Re: Animated • Avengers “Everything Is Wonderful”

avengers10“That… is a very big head…”

(Yeah, I probably should have put a pic of Wonder Man at the top of this entry, since the episode is basically about him, but I just love the Thor and Wasp vs. MODOC scene, and it’s my blog. So there.)

Obligatory 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.

“Everything Is Wonderful”

The animated Avengers are starting to gel as a team, pairing off in some interesting combinations to give us a look at their dynamics and revealing more about the characters.

  • We’ve got a nice in media res opener for the episode: Who is this guy? What’s happening to him? It can be tricky to do this kind of opener for an RPG, especially one that flashes back to “Three Hours Earlier” in the next scene, since you then have to shepherd the characters back to the start of the prior teaser without totally derailing things en route or making the players feel led by the nose. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for jumping right into the action of a story, especially one where the characters and setting are fairly well-established. Making “roll for initiative!” (or whatever the game’s equivalent is) the first words out of the GM’s mouth can really get the players’ hearts pumping.
  • Speaking of said flashback, Tony Stark is still a bit of dick, huh? Stark’s obliviousness is vital to the story, since Simon Williams (presumably) wouldn’t have gone storming off if Stark had a chance to explain things. This means the GM must have a pretty firm grip on this particular character trait, enough to make it the lynchpin of the story without worrying about the wheels flying off.
  • Hank Pym and Tony Stark start off the classic Silver Age Marvel bickering. It’s this kind of dialog that helped make the initial Marvel Universe so compelling, because its heroes seemed so human. The pacing is interesting, too, since the thread of Stark and Pym’s argument runs through the first half of the episode.
  • Thor is able to counteract the AIM … whatever it is (black hole generator?) and damage their escape pod, but it’s Wasp who comes up with the idea to follow them back to their base. Again, this is vital to the lead-in of the episode, but could have been difficult to engineer if Thor and Wasp’s players had been eager to trounce the AIM guys there and then. Thor’s “I tire of these … geeks” is the kind of dialog a great player should be able to deliver with a smile but without cracking up, because it’s awesome.
  • [Total Aside: Back in the early cretaceous period, at one my first GenCons in Milwaukee, I played a Marvel Super-Heroes adventure (think it was an RPGA event, as it was over in the arena) where my character was a Marvel-style version of the mythic Helios. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like spouting psuedo-Shakespearean dialog to get you right into character.]
  • Interesting how Wonder Man and the Grim Reaper’s origins are reversed: in the comics, Eric Williams becomes the Grim Reaper to avenge his brother’s “death” at the hands of the Avengers. In this, he’s already the Grim Reaper, and attempting to arrange Simon’s demise.
  • Ant-Man: “I’m not judging you. I’m just saying that you value money and business over people.” Iron Man: “How is that not judging!?!” Nice bit of foreshadowing about Ultron here in their conversation. If this dialog was improv roleplaying I (as Game Master) would be furiously scribbling notes, since these two players are essentially telling me what they would like to see in a future adventure.
  • Wasp downs to AIM drones with her stings, then one runs right into Thor and knocks himself down. It seems to me how you (or even if) you expect a game system to deal with this incident says a lot: should there even be a game mechanic for a minion knocking himself down? If so, what is it? A side-effect of Wasp’s attack(s)? Some effect of Thor’s sheer toughness? The declared action of Thor’s player? (“I let the guy run right into me and knock himself down.”) This leads me to the general conclusion: when a player declares something cool, and there’s no reason to say no, say yes, regardless of what the rules may say.
  • Interesting how everything stops when Wonder Man makes his “entrance”. There aren’t a lot of pacing mechanics for RPGs that include the idea of a pause in the midst of a conflict scene, although there are some. The “Monologue” card from Torg comes to mind as one example.
  • Iron Man definitely pays for his armor’s “removable” flaw (focus modifier, etc.) in this episode, getting it damaged or knocked off of him like three times!
  • Ah, comic book violence, where Wonder Man (a guy up in Thor’s strength-class) can put Tony Stark’s unarmored face through a wall and he’s not only conscious and able to warn Pepper Potts to run, he’s not even bruised!
  • Ant-Man also gets a fair amount of milage out of his “scientific curiosity” and “pacifist” personality traits in this episode: twice getting clocked by Wonder Man because he stopped to marvel at some scientific curiosity, and doing his level best to get everyone to stop fighting. This is another area where it takes some roleplaying: for characters to ignore the perfectly reasonable and rational “let’s talk this out” argument because they (the characters) are too caught up in what’s going on, or are simply not interested in talking things out.
  • One can’t help but wonder (no pun intended) if, from an RPG perspective, the GM really thought out all of Simon William’s ionic powers in advance or is just making them up during the fight: he flies, gets giant to deal with Giant Man, can fire eye-beams at Iron Man, melt metal, and more.
  • Of course, Wonder Man gets a suitably tragic and mysterious “death” scene. His resurrection at the hands of the Enchantress (assuming she’s even telling the truth about having used magic to restore him) is a nice bit of foreshadowing to bracket the start of the episode. We’ve looked at this technique before (in Episode 4, Episode 6, and Episode 8).

Lessons Learned

What does this episode teach us about superhero game design?

Pacing: It’s really up to the GM to help control the pacing of the story with cut scenes, introduction of new elements, and so forth. Oftentimes, roleplaying scenes like the argument between Ant Man and Iron Man will peter out into an awkward moment of players glancing at each other and wondering “Do we continue? If so, for how long?” That’s the cue for the GM to step in with: “Meanwhile, across town, Wasp and Thor are chasing after some AIM agents…” or the like. Likewise, when Wasp’s player is eager to pursue the AIM agents to their base, the GM might ramp up the anticipation by cutting to a scene at the mansion with Captain America, and so forth.

Hit It With A Hammer: Thor deals with nearly being sucked into an artificial black hole by summoning lightning bolts with his magic hammer. Ah, only in the comics, right? Still, it’s an important point: when all the heroes have is a hammer, try to make some of the problems they face at least look like nails. So when Thor’s player says, “Can I use Mjolnir’s magic to break the gravitation pull on us?” try to answer with a “Yes” or at least a “Yes, but…” and an appropriate condition or challenge. If you (as GM) think additional justification is needed, feel free to help provide it. For example, maybe it was also Mjolnir’s ability to affect the boundaries between dimensions that helped to save Thor and Wasp. Who knows? If that explanation sounds better, run with it.

Listen to Speculators: When players say things like “I hope…” or “I wonder…” etc., pay attention. Likewise, when they foreshadow or set things up in dialog, take note. In both cases, they’re telling you what they’d like to see happen in the game, whether they’re aware of it or not. Indeed, some players are very aware of it, and even try to use it to manipulate the game to some degree. That’s okay, they’re still providing you with useful input. Always take note of various wild speculations that come up. Sometimes they’ll offer terrific new plot twists of ideas you never even considered that you can slip in to the series. If you do it well, you can make it look like you planned it that way all along and your players were brilliantly insightful to “catch on”!

Improvise: Don’t be afraid to change course mid-story or to throw in some new element that strikes you during play that you didn’t previously write down and plan out. If it sounds cool for Wonder Man to be able to grow to giant size to confront Giant Man on equal terms, go for it! If Hank Pym is so impressed with it that it momentarily gives his foe the upper hand, even better!

Next Up: Panther’s Quest