Re: Animated • Avengers “Gamma World” – Part 1

avengers12Obligatory 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.

“Gamma World” – Part 1

Apart from being named for one of my favorite RPGs of all time, “Gamma World” is a fun episode that finally rounds out the Avengers’ roster with the return of the Hulk and the addition of Hawkeye to the team.

  • “Hey, where’d he go?” Hawkeye disappears the moment the Avengers look away, distracted by the SHIELD transport. This is like the Hide in Plain Sight advantage from Mutants & Masterminds. Games have to figure if an ability like this is a defined game-trait only some characters have, a default part of how things work, or somewhere in-between.
  • Note this episode establishes that Nick Fury is often “away” or otherwise unreachable, although he appears again in “The Widow’s Sting” before disappearing by the time “Hail HYDRA” rolls around.
  • Hawkeye uses his trick arrows (a gas arrow and an electrical arrow) to break into the HYDRA base. This might be an explicit use of arrows already listed in his arsenal, or a more abstract use of a “Trick Arrows” or “Archery” ability to overcome a non-combat challenge in a novel way. Similarly, Hawkeye’s various trick arrows might all be manifestations of a single combat ability (after all, they all “defeat” targets, in different ways) or a more explicit set of traits like an array in M&M (or a Multipower for those who speak Hero System).
  • Thor’s abilities in Avengers include Immunity to Radiation, which is pretty cool.
  • The gamma monsters the Avengers encounter outside of the Cube each take about 3-4 hits to take down (the “Harpy” only takes two: some stings from the Wasp and a solid slam from Doc Samson). That is about the right amount for a decent super-combat, it seems. Coincidentally, it’s about the amount of hits an average character in a superhero RPG can be expected to take.
  • (GASP) “I forgot you talked!” (referring to Black Panther) — The Wasp cracks me up in this show.
  • The Dreadnoughts and HYDRA agents in the base are total minions: Hawkeye takes out several of them with each of his attacks! He even melts the heads of the Dreadnoughts with acid arrows before the Widow jumps into the fray.
  • Each of the U-Foes gets taken down or stunned with one hit, but then it is a trap, so they may have been playing possum to some degree. Note that they all bounce back quickly enough.
  • “Leaders lead” and “We can’t give up!” — Captain America, showing his true colors.
  • Black Panther uses the distraction provided by the other Avengers to get close enough to the gamma generator to disable it, explaining his apparent “cowardice” in running away from the fight with the U-Foes, since it’s difficult to sneak around in a big group.

Lessons Learned

What do these episodes teach us about superhero game design?

“I didn’t know you could…” Sooner or later in a superhero series, you run into situations where you need to extend your concept of the character(s) and their traits. Many systems have “power stunting” rules to account for some of this. Take, however, the example of Thor and the gamma dome in this episode. Did Thor’s player have to carefully consider, in advance, whether or not the Thunder God was affected by mortal concerns such as radiation? It’s possible Thor might have some all-inclusive game trait (such as “Immortal” or “Asgardian”) which could be extended to include immunity to radiation effects. On the other hand, he might not, in which case there needs to be an on-the-spot decision. The key difference from a power stunt is that Thor’s immunity doesn’t require any effort on his part, and it is essentially established from hereon out as a semi-permanent element of his traits; we can expect he’ll continue to be largely immune to environmental gamma radiation. A game system (and a Game Master) needs to flexibility to adapt to these situations.

Novel Solutions: Likewise, comic book characters may end up applying their abilities to handle challenges in a non-obvious way, like Hawkeye breaking into the HYDRA base. This again requires some system and GM flexibility to take these situations into account. Otherwise you end up with square-peg heroes utterly stymied by round-hole problems their abilities don’t fit, and players feeling cheated by GMs who put insurmountable obstacles in their way. In my experience, you intend for a challenge to be insurmountable, you’re better off not to let the player characters even attempt a solution, lest the players feel cheated. Just move right on to what comes next.

Bad Things Happen to Good Heroes: Like as not, sometimes nasty things happen to the heroes, such as the Wasp’s unfortunate transformation into a gamma creature in this episode. The same can be said of mind control and various other transformations that essentially take the characters out of the players hands for a time and place them under GM control. Obviously, the potential for the transformation was probably planned into the scenario (given the challenges) but in a game context, nothing says it had to be Wasp who was affected, it could have been any of the Avengers who suffered a failure of their gamma shielding.

Sometimes You Have to Go Solo: Hawkeye’s ongoing solo plot-line and Black Panther’s go-it-alone approach to stopping the gamma generator point out occasions when some characters are going to operate solo in a scenario. Parallel storytelling and cuts between scenes can help to manage this (“Okay, we leave off with the U-Foes and check-in on how Hawkeye is doing against the Black Widow…”). Some meta-gaming can get involved, too; Panther running off might have come as a surprise to his teammates, but his player might have discussed it with the other players and given them a heads-up. Indeed, some games with teamwork or team-action mechanics (e.g. team “hero points” etc.) might even require such player-consultation for things the characters may not be aware of.

Next Up: Gamma World, Part 2