Designer's Notes

Back in 2007, I attempted to explain why I had written Icar the way I did. Having read a fair number of free RPGs since then, I am not entirely sure my goals were honest or achievable. I fear that I fell foul to my own marketing speak and promised a lot that Icar could never have delivered. My design goals are now more honest. I think it is quite interesting to compare the 2007 Goals with my goals in 2012, so I have them both here.

I apologise for the 2007 me, pompus twit that I was.

Goals 2012

  1. The best free game in the world.
  2. Medium-crunch mechanics.
  3. Mechanics that feel like the world they represent.
  4. Dramatic combat where player tactical choices matter.
  5. Lots of technology.
  6. GM sandbox tools.
  7. A complete game in one book.
  8. Beautiful graphics.
  9. Beautiful character sheets.

To pick that apart

When I started Icar, I wanted to create a game that my players and I wanted to play. When the internet caught up with free RPGs, I wanted Icar to be played by others. To do that, I needed to strive for quality. You can only strive for quality if you set the goal as being the best [1]. I know that's subjective but that's OK, it's an aim, one that I have to satisfy myself with.

I used to think Icar was a light game but that's utter rubbish [2,3]. It has quite a lot of mechanics, but the mechanics are little sub-games in themselves that aren't difficult to play. It's OK to have a game that isn't light. It's OK to have rules. Icar used rules to give the player tactical options to choose from. Lighter games require a lot on the imagination and as such there is something little reward for using the game system itself in a clever way. I wanted different sorts of combat to drive narration. If the system was light then it would require a player to think up wild flying manouvres on the... (ahem) fly. I would much rather that the game provided the foundation on which the player can choose the move and describe thier outcome [4].

I like technology [5] and I always enjoyed pouring through Cyberpunk Chromebooks. I wanted Icar to have a lot of technology. I'm not quite there (as of 2012) but I am a long way toward my goal. Icar is not for one-shots, it's for campaigns [6]. I think many games lose their way because they try and be all things to all people and end up not being very good at anything. There are lots of blogs on the net that detail how to run sandboxes but I don't do it like that so I provide the GM with my timelines-and-events system.

I want the game to be accessible. Come to the site, download one book and there is everything you need. If you want more, then you can come back. Don't make the prospective GM or player think. That's the reason for the site redesign and for amalgamating all the books into one [7].

Quality is synonymous with beauty [8]. I won't put my name to a graphic or layout that I feel is not the best I can do. I still hate character sheets that look like spreadsheets [9] although I admit that my idea to have no numbers on the character sheet was bordering on the insane.

Goals 2007

As a designer, the author is often asked why Icar was designed in a certain way. This page attempts to outline what decisions were made and how this affects the style of the game. A set of Designer's Notes, you could say.

If you read through this and realise that it sounds like a terribly poor idea, then Icar is probably not for you. For the cynical among you, treat this as a rant. For those who have played for years, consider this as the environment in which the game evolved. For budding games designers, make your own decisions for your game, but don't forget to tell everyone about your motivations!


Icar was originally created for fun. The author had only seen RPGs played from afar at a local games club but had never played one himself. As the game became more widely known and played, the following goals were formed:
  1. Free
  2. High Quality
  3. Fast playing mechanics
  4. Low complexity rules specific to this game background
  5. Dramatic Combat
  6. Deep and detailed social background
  7. Totally different to any other Sci Fi Setting
  8. Far future setting with detailed techology
  9. GM tools to allow complex non-linear campaigns
  10. As few numbers on the character sheet as possible!
These goals are just about complete and work is in place to fill the gaps in.


Why were the Goals formed in this way? Why should a system be created in this style? The reasons and justifications for these goals is not always simply explained. The game began purely out of ignorance, the author had no experience of other system so did not know how things should work. This showed in poor early versions but has allowed the game to grow independantly. Even now, the author only ever rarely picks up an RPG book he has not written.

The author believes very strongly that Icar should be free (1). He has seen that there is no money to be had in the inudstry and it would spoil his favourite hobby if income relied upon it. The author also does not understand why free RPGs should not be quality products (2). Normally, the distance between a quality free RPG and poor one is one of persistance. The drive to keep moving on and improving. To say that one does not need to write quality because the people are not expecting it is folly.

The game mechanics were evolved to create a system that was believable and quick (3). Detail and realism is all very well in modern-day systems where there is the bench mark of the outside world, but in futuristic systems it can be very difficult to set a realistic property for systems. Thus, where realism is not possible, the next best position is believable and speed. As long as something sounds about right, given the genre, it can be included. Anything that breaks the balance, or appears to make the background completely unbelievable should be removed.

Another point about mechanics is the dramatic combat (5). It is purely the desire of the author to have a quick combat system that allows dramatic sequences (such as one would find in film and television). This is purely a matter of style and appears to suit all those who have played. The mechanics are intended purely for this game area, the author finds generic systems clunky (4).

In the early days, the author was always irritated when a player pointed out the origin of an idea. Quite often the alteration of the origin to fit the system was clever and thus missed by the players who were hell-bent on proving the sovrenty. Therefore, it is the author's intent to make a background that is utterly different from any other existing Sci Fi setting (7). This is a difficult goal, as the human race can always abstract that which is different to be the same. So, given that there is a generic science fiction paradigm (faster than light space craft, etc etc), the galaxy as seen in Icar attempts to be different to any other. Any similarity is purely coincidental. These differences can be highlighted by having a a detailed background (6) which is, sadly, still in writing.

Any far future or Science Fiction setting has the difficulty of technology (8). Often the pedantic will argue that if one certain piece of technology exists, why does this other one not? A detailed technology background can soon quell these arguments or set the record straight by including the piece of technology.

As a 'career-GM', the author found the tools provided with any RPG to be either benile or 'obvious'. Yet, on the web are huge amounts of hints and tips for budding GMs. It seems like lack of effort. Also, every campaign guide seemed to have a similar format for creating campaigns, running along a linear system of 'From A to B'. As the players of Icar aged as did the author, they became quite savvy at spotting the direction of a game and then worked against it. This issue required lots of ad-lib which in turn lead to an inconsistant game. So, a more complex version was created that allowed consistency, complexity and a more challanging game for the players (9). This goal has been attacked and completed with aplomb.

Finally, the author has a hate of character sheets that look like spreadsheets (10). Having boxes for numbers may be nice and efficient and may get everything on one page but is ultimately boring. Players rarely have one sheet, what with notes and doodles, so why constrain it to one? Some inventive graphics have lead to a character sheet that no-one can say is boring.