Combining Risus and ICONS: I got your awesome mixed in my awesome

Risus is great. ICONS is great. So what happens if we combine the two? The usual rule is that Cool Isn’t Additive – you can’t make something already cool even cooler by adding extra coolness to it – but like any good rules, there are times when it’s right and proper to throw away the rulebook. Or, in this case, two of them.

Y’see, both systems have their strengths. On the one hand there’s ICONS with its handy scale system where everything is measured on a rating from 1 to 10. Small child? Intellect 1. Cleverest superhero  ever? Intellect 10. Everyone else is somewhere along that scale with 3 being the human norm and 6 being the regular human maximum. Likewise, superpowers are measured from 1 to 10 with a 1 being a very low-level effect – virtually a Feat in D&D terms – and 10 representing a hero who is the iconic representation of particular power (Flash and Super speed, Wolverine and Regeneration, etc).

Then there’s Risus with its enticingly simple-yet-powerful cliché system. Spread 10 points across a number of clichés (but no more than 4 in any one) and that’s character generation, done. Conceptually it’s flawless – easy enough to write in a single sentence, yet granular enough to be able to differentiate between Grognar Grognarsson (Dwarf(4), Fighter(3), Stoic(2), Cat lover(1)) and Gorbar Gorbarsson (Dwarf(2), Fighter(3), Stoic(1), Cat lover(4)). One is a Dwarf through and through (he even plaits his beard) and while he’d like to like cats, they just don’t get along despite his best intentions. The other is a Dwarf but has left behind many dwarfish things (his beard is close-cropped – he’s not yet plucked up the courage to shave completely) and cats really like him. A few even follow him around constantly. Both characters share the same traits. In D&D terms they’re both Dwarven Fighters, but thanks to the magic of Risus they’re completely different.

So what if you combine the two systems? ICONS uses Aspects which define more about a character than fits in a 1-10 scale. These are the hero’s Qualities and Challenges which provide their motivation, personality and alliances with the rest of the world. They’re what the superhero calls upon to provide Determination (ICONS’ version of Hero Points) when the going gets tough. Replace them with Risus’ clichés, and you’ve got a mechanic which can provide direct in-game effects. If the Hero’s Aspects are in conflict with the Villains (Motivation:Protect the City(4) against Motivation:Destroy the City(3)), say) you’ve got a Risus challenge, right there. What’s fun is you can use inappropriate clichés (such as Identity:Jazz Piano Player(3) versus Motivation:Destroy the City(3)) to really mix things up.

A hero can spend a point of Determination to pump the Aspects. As with regular Risus this lets the hero add dice to the roll but costs them the same number off their Aspect at the end of the challenge. Double pumped clichés (add double what you lose at the end, but that Aspect costs twice as much to buy) are especially appropriate for superheroes. This results in fewer Aspects to work with, but you can push ‘em so much further.

Win the round and the loser drops a point from that Aspect. Win the overall challenge (which might take one or more rounds) and you gain a point of Determination for your trouble. Lose the challenge, and your Determination gets dropped to zero. It’s crisis of faith time. Ouch. When City Defender ends up with Motivation:Protect the City(0) he’s going to end up in a heap somewhere, that’s for sure.

Here’s a quick example how this would look on a character sheet. Meet Vince Cable. He’s a humanoid robot scientist with metal tentacles for arms. He has the implanted consciousness of his maker (the original Professor Vince Cable, now deceased) and a serious weakness to magnetism. Don’t you just love ICONS’ random character generation?

Vince Cable
Origin: Artificial

Prowess 6, Coordination 5, Strength 9
Intellect 6, Awareness 5, Willpower 4

Stamina 13, Determination 2

Life Support 7, Mind Shield 4, Binding 3
Mechanics, Wrestling

Social: Appearance – Humanoid robot with tentacle arms [3], Connection: Doctor Robert Roosfeld (3), Weakness: Magnetism (1)

When Vince’s Aspects come into play he could use his freaky appearance to scare small children, or pump it higher to really frighten the crooks, brace open large doorways, etc. His connection is reliable and can be called upon to provide temporary upgrades (“Like the Jet boots? Good for only one jump. Hope that’s enough.”) or patch him up when the going gets rough. His biggest weakness is that he’s made of metal and susceptible to strong magnetic effects, but with a little cunning (and a pumped cliché) even that can have its uses – magnetizing his tentacle arms then using them to swing across a metal ceiling, for example.

Incidentally, in the real world Vince Cable is a Member of Parliament here in the UK and has the most badass name in politics. As far as I know, he is not a superhero and does not have metal tentacle arms.

5 Comments on “Combining Risus and ICONS: I got your awesome mixed in my awesome”

  1. You beat me to the punch. I just picked up Icons yesterday (largely on the strength of your recommendation) and I’m loving it so far. Can’t decide if I like it better than Truth & Justice, but it is pretty sweet. I think some sort of Risus/Icons has merit, though I was thinking more in terms of using the ICONS character generation system to make Risus characters. Or something like that. Anyway, great post.

  2. Interesting thought here. In ‘Standard’ FATE, Tagging an aspect allows you to either reroll or add 2 to your dice roll. By adding a value to those aspects you could tweak it a bit so that the value of the aspect dictates how much of an advantage you get out of it. It could be a straight roll bonus.. Dwarf 4 lets you add four to your awareness roll when checking for stone traps… OR it could be that different levels add different benefits.. Level 1 gets you a Retcon, Level 2 lets you used Focused effort, etc.

    At the very least, I like the idea of adding a point value to aspects because I know players who can get bogged down in Aspects not being ‘mechanical’ enough.

  3. I actually like this and think it’s an improvement, even though I am just about heartily sick of hearing about both FATE and Risus, rpg,net’s answer to everything.

    Anyway, rant aside, I do think that adding the levels to the aspects gives the game a little more needed crunch and that it is a good mix that takes the best of both and melds it together.

    1. I know what you mean. does tend to go through phases where X, Y or Z system is lauded as being the answer to everything – at least, until the next hiptrendycool system comes along. That’s one of the reasons why I avoid like the plague.

      Fate/Fudge bases systems haven’t really appealed to me in the past unless it’s something like the brilliant 5 point Fudge. I’ve mentally filed them under the heading “too much like hard work” and generally moved on to something that’s easier to just sit down and play. If I want to tinker with a rule system, I’ll tinker with Mutants & Masterminds instead.

      ICONS though…… it feels different. It feels like a solid, proper game in its own right rather than a toolkit or something that feels like it’s been cobbled together with a toolkit. It uses the FATE dice mechanic (whichever dice mechanic you happen to choose) but that’s where the similarity ends.

      It’s not your typical “this is the answer to everything” FATEboy’s wet dream but a well-tuned system that’s designed to handle a subgenre of superhero gaming particularly well.

      And that it does, in spades.

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