Rather than rolling one positive die and one negative die and adding the resulting numbers together to get a value from –5 to +5, a player can simply roll one positive die and one negative die, discard the die with the higher (absolute) number and use the remaining die as the modifier for the test.
Example: Sean rolls a 3 (positive) and a 5 (negative). He drops the 5 and applies a +3 modifier to the test. If he rolled a 6 (positive) and a 4 (negative), he would drop the 6 and apply a –4 modifier to the test.
Results where the dice come up the same number still result in a +0 modifier, since there is no “high” die. This method generates the same odds of any particular value as the roll-and-add method, and the same range of values (+5 to –5, since a 6 is always dropped as the highest value) but may be easier for some players to read quickly, since it does not require any addition, other than applying the modifier to the test
This approach is even easier than having to add the two dice together to get a result!
(Thanks to dataweaver on RPGnet for the idea.)
Rather than having the players solely roll dice, this variant splits the roll: the player rolls the "positive" die and the Game Master rolls the "negative" (or opposing) die, either adding them together as described in the rulebook or using the high-drop method (previously) and discarding the die with the higher absolute value (discarding both and using a modifier of +0 if the dice match). You can also have the player apply the positive die to the hero's ability level, while the GM adds the "negative" die to the test difficulty (so the subtraction occurs in the usual effort vs. difficulty comparison). This gives the GM more of a "role" in the die-rolling aspect of the game.
Game Master Rolls
Icons is set up so only the players roll dice for tests, which focuses on the heroes actions: rather than “does the villain hit?” the question is “does the hero dodge (or evade, etc.)?”
This requires a bit of effort in terms of figuring out tests, however. Tests players normally make are “reversed” when it comes to other characters. For example, unlike the heroes making a Strength test to resist being slammed or stunned from an attack, for other characters, heroes make a damage test against the target’s Strength to see if a slam or stun takes place. While freeing the GM up from rolling tests allows more attention to be paid elsewhere, some may not find it worth the effort in terms of how tests are figured.
It is just as easy to play Icons where the Game Master rolls tests just like the players do. In this case, the only real change is that most reactions the heroes would make (defensive actions like dodge or evade) become difficulties based on the appropriate ability for the attacking villain’s test, just as they are when heroes attack villains. In general, take the rules for heroes making tests and apply them to everyone.
Example: Punch and Electric Judy take on Count Malochio and the criminal Count’s henchmen. When Punch and Judy throw punches, their players make Prowess tests against their foes’ Prowess or Coordination. When it’s the villains’ turn, the GM makes a Prowess test for each of the thugs against a difficulty equal to the higher of heroes’ Prowess or Coordination, and a Coordination test for Count Malochio’s “evil eye” laser, including the villain’s Expert level of Power Specialty.
One change in this approach is, since heroes do not take “actions” to dodge, evade, etc., they can’t much such defenses into determined efforts. The GM may wish to permit the spending of Determination to raise the difficulty imposed by such abilities, one Determination point per +2 increase.
Example: Not wanting to get hit by the Count’s “evil eye” Electric Judy’s player spends Determination to dodge the attack. With the Count’s test result, she needs a +3 increase in Coordination (including her Acrobatics Specialty) to reduce his effect enough for a miss. That costs her two points of Determination, but the attack is a clean miss.
An “ancestor” of Icons is the Fudge RPG System (www.fudgerpg.com) which uses a set of four six-sided dice (called “Fudge dice”) marked on each of two sides with a plus (+), a minus (–), and a blank or zero face. Rolled together, the four dice (abbreviated “4dF”) give a value from +4 to –4 by adding up all of the top-facing sides.
You can use a set of Fudge dice to play Icons with some modifications in mind: note that Fudge dice produce a “steeper” bell curve than the 2d6 system of Icons (either the roll-and-add or high-drop approach), weighted more towards the middle or “0” result. Obviously, Fudge dice also do not produce +5 or –5 results, limiting the range of modifiers slightly. This approach may suit more realistic Icons games where a more reliable middle is sought while also limiting the more extreme results on either end of the spectrum.
Icons recognizes three possible successful outcomes: moderate, major, and massive (Icons, p. 7). This option adds in a fourth, the minimal success.
In this case, an effect of exactly 0 results in a minimal outcome, which might be described as “successful, but...” or “you don’t quite make it, but...” A minimal success is just that: the bare minimum to not be considered a failure. If a hero is leaping the span between two buildings, a moderate success means clearing the distance and landing on the opposite side, maybe wobbling a moment before regaining balance. A minimal success means grabbing the ledge on the opposite side and having to pull yourself up in your next panel! Minimal success makes effect 0 more of an “edge” outcome, right on the border between success and failure, and evens out the distribution of outcomes so moderate is 1–2, major 3–4, and massive is 5 or more.
Also at the GM’s option, a minimal success may be considered a “failure” when it comes to determined effort, that is, a hero who has only achieved a minimal success on a task which allows for multiple attempts may use determined effort on a follow-up attempt.
Massive FailureAlthough Icons features varying degrees of success, failure is pretty much failure. This option changes that: when a player rolls a –5 on the dice and the effect of that roll is less than 0, the hero suffers from a massive failure. Essentially, in addition to the ordinary effects of failure on the test, the Game Master also gets to impose a challenge on the hero without awarding the player Determination, similar to a “free tag”. The guideline for a massive failure is “Whatever can go wrong, does.”
Example: Starhawk fires a stellar blast at a weaving aerial foe. Starhawk’s player rolls a –5 on the dice and that modifier makes her final effect (compared against the difficulty of the target’s Coordination) a –3, a massive failure! Not only does Starhawk miss her target, but the GM says that she accidentally strikes a radio tower on a building in the distance! The structurally compromised tower begins to topple over towards the street below, and Starhawk is left with a choice: does she save those she has endangered, or go after the fleeing villain?