Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rethinking Powers: Swinging

Now that the STARK CITY Kickstarter has been successfully funded (THANK YOU, everyone!), I've been working this week on generating stats for several NPC characters provided by our generous patrons. In doing so, I came across an ICONS power I haven't seen come up a lot in my own games yet, but certainly one that is common enough to be desirable. Swinging is classified as a movement power because like Super Speed, Flight, Wall Crawling and Leaping, it fits the very basic definition of movement by allowing your character to travel from Point A to Point B.

Reading the power description for Swinging, we learn that the material strength of your swing line is equal to your power level rank in Swinging, which is certainly good information to know. But there aren't any real guidelines for how fast you can travel by swinging, say from building to building across Manhattan - it's got to be faster than rush hour traffic, right? So Swinging probably isn't like gravity-defying Wall Crawling or Aquatic, where your movement is at the same speed as your normal human movement, only you can do it with equal ease in these different "environments".

The first place I usually check for guidelines is Dr. Axiom's Benchmarks over at the ICONS Truth, Justice and Gaming Wiki. This gave me two more options - classify Swinging speed with Leaping and Teleportation (Distance), or classify it with Super Speed and Flight (Speed). So which should it be? There are certainly arguments for both involving real world physics vs. comic book logic. In the end, this argument swayed me to classify Swinging with Super Speed and Flight:

In The Amazing Spider-Man #510, it takes Spider-Man 9 minutes and 50 seconds to cross the entire island of Manhattan which from end to end is 13.4 miles. If he continued that speed for another 50 minutes he would have traveled 80.4 miles in an hour. Meaning, he can travel 80+ miles per hour.

So referring back to Dr. Axiom's Benchmarks for Super Speed and Flight, I would assign Spider-Man a rank of Swinging 4.

So going back to the power description, does a faster Swinging speed necessarily equate to a stronger swing line? I'm not so sure about that. Below is my revised version of Swinging taking all of this into account. Please feel free to discuss and leave suggestions in the comments. Updated Friday 9/21/12 based on discussion in the comments section.

Movement Power
You can swing along on a line or cable to a distance equivalent to Leaping at the same power level in a single swing, or travel at a speed equivalent to Flight at half your level in this power (rounded up) by combining multiple swings; this might be self-generated webbing or lines of force, or a device like a grappling gun or lasso. Substitute your Swinging level for your Coordination, if it is higher, for maneuvers while you are swinging (including avoiding attacks).

You can also use your swing line to catch onto things at a distance equivalent to Leaping at the same power level and pull them to you rather than you to them with a successful Coordination test.

Your swing lines can be made of any material with a Strength no greater than your power level. 

Fast Swing: As a bonus power, you may travel by combining multiple swings at a speed equivalent to Flight at the same power level.


  1. Great rethinking about Swinging. In a superhero world where flight comes as an almost trivial power, your interpretation opens up nice perspectives.

  2. So I opened a Diet Peach Snapple Tea today (my favorite), and on the bottom of the cap was the following "Real Fact" (#884): "A strand from the web of a golden spider is as strong as a steel wire of the same size." What a weird coincidence...

  3. Looks good, Joe. In my home game, I do something a little different.

    I play the Swinging Power level is the Strength of the device (web, line, etc.), character's speed of movement is Super Speed at half Power level, and a bonus power is binding.

    So Spiderman would likely have a 6 Swinging, 6 Strength (equal to steel cable), and a Super Speed of 3. I know he once went 80 (Super Speed 4), but I'd say that he used Determination to do it, and 40 is more his typical speed.

  4. I guess the question is, what is "more" swinging? Having swinging be rated by strength of line is kind of like saying that flight is rated by how high you can fly.

    Fortunately, swinging can be both speed and distance, bridging the gap between flight and leaping. In the real world, the speed of a swinging object is derived from the starting angle and the length, which just means if you start higher and have a longer line, you're going faster by the time you fall (in a controlled fashion) to the bottom of your swing. So having a higher rank for Swinging would imply a longer line and a faster swing. (No one's actually going to do the math; this is ICONS.)

    The place where it might matter is in trying to snag something. Let's figure we're ranging from a few feet (whip) to a half mile (about the size of the world's tallest structure). Since it's superheroes, let's double that so we can run a line down the side of Mt. Everest: from 5 or so feet to a mile:

    1: about a person's height
    2: across the room
    3: about a storey
    4: two storeys
    5: across a multi-lane street
    6: a short block
    7: a long block
    8: a couple of blocks
    9: a half-mile
    10: a mile

    The strength of the cable is alwas at minimum as strong as the length, but can be stronger: your hemp line has a different strength than your Unobtainium wire, which in turn is different from your spider-silk.

  5. Excellent points, everyone - thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    2bba5c32etc: Yeah, Spidey with a Swinging "Super Speed" of 3 using Determination to achieve 80 mph is definitely more in tune with the spirit of ICONS. I like your house rules for Swinging too.

    John: I think you may be right - Swinging is sort of the "bridge" power between Leaping (Distance) and Super Speed/Flight (Speed).

    I've been rethinking this power rethink a lot today. In particular, when Spider-Man swung across Manhattan, it wasn't just one single "swing" but a series of swings plural, and thus taken together an ICONS function of speed (like Super Speed and Flight). A single swing would be an ICONS function of distance (like Leaping), and, as John pointed out, when you try to catch on to things with your swing line and pull them to you, it is also an ICONS function of distance. Perhaps then Swinging 6 should provide you with Leaping 6 for a single swing and Super Speed 3 (half power rounded up) for multiple swings.

    I'm still not comfortable with swing line Strength being so intimately tied to power level. I'm thinking I should change that to allow for a swing line Strength rating to be *up to* the power level but no more. That way if a jungle hero for example with a Swinging 7 wants to swing from a Strength 2 vine because it fits their character concept, they can.

  6. And of course Bonus Powers can boost these numbers up.

  7. I've always found that movement powers in general were rather... vague in how fast they allowed you to go. I've always tried to just allow for it by making movement by power faster than movement by coordination and then adjudicating based on story. Not the best way but I've only really run one-shots with icons so it hasn't come up much.

  8. Sounds good, Joe. Will any of these neat variant rules appear in Stark City?


  9. For some reason, 2bba5c32-034f-11e2-8eca-000f20980440, is showing up instead of Don't want to mislead you about who I am. ;-)

  10. Bill - thanks for stopping by! ICONS is definitely a game where quality (i.e. beyond visual range) is emphasized over quantity (2,500 miles away). I really like that about the game, but the more I play, the more I like knowing what the various "benchmarks" might be - even if they are just ballpark numbers. I know some gamers want even more precision than the ICONS default provides. Personally, I like to ride that fence in the middle ground.

    John: Ha! I was wondering who that was. :) I know Mike mentioned a possible rules variant section in STARK CITY to collect some of the stuff the various contributors have put out there in the various ICONS haunts, but that we might be limited by space constraints. We should talk about that with him again to see if it's still a possibility.