Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Problem Powers 1: Aquatic Thoughts

Aquatic Thoughts

Problematic Powers I: Aquatic

I've got a certain amount of time to kill, because I suddenly got put in the hospital for a procedure and probably surgery. (Let's just say that if I get to go home after the procedure, it's bad news because they've discovered Awful Things.)

But nonetheless, I'm thinking about ICONS and certain powers that make my eyes roll up and my skin itch. Fair? Probably not. And heavily influenced by other games that I have played and where I live.

Aquatic... My first reaction

Man. What a sucky power, is what I used to think. I mean, sure, if your ability is to be in an enclosed life support system, or you can breathe air with your own miniature SCUBA rebreather...I mean, Batman and Iron Man both did that. That was cool, and in the Champions days, that was cheap. Heck, I could afford a gadget as a rebreather for my Batman ripoff...er, homage.

The thing is, I also live in a town which, while it has a river, was the last stop for river freight before the rocks made the thing impassible.

But in ICONS, well, getting the power Aquatic when you only have four to six powers total? What a huge chunk of your power budget (so to speak) spent on the ability to breathe underwater...and frankly, the survival rules in most superhero games are so geared to the heroic that the hero can dive into the lake, have the fight, and make it to the surface without much of a problem. (ICONS requires a strength test every panel after the first.)

So here's what Aquatic gives you.

Aquatic characters are equally able to function underwater and on land. You can breathe underwater and your Coordination and Awareness while submerged equal the higher of their normal levels +1 or this power’s level. You can swim at a speed based on your half your power level (rounded up) on the Benchmarks Table. As an extra, your Prowess and Strength also increase to your Aquatic level or gain 1 level (whichever is greater) while you are underwater.

Now, looking at that, it's pretty cool. It sounds like a good power. So clearly, my biggest problem is that the two models for Aquatic are really Aquaman and Namor. Both are rulers of Atlantis, and both live primarily under the sea.

Except here in land-locked MyTown, we don't have water.

So clearly, if I'm going to make Aquatic a relevant power for me, I have to think about putting water into an adventure.

Let's eliminate the idea that we're going to set this in the middle of the ocean. (We could, but that's a cheat.) We might set it in a shore town, but a bit off-shore is as foreign as the middle of the ocean, and a boat doesn't call for Aquatic, it calls for flight or swimming. Where is there water in my southern Ontario town, and maybe there'll be water in your town as well.

Rivers and Lakes

There are rivers and lakes in the area, but we've never made use of them for game purposes. The rivers are actually kind of pointless—if you got your head wet going across one, I'd be surprised—but the lakes...well, the lakes should be fine. We have an abandoned quarry that filled with water; we have several lakes; and we have a lake that's actually a city reservoir.

So what can a villain do with a lake that makes good use of Aquatic?

Well, he or she can hide things down there. Or might be looking for something there: maybe someone else stole the samples from the biotech lab and hid them in a lake. It's cold down there, and if the box is water-tight, dry inside. Yes, you could get the same result with Life Support (breathing), but the additional Awareness and movement differences make your Aquatic character better under water than most SCUBA divers.

The secret base or the missile launcher might be there. (I ignore its construction under water.)

One that I like is that there's some race of fish-men and Aquatic is essential to talk to them...because they can't talk out of water.

A variant is the swamp or bog. There's a long tradition of building your bad-guy secret HQ in a swamp, going back at least as far as Super Friends, and the guy with Aquatic can ignore half the dangers.


Please note that I didn't say sewage. Cities have water sewers, too, and during a rainstorm those puppies might be full. Shame if that were the time they needed to get to the secret headquarters, or the enclave of outcasts who have taken the professor hostage, or the mutant human-alligator cross living in the sewer system and who guards the enclave.


Aside from some contrivance like in John Updike's "The Swimmer," there are a lot of swimming pools in this town. Some of the big ones (public outdoor pools) or the university pools (required to be Olympic sized) might hold something. There's chance that someone or something might be living in the secret chambers between the main pool and the hot pool.

But there's a second kind of pool that's in our town that I recognized while driving a few weeks ago: water reservoirs for factories. I don't know if these are private places to hold water before the manufacturing process, or hold some kind of toxic residue after the manufacturing process, but they're there. Imagine that they're toxic, so going into them dissolves SCUBA gear. Yet the Aztec idol for the mystic ceremony was dropped there. The hero with Aquatic goes. It's like voluntarily walking into a cloud of poison gas, and no one else could do it.

The Wet End

Yeah, to use these you'd certainly have to be thinking about the Aquatic power while putting the adventure together. But one of the reasons we play superhero games is so that our characters can look cool, and here's a venue where the character with Aquatic can look cool.