Monday, November 19, 2012

Rethinking Powers: Aquatic

I recently completed a new issue of JUSTICE WHEELS for Fainting Goat Games (#13 MAKO Commander coming soon to RPGNow and DriveThruRPG) where the Aquatic power featured prominently in the character and signature vehicle stat blocks. This got me thinking about how Aquatic works, not just in the ICONS core rules themselves but in conjunction with the Vehicle and Chase Rules from JUSTICE WHEELS as well. Each vehicle created with the Vehicle and Chase Rules has a Speed rank that is essentially equivalent to Super-Speed or Flight at the same power level. In the case of the MAKO Commander's vessel, I designated Speed as being equivalent to Aquatic, essentially putting that power in the same category as the Movement powers Super-Speed and Flight.

In ICONS, however, Aquatic is classified as an Alteration power, which makes sense in that it allows your character to live and breathe underwater as easily as they do on land (i.e. amphibious). The power description then goes on to suggest some swim speeds based on your character's rank in Aquatic: 3 is a swift swimmer like a dolphin, 5 is as fast as a submersible, 7 like a torpedo, while higher levels are faster than any known sea-creature or vessel. So in that context, Aquatic could also be considered a Movement power, and this is what I want to reexamine now.

I've mentioned before that I use the guidelines in Dr. Axiom's Benchmarks over at the ICONS Truth, Justice and Gaming Wiki for my own games. When I took a closer look at the the speed guidelines given in the Aquatic power in the ICONS core rulebook, I noticed they seemed a little too "fast". For example, a dolphin (or swimming as fast as a dolphin) is listed as equivalent to Aquatic 3 which corresponds to a speed of ~75 mph (Speed 3) in the benchmarks, but in reality dolphins have a speed of around 25 mph (good enough for Speed 1). Sharks swim faster than dolphins (Speed 2), and the fastest sea creature is the sail fish at 68 mph (or Speed 3). The fastest nuclear submarine is rumored to travel at around 50 mph (or Speed 2). Similarly, the fastest torpedoes clock in at around 200 mph (Speed 6).

Michael Phelps vs. Aquaman? No contest.
And having Aquatic 1 and being able to swim as fast as a dolphin is still much better than the human norm. Michael Phelps is considered to be the fastest human swimmer, and he has been clocked at just under 5 mph. The fastest English Channel swim was clocked at 2 mph. Not very fast compared to the dolphin, although the normal ICONS Swimming rules would apply and Michael Phelps would probably be considered an athlete with Coordination 6 - the ICONS human maximum. This way, having Aquatic 1 as a power is still "special" - being able to swim as fast as a dolphin is better than anyone without the power, much like having Super-Speed 1 allows you to run as fast as a horse (maybe not quite The Flash, but better than the fastest human without the power).

So when should the Aquatic power be used to determine Speed? If the character (innately or with a device), creature or vehicle possessing it is mostly submerged while moving and is able to breathe under the water while moving (e.g. gills, air storage etc.), use Aquatic. This would include submarines and other submersibles, sharks, fish, and air-breathing mammals like dolphins and whales adapted to long periods underwater without having to surface to breathe (not to mention undersea-dwelling Atlanteans). Surface vehicles like powerboats that do not provide for underwater breathing or air storage would not be considered Aquatic and would use Super-Speed instead to determine Speed.

Here is a revised list of Speed benchmarks taking all of this into account:

Speed (Super-Speed, Flight and Aquatic)
1 40 mph - Horse, Dolphin
2 50 mph - Lion, Shark, Nuclear Sub
3 75 mph - Fast Bird, Cheetah, Sail Fish 
4 100 mph - Average Car, Average Powerboat
5 150 mph - Fast Car, Fast Powerboat 
6 500 mph - Airplane, Torpedo
7 800 mph (Mach 1) - Jet Plane 
8 3,000 mph - Supersonic Plane
9 10,000s mph - Rocket
10 1,000,000s mph - Interplanetary Speeds

Below is a minor revision of the Aquatic power based on the discussion of speed above. Please feel free to discuss and leave suggestions in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Alteration Power
You are equally suited to living and moving underwater and on land. You can breathe normally under water and your Coordination and Awareness are the better of their normal levels or this power's level while submerged. You can swim at a speed based on your power level: 1 is a swift swimmer like a dolphin, 2 is as fast as a shark or submersible (e.g. a nuclear sub), 3 is equivalent to a sail fish, 6 like a torpedo, while higher levels are faster than any known sea-creature or vessel.

If you have this power, but cannot breathe air (that is, you "drown" out of water, see Swimming, p. 59), it does not count against your total number of powers when figuring Determination, since you essentially have a permanent "challenge" associated with it.


  1. Very nice consideration on Aquatic, which is one of the less used (at least, well enough) powers that are.