What kid raised in recent generations hasn't pretended to be a superhero at some point: worn a cape, "flown" around, bounced imaginary bullets or shot "blasts of power" from hands or eyes? Why not? After all, the superhero is pretty much the perfect modern fantasy: powerful, respected, and loved by the public, but with a message of responsibility, duty, truth, and justice that appeals to parents as well as kids. In countless comic books (and now "graphic novels"), cartoons, and liveaction television shows and films, superheroes continue to thrill and capture our imagination while also celebrating some of our better qualities. Who wouldn't want to be a hero?
With Icons, you can be. Icons is a roleplaying game wherein you and other players take on the roles of superheroes you create and embark on imaginary adventures, guided by one player who takes on the responsibility of Game Master ("GM" for short).
A roleplaying game ("RPG" for short) is a game of the imagination. Like the name implies, it is about playing a role, essentially a version of the childhood game of "let's pretend" with rules and dice used to determine the outcome of actions. Although roleplaying games have been around in various forms for decades, they haven't changed all that much from the childhood essentials — up to and including sometimes protracted "Did so!" "Did not!" arguments, thus the need for a Game Master.
Essentially, the Game Master is both narrator and referee. The GM comes up with a situation, the start or "hook" of a story, and presents it to the players. They, in turn, decide what their characters will do. The GM responds with what happens next, and from their interaction a complete story unfolds. Along the way, the heroes encounter challenges, including fights with villains, and the game rules help the players and Game Master to resolve the outcome of those challenges, changing the direction of the story. A part of the thrill of a roleplaying game is that it is fiction you and your friends create together!
Icons is hardly the first superhero roleplaying game -- it's not even the tenth! In fact, it is not even the first superhero game I have designed.
Superhero RPGs have been around nearly as long as the game style. Roleplaying started out with medieval fantasy and quickly moved on to science fiction, but superheroes were not far behind, and the adventures of brightly-clad characters with strange powers has been one of the most enduring sub-genres of roleplaying games throughout their history.
So if there are older—and presumably still fun—superhero roleplaying games around, and if I already designed one of them, why create another? There are several reasons:
First and perhaps foremost, I do not believe in the concept of "one true game." Saying there is only room for one superhero RPG is like suggesting there should only be one board game where you move pieces around squares. Why have checkers when you've already got chess? But neither game is "better" than the other, they both deliver fun and some interesting challenges, but in their own ways. The same is true of Icons and other superhero games.
Second, I'm a game designer, and we designers like to play around with ideas for games: different mechanics, different approaches, seeing how things work in various ways. Again, some designs are not necessarily "better," just different. A lot of roleplaying game design and play is a matter of taste, rather than objective value. Just like an artist benefits from having a broad palette, so does a game designer benefit from having a breadth of experience creating different kinds of games.
Lastly, just as a writer writes, a designer designs. Some concepts just lodge themselves into the folds of your brain and stick there until you do something with them to get them out and onto the page. Icons is one of those. I wanted to play around with the basic systems of Fudge (and its later expression, FATE) for some time, and even started on an earlier version of Icons some years ago that I nicknamed "the Superlative System." However cliché it may sound to say that I "had" to design this game, that's how it was. So I did.
The creation of this game does not mean I think Icons is better than everything that came before it, or that it is the "right" way to do a superhero RPG (as if there were only one way!) just that I think it's a good one and that it's fun, which, after all, is the point of playing a game in the first place. I hope you think so, too.
What's In the Game?
So, what will you find in these pages? Hopefully the tools you need for you and your friends to create your own colorful world of heroes and villains and to play out fun and exciting adventures with them. In practical terms, what you'll find here is a system, a set of rules, starting with creating your own heroes, and progressing through how to do things with them in terms of the game.
Compared to a lot of roleplaying games on the market today, Icons is fairly short and simple. You won't find exhaustive details or situational rules, and there's no setting beyond "the world of comic book superheroes," which pretty much anyone reading this game is going to know. (If you don't, go pick up and read some superhero comics. Trust me, they can be a lot of fun.)
Icons places the power in your hands, where it belongs. Take the basic rules of the game, get together with your friends, and create! Make your own heroes, villains, adventures, stories... whole worlds! Have fun.
What are you waiting for? The world needs saving!