moreover, if you achieve the desired result on the test, this point of Determination does not improve it; determined effort never gives you more than what you asked for.
Likewise, any "extra" levels from determined effort don't count; in the prior example, although 2 points of Determinative give you up to 4 extra levels, you only need 3 to get your desired major success, so that's how many you get; the extra level doesn't count.
If you don't have enough Determination to make up the difference between the rolled and desired effect, you still have to spend 1 point of Determination on the effort, even though it won't achieve the result you want. You still get the +2 levels from that point of Determination and may get a lesser result than the one you intended, but still better than you rolled.
To use determined effort, you must first tag one of your hero's qualities (see Tagging and Compelling, previously), indicating how the effort is relevant to your hero. For example, an epithet can show how the effort relates to your hero's reputation or abilities, a connection quality might tie the effort into helping someone important to your hero, while a motivation quality brings your hero's driving purpose into things.
Finally, you can only declare a determined effort for a test where you only get one chance to succeed or where you've already tried and failed to achieve the desired success. So, for example, you can declare a determined effort on your Coordination test to catch your falling girlfriend, because you'll only get one chance. You can't declare determined effort trying to pick a lock, disarm a bomb, or hit a foe unless you've already tried and failed or you're only going to get one last chance before you're crushed by the closing walls, the bomb goes off, the foe activates his doomsday device, or the like. When in doubt, the GM is the final arbiter of when determined effort is allowed.
You can spend Determination as a "game changer" to shift the trait used for a test, presumably from one where your hero is weak to one where he or she is more effective, a focused effort. You use the new trait for the test, handling everything else in the same way.
To use focused effort, you must first tag one of your hero's qualities. Then you describe how the quality and the new trait apply to the test at hand.
For example, your hero is confronted with having to fix a complex device in the nick of time to save the world, but lacks any relevant specialties and has an Intellect that doesn't exactly break the bank. Fortunately, he has considerable Strength and the quality "If all else fails, hit things." You tag it and tell the GM you want to make a focused effort to fix the device -- by giving it a good whack.
The GM agrees and you make a Strength test rather than the usual Intellect test. A focused effort can also be declared a determined effort, if you meet the requirements for both and spend the Determination separately. You can tag the same quality for both efforts.
You can spend Determination to recover lost Stamina: you immediately regain Stamina equal to the greater of your Strength or Willpower level.
You do not need to tag an aspect to recover, but you can only spend Determination to recover once during any given conflict. After that, you must recover lost Stamina normally (see Recovery under Damage).
You can use Determination to retcon certain details about the setting and story during the game. "Retcon" is a comic book term for "retroactive continuity," essentially filling in previously unknown past events.
When you retcon in the game, you pay a point of Determination and define or detail something previously unknown. If the GM agrees, then it becomes true. For example, you can retcon the contents of a storeroom to contain just the right chemicals you need to build a makeshift explosive, or you can retcon what's hidden in your pockets or the fact that you know someone in a foreign city.
In order to retcon, you must tag one of your hero's qualities relevant to the retcon (see Tagging and Compelling, previously). Examples include an epithet or identity related to an area of expertise, or a connection that explains how the hero might know or acquire something. The GM decides if the explanation is sufficient to allow spending Determination on a retcon. The GM may also allow you to retcon with a major or better success with one of your specialties, reflecting an area of expertise where you hero could be expected to know or have something. In this case, the success is treated as a one-time quality for you to tag.
The key limit to retconning is you cannot contradict previously established information... unless you come up with some plausible reason why that information was never true to begin with! The GM has final say on retcons, but generally, if what you propose makes the game more interesting, odds are in your favor. If a proposed retcon isn't approved, you retain the Determination point; it essentially never happens.
Lastly, you can use Determination to perform stunts. These are new applications of your hero's traits, using them to do something different or unusual, like using your Super-Speed power to whip up a whirlwind, your projected Force Field to suffocate someone by surrounding their head with a small bubble of airtight energy, or your tremendous Strength to create a powerful shockwave. They're somewhat like retcons, where someone might say "I didn't know you could do that!"
To perform a stunt, you must tag one of your qualities related to what you want to accomplish. This is usually something like a catchphrase or epithet, although other qualities (particularly motivation) can serve in some instances. Then you describe what you want to the stunt to accomplish and the GM decides whether or not it suits your hero's quality and traits. The GM always has the option of disallowing inappropriate stunts.
If the GM gives you the go ahead, spend a point of Determination to attempt the stunt and make a test of your trait using its own level as the difficulty. If the test fails, so does the stunt, and nothing happens. With an effect of 0, the stunt works, but there are side effects, determined by the GM. You might whip up a whirlwind, but also do some collateral damage or unintentionally affect your teammates, for example. With an effect of 1 or more, the stunt works as planned. Note the GM might require an additional test to actually apply the stunt, such as an attack test to hit an opponent with a stunt attack.
You can declare an attempt to perform a stunt as determined effort, but any Determination spent on the effort is in addition to the point of Determination required just to attempt the stunt in the first place.
During play, your character gains Determination from compels applied to the hero's aspects by the Game Master. You have the opportunity to refuse these compels, but it costs you Determination to do so.
You do not have to passively wait around for the GM to decide to compel your hero's aspects. In fact, you can offer up opportunities as part of playing your character's role, and earn Determination for doing it! Game Masters have a lot of information to juggle, and might miss a chance to push one of your character's buttons, in which case you should feel free to offer a suggestion or reminder. For example, if you spot a perfect chance to endanger one of your hero's connections during a massive battle, just say so. The GM may take your suggestion and award you a point of Determination. Good thing, as you're going to need it to take down the bad guys and save your loved ones!
If the chips are down and you really need some extra Determination to carry your hero through, you can even suggest new temporary challenges for the GM to compel. For example, to push your armored hero's power-suit to its limits, you suggest the GM apply a temporary "overload" challenge: you get Determination, but after your Determined effort, your hero's power-suit is going to shut down! Better make it count...
You may also earn Determination simply by doing cool things like playing your character to the hilt and coming up with fun additions to the game.
Gaining Determination is adjudicated by the Game Master and detailed further in the Game Mastering section.
In addition to the ups and downs a character's Determination goes through over the course of a story, Determination is also renewed at the start of every new issue based on the character's starting Determination.
If your character's Determination at the start of the issue is below your starting amount (6 minus the number of powers the character has, with a minimum of 1), it increases up to that amount. However, if it's already above the starting amount, then it doesn't increase.