Lazy building Icon City

There’s a fine art to being a LazyGM. It takes hard work & dedication – and throws them out the window. The true LazyGM instead uses that most limitless and potent of resources: the players. Our ICONS beer ‘n’ pretzels game has reached a point where it needs a place to call home. It needs a city through which our heroes can fly, web-sling and drive their rocket cars. And the players are going to build it.

But first, we need a ten second pitch. Shamelessly stealing from ideas and plot points I’ve used before, we get this:

Earth’s greatest (indeed, only true) superhero was dead. UltraMegaMan’s body was blasted into a myriad atoms, consumed by the explosion which also destroyed his arch-foe Captain Nemesis. The world was safe at last, yet it mourned.

On the site of his demise they built a statue in his honour, a modern Colossus thousands of feet tall. It stood as a beacon of hope in a world with no more super-powered heroes. To many it was a symbol, the Icon for the modern age. People came to gaze at it, and people stayed. The camp around the statue’s base became a town, and in time that town became a city.

Welcome to Icon City, where hope is born and dreams might truly fly.

Icon City is situated someplace central in the US. As the Greatest New City in America ™, none of the buildings are more than 40 years old, and the hippie culture that gave it life has ever quite left. The overall attitude is closer to San Francisco that New York in that a total stranger is more likely to give you a flower than a punch in the face. Of course, there are exceptions….

Icon City is unusual because of the high number of superheroes (and villains) it has produced. Some theorize this is due to the death of UltraMegaMan – perhaps his atoms have affected the land in some way. (I’ll let you into a secret. They’re partly right.)

That’s it. My work as GM is done.

Now, it’s over to my players. I’m going to give each hero a district they can flesh out however they want, in as much detail as they care to give. I know Brickbat will take Dirtside, Icon City’s slum district, while his partner Gunfire has claimed the as-yet-unnamed Entertainment (bars, clubs, movies and musicals) zone. Vince Cable’s player has the Science Block. The other heroes will pick up districts as the game develops. My own new character, Toxic, will likely pick one of the industrial zones. In the best tradition of story-writing, nothing exists until it exists.

By handing development of the city to the players, I’m letting them inject something of their hero’s personality into the game. Just like Gotham is Batman and Metropolis is Superman drawn in stone, the districts of Icon City are a reflection of our superheroes. The area they choose may be where they were born, grew up, currently live or work. Above all, these are the places they care about.

Which means when I, as GM, send a Giant Rampaging Alien Robot through the Dirtside, Brickbat is going to be really pissed. Likewise, when I announce that Mister Media, uber-showman (and egomaniac mega-villain) is hosting a show in the Entertainment zone, you can guarantee that Gunfire will be on the scene.

See, that’s how this works. I give them control, and in turn that gives me control. Only one area is off-limits to the players’ imagination: The Icon itself. I’m saving that for something special down the line.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

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10 Responses

  1. RF says:

    Good stuff! I’m borrowing some of these ideas for my game.

  2. Elton says:

    Sounds like a little Taoism is being practiced there. “He who rules best rules the least.”

  3. Risus Monkey says:

    A fantastic approach and one that I’d emulate if I were only playing ICONS right now (as opposed to wishing I was playing ICONS right now).

  4. DarkTouch says:

    This is very cool. One thing it got me thinking of is customizations to the game.

    With the heroes all (potentially) getting their abilities from the comingling of UltraMegaMan and Captain Nemesis’ superpowered atoms, what impact does that have on the origins table? Does it stay the same but have little quirks for each origin that will show up later? I’m assuming its not something entirely different as the characters have already been created.

    Another something interesting would be to steal a page from the Dresden File’s City creation guide. With each player ‘owning’ a section of the city, there is always the possibility that these sections have Qualities and Challenges that can be tagged just as Heroes and Teams do.

    • greywulf says:

      I’m intentionally keeping things rules-lite so the origins table stays as-is without twist or modification. I have some pretty good ideas regarding the true “source” of the superpowers and don’t want to give anything away by injecting house rules into the game :)

      I’d certainly expect the heroes’ districts to creep into their character sheets as the game develops, most likely as Qualities and Challenges. I san see Brickbat ganing “Recognized Defender of Dirtside” for example, and Vince Cable already has a named scientist as a contact. The more things that link them to their districts, the better – it’s all GM fodder!

      Note to self: Take a look at what Dresden File has to say about cities. Thanks for the pointer!

      • DarkTouch says:

        Mostly what I meant is that in ICONS characters have Aspects(Qualities & Challenges) but in FATE everything has aspects and a number of the game rules are about managing those aspects. Doing research on vampires means you can now compel their ‘Garlic Allergy’ aspect to make them run away or knocking out the lights means you can tag the Alley’s ‘Dark’ aspect to get a bonus on your sneak attack.

        From what I understand(don’t have it yet) Dresden Files gets fancier than that with their City creation but that’s the basics. FATE design philosophy is rules light but clarification/example/helpful hint heavy.

  5. Dr. Stu says:

    Schroedinger’s City?

  1. October 26, 2010

    […] on the RPG front there’s updates to Icon City for the ICONS superhero RPG, a long overdue review of DC Superheroes and I weigh into the great […]

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