Tuesday, 13 October 2009

First Birthday - Celebrate by joining me in rubbishing my own game

I have been blogging free RPGs for a year now. 63 posts scribed and 38 games 'reviewed'*. I ran a 24 hour competition, completing my own - Cloudship Atlantis. I've offered advice, started a Dictionary that will one day rival John Kim's and made some great friends.

So, how do I celebrate a year of enthusing and celebrating other people's work? By picking to death my own free game. Think of it as a mix of healthy self critique and an inevitable backlash of being nice for a whole year.

Icar - a dreadful vat of excrement

Icar by Rob Lang is a free science fiction roleplaying game set in a bland, plagiarised future. The fat of other genres has been scraped off and boiled in a stinking vat to produce a stock kitchen sink Sci Fi. Unintelligible rules, disparate formatting and penis inspired space craft are wrapped in a deceptively colourful cover. As we will discover, if you paint a turd then what you end up with is a painted turd.

Character Creation

Icar goes as far to provide a torturously long character creation mechanism that relies upon character classes called 'Skeletons' but fails to provide any. Every familiar term you have become accustomed to in roleplaying has been changed. Classes are 'Skeletons', Attributes are 'Stats' and Skills are... well, Skills but that's purely by accident.

You begin your journey into Icar with defining a character concept. How you are supposed to create a character concept without any idea of how the universe is put together is beyond me. After that, you define your Deviant. A Deviant is a representation of your characters personality. Are you Selfish or Generous? Foolhardy or Prudent? By how much? TELL US NOW! This must all be set from the start - a constricting fascistic approach to character creation. There is no room for exploring the character as you play in the Icar Third Reich.

Statistics can be rolled randomly or point applied (a good example of Rob's indecision - including both systems to bloat an already bursting tome), roll some skills (of which there are hundreds). It goes on. A never ending ocean of options, tables, detail, location based hit points, height, weight, age, hat size and underpant colour and texture. Still with me? Still awake? I forfeited my front teeth when I collapsed against my insufficiently padded keyboard.

Finally, you have the option for rolling randomly for Advantages and Disadvantages (confusingly named Psychotheatrics). Random selection will ruin the character concept you loving crafted at the start. It seems like a cruel final blow in the long struggle to create a character.

All of this is written down on a decimated copse load of paper, the first character sheet looking like the product of teenage nightmare.


Rob is not averse to packing a huge number of different mechanics into a single game. There's one for skills checks. One for close combat. One for firefighting, one for vehicle combat, one for hacking and one for space combat. There might as well be one for doing the dishes and breeding alpacas. Complexity is piled onto complexity, leaving your head spinning and eyes bleeding with the strain.

The close combat system is barely damaging and the weapons make firefighting lethal to the extreme. With no healing rules and no armour in the equipment section, your character can be vaporised in an instant. A horror that sends to back down the snake to square one, character creation. Hacking is so utterly complex that attempting it should be a MENSA entrance exam. It isn't fun. It isn't like hacking. As they say in flying circles: see and avoid.

Robert Lang shuns numbers

The most maddening part of the mechanics is that Rob has arithmophobia. Instead of plainly writing numbers into a nice plain box, you are forced into learning a system of triangles, circles and squares placed in a disc. It's the most senseless waste of game design I've ever had the misfortune to come across. I can write numbers perfectly well, Rob, don't force me to draw little glyphs. This isn't 2000 BC.


Icar is set so far into the future that most Sci Fi fan will lose interest. Although there are no vestiges of the real world, there is enough plagiarism from other Sci Fi it spawned to make you feel uncomfortably at home. Warrior monks with light swords, power armoured military types who are only mentioned in passing, a race of human-created robots hell bent on killing everyone, big nasty corporations, bland criminal organisations and a virtual world. A cornucopia of cliche. An Empire, which pretends to be benevolent but seems to be so all encompassing to be truly so, rules every minutiae of life. Just about every aspect of Icar is recognisable in a jarring, embarrassing sort of way - as if Rob has not realised that he is ripping off decades of Science Fiction.

It gets worse

The artwork is plain and the simply enormous number of unaffordable weapons, vehicles and space craft is mind boggling. One can only imagine that Rob feels inadequate about his genitalia as penis shaped space craft thrust from every page - pages that pleed to be printed. You can't write down a weapon's statistics in Icar, you must deforest the Amazon. Images scythe through the centre of pages, breaking the flow of text and are unlabelled. And a mystery to the reader. There are inexplicable areas of white space and he has clearly never read my guide to organising an RPG. Only the first of three character sheets is provided in the book, so you have to dig around on the website for the others. I have wasted enough time and bandwidth downloading this drivel, I don't want to be forced to return to the drab website to hunt for more things. The author claims that Icar has been playtested, making me want to set up a fund for those forced to endure years of this nonsense.

Where to go from here

The best thing Rob can do is copy the source files onto a hard drive and fire it into the sun. Then, with funding I will happily supply, chase down every printed copy and toss them into the heart of a nuclear reactor.


I can say without any doubt that Icar is definitely one of the most mind bogglingly dreadful roleplaying games I've read. A disparate, disjointed and disappointing mess. Mechanic heavy with no good reason, childishly decorated with penis space craft and teenage wet dream guns. If you have had the misfortune of laying your eyes on this pustule then I can heartily recommend scouring your eyes with bleach and undergoing a double lobotomy to rid yourself of the memory.

* It could be said that I don't really review the games I write about as I only read them. A fair comment. Ironically, the only game I have played is this one - the one I'm pouring scorn onto!


Sewicked said...

but at least your review left me gasping with laughter...um, yay?

Barking Alien said...

I have no idea whether I want to get this game now at all costs or obliterate its existence from the memory of the universe.

Tough call.

Happy Anniversary and I love your blog. Thanks to you I have discovered the inspiration for one of the coolest games I've ever run.

Kudos and keep up the good work.

Gordon said...

Wow, perhaps i shouldn't play that one ;)

i eagerly await v4

Badelaire said...

Whoever this Rob Lang douche is, he needs to have his fingers broken so he can't excrete any more filth like this!

Happy Birthday, Free RPG Blog...

Jerry Cornelius said...

The setting isn't a rip-off, it's an homage. Joyeux anniversaire.

Stargazer said...

Wow! Quite a harsh review. I am pretty sure you ruined this Rob Lang's day. ;)

theMonk said...

Speaking as someone full of his own self-loathing, I wish I could give you a hug and some nice hot tea.

Rob Lang said...

Many thanks for jumping right into the spririt of it! You can be sure that wherever this horrid Rob lang is, he's getting a pasting tonight.

writerdood said...

It's sad that so much effort was wasted. Perhaps if his genitals had been only slightly larger, the weapons and equipment would be more compact and differently shaped. Maybe the author should experiment with male enhancement pills before writing. It could change gameplay altogether.

Happy BD. Keep up the good work Brainwipe!

Stefan said...

hillarious - definitly will read Icar. Put it on top of the stack.

Anonymous said...

I read the review without reading the intro and I thought this guy must have a big gripe against the author and I started to feel sorry for him. Then I read the intro and what had been a very harsh and funny review became all the more amusing for being a self hatchet job. I will be tuning into your site to read more of your stuff.

Jonathan Ridd
Cold Blooded Games

Bercilac said...

I liked a lot of Icar when I took a look at it, particularly character creation... but yes. Your number system is stupid. Wasting a 1" wide circle where you could just write "45," and learning an arcane system to do it, doesn't strike me as worthwhile, just to remind me that the game is set in the future.

Setting-lite is good too, as it lets gms do what they like. Most gms will be pirating the same tropes you have anyway, and if they have something truly unique it would be impossible for you to write rules for it anyway. Unique source material can get downright annoying, as in the case of the D&D Monster Manual supplements.

I suppose some of the clunkiness of the game comes from its long-term development. Third-party input could polish it, if you were interested, but whatever. Thanks for sharing your work with the rest of us. I quite liked the session photos on the web site.

Rob Lang said...

@Jon - Thanks for the comment, it made my day! And it's great to see you over on 1km1kt. I reviewed your game Dog Town. Loved it.

@Bercilac - Glad you agree with the main points. I do believe free RPGs should have a setting. A setting is the ideal example to demonstrate why a game is different from another of the same genre.

As for clunk, you're right that it is down to a long history and lots of tweaking. I do thing Sci Fi settings often have a little more clunk in the trunk because of all the different places you can fight!

Robbos said...

Frikkin Lang and pushing his crap on us >_>

Craig said...

Okey-dokey, followed a link to here and immediately hooked.
Anyone who has as honest a view of his own efforts as your good self deserves support. So a loud Huzzah!!
I look forward to exploring your blog further.

thegamesshed said...

I followed random link here and am so glad I did.
Any Rpg author who can 'critique' his own work so well deserves my support, so a loud Huzzah!!