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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Golden Age Throwbacks: The Arrow

Before DC Comics' Green Arrow or Marvel's Hawkeye came along, there was The Arrow, the original masked bowman and the public domain superhero featured in this installment of Golden Age Throwbacks. And while he wasn't the first costumed superhero (he was arguably the third costumed superhero published), the Arrow was the first archery master to appear in the comics. Unlike those that would follow, however, he did not have any trick arrows to rely on as gimmicks, although he too lacked any superpowers other than complete mastery of his weapon of choice. He wasn't bad with his fists either.

When the Arrow initially appeared in the comics, his real identity was never revealed although a few tantalizing clues were dropped in the stories. He was apparently very wealthy and lived in New York City where he had a penthouse apartment and a butler. At least one individual at the time knew who the Arrow really was - Inspector Carter of the Chicago Police Department knew where to find the Arrow to bring him in on a case. And the police trusted the Arrow enough to let suspects in their custody go if they received word from him (usually by a note attached to an arrow sent through the window) that the individual in question was innocent (or even guilty just so he could tail them). The Arrow was judge, jury and sometimes executioner, and he possessed a special black arrow reserved to take the lives of those criminals who were completely beyond remorse and redemption.

Ralph Payne
It wasn't until much later that readers learned the Arrow's true identity - Ralph Payne, United States Intelligence Agent. Disguised as the Arrow, Payne recognized he could operate more effectively outside the law without the restrictions imposed by his civilian identity. He would even operate behind enemy lines, and while on undercover assignment in Nazi Germany, he met British Intelligence agent Jane Markham where she became one of the few to learn of his secret identity. The two were able to foil a plot to send secret messages back and forth from Berlin to America in the radio broadcasts of a traitorous British journalist known as Lord Hawford working for the Gestapo with a treasonous American journalist counterpart.

The Arrow made many appearances in Funny Pages and Amazing Adventure Funnies (plus a guest appearance in Fantoman #2) before finally getting his own eponymous title. Unfortunately, The Arrow only lasted for three issues before being cancelled. Still, the Arrow is noteworthy as a public domain superhero for starting and helping to define the archer hero/vigilante archetype, and his influence can still be seen today in the new CW television series, Arrow, the latest telling of the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow story.
Ralph Payne AKA The Arrow!


Origin: Trained
Real Name: Ralph Payne
First Appearance: Funny Pages #21 [Centaur Publications September 1938] 

Prowess  5
Coordination  6
Strength  4
Intellect  3
Awareness  4
Willpower  4

Stamina  8
Determination  5

  • Acrobatics
  • Criminology Expert
  • Investigation Master
  • Stealth Master
  • Weapons Master (Bows)
  • Blast Device 6 (Shooting) - Bow and Arrows

Jane Markham
  • Epithet: Modern Day Robin Hood
  • Identity: Wealthy Bachelor turned US Intelligence Agent
  • Connections: Jane Markham, British Intelligence
  • Connections: Inspector Carter, Chicago Police Department
  • Enemy : Organized Crime
  • Enemy : Nazi Agents
Point Total: 44

The Arrow was created by Paul Gustavson and first appeared in Funny Pages #21 (September 1938) published by Centaur Publications.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stark City Preview: Visitor Brochure

We have another free preview of the upcoming STARK CITY Campaign Setting. Our cartographer Steff Worthington has put together a very nice tourist brochure highlighting some of the neighborhoods found in Stark City. The brochure includes Steff's amazing city map for the campaign setting.

You can download your FREE PDF copy of the Stark City Visitor Brochure at RPGNow or DriveThruRPG.

Welcome to Stark City from Fainting Goat Games and Stark City Press will be available at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG in January 2013!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Golden Age Throwbacks: The Purple Zombie

In this installment of Golden Age Throwbacks, we are going to take a look at one of the more bizarre superhero characters now in the public domain, The Purple Zombie. Only the first twelve issues of Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics tell the tale of Zoro the Purple Zombie, and almost every issue ends with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next issue. The stories were written by Tarpe Mills and published by Eastern Color Printing.

The Purple Zombie (who's real name was Zoro) was created by two physician scientists working as a team on an invention to restore life, each with a very different agenda. Dr. Kim Hale benevolently intended to use the results of their experiments to prolong and extend human life while his evil colleague Dr. Malinsky intended to use their invention to create an army of zombies raised from the dead and sell them to the Nazis. When Dr. Hale confronted his partner about the ethics of reanimating the dead, Dr. Malinsky shot Hale and left him for dead. The newly raised Purple Zombie, however, had other intentions along with a free will of his own, and strangled Malinsky to death for what he had done to him. Zoro then went on to hunt down Malinsky's Nazi collaborators and kill them before he was finally captured by the police.

Zoro was found guilty of the murder of Dr. Malinsky and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Amazingly, the electric chair had no effect on Zoro and he survived the execution. Dr. Kim Hale, who miraculously survived Malinsky's attempt to kill him, went to the governor and asked that Zoro be placed in his custody after explaining how the Purple Zombie had done America a great service in stopping the traitorous Malinsky and his Nazi allies. The governor granted the request and Zoro graciously went to live with Dr. Hale.

Zoro the Purple Zombie and his master Dr. Hale went on to fight mobsters and other criminals. Their crime-fighting team grew with the addition of the inventor Chico, a bitter, disfigured inventor who created an army of radio-controlled mechanical skeletons to take over the world but was so impressed with the kindness shown to him by Zoro and Dr. Hale that he joined up with them instead to be a force for good. Zoro lead Chico's radio-controlled skeletons to stop a Nazi invasion force lead by General Otto von Suda, inventor of the death ray. Afterwards, the Purple Zombie and Chico were awarded medals for their valor and service to America.

Another addition to the team was Professor Roy Elton who was trying to build a time machine. After Chico accidentally slipped and fell in Professor Elton's laboratory, Zoro and Dr. Hale were sent back in time and had a series of time-hopping adventures while Elton and Chico desperately tried to bring them back to the present. In the end, Chico gave his life for his friends so that they may return safely. Dr. Hale offered to revive Chico from the dead using the same invention that created the Purple Zombie, but Zoro stopped him with a shocking confession about his true nature - he had never been a reanimated corpse at all but was in fact alive at the time of Hale and Malinsky's initial experiment that transformed him. Zoro had been convicted of a crime he didn't commit and was attempting to escape prison by hiding in the morgue when his body was taken for the experiment. Zoro was cleared of all outstanding charges, and in the final panels of the last issue, he joined the United States Army, and Dr. Hale and Professor Elton headed off to Washington DC to work for the War Department. A happy ending to a very bizarre tale.


Origin: Transformed
Real Name: Zoro
First Appearance: Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 [Eastern Color Printing August 1940] 

Dr. Kim Hale and Zoro, the Purple Zombie
Prowess  6
Coordination  3
Strength  7
Intellect  2
Awareness  3
Willpower  4

Stamina  11
Determination  2

  • Military
  • Martial Arts Expert (Brawling)
  • Ability Increase (Strength)
  • Immortality
  • Immunity (Electricity)
  • Invulnerability 5
  • Connections: Dr. Kimberly "Kim" Hale
  • Connections: Chico
  • Connections: Professor Roy Elton
  • Decorated War Hero
Professor Roy Elton
  • Social: Giant Purple Monster
  • Enemy: Nazis
  • Enemy: Otto von Suda
Point Total: 53

The Purple Zombie gives Nazi General Otto von Suda a taste of his own death ray!

The Purple Zombie was created by Tarpe Mills and first appeared in Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 (August 1940) published by Eastern Color Printing.
The Purple Zombie leads an army of Chico's mechanical skeletons against Otto von Suda and the Nazis