Icar, as a Roleplaying Game, has been around for a long time. Therefore, this begs the question, where did come from? What got is started, how did it change? A lot of the Author's life has been spent playing, writing, modifying and messing about with Icar.
It should be noted that this history is likely to be incomplete. The author has an appaulling memory and unless it is written down or drawn for him, he can rarely remember anything. This history tries to be as honest and fair as possible. The reader should remember that the author was 14 when Icar was first played.
It should be noted that this is not the actual timeline, the sequence of events that leads up to the time of Icar can be found on Timeline page.
The Big Bang
The beginning is a very declicate time. Certainly in the case of Icar. The pedantic would argue that Icar began in 1996, but in fact the first incarnation was called Star Fleet and began in 1990. The author, Rob Lang, became friends with three others at school (Mill Hill School, London), Simon 'Fish' Aubury, James 'George' Walker and Gareth 'Baldrick' Jones. Previously, Rob had seen roleplaying games played from afar at his local Games Club, the Finchley Games Club (at the Leaside Day Centre, Finchley, North London, England) but was too young to join in. He decided to write his own version (version 1), based in space, a long time into the future and then take it to the new found friends at School. The game was sketchy at best in written form, but the idea was certainly there and was quite entrenched.
Rob had a problem, he needed to make the game sound plausible to get the others to play. He'd put a lot of time into the game and really wanted to give it a go. He 'invented' some imaginary player who had actually written the game aswell. By the deciet, he hoped that the game would look more attractive. It worked. The first game was played at some point in February 1990 and then continued to run. The game ran in many different places during its time at Mill Hill School, we began in a room in the History department (a kind Mr. Reece allowed us entry) and then moved around into places in the Science Block and at one time Library (.?.).
The original version of the game was very basic, there were two Stats (Agility and .?.) and the character sheet (along with most of the rules) was typed on a 8086 with a dot matrix printer for output. The game pretty much consisted of space-led dungeon romps where the players would wander around killing mutant humans and enemy soldiers. Most of the effort involved in the game at this point was very much in the form of Guns, of which Icar had many.
Rob definitely knew that he wanted a game which was massive, in fact so large that it could never end. The idea of a benevolent Imperium that oversaw the human race was very much the focus of the early game. Players played Troopers of Star Fleet (part of the Imperium) and spent a large amount of time killing things. Rob's other obsession was to make the game different. There was nothing worse than coming up with a good idea all by oneself and then someone point out that it wasn't new. Having a good idea attributed to someone else is frustrating to say the least. Generally, this battle was largely pointless as there is a general Science Fiction consciousness of generic ideas that came about many years ago. Rob still works hard to make everything individual.
No doubt as experienced by all gamers, the dungeon romp became boring very quickly. Being given Mission after Mission of similar targets and similar situations was very dull indeed. As the game moved on into 1992 and 1993, it changed. The game system had an overhaul and was increased to 18 Stats, which pointlessly covered a variety of areas (Version 2). The number of weapons increased and so did the variety of skills. Also, Rob began using an Acorn Achimedes to produce the character sheets which made them look very much more like character sheets you would get in a commercial game.
The way in which the game was played changed too, instead of missions set by Rob, it turned into player lead decisions and more freedom. This quite often meant that Rob would have to either ad-lib or twist the scenarios he had created. This became very complicated, so he created the first Timeline. The timeline system at this stage was very rough and only included a number of outline events to aid Rob in GMing more interesting stories. He also found that any scenario that he would create would soon be destroyed by the player, who would work against the railroading of plot and narrative as much as they could. This lead very quickly to a more open game where the players could attack and fight at will. Around this time Tracking was brought into play. This made up for Rob's appaulling memory and allowed a larger, more interesting and persistent cast of NPCs. The group called LTTPOOSF became entralled in an arms race. As they got harder, so did the monster, so did they, etc etc. The game lacked balance until the storylines became ridiculous and the game started to wane. There is only so many scenarios you can make for a team that can blow up planets.
It was a brave move to take Star Fleet to the Finchley Games Club (FGC) in 1992. Its first appearance was with a group that contained both the Mill Hill players as well as some new players from the Finchley Games Club. The new players had the experience of many different games (although they mostly played Super Hero games up until this point). The FGC was perhaps the largest shake-up for Star Fleet. Each Thursday night, the rules were put under scrutiny and the campaigns were required to be more complex and interesting to the players. The game slowly evolved in style as Rob's ability to draw improved. Weapons became more balanced and the scenarios became based on Special Forces. These missions also became linked, allowing long campaigns with later events being altered by earlier events. This was always the intention of the Timeline system but it took a push from the players to make it reality.
Although unknwon to the players, it was at this time that a new vesion of the game system was thought of. Unfortunately, it was shelved as the amount of work required to implement the new system seemed huge. The campaigns got longer, the Special Forces characters left the Star Fleet and became soldiers of various fortunes and with each new batch of players came new ideas and input to the system. In 1995, while Rob was in his gap year, the first brave attempt for someone other than Rob to GM was made by Phil Caller. Running two games concurrently, Rob and Phil ran special forces teams where the missions co-incided often and the events had impacts on the other team. The games ran with mixed success. Phil's style of GMing was vastly different to Rob's and friction was caused between the two teams. These were the last groups to be run at the games club before Rob went off to University.
On arrival at Reading University in 1995, Rob had decided that he was not going to rush into GMing Star Fleet. For the first time in many years, he gave other games a chance and played under other GMs. The lack of effort made by other GMs to provide interesting and full stories made Rob's resolve even stronger. However, he came across another problem. Whenever he mentioned the name of his roleplaying game (Star Fleet), people automatically pidgeon holed it as a 'Star Trek' clone. This infuriated him as he had strived to make the Star Fleet Universe different from anything out there. So, in the winter of 1996, he changed the name to Icar and set up a fledgeling website.
The computing resources at Reading University were far superior to his old school and he found that he had a large amount of time between lectures to write a new set of rules. The new version would move away from the Dot Matrix print of the old rules and be reprinted on laser printers. However, 5 pages into the creation of the rules he found the old design that he had shelved many years before. Also in 1996, he bought his first computer (P200) and this helped the move onto pastures new. While fiddling with the new system, he continued to run the old until the new system (Version 3) finally burst onto the scene in 1998 where it was only half complete when playing. A new character sheet was created each week with the new deviant wheel, skill trees and close combat system. Also, during this period, Rob started playing with the 3D software Lightwave, allowing him to create all manner of objects in a more professional manner.
Along with the new system came a whole range of GM tools that Rob had been used since 1994 but had failed to write up. The new tools allowed the GM to control and administer the new complex format of games that would otherwise be very difficult. HTML was chosen as the new format for the rules, viewable by all (but as yet difficult to print). The rules pages flew together (full of typos) and were soon checked by a horde of hardcore players. New character sheets were a must and version after version flew out of the printer... almost one every week. Rob had grown a huge distaste for the typical spreadsheet like character sheet systems and did everything in his power to remove the numbers and straight lines and replace them with cirles and pictures.
In 1999, 9 years after the game began, Bullet Systems (run by two old Icar players) granted a web space on their server, allowing Rob much more room to put the game than on the University server. With this, the game expanded and Rob set about writing up technology, society and the huge amount of game background that had accumulated over the years. Although more of the game came online, Rob is the only GM known to run it.
On the turn of the millenium, Icar had finished growing up. A new web-look and more information online meant that the quality of the game was increased as well as the quality of the site. Also, in the new millenium, a whole new range of weapon sheets were created. This is another innovation to move away from other RPGs, by having physical sheets or cards for separate items. All the information for the item became stored on a folded piece of paper and clipped with the character sheet, rather than writing down in a box on a sheet. This kept the tracking and movments of different pieces of equipment more obvious. The style of the rule set was set though, having so many pages to update, it would take many months to produce a new version. However, alterations still came in the form of encumberance rules and more aid for character generation.
Another noticible facet of the new millenium was the fact that one group had played since 1999. The group known as the Fear began in October of 1999 and continued until August 2002. The group managed to cement a lot of the problems with the 3.2 ruleset but also, in a sense, the game became stale for the group (see Virtual Game Session). For the first time in 3 years, the game took a break. The Fear has also shown Rob one of the perils of open gaming, without an end, the game came become horribly motionless and can be boring. The best thing to do is engineer a number of endings and then let the players steer towards one of them.
The campaign setting began again in October 2002, this time Rob wanted to test a new setting. Rather than having gun-toting vigilantes or Special Forces, a new setting based on deep space Scavengers was created. In this game, the players would have to wait a long time to get hold of any firearms - if at all. This scenario was also a test run for a campaign setting for the web. Icar never had a campaign setting created for it before and thus this 'Scav' trial was very useful. In early 2003, Rob realised that the HTML format of the rules was far from ideal. Having each page of the game as a separate HTML made it almost impossible to print. Each page much be printed separately. A process of conversion to PDF began and the Elements were first uploaded in February 2003. The Strings, Society and Bionics soon followed. PDF was definitely the way forward and the number of downloads increased because of this. Another problem occurred with the Equipment index. For those people on slow connections, downloading all the JPGs was tiresome and costly. There was not enough information in the old HTML to ascertain what was needed to be downloaded and what was superfluous (given a certain campaign). The new Equipment Index (Version 5) solved that, by condensing the information into one PDF file.
Inspried by the Order of the Stick, Rob produced a Cartoon set in the Icar universe. Based on the Scavenger setting, the Icartoon gave Rob a chance to explain Icar ideas without the need for fully rendered graphics.
In September 2006, the latest incarnation of the Elements (core rules) was finished: 3.55. This was a big step forward for the game as the new book included a wealth of images and new rules including space combat. The new style of the rules was more professional and easier to read - making it more accessible. However, this moved the bar up for all the other books and it was now time to start work on updating the rest of the system, filling the gaps and improving the fidelity. Although now around for 10 years online, there was still little buzz about it. A new equipment index and revamped Bionics system came soon after but the interest just wasn't there. A feature at the All Games Considered podcast did a lot to raise his spirits (it even gained the Cheap Bastard Award of 2007) but it wasn't enough. Rob did a test print with the print-on-demand service Lulu and holding the book in his hands was a great feeling. The test print also showed the graphics for what they were: 72DPI.
In 2008, Rob took Icar to GenCon UK, held in his home town of Reading. He panned to run 2 games of Icar but only got enough players for one game, which was a great pity. What was most valuable about GenCon was all the feedback Rob got. He sat in on a talk from Mathew Sprange about publishing roleplaying games and even bent his ear afterwards. The feedback was useful and set Rob's mind wheeling. There had to be another refresh. Version 3.5 was good but not good enough.
Into the Community
Rob was frustrated that there were thousands of free RPGs but they never got talked about. The 1km1kt community was the only community to actively support free RPGs and it was woefully quiet. If you wanted your game to be talked about, you had to be the one doing the talking. Rob became a regular on The RPG Site, talking about Icar's progress in amongst other designers. In the same group were bloggers, many of which he admired. So Rob began writing The Free RPG Blog in October 2008. Inspired by Zach Houghton, Clash Bowley and other online chums, he threw himself into blogging, reviewing other people's RPGs. Rob had read many of them before when gleaning ideas for Icar but this time it was with a more critical eye. This gave Rob a new sense of purpose and although there was less time for writing Icar, it gave him renewed purpose. 2008 was also the year that Rob threw loads of time into 1KM1KT, ensuring that there were regular posts and new ideas going on. Other free RPG authors came and in conjunction with the blog, ran 24 Hour RPG competitions.
The bi-product of reviewing lots of free RPGs is that you become critical of your own. To celebrate a year of blogging, Rob trashed Icar in an anti-review. The review was meant to be funny but it was all true. By January 2009, it was obvious that version 4 was going to exist. There needed to be a simpler download, 300DPI graphics, better writing, inbuilt bionics. Version 3.5 was frozen and a new document was opened. Icar Version 4 was going to right all the wrongs of the previous version and build in corrections to problems he saw other games have. It would need a new equipment index, new statistics and the sacred cow of writing numbers in discs was taken to the abatoire. High definition graphics meant that some of the 3D models had to be remade (as some had been lost). This was a huge undertaking but lots was done in the first year. Then the baby landed, Rob's son Felix was born in October 2009 and everything ground to a halt!
The juggling act
Version 4 was being slowly eeked out in the small gaps between caring for a baby, working at a new company (Rob was made redundant just before Felix was born) and trying to buy their first home. Bit by bit, the rules were converted and amalgamated and as Felix got older, Rob could spend his nap hours working on Icar. Fatigue was the most difficult thing to battle with; being creative is not easy when a baby doesn't let you sleep well. Rob found that talking to the 1KM1KT and blogging community was a good way to keep momentum. The Equipment Index was finished in February 2011 and then it was "just" the Core rules to complete. Currently, Rob is working through an edit of the Version 4 rules.