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.
“Legends” – Part 2
After a fairly whimsical beginning, the homage to the Golden Age of Superheroes is off to an ominous start in Part 2: Hawkgirl has seen the grave sites of the members of the Justice Guild, the very same heroes the Justice Leaguers are now working with! Something is very wrong in Seaboard City…
Green Lantern is reluctant to believe what Hawkgirl has found. Meanwhile, the Injustice Guild settles their gentlemanly wager. Of course, Flash and Black Siren are alive, in spite of being frozen in a block of ice long enough to do permanent tissue damage (to say nothing of suffocation before their heads are uncovered), and how did Dr. Blizzard move them to the cave lair from the city square? Oh, right … it’s a comic book!
Word comes to the Justice Guild on their red-phone hotline to the police (a little homage to the Batman TV series of the ’60s) that the villains are robbing the Seaboard City Mint, and escaping … on a blimp! The heroes are off with a hearty cry of “Let Justice Prevail!”
Green Lantern and Hawkgirl begin investigating what is really going on, interrogating the ice cream truck driver and discovering he’s terrified by their questions, worrying “he” might overhear them.
The Justice Guild and J’onn confront the fleeing villains, but the Injustice Guild’s initial volley of attacks proves quite effective: Music Master fells Martian Manhunter, Sportsman momentarily stuns Tom Turbine and, when Green Guardsman helps him, Sir Swami animates a rooftop antenna to ensnare them, made of aluminum, the Green Guardsman’s sole weakness! (Cue the award for the setback).
The Seaboard City Library turns out to be little more than a façade full of blank books, covering up the ruins of a subway station, containing an old newspaper with ominous headlines about declining peace talks and looming war.
Catman is making fairly short work of the crooks on board their blimp when Flash punctures it and the airship begins to sink. It’s noteworthy that the lurching ship at least saves Catman from Sir Swami’s attack, hurling the criminal caster out of the gondola instead. Tom Turbine helps rescue Flash and Black Siren. Catman defeats the remaining Guild members and gets them off the falling blimp, onto Green Guardsman’s platform, where they’re taken into custody. (Flash, observant as ever, points out a clue in that the police officers who arrest the Injustice Guild seem to be the only two in the entire city.)
Matters come to a head when Green Lantern and Hawkgirl confront the Justice Guild with what they’ve found: evidence that the real Justice Guild died nearly 40 years previously, and that their whole world is an illusion, created by … “Ray Thompson”! J’onn’s telepathy exposes the truth, revealing Ray as a post-apocalyptic mutant with tremendous reality control powers.
The “Justice Guild” rebels against their creator, however, and are able to defeat him. The illusion collapses entirely, revealing Seaboard City as a post-apocalyptic ruin with just a handful of survivors who have been trapped in an idyllic fantasy for decades, and causing the Justice Guild to fade into nothingness. The heroes are able to sacrifice themselves for their world one last time. Fortunately for the Leaguers, Tom Turbine’s dimensional gateway really does exist (comic book, remember?) and Green Lantern is able to power it for a return trip to their Earth.
What does this episode teach us about superhero RPGs?
Weight-Bearing Suspenders of Disbelief: All fiction (and therefore all RPGs) requires some degree of suspension of disbelief, particularly if fantastic elements are included. Comic books may be amongst the most fantastic genres, so superhero games require a certain “buy-in” from the players. If they can’t handle the fantastic (and sometimes illogical) conventions of the genre, the game won’t work. It helps to agree on a lot of these ground rules in advance, such as whether or not character-death is much of a concern, and what things are likely to be challenges versus routine things the heroes (and therefore the players) don’t need to worry about.
“Looks like it’s up to me!” When all of his more powerful teammates are taken out by the Injustice Guild, Catman doesn’t hesitate but instead jumps his motorcycle off of a high building onto their getaway blimp! The superhero genre is one of bold action, so heroes should be rewarded (or at least not penalized) for taking that leap of faith to spring into action, rather that the cautious planning other genres might encourage.
Teamwork: Sometimes help comes from unexpected places. Flash presumably didn’t know puncturing the blimp would help Catman, but Flash’s player might have, and his action could have provided Catman an important bonus, or even served as an “attack” of sorts against Sir Swami, causing him to lose his balance and fall. The translation of the abstract game system action into story could have involved Flash doing something to be of assistance, with the player(s) providing the necessary details.
“Let Justice Prevail!” The most interesting element of this episode is that the main characters are not the ones to win the day! Indeed, the Justice League is almost entirely ineffective against Ray’s tremendous powers; he renders them all helpless in just a few rounds. It’s left up to the Justice Guild to make their heroic sacrifice to save the day. On the surface, this goes against all the advice given to Gamemasters about not letting the non-player characters show up the player-characters, but it makes dramatic sense in this story. Perhaps it was an opportunity for the GM to hand the players the character sheets of the Justice Guild and tell them, “Ray has immobilized the four Justice League members, but you are the heroes of Seaboard City! What do you do?” This allows for the switch in characters while still keeping the players involved as the primary agency behind their actions. Story- and game-system design should stay open to options other than the standard “one player = one character” dynamic.
Next Up: Shades of the past haunt the Martian Manhunter in “A Knight of Shadows” – Part 1
So, I’ve been looking at your blog off and on for a while, mainly to keep up with Icons Assembled Edition, but I finally sat down and read a bunch of the ReAnimated posts.
I hope you do more of these.
Thanks! I’ve been thinking about it and might take it up again, if my schedule permits. They were fun to do.
It reminds me of all the times my friends and I watched movies/shows and shouted out gaming terms in the middle of various scenes but a little more focused. It’s cool and I dig it.