Re: Animated • Avengers: “The Breakout” – Part 1

avengers6Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

“The Breakout” – Part 1

Now we’re cooking. The preludes are done and it’s time to get into the Avengers first big two-parter that kicks off the series with the crisis that forms the team:

  • “His name rhymes with ‘boom’…” The confrontation between Iron Man and AIM at the start of the episode is an effective use a teaser scene: it establishes something about Iron Man’s character (that he’s looking to prevent abuse of his technology) and gives him a chance to show off, taking out all of the AIM drones in a single attack.
  • Aside: Keeping the Big House on-board the Helicarrier was probably not the best plan, in hindsight.
  • SHIELD blaster fire has little to no effect on the Griffin, as he escapes from the Big House.
  • Two stings (or is one of them a blaster shot from Maria Hill?) take down Constrictor, although it’s noteworthy that he doesn’t see them coming. See previous episodes for discussion about the effectiveness of surprise attacks.
  • Wasp is strongly motivated by her love for Ant-Man. In some circumstances, she’s also getting a bonus of some kind, either in up-front points (for her “Loves Hank Pym” disadvantage/complication) or in-play (for invoking her “Loves Hank Pym” aspect/complication/etc.).
  • Interesting to note that while Banner is pinned by the debris in the Cube, he can’t trigger his transformation into the Hulk. He needs Doc Samson to help get him free. Could be the cube was keeping Banner mildly sedated in order to prevent him from turning into the Hulk, or an after-effect of the high-tech restraints used on him, but mainly its a dramatic opportunity for Samson to show off his new gamma-enhanced muscles before getting taken down by Zzzax and giving the Hulk the opportunity to return the favor. Note that Zzzax blasts Samson from behind, taking him down in one hit.
  • Ant-Man shrinks to escape from Cobra’s grip, and to lessen the impact from a charging Griffin, then grows to break his fall immediately afterwards.
  • Aside: Iron Man initially mistakes Hawkeye for a Vault inmate, an homage to Iron Man’s initial meeting with Hawkeye (where he takes him for a criminal) in the comics.
  • Iron Man’s repulsor blast momentarily stuns Whiplash, but not for very long. The Vault prisoners rally and have Stark on the ropes pretty quickly, but then they significantly outnumber him. Quite the difference from the initial scene with the AIM drones.
  • Whirlwind gets in quite a lot of hits on Ant-Man, but he’s doing a whirling-fists thing with his powers. He definitely has Ant-Man on the ropes until he takes some time to gloat and makes the mistake of threatening the Wasp. In some game contexts, he just gave Ant-Man a big bonus against him!
  • Another clever combat use of shrinking by Ant-Man: He shrinks down to dodge the Griffin’s attack, letting him nail Whirlwind instead.

Lessons Learned

What does this episode teach us about superhero game design?

Teaser Scenes: Quick “teaser” scenes, like the one at the start of this episode, can be effective openers for game scenarios. They set the mood, give the heroes a chance to show off a bit, and get the players warmed up for the main event. They’re also handy for dropping hints and foreshadowing, even setting up later plotline (not feature in that particular adventure).

Surprise Attacks: We’ve seen enough of different versions of “being hit from behind/surprise takes you out” that it’s safe to call it a trope of this show (and possibly this genre).

Multi-Use Traits: Ant-Man makes good use of his powers both offensively and defensively in taking on the Big House inmates. Sometimes it’s indirect, as when he fakes out Griffin into hitting Whirlwind, but it’s still an effective “offensive” use of shrinking. Systems with similarly leveled traits can borrow a page from FATE stunts by allowing one trait (say, Shrinking) to substitute for another (say, Combat or Dodging).

Bonuses Should Be Bonuses: In games that allow for traits or bonuses based on things like motivations or personal relationships (such as “Loves Hank Pym” or “Protective of the Wasp”) there can be a tendency to see invoking that bonus often as “min-maxing” in some fashion. But if a bonus isn’t providing a benefit, then it’s not much of a bonus, is it? Is is smart, tactically, for the GM (roleplaying Whirlwind) to provoke Ant-Man’s protectiveness for the Wasp? No, but it’s sensible in character and gives Ant-Man a chance to use that trait, rather than not.

Characters Should Be Motivated … and not just by things like “seek justice”. The Ant-Man/Wasp interactions and other characters subplots in this episode show that not only are characters more interesting when they’ve got additional motives (such as Iron Man’s desire to clean up the problems Tony Stark created with his weapons technology) they make for more interesting stories, as well, since characters will make decisions based on those motives, which are not always logical or based on “winning” (from a game perspective) but move towards what the character wants. Character decisions based on wants = drama.

Next Up: “Breakout” … Part 2