Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ICONS 1602

I'm a big fan of Marvel 1602, the comic book series where Neil Gaiman took many classic characters from Marvel Comics and transplanted them to the end of the Elizabethan era in an epic re-imagining of the Marvel Universe. Likewise, I also greatly enjoyed reading the sequels 1602: New World, 1602: Fantastick Four and Spider-Man: 1602. I've been re-reading the series lately, and it got me thinking - what would the implied setting of the ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying Game look like in an alternate universe set in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and James I?

Just for fun, I've decided to explore this thought and try to flesh it out a little more. The implied setting in ICONS is clearly designed for classic supers adventures in the modern world, so many options available to present day heroes might not exist for their Elizabethan or Jacobean counterparts, and others might have to be reworked for the time period. Heroes from earlier ages would face different challenges than they would in the modern world where supers are looked up to and accepted. For example, their powers might be seen as resulting from commerce with the Devil through witchcraft and anyone possessing powers would be persecuted by the Inquisition (an idea I explored a bit in the early history of Grimm City). For the most part, they would no longer have the technologies, scientific discoveries and other knowledge of the modern world to rely on (although having "magical" artifacts from the future or advanced alien technology is still a possibility), and how a character functions may have to be rethought to make them better fit the earlier time period. Clockworks, wood, iron, steel, and alchemy replace computer chips, electronics, plastic, titanium, and science - that sort of thing.

Specialties in 1602
Here's my attempt to rework the Specialties list from ICONS (found in the core rules with additional specialties in the Villainomicon) to better fit the time period:

The following Specialties do not exist in the Elizabethan/Jacobean time period: Computers, Criminology, Electronics, Pilot and Psychiatry. Most of the reasons for these exclusions are obvious. Criminology is absent as modern forensics and crime-solving theories and techniques had not yet been developed, and Psychiatry has been removed from the list because there was no real treatment and care for the mentally ill other than warehousing them away from the general population (and usually in deplorable conditions). These Specialties may exist, however, for characters from the future or of alien origin.

Animals as a Specialty also covers falconry, hawking, animal husbandry, livestock farming and animal blood sports (bear and bull baiting, dog and cock fighting).

Athletics no longer covers riding mounts but is instead served by Ride as a separate Specialty.

Drive is used only for the operation of animal-driven surface vehicles like carts, wagons and coaches. The operation of water vehicles - from small barges and rafts to large seafaring galleons - is now covered separately by the Sail Specialty.

An increased emphasis was placed on Heraldry during the Elizabethan era as a new class of wealthy men became eager to prove their gentility and is presented here as a new Specialty.

Martial Arts covers pugilism and other forms of unarmed combat as taught by English fighting schools and guilds of the Elizabethan era.

Medicine was in its infancy during the 17th century and based more on superstition than science. Despite this fact, there were still formal medical colleges on the European continent, although all medical licenses were ultimately granted by the Church. This Specialty covers traditional herbalism as well as the practice of treating illness and disease as imbalances of the four humors (blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy).

Mechanics applies to mechanical devices that exist in the Elizabethan/Jacobean time frame, most notably clockwork mechanisms. Feel free to embellish the extent of what clockwork mechanisms can actually do to suit your particular needs.

Nature as a specialty also covers hunting (e.g. stag, deer, foxes, rabbits, and game birds) as well as sumptuary laws (the Forest Law) and other Elizabethan hunting laws. These hunting laws (and their associated punishments) were the bane of the lower classes who were often convicted of poaching game from the lands of the aristocracy.

As the works of playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe will attest, the theater was a popular form of entertainment in Elizabethan England, so Acting is a great choice from the Performance Specialty Group for heroes looking for an interesting cover or secret identity. Music is another great choice from this Specialty Group. The lute was the most popular musical instrument in Elizabethan England, and when combined with the violin, flute and viol forms a string quartet known as the English Consort.

Science, like Medicine, was in its infancy as well and was often a dangerous pursuit in the 17th century when lines of inquiry went in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Church. The Science Specialty Group during this time period includes Alchemy, Astronomy, and Astrology.

The Weapons Specialty Group is limited to weapons that existed during the Elizabethan/Jacobean era. See Weapons and Armor in 1602 below for more information. Weapons training was taught by various fighting schools and guilds in England and across Europe.

All other Specialties remain unchanged in ICONS 1602.

Weapons and Armor in 1602
Below is a list of some common weapons and armor found in the ICONS 1602 setting. This list is not meant to be a detailed or historical treatise on Elizabethan and Jacobean weaponry and armor but intended rather to provide campaign flavor:


Brandistock: a type of polearm that resembles a walking stick but has three concealed blades that can be shaken out to form a trident. In ICONS terminology, a brandistock does Slashing damage 3 as a bladed melee weapon.

Cutlass: This bladed melee weapon is popular with pirates and does Slashing damage 4.

Rapier: This bladed melee weapon often associated with swashbuckling does Slashing damage 4.

Sabre: This bladed melee weapon is frequently used by mounted cavalry and does Slashing damage 4.

Scimitar: This bladed melee weapon is popular in Middle Eastern cultures and does Slashing damage 4.

Polearms: Popular pole weapons include the bill, halberd and pike. In ICONS terminology,  polearms all do Slashing damage 4 as pointed and/or bladed weapons.

Cannon: This category of weapons includes field and naval guns (shot weighing up to 12 lbs) as well as the larger siege guns (shot weighing up to 60 lbs). As self-powered ranged weapons, field and naval guns to Shooting damage 6 and siege guns do Shooting damage 7.

Matchlock Firearms: The matchlock was the first firing mechanism invented for firearms and includes the arquebus, caliver and matchlock musket with rest. As self-powered ranged weapons, matchlock firearms all do Shooting damage 3.

Snaplock (Flintlock) Firearms: Snaplock firearms had the most sophisticated of all the firing mechanisms of the time period and were a little safer to use, but they still required about the same time to reload and fire. As self-powered ranged weapons, snaplock firearms all do Shooting damage 3.

Wheellock Pistols: This category of firearm includes belt pistols and horse pistols. As self-powered ranged weapons, wheellock pistols all do Shooting damage 3.

The main advantage of firearms is that they tend to ignore armor and make it obsolete. In ICONS, Matchlock, Snaplock (Flintlock) and Wheelock firearms all ignore any armor from the Elizabethan or Jacobean period worn by the target. These weapons were also cumbersome and took time to reload and fire, so the GM may wish to limit the number of times a character can fire one in any given combat (once every ten or more pages, for example, in ICONS abstract time).


Back-and-Breast: This armor consists of a steel backplate and breastplate and was frequently worn by cavalry. In ICONS terminology, it provides armor 3 damage reduction. It offers no protection against firearms.

Breastplate: Similar to back-and-breast but without the backplate, a breastplate was frequently worn by pikemen. In ICONS Terminology, it provides armor 2 damage reduction. It offers no protection against firearms.

Buff Coat: Made of supple (not hardened) leather, this armor provided protection against arrows and some sword blows. In ICONS Terminology, it provides armor 2 protection against ranged bow Shooting attacks and armor 1 damage reduction against Slashing attacks from blades. It offers no protection against firearms.

Tassets: These armored strips can be attached to breastplate or back-and-breast armor to protect the lower body and thighs and add +1 to the total damage reduction from armor. They were commonly worn by pikemen. Tassets offer no protection against firearms.

Buckler: This small metal shield was popular with the swordsmen of the Spanish army and adds +1 to the total damage reduction from armor. They also add a +1 bonus to any blocking (Strength) attempts to parry. Bucklers offer no protection against firearms.

Gauntlets: These heavy leather gloves were popular with swordsmen of the era. They add a +1 bonus to any blocking (Strength) attempts to parry or to any grabbing (Strength) attempts to disarm a bladed melee weapon.

Helmet: Types of helmet popular during the time period include the burgonet (popular with Spanish and German sword-and-buckler men), the lobster-tail (named for the flexible neck piece and favored by cavalry), the morion (made famous by the Spanish conquistadors), and the cabasset (similar to the morion but more conical in shape). A helmet adds +1 to the total damage reduction from armor. Helmets offer no protection against firearms.

Dramatis Personae
Here are some of the 1602 counterparts of the heroes and villains found in the ICONS implied setting :

The Heroes
  • Lady Avalon  - All American Girl (Hero Pack I)
  • Sir George Henry - All Star (Hero Pack I)
  • The Executioner - Hangman (Hero Pack I)
  • El Saguaro - Saguaro (Hero Pack I)
  • Ah Pekku Tikal - Miss Tikal (Hero Pack I)
  • هَبوب  (Haboob) - Desert Storm (Hero Pack I)
  • William Hopper - The Atomic Roach (Hero Pack I, Gangbusters)
  • Madame Madeline Currie - Madame Curious (Sins of the Past)
  • Spectre - Revenant (Hero Pack I)
  • Lady Diana Leach - The White Witch (Hero Pack I)
  • The Lost Lunatic Girl Who Likes Spiders - Anansia (Gangbusters)
  • Don Juan Cortes - The Conquistador (Hero Pack I)
  • Hush! - Whisper (Hero Pack I)
  • Seekers of the Ptolemaic Spheres - Searchers of the Multiverse (Hero Pack I)
  • The General - General Entropy (Hero Pack I)
  • Iron Chest - Black Box (Hero Pack I)
  • Tempus Fugit - Tempus Fugit (Hero Pack I)
  • Gravedigger - Gravedigger (Hero Pack I)
  • Lady Katherine White - Mayet (Hero Pack II)
  • Little Lord Jenkins - Kid Calamity (Hero Pack II) 
  • Sir Gilbert Marcus (The Silver Arrow) - Kyudo Yumi (Hero Pack II)
  • Princess Nadia Falkenberg - Scarlet Sabre (Hero Pack II)
  • Punch and Clockwork Judy - Dr. Punch and Electric Judy (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying, No Laughing Matter)
  • Spider-Larder - Spider-Fridge (Hero Pack I)

The Villains
  • Jean-Pierre Robert - Arobas (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Count Sergei Volkov - Pulsar (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Sir Stephan Porter - Recluse (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Dr. Draco Spiradonicus - Rex Mundi (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Don Eduardo - Speed Demon (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • The Dartmoor Devil - The Troll (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Sin Tsung-Chi - Dr. Sin (ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying)
  • Lord Carstairs - Beastman (Villainomicon)
  • Countess Katarina Kalinnikov - Copy Cat (Villainomicon) 
  • The Crimson Corsair - Corsair Queen (Villainomicon)
  • Il Conte de Malochio - Count Malochio (Villainomicon)
  • The Black Highwayman - Dark Rider (Villainomicon)
  • Dr. Zodius - Doctor Zodiac (Villainomicon; The Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac)
  • Fidei Defensor - Patriot (Villainomicon)
  • The Scarecrowe - Jacob Crowes (Villainomicon, Murder of Crowes)
  • Baron Karnstein - Warlock (Villainomicon)
  • Lord Wallace Geoffery - Necrovore (Hero Pack II)
  • Zergo of the Eldest - Zergo (Villainomicon)

Further Reading

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. This is good. I like that you've re-skinned existing heroes and Villians as well as added new weapons, etc. Would you mind generating a PDF of this? How might you re-skin a wuxia / ancient china or midievil Japan ICONS?

  2. Thanks Curt! Good idea - I will get this into PDF and put it up on the ICONS Truth Justice and Gaming Wiki ASAP.

    I'm not as well-versed in wuxia or medieval Japan, but the novel Shōgun does take place during the same period as ICONS 1602. You could probably start with that and maybe re-envision some of the WWII villains in Vigilance Press's Pearl Harbor December.

    If you wanted something more medieval involving Asian cultures, I'd suggest starting with Kara-Tur and Oriental Adventures (the original 1e AD&D version would be my choice, but the 3e version is based on AEG's Legend of the Five Rings, another good source) for inspiration, weapon lists etc. Kind of like what I did with A Mighty Fortress for ICONS 1602.

  3. I've added Saguaro to the list of heroes in 1602 due to popular demand. Consider his first appearance to be in ICONS 1602: New World. :)

  4. Don't forget that there are existing interesting characters to add to a 1602 variant as well.

    For instance, I'd love to see John Dee (and perhaps Edward Kelley) interact with the characters. In fact, there's room for a whole villainous subclture there, involving science, sorcery, alchemy, and fraud.

    Or perhaps you have in mind some privateering? Then Francis Drake.

    Or perhaps the theatrical scene is your bent, in which case a brief interaction with Shakespeare and Marlowe. (Marlowe was actually a "Hangman"-like hero and had to fake his own death...) This of course takes us back to Walsingham, and the spy stuff we might have started with....