This blog takes a look at episodes from the Justice League animated series from a tabletop roleplaying game perspective, both in terms of game design and game play.
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the 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.
“Fury” – Part 1
The Injustice Gang is back with a couple of new members, and making short work of the security at a Gotham biotech company. In fact, most of this introductory segment could be called “short work.” The villains take out guards left and right: Copperhead by ambush, Sakuri deflecting gunfire with her blades and taking down guards with her martial arts prowess and Shade … well, making things dark for no apparent reason, other than demonstrating his power. Likewise, once Batman is on the scene, he begins taking down the Injustice Gangers quickly: Shade and Copperhead with a single surprise attack, Star Sapphire with a reflected energy bolt, and Grundy with an electro batarang. Sakuri poses more of a challenge: she initially knocks Bats for a loop, they trade blows for a bit, then she seems to get the upper hand, but Batman sends her flying into a wall, leaving her stunned. It’s the Gang’s mysterious new blonde-haired leader who proves to be a surprise.
She turns out to be super-strong and fast, breaking out of Batman’s cable and throwing him bodily into some machinery. Four total hits (two from Sakuri, two from Aresia) take Batman down.
“Fury” has a number of subtle homages and references: Aresia resembles the two DC heroines known as “Fury,” particularly Helena Kosmatos, a Greek girl granted powers by the Furies of Greek myth during WWII, and later “adopted” by Hippolyta and the Amazons of Paradise Island. Her name is a feminized form of “Ares” the Greek God of War, and one of Wonder Woman’s traditional arch-enemies (although not seen in Justice League for a couple more seasons). Wonder Woman’s visit to a department store in the opening of the episode is also similar to a scene from her first appearance in Sensation Comics, where one of her first experiences in “Man’s World” is window shopping (expanded upon in the Wonder Woman television series with Linda Carter). When told that a new perfume will have her fighting the men off with a stick, Diana replies “I don’t need a stick” (make of that double entendre what you will).
Batman comes to Wonder Woman, having deduced that the woman he fought was an Amazon. Wonder Woman initially denies this, but Batman asks Hawkgirl to visit Paradise Island and check it out. Hawkgirl encounters some Amazons chasing after a thief and they tussle when Shiera is mistaken for their quarry. Hawkgirl initially dodges Amazon spears and thrown rocks, but gets caught in a net, which fells her (a possible complication). After explaining her presence, she and Hippolyta quickly learn of Aresia’s disappearance from the island, and Hippolyta fills in important background about Aresia’s origins. Note their fairly timeless nature: the war and Aresia’s nameless home country could be almost anywhere at any time in the past century or so.
When Superman confronts Aresia at the gem depository (after the rest of the Injustice Gang has fled), she’s able to put him into a wall with her strength, then her allergen formula fells him almost immediately. When Wonder Woman confronts Aresia outside, her initial surprise allows the renegade Amazon to get the drop on her. Then Wonder Woman lets her escape as she rushes to Superman’s aid.
In the Injustice Gang’s lair, Aresia reveals her true plan by using her new weapon on the members of the Gang. Note that her allergen apparently affects both Kryptonians and even the undead Solomon Grundy (whom the Joker previously felled with a gas weapon) and, later, the Martian Manhunter. Batman and Hawkgirl return to a city under siege: All of the men have fallen victim to Aresia’s allergen and her assault on Man’s World has begun…
What does this episode teach us about superhero RPGs?
When in doubt … smash: One great thing about the Justice League setting is that you can overcome any sophisticated electronic lock by smashing it into pieces. Still, it does highlight the idea that there should be multiple ways to handle a challenge in-game. If the characters don’t have a skilled lockpick or tech expert, they should still be able to do something, including using brute force.
A Day in the Life: Superhero scenarios don’t have to all be about beating up bad guys and rescuing people. Make some room in your stories for little “slice of life” moments like Wonder Woman visiting a department store for the first time, both to give your players the opportunity to explore their characters and have fun in different ways and to provide some variety in your games so they don’t turn into just endless slugfests.
Different Scenes, Different Stakes: The Torg RPG has a mechanic were scenes or encounters are rated as “standard” or “dramatic” and the round-to-round effects of initiative and the like are influenced by that choice (generally weighted towards the heroes in standard scenes, and against them in dramatic ones). Similarly, it often seems in “standard” scenes, characters are fairly easily taken out by a single attack, while in dramatic ones they hang in a fight for much longer. Perhaps a superhero RPG could vary the effectiveness of attacks or resistance based on the “drama level” of the scene.
Absolute Effects: Although Aresia’s allergen formula is more of a plot device, it’s clear there isn’t any sort of “saving throw” or “resistance check” against it: It affects any male (even aliens and zombies) immediately and relentlessly. Batman seems to hold out the longest against it, most likely because he isn’t directly exposed (and because it makes for a good story). It’s most noteworthy that some effects in superhero stories aren’t handled with the traditional action/resistance model, but are more akin to the “No Saving Throw” modifier in the second edition of Mutants & Masterminds; if the effect is used, it just works.
Next Up: Man’s World is in grave danger in Part 2 of “Fury”