I’ve published an article about underwater adventuring in the past, in which I mentioned that “fish-people” had several advantages over “land-lubbers” when it came to mobility and fighting in an underwater environment. A later post included a few items that could help those land-lubbers close the gap… so how about we take a look at those fish-people now? As a bonus, you get a nice little bundle of setting info you can drop on your campaign if you want.

The Fate of Atlantis

The name “Atlantis” figures in the myths and legends of many more places than it should. Cultures that have never heard of each other have stories about an empire that ruled the waves in ancient times but no longer exists. The stories might differ but the name is always the same.

That’s because ancient Atlantis was the largest and most powerful underwater civilization to ever exist. They discovered a means of traveling to other worlds and exploited it with gusto.

Despite its power Atlantis eventually fell, as all empires do. The exact sequence of events is more or less impossible to piece together, and mostly irrelevant in the present day. The important bit is that their inter-world travel network was the first thing to go, instantly fragmenting the empire. That’s why each of them has a different story about how Atlantis fell - those stories talk only about the bits of it they knew about. In some, it happened overnight due to a cataclysm. In others, they eventually morphed into successor cultures that might still be extant in the present day.

Aside from giving rise to a whole bunch of legends and to fueling the occasional would-be despot’s ambitions, the most enduring legacy of Atlantis was its underwater engineering. They pioneered a lot of the techniques that used to make sturdy weapons and tools out of implausible aquatic materials like bone, shell, coral, and mother-of-pearl. They were also the first civilization to successfully make and work orichalcum.

But we’re not here to talk about stuff, we’re here to talk about people.

So Let’s Talk About People

Opinions differ on whether Atlantis was a Golden Age utopia or a despotic empire whose downfall was a blessing to the world, but everyone agrees it was pretty diverse. Unlike most typical dungeon fantasy kingdoms, its citizens belonged to many different species with none of them making up an overwhelming majority of the population.

Many of Atlantis’ citizens can be described using already-published stats. Sea Elves and Water-Infused from GURPS DF 3: The Next Level fit very well, as do the Argonians from this post. The octopus- and shark-folk from GURPS Banestorm are also good fits, though they’re a bit more complex and costly than the standard for DF racial templates.

Below are a few new templates, with the overall goal of allowing a diverse all-underwater party if the group wants to play that type of campaign. A couple of the new ancestries I present here might have equivalent official templates already, but since I don’t have those I’m writing new ones for my own use.

These templates assume that being Amphibious also makes you able to see and hear unimpeded while submerged, and the ability to breathe underwater also makes you able to speak there. I feel this is in line with the simpler feel of Dungeon Fantasy. If you want to follow Banestorm’s assumptions instead, give all templates here one level of Nictitating Membrane {1} and Speak Underwater {5}, increasing their costs by 6 points each.

Atlantean (20 points)

This template describes people who are a product of successive generations of intermarriage between the other species that made up the population of Atlantis, and possibly some surfacers too. They are known as “Atlanteans” because their general look became associated with that empire. Surprisingly, they look a lot like humans even when they have no humans among their ancestors.

Atlanteans are warm-blooded, have legs, and can breathe both water and air. Their human-looking bits exhibit the same ethnic variety as humans. Individuals can also have a variable number of “fishy” traits like visible gills, fins, blue or gray skin, and so on. These might be visually striking but are never significant enough to count as more than 0-point features.

Atlanteans can appear in worlds that had an Atlantis, or those whose underwater peoples are generally friendly with each other. The base stats could also be used as they are or modified a bit to represent any species of underwater humanoid.

Advantages: Amphibious {10}, Gills {10}.

Other Traits: Those fishy bits might count as varying levels of Unnatural Features in a setting where almost everyone is human and the character is the only known Atlantean, but in all other situations they’re 0-point traits. If the character has something like rigid fins or a prominent tail growing out of their lower back, they might need adapted body armor. This doesn’t cost extra, but might restrict their usage of looted armor.

Crab-Folk (40 points)

Crab-folk are sapient humanoid crustaceans easily distinguished by their heavy segmented carapaces. Like crabs, they lack distinct heads and their eyes are located at the end of a pair of flexible, retractable stalks. Unlike crabs, they only have the usual complement of humanoid limbs, though these are still armored.

Crab-folk can operate normally on the surface, but their gills begin to dry out if they go more than a day without being immersed in sea water. This means they tend to stick close to the coast. Their voices sound strange and “bubbly” outside the water, which most surfacers find off-putting.

Advantages: 360-degree Vision {25}; Amphibious {10}; Gills {10}; Damage Resistance 5 (Cannot Wear Armor) {15}; No Neck {5};

Disadvantages: Cold-Blooded {-5}; Disturbing Voice (In Air, -50%) {-5}, Dependency (Sea water, Daily) {-15}.

Optional Traits: If your campaign takes place far from a coastal area, the Dependency disadvantage is worth -30 points, and the template therefore costs only 25. Your local alchemist can prepare a solution close enough to seawater to satisfy the requirement, but it’s still not free.

Deep Ones (50 points)

These humanoids are much more obviously “fishy” than Atlanteans, with an anatomy closer to that of an abyssal fish than a human’s. They’re adapted to the lightless depths of the ocean and that’s where they prefer to make their homes. Deep Ones can swim up to the shallows without suffering ill effects, but can’t breathe air.

After Atlantis fell, it was not uncommon for its Deep One settlements to become more isolated and break contact with shallower or surface communities. This some times gave rise to sinister legends and rumors about what they got up to down there. These are mostly bunk: they are no more prone to worshiping Elder Things than any other species.

Advantages: Amphibious {10}, Dark Vision {25}, Fangs {2}, Gills {0}, Pressure Support 3 {15}, Tough Skin 1 {3}.

Disadvantages: Cold-Blooded {-5}.

Optional Traits: A variant that can operate on the surface would be closer to several classic D&D fish-people. They have the 10-point version of Gills and so cost that much more.

Merfolk (20 points)

Merfolk are humanoid from the waist up and have fish bodies from the waist down. They can breathe both air and water and have naturally melodious voices in both mediums, but they require magic or assistive devices like wheelchairs to operate on land. Their human halves display the same variance as Atlanteans, and their fish halves can resemble a variety of species of fish, shark, or cetacean.

Advantages: Gills {10}, Voice {10}.

Disadvantages: No Legs (Aquatic) {0}.

Features: The “Leg” and “Foot” hit locations on merfolk refer to their tail and lower fins instead. Armor for those locations must be specially constructed. As usual this doesn’t cost extra but limits which looted armor they can use.

Optional Traits: If your character’s fish half mimics a particularly speedy species, they might have Enhanced Move 1 (Water) for an extra 20 points. At the GM’s option, this might be a matter of training instead of biology, which means any merfolk character can buy this with earned points as a power-up.