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.
Episode 19: “The Kang Dynasty”
It’s the conclusion of the Kang the Conqueror trilogy as the Avengers take the fight to Kang high above the Earth, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
- Avengers in Space: Our first scene is of the Avengers, decked out in their new space-armor, blasting off in a quinjet and headed for Kang’s Damocles base in orbit. This was foreshadowed a touch when Iron Man mentioned the quinjets were capable of space-travel in “Some Assembly Required” – but the space armor? We can assume it’s something Stark whipped up (or had lying around).
- “I say thee… NAY!” Thor deflects the Damocles Weapon and saves the city, without a thought of the risk to himself, in classic superhero fashion. In so doing, he’s left comatose and in the care of the Ultrons, out of the rest of this story. Now, I can talk about how Thor’s action probably involve X amount of extra effort and blah blah and that’s how him ending up incapacitated equaled a bonus sufficient to deflect what we can assume was a massive attack, but key thing is that Thor was willing to do what was necessary, no matter what.
- Interesting to note how Kang’s crew is shocked that 21st century technology somehow deflected the Damocles Weapon; clearly they haven’t reckoned with the presence of things like magic and mythic gods in the 21st century…
- Space Scale: Wasp’s space armor enhances her stingers so she’s able to blast scarabs out of the sky (unlike the previous episodes, where she could barely scratch them). That begs the question: if Stark can enhance Jan’s stings in that fashion, why didn’t he do so before, and why doesn’t she wear the space armor (or at least the sting-enhancers) all the time? Indeed, why doesn’t Iron Man give every Avenger at suit of power-armor? Thor might not benefit (although he could wear more armor) but relatively normal guys like Ant-Man, Cap, Hawkeye, and Panther could (although Panther does wear his own super-suit of sorts). Ultimately, it’s genre convention. In this instance, the game has shifted from an earthly scale to “space scale” where things are magnified, so it just makes sense that Wasp has more powerful stingers, Hawkeye has access to ship-to-ship weapons, etc.
- Speaking of Hawkeye, note that his “Marksman” trait (or whatever you want to call it) still works: “I’m a good shot with anything” he says. In many genres, expert archery doesn’t translate into anything else. For superheroes, unerring aim is unerring aim no matter what.
- Iron Man and Wasp get cut off outside of the ship, a definite complication for the heroes (good thing, too, as they need to start racking up some hero points, etc. for later).
- Kang’s Elite Guard has time control technology, granting them the effect of all having super-speed. Note the structure of this conflict: the Elite Guard basically kicks the Avengers around for a bit, demonstrating the heroes can’t lay a glove on them because of their overwhelming advantage. Then Hawkeye comes up with the idea of blinding them so they don’t know when to time-shift, and the Avengers take them down in what amounts to a single round: one-two-three. Lateral win, anybody? (Also interesting to note: Kang doesn’t bother to use the time-shift technology of his Elite Guard, operating in normal time.)
- The Damocles’ time-drive is shielded and heavily guarded, setbacks for our heroes, building them up for the confrontation with Kang, which is itself a setback, given his near-overwhelming advantages over them. Then Iron Man steps in…
- Slow Burn: So, overall, Iron Man hasn’t seen a lot of action in the past couple of episodes. He spent most of “Come the Conqueror” plugged into the Internet looking for Kang (only finding him at the very end of the episode) and most of this episode either at the controls of the quinjet or flying around in space, blasting scarab robots. He didn’t even get to use his uni-beam to blast through Damocles’ hull or scout things out with Wasp? Perhaps because now it’s his moment: as soon as Iron Man walks into this scene, he owns Kang. His repulsors bypass Kang’s invulnerable force field. They reduce scarab robots to scrap in an instant. He downloads technical specs to Ultron and assumes control of Damocles’ computers. Kang is done. When Iron Man shows up, he’s already lost, and from the way Cap talks, he knows that’s the case before we see evidence of it. System-wise, we can see a trade-off here: Iron Man’s player has been very patient, taking a back-seat role for some time and slowly building towards this moment, aided by the other heroes taking the forefront and keeping Kang busy.
- Last Licks: Note that although he’s essentially beaten, Kang does mix it up with Cap and Iron Man a bit further and it’s Cap who gets to take him down, now that Iron Man has deprived Kang of most of his advantages.
What do these episodes teach us about superhero game design?
Get ‘Em Where They Need to Go: If you’re going to have a supervillain with an orbital base, make sure the heroes at least have the option of going into space to confront him! The quinjet and space armor in this episode are just plot devices for getting the Avengers into space. Some game systems have mechanics for last-minute inventing or acquisition of equipment and such but this isn’t even that sort of thing, in my opinion; it’s just a cool bit of background color. If the Avengers didn’t have Stark to explain where they got all the cool stuff, it could just as easily have been Wakandan tech from Black Panther, stuff Ant-Man put together, loaners from SHIELD, etc. Don’t get too caught up in “Where did they get that stuff?” or in the issues of aerodynamics, space flight, and so forth. It’s a superhero scenario.
The Victory is Equal to the Effort: In the superhero genre, willingness to sacrifice in a suitably dramatic fashion should equal a win of some sort. If Thor’s player is willing to sit out the rest of the adventure in order to take out the Damocles Weapon and save the city, then that should work. Likewise, if a player is willing to sacrifice a hero’s life in order to save the world, then that effort should succeed. Heroic sacrifice is rewarded. Anything less leads to anticlimax and a subversion of the genre (since in the real world heroic sacrifice often ends up being for nothing, or far more nebulous outcomes). It’s possible to build various formulae and rules around it but the basic rule of thumb is the hero’s success should be in proportion to the hero’s sacrifice, if they choose to go that route.
I Love It When a Plan Comes Together: Fun as it can be to deal the heroes complications and reversals, sometimes it’s a good idea to give their plans a fair shake and just let them enjoy a well-earned victory. Game-system objectivists (who think everything should be modeled and decided by the system mechanics) might bristle at the idea of the GM “letting” the heroes win, but ultimately every GM does so, since it is in the Game Master’s power to change the conditions of the contest at any time. There has to come a point where the GM chooses to not throw another roadblock or complication in the heroes’ path and lets their successful plan just be successful.
You Decide: It’s worth noting that the heroes are given the decision whether or not to send Kang back to his own time, knowing Ravonna (and possibly others) will face non-existence because of it. Wasp presents it as no decision at all (“We can’t send them back…”) because that’s what she feels, but it’s good to hand such decisions to the players and then let the story unfold from their outcome.
Next Up: The Casket of Ancient Winters