Thursday, July 9, 2015

Nerfing Aquaman (Supers! Revised)

One of the reasons I'm really starting to groove on the DC superheroes (more than heroes of the Marvel stripe) is the manner in which their powers are handled. There is a tendency amongst DC heroes to be limited to a single power set (with a couple notable exceptions) rather than possess a number of fairly unrelated superpowers. Consider some of the older heroes: Flash (super speed), Green Lantern (power ring), Green Arrow (archery), Batman (uber-detective), Hawkman (flight)...rather than characters with multiple powers with which to overcome obstacles, you get a single superpower that must be used in a variety of creative, stunt-y ways to overcome a variety of challenges. For me, it's a very Old School approach, which I appreciate.

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 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
I've mentioned before that my boy is a big fan of Aquaman. That's because his introduction to the character was by way of YouTube videos of the old '67-'68 cartoon that featured Aquaman as a solo hero in his own environment. We watched a lot of these when we were stuck in the Asuncion Sheraton hotel for five weeks (when we first came to Paraguay). Now that we've downloaded and watched more of the old Superfriends cartoon (and their battles with the Legion of Doom) I can see why I considered him such a punk as a kid. The guy does nothing. He is routinely left behind or relegated to the sidelines, existing only to be captured or voice some simplistic exposition when danger's afoot. When not riding his Sea-Doo (because it's a faster way for him to travel than by swimming?), he is most often seen riding "shotgun" in Wonder Woman's invisible plane which (humorously) reminds me of guys who couldn't get it together enough to get a license or a car and were thus relegated to the passenger seat of their girlfriend's car.

[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 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):
Composure 3D
Fortitude 3D
Reflexes 2D
Will 3D

Aptitudes (all start at 1D):
Athletics (Swimming) 5D
Fighting 3D
Presence 3D

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 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 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.


  1. I enjoyed your post. I could really feel the passion behind it. lol. I always preferred Villains and Vigilantes, myself, though we also played some Marvel.

  2. dont quite buy marvel vs dc as just about power descriptions - too many rule breaking interpretations and examples to this - early hawkman has super senses, knows all worldy knowledge, anti gravity flight powers used to lift stuff not actual wings, uses ancient weapons out of fair play he steals from museum rather than his alien super weapons (but he uses in some cases), superior strength and toughness, radiation/em viewing contacts, alien superior science and crime tracking science so many weird abilities in one go. I could go on with most of heroes really. Real difference in DC vs marvel is frequency of capes, the words "man" or "woman" in heroes names and wearing underpants outside leotards

    1. @ Konsum:

      Oh, I wouldn't say that's the main difference by any means, and there are plenty of single power set characters in the Marvel Universe (many of the Storm and Shadowcat and Cyclops). But comparing the Big Names of both lines, I can say there is a tendency there that I see in DC and that I LIKE.

      Now, back when I was younger, the opposite was true (I preferred Marvel characters with shit-tons of powers...Silver Surfer was one of my faves...more, more, more!). These days, I like a "less as more" approach, and DC's base concepts (if not their comics, perhaps) are more appealing to my mood.

      But, no, I agree that it's not the major difference. Tone, more than anything, I think.

  3. aquaman in old days was awesomely funny yet he plays it straight - how will fish get him out of this problem - very imaginative and fun

    1. And I think that's fine...many comic characters are pretty goofy when you think about it, so it fits. Like I've said elsewhere, I think my favorite animated version of Aquaman is his portrayal on the more recent "Batman: The Brave and the Bold."

  4. Jason Momoa from Game of Thrones is supposed to be Aquaman on film, from what I've read.

    1. Yes, and Conan, too. Perhaps the grungiest Atlantean (in the 90's sense of the term) that we'll ever see...though he should match the sepia tones of the new Superman series.

      Seems that recent DC films are really big on beards, for some reason...

  5. Also, If you don't mind my asking, what are the different projects you mentioned working on a few posts back?

    1. Um, different projects, let's see...

      - I've got another fantasy heartbreaker based on the Holmes edition of Basic set in South America in the time between the first and final destructions of Atlantis.
      - I've got a space opera-ish game concerning humans in a hostile galaxy using a card based on a modified version of my card-based DMI mechanic.
      - I've got a superhero RPG heavily influenced by Marvel's original Heroes for Hire and other "street-level" supers (like Daredevil and the Punisher).
      - Cry Dark Future rewrite still coming along.
      - Kloane War Knights serial needs to be posted...also in negotiation with a fairly recognizable artist for commission work.
      - that it? Some other side projects in various states of creation. A B/X chassis pulp game. My "for-a-lark" Game of Thrones setting material for Pendragon. Oh, yeah...and a WoD-style game still in the planning stages that is a bit of a Beyond the Supernatural re-write.

      I'm probably forgetting one or two things.

  6. This is, for me, an odd way of comparing the two. As a DC fan primarily for me years, I'd have to say the opposite is true.

    Marvel has bricks because they have guys who are just strong and tough. Nearly all of DC's bricks do many more things. Superman has about two dozen powers in any given incarnation. Starfire is super-strong, and flies, and shoots bolts of energy. Wonder Woman is strong, has an Invisible Jet (or Flies), and a Magic Lasso that is nearly unbreakable, and makes you tell the truth.

    How is the Magic Lasso, and the Invisible Jet, in anyway related to her Amazon Heritage (or to each other for that matter).

    Let's look at Flash, and Marvel's Quicksilver. Quicksilver moves fast...and that is all he does. That is moving at super speed as a single power. Flash by comparison has far more than speed. He can manipulate the laws of time, space, and defy rational physics like few other heroes can.

    To say Green Lantern has a single power set, Power Ring, is like saying I have one tool, a Swiss Army Knife with a Multi-Tool attachment. But, ya'know, just that one thing. ^_~

    It's an interesting take, but not one I can grok in this particular case.

    1. @ BA:

      I should probably defer to your greater DC experience...but, well:

      - I did say "with a couple notable exceptions" (Supes and WW are those).
      - I'm talking PREMIER heroes. Quicksilver isn't a premier hero...he's never had his own comic that I'm aware of. Same with Starfire. I'm talking about the major titles.
      - Green Lantern has one power: a magic ring that is fueled by (Jordan's) will and limited only by the (writer's) imagination. He has no other super powers, no super strength or speed or brains or armor or endurance or weapons or training or gadgets or mutations or whatever. Lose the ring (or the lantern that charges it) and he's done. It's the same amount of "Swiss-Army" as Flash's speed or Batman's utility belt or Green Arrow's quiver. In terms of the Supers! RPG it gets modeled by one power (the same power as Bats or GA or Zantanna: "Wizardry").