Use Flash as an example: here's a guy who in the game terms (of some RPGs) has a host of powers...phasing through objects, deflecting bullets, "decreasing gravity" by speeding up molecules, breaking time and dimensional boundaries, etc. But those are all products of a single power: he's really fast. He doesn't really have multiple powers, his comic writers are just trying to figure out different ways to use the powers he has. Contrast that with some of the popular heroes of Marvel like Captain America (perfect physical specimen, longevity, tactical supremacy, unbreakable shield), Wolverine (super senses, claws, regeneration, adamantine skeleton), any member of the Fantastic Four (yes, Reed Richards super-brain counts as a different power from his stretchiness), Thor, Spider-Man, etc. Even the idea of the "brick" type superhero (the big dude or dudette who is both super-strong AND damage resistant) is something far more prevalent in Marvel comics than DC...yes, Superman fits the bill (he IS the original, after all), but even Wonder Woman while strong, wasn't naturally invulnerable to damage (originally, anyway). The number of "bricks" one finds in Marvel is staggering: from Cage to Colossus to Thing to Hercules to Sasquatch to Wonder Man to...well, there's a bunch. An new one born with every super-team that rolls off the shelf.
Aquaman, like his DC brethren, derives his powers from a single source as well: his undersea heritage, The ability swim fast, fight well (underwater), talk to fish, breathe water (duh), and manipulate watery effects (at least, in the old Aquaman cartoon of the late 1960s), not to mention his Atlantean minions all combined to make him a fairly effective and power superhero...in his own element. Part of the reason Aquaman gets such a bad rap (and, yes, I was as guilty as anyone when it came to bad-mouthing the sea king in my youth) was his appearance/presence with those air-breathing superheroes known as the Justice League, AKA "the Superfriends" and his taking part in their surface world (and outer space) adventures. Environments where his powers were diminished or outright useless.
|Best Used in Solo Player Campaigns|
[back in the day, we had rather derogatory terms for this status of male (see the TLC song "No Scrubs") but as a somewhat more mature adult I try to refrain from such judgmental name-calling. Besides, I was "that guy" for a number of years myself. ; )]
At best, Aquaman's portrayal could be described as "lame," like a limping horse (in terms of being a superhero, anyway). But really, he was just a fish out of water, and diminished by the limits of the 20 minute, Saturday Morning format. Because I'm sure that creative use of his underwater abilities could be found, given a little extra time and brainpower.
Enter Supers! which I mentioned a couple days ago (before the specter of illness again struck several members of my household and thus curtailing my writing/blogging time...AGAIN). Supers! uses a quick and easy D6 system (roll handfuls of D6s and total for results) that emphasizes creativity (via narrative control) without being terribly "abstract-crunchy" in a FATE-y kind of way. Which I like a lot. It allows for power use in a very traditional comic book style, where a single power can be used for multiple stunts.
For example, your Incredible Hulk clone is fighting against some sort of flying menace that he can't reach because his feet have been encased in concrete by some typical comic book-y weirdness. You can still use your Super Strength to attack his winged opponent by (for example) "clapping his hands with such power as to buffet his foe with gale force winds." Roll the dice associated with the power. Similar to Villains & Vigilantes, which had an extensive cross-reference table for power use (attack) versus power use (defense), characters in Supers! have more options than the simplistic strike and parry/dodge of Heroes Unlimited...it just dispenses with the V&V table, instead relying on narrative creativity and a simple D6 total vs. total roll-off. Combat is thus only restricted by a player's imagination and the limit of "one-use per round" for powers/abilities.
[in the Hulk example, the villain might use his rating in "Super Flight" to defend against the green goliath's attack...but then he wouldn't be able to use the power for his own attack in the round, needing instead to select a different power or ability]
The default setting for Supers! has players build characters out of 20 dice total...that's not a whole helluva' lot compared to most point-buy chargen systems (Wild Talents is in the several hundred range, and even Mutants & Masterminds 1E defaults at 150 power points). What's especially impressive is you can create most "Justice League" level powerhouses with about 30 dice. That's a pretty impressive feat considering compared to the full page stat blocks of DC Adventures.
As an example, here's a serviceable write-up of Aquaman (30 dice):
Resistances (all start at 1D):
Aptitudes (all start at 1D):
Athletics (Swimming) 5D
Summoning (underwater only) 6D*
Super Strength 5D
Water Powers (underwater only) 6D*
*NOTES: The complications added to his powers give them each a +1D bonus. I could easily add some advantages/disadvantages like Wealthy and Allies (to reflect his King of Atlantis heritage) and Enemies (like Black Manta and Ocean Master), but it's not terribly necessary. There isn't really a disadvantage that models his need to occasionally immerse himself in water ("danger of drying out") but this could be achieved by adding a "circumstance" complication to Super Strength and some aptitudes (like fighting) and resistances (like fortitude).
Summoning allows a character to summon mobs of mooks or a henchmen to fight for you, and this adequately models his ability to summon schools of sea life or large sea creatures (though only underwater)...this could even be applied to summoning "Atlantean soldiers" and the like. Water powers gives a person the ability to breathe underwater, create/manipulate water effects (like in the 60's cartoon), walk on water (which Aquaman can't do but the complication nixes this), and swim at 150mph (25mph per die)...the latter is faster than any non-supercavitation torpedo (or sea animal) though considerably slower than the Mach 10 or whatever the hell is his official speed...10,000m per second I read on one web site.
[one thing I dislike about DC superheroes are their seeming Godlike powers, which is more a reflection of "power creep" over the years...and an attempt to model comic book stunts that defy physics...as opposed to any real, sit down discussion of what's, say, actually IN the utility belt or a character's top speed. This is a product of the medium...an artist thinks it would be cool (and/or story appropriate) for a character to "swim up" a waterfall, and only later does a fan figure out how much speed is required for such a feat. Modern hydroplanes are capable of 200mph on straightaways, and that's with very little of the boat actually touching (and dragging) the water. I'm happy with 130 knots of speed, even if it's not "canon"]
Anyway, this a pretty competent Aquaman, though certainly more effective underwater than on dry land. Still, very easy to model using the rules as written for Supers!
Unfortunately, Supers! (as I mentioned before) had a couple issues that made it less-than-perfect. Sure, it didn't have EVERY power, advantage, and disadvantage one might want, but it certainly had enough (and modeling others ain't terribly hard). No, the problems were mechanical ones, and I broke down and purchased the Supers! Revised Edition (both PDF and print copy) to see if they fixed the issues. It did have very nice reviews, after all.
Welp, after reading the PDF I can happily report they fixed both issues. The first was Composure attacks that (previously) allowed any Cop with a decent Presence skill to shout down most any character with their authority. This has been changed so that a character can explicitly defend using powers OR aptitudes ("Hulk not surrender! Hulk smash!!!"). The second issue was that the activation of an advantage gave the GM a pass to activate a disadvantage...which didn't always make sense (why do I need to bring Ocean Master into a space scenario?) or...didn't make sense (the disadvantage of "Normal" is already accounted for in chargen so how can it be "activated?"). Not to mention the characters that had ads without disads and vice versa. Now, they don't work that way...they're just always "on" (and several have been modified from how they appear in the basic game. "Normal" is gone completely, which isn't a terrible thing).
But even as they fixed these broken mechanics, the Revised edition has also "fixed" a bunch of mechanics that didn't require fixing. They've added ads that are prone to min/maxing (like nonsentience and big size) and ones that weren't necessary due to minimal effect or existing aptitude (feign death and intimidating) and disadvantages that are difficult to enforce or of minimal impact compared to the advantages they bring (mental hindrances, for example, have no real bite, nor ugly characters that stay in their masks).
They've added some needed powers that were missing from the first edition (Absorption for my Sebastian Shaw clone and the new Mimic Aptitude and Mimic Energy powers). But they added some that really stink, like Super Aptitude which completely undermines the whole Aptitude concept/mechanic (riddle me this, dumb-dumb...what's the point in spending dice to increase multiple specialties beyond 3D when you can simply buy "super aptitude" at 4D or 5D. Broke your own damn game). And they changed powers that didn't need changing (like Super Brain, Super Science, and Super Senses). This, plus the addition of dumb aptitudes like Awareness (great...add an unneeded system of surprise mechanics) and Sleight of Hand (to pick pockets?) plus extra complexity in combat (even with regard to fighting mooks!) just makes one go UGH!
However, the worst they've done is to nerf Aquaman.
Whereas the original edition of Supers! allowed one to easily model the King of the Sea with the selection of Water Powers...a power that would be seldom used in the game due to its incompatibility with most surface adventures...they broke up the power set into separate powers that must be purchased individually: water breathing (now an advantage), super swimming, life support (because being able to live underwater also allows you somehow to live in a volcano or outer space??), and (presumably) elemental control water.
Aquaman hate. That's what it is.
*sigh* I know, I know...this post is too long. Sorry. We'll cut it off there.