Re: Animated • Avengers “Masters of Evil”

avengers14Obligatory 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.

“Masters of Evil”

So I’m going to stop mentioning “this was a good episode” because they’re all pretty good. This episode we get to see some real team vs. team action, however, even more so than in Gamma World (with the U-Foes and the Leader’s other gamma baddies).

  • The Masters ambush Wasp, showing up in increasing numbers. Note that Wasp hesitates momentarily as the villains gather, overwhelmed by how many there are. Then, when she does begin to act, Zemo ambushes her and takes her out. Is this the power of the surprise attack once again or simply a fait accompli established by the GM?
  • Hawkeye and Black Panther share a moment on the rooftop of the Wakandan embassy. Ironic the one guy Hawkeye doesn’t criticize is Captain America, the guy Hawkeye was always criticizing when he first joined the Avengers in the comics. Panther’s dry sense of humor also shows up nicely here.
  • Likewise with the defeats of Iron Man and the Hulk: played-out scene (with bonuses to the bad guys for their planning and ambushes) or GM fiat?
  • Wonder Man’s attack on Cap appears to stun him long enough to set him up for Executioner’s attack, which is an excellent example of the “invisible cuts” phenomenon: it sounds like he slashes Cap with his axe, and we see him fall, but there’s no sign he is actually cut or wounded.
  • Zemo’s line to Thor (“Kneel before your Masters!”) is a nice homage to the villain group’s name and the title of the episode.
  • Both Executioner and Enchantress deflect Thor’s hammer. Note that Thor was probably aiming for Zemo and, had Enchantress not deflected Mjolnir, the hammer probably would have knocked Zemo for a loop rather than (more realistically) smashing him to a pulp.
  • Crimson Dynamo hits Thor with a missile volley. Thor manages to shrug it off sufficiently to toss the incoming Skurge into Dynamo, but Wonder Man blasts him into the waiting arms of Abomination. He and Executioner hold Thor (a combined wrestling attack) until Wonder Man can blast him unconscious (yet another new power Wondy displays). Note the dynamic of the interaction: either Thor’s action is to throw Skurge or his action was to throw him hammer, then get attacked by all of the villains. Throwing Skurge may have been some sort of defensive maneuver? But Wonder Man gets to act before Thor acts again, suggesting his initial blast may have stunned the Asgardian, or that Thor’s action is limited to an attempt to break free from the villains’ grip (which clearly fails).
  • The Masters’ interactions while the Avengers are unconscious (and the remainder of the team is outside the mansion) are a fun part of the episode, but how would they play out in an RPG? It could just be the GM voicing all of the parts (not unbelievable, given that Zemo and Abomination are the same voice actor). Another interesting option would be some sort of “shadow play” wherein the players take on the roles of the villains at certain points to play out their interactions. Maybe—like the Shadow rules from White Wolf’s Wraith—each player is assigned another player’s arch-nemesis to play in certain situations?
  • Note how the Enchantress’ magical bonds are essentially unbreakable; at least, we can assume so, since no one manages to escape them until she is stunned. Even Thor, whose Strength (in game terms) probably exceeds the Enchantress’ magic level or rating, can’t break free. Sometimes it’s easier to define certain effects as “absolute” in certain respects. Of course, perhaps the heroes could have escaped and were simply rolling badly…
  • Thor and Enchantress’ interaction and Zemo and Abomination’s argument: more potential examples of “shadow play” – at least for the argument between the villains.
  • Zemo is skilled enough to deflect a couple of Hawkeye’s arrows with his sword (and another with Cap’s stolen shield) whereas the Enchantress simply teleports to dodge. Hawkeye likewise evades the Enchantress’ initial blast. We see Black Panther taking on three of the Masters at once, evading their attacks. Note, however, that Panther’s capture essentially takes place off-camera, followed by the revelation that Hawkeye and Panther weren’t really looking to win, just distract and delay the Masters while Ant-Man got some things together. Does this shift the type of conflict the heroes are involved in here from traditional combat to something else?
  • “Surrender, Zemo!” (Best. Ant-Man. EVAR.) I initially expected a version of the Avengers issue where Hank Pym takes down Egghead’s Masters of Evil single-handed, but this was still great, particularly Giant-Man booting Abomination through the wall of the Assembly Room.
  • Hawkeye K.O.s the Enchantress long enough for her spells to dissipate, freeing the other Avengers and turning the tide.
  • We get some notable one-on-one fights here, particularly Thor’s chivalry preventing him attacking Enchantress directly (but not from summoning back the Hulk to do it), Cap grabbing his shield back from Zemo after tackling him, and Enchantress going hand-to-hand against Thor after Executioner takes on the Hulk.
  • When the Masters start to lose, they fall quickly: Thor knocks Wonder Man into the pool. Wasp zaps Crimson Dynamo. Hawkeye gasses Executioner and Giant-Man slaps him down.
  • Zemo makes five (unsuccessful) attacks against Captain America before Cap finally sends him flying with a punch and again with a shield slam. That’s enough for Zemo to call it quits and order to Enchantress to teleport them all out.
  • We wrap up with a nice epilogue of the Avengers wondering what just happened and why, and the Masters ranting against each other as Enchantress reveals just how much she is pulling the strings and who the puppet-master is pulling hers. Again, another potential use of foreshadowing and “shadow play” in a game context. Otherwise, in a game adventure, the Masters would just escape and things would end with the heroes wondering and speculating.

Lessons Learned

What do these episodes teach us about superhero game design?

Counter Attacks: Thor’s initial fight with the Masters suggests possibly implementing some system where “the best defense is a good offense” in that a particularly good defensive action/result may actually be turned into an attack, or turn an attack back on the attacker in some fashion, as Thor throws Executioner as more of a defensive move.

Shadow Play: There are roles for the players beyond just those of their heroes. An interesting dynamic can be to have the players also take on the parts of certain antagonists or supporting characters, to play out scenes where the heroes are either not present or less involved, looking at things from a different angle and adding more depth to the story with different points of view. This also takes some responsibility off the Game Master’s shoulders and allows for more creative input from the players.

From the Lab: “Ant-Man just needed to get a few things from his lab” is a classic genre element. There should be a way for the system to support heroes with the right trait(s) doing this. Note that the device he uses against Wonder Man doesn’t outright defeat him (he reforms quickly and comes back). It just buys them enough time to take on the other Masters and free the rest of the team.

Teamwork: A lot of the challenges in this story are solved by teamwork: Hawkeye and Panther distracting the Masters for Ant-Man. Hawkeye stunning Enchantress to free the rest of the team. Thor using Mjolnir to bring Hulk back from Jotunheim. Hawkeye and Giant-Man taking down Executioner. Teamwork is a key element of the genre and is supposed to be a big advantage the heroes have over their foes (note the total lack of teamwork by the Masters in the final fight).

Dominos Fall: When the villains lose, it’s best not to draw things out. The climactic conflict can turn to anticlimax if it becomes a game of “whack-a-mole” where the heroes take down one or two villains, but then start losing to others while the initial villains recover, ad nauseum. It’s probably a  good idea if defeated villains stay defeated at a certain point in the adventure, rather than getting any use of recovery options available to heroes.

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