ICONS Initiative

While I really like ICONS, I think they took it a little too rules-light, four-color, beer-and-pretzels with its mechanics. Since it’s FATE-based RPG, slapping additional mechanics and modifying the rules isn’t just easy, it’s all but encouraged. (Or maybe I’m just too used to the Cubicle 7 method, which is to make FATE into a giant freaking toolset full of rules and options.)

Initiative is one of the many areas ICONS just doesn’t do it for me. The RAW rules are an overly simplistic back and forth between players, then NPCs, and so on, each in their own way. Needless to say ICONS gamers have come up with around fifty billion methods to determine initiative, ranging from “highest Coordination to lowest, with Awareness or Willpower breaking ties” to “roll a die, Coordination breaking ties,” to more complex formulas (1d6-1d6 + Coordination + Awareness + Relevant Power Levels).

But with all those options, note that they’re all roughly along the same tried-and-true methods that have been used for every game since D&D: roll some dice, and add your attributes. It’s a combination of sheer dumb luck and specific character choices, which is most weighted towards whoever rolled Super Speed or Super Sense. (Because we all remember how The Flash or Spiderman always act first in supers team-ups.) You’d think we’d have something more interesting than that to work with, given FATE’s often meta rules, but no.

So, what I’m cribbing from is the new Marvel Heroic RPG. I’m still not sold on the Cortex system, but it looks like a pretty good application of the system. What intrigued me most were its FATE-like rules mods, like its initiative system… little surprise to find they were influenced by Evil Hat’s Fred Hicks.

So, in a nutshell, rather than working out some formula weighted towards people who rolled/bought certain attributes or powers, initiative is determined by whoever makes sense to go first—whoever that, at that point in the narrative, it makes sense to have first action. Either by group consensus, or by the GM picking someone, or whoever yells out “I’m Going First!” first. The person acting chooses who goes after they do, until everyone’s acted, at which point the person who acted last in this round chooses who goes first in the next one.

That last little bit is the reason you’d want to stagger things between heroes and villains. Forcing the NPCs into the second half of the first round means they act first in the next one, giving them back-to-back turns to pound on the heroes, or worse: set up and pull off something complex and deadly.

And to top that off, the GM can spend a Doom Point to force one of the NPCs into the initiative track—the FATE equivalent I’m using would be to put a Determination/Fate Point into the group’s Team Determination pool, should they be using a team. So if the players aren’t interested in letting the ambush go first—and they should, since letting those HYDRA thugs go first means the PCs’d get to act twice before the HYDRA goons could respond—the GM can always just blow a point to interrupt.

So while it sounds like the old “cops and robbers” chaos you played in the schoolyard, there actually is an incentive to try and stagger things and spread them out between heroes and villains… especially if you’re trying to do a team-up maneuver. Plus, the GM always has final say (at the cost of a point), so it will only be as easy as the GM allows it to be.

I like it because it switches initiative from being a simple mechanic into a complex equation of fluctuation and bartering, so I think I’ll make off with this for my ICONS and FATE needs.

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