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.
“Metamorphosis” – Part 2
This is where the action starts happening and Part 2 of “Metamorphosis,” in contrast to the solo origin story of Part 1, is full of fights that give the League a run for their money.
Metamorpho has Green Lantern dead to rights, John is able to interact enough to ask his friend to stop, but nothing more (indicating, perhaps, that roleplaying actions are separate from the other types of actions a stunned GL is prohibited from taking). Fortunately, Superman interposes himself at the last moment. He shrugs off flames and metal blades and knocks Metamorpho aside, but the Element Man transforms into kryptonite! (How does he know how to do that? Same way he knows how to transform into other elements, one supposes.)
Then there’s a series of one-on-one attacks: Hawkgirl bashes Metamorpho’s head, but he reforms, coating her wings with concrete and grounding her. Batman binds Metamorpho wih a bola, but he stretches out of it. J’onn phases out to avoid a hammer blow. Metamorpho cuts him in half (!) but he reforms. He grabs Mason but is knocked loose and stunned when his foe bursts into flame. Batman hits with an explosive batarang and Metamorpho counters by mixing streams of water and sodium, creating a massive explosion. Green Lantern is able to shield the League and buries Metamorpho under a mass of debris, but he escapes (turning into water to flow down into the sewers).
Again, we get a few solo scenes where Metamorpho confronts Stagg, gets frozen, escapes, and returns to confront Stagg again, resulting in the accident that creates the synthoid, all while the League is searching for him. In an RPG this could all happen “off-stage,” going from the initial fight scene to, “You finally track Metamorpho to Stagg Enterprises, where…” Or it could be played out, either in narration or with one or more players in the role of Rex Mason (see Part 1 for some discussion of this).
Note the similarities between Stagg’s “synthoid” and the DC villain Chemo (also a chemical/elemental based creature). Driven by a fragment of its creator’s consciousness, the synthoid goes after Stagg’s daughter Sapphire in a King Kong homage (which Metamorpho acknowledges when he wishes he had a biplane). Also note J’onn’s declaration regarding its mind (“No, I sensed a mind within it…”). Is this a bit of info dropped by the GM to help guide the players, or a declaration on the part of J’onn’s player, directing the flow of the narrative a bit? Depends on the style of the game.
The Justice League proves largely unable to stop the synthoid, but Batman, analyzing the chemical residue, comes up with a solution. It’s up to Metamorpho to implement it, changing into a polypeptide that reacts with the synthoid’s chemical structure, apparently destroying them both. Fortunately, Mason survives and is able to reform himself at the end of the episode, reuniting with his fiancé Sapphire.
What does this episode teach us about superhero RPGs?
Relative Invulnerability: This episode has two good examples of invulnerable characters in action, and the limitations of said invulnerability. Superman initially proves invulnerable to the attacks Metamorpho can dish out, until the Element Man turns into kryptonite, Superman’s one weakness. Likewise, the synthoid is practically invulnerable: attacks manage to deform it or break pieces off, but it seems to recover instantly (perhaps a combination of Damage Resistance and Regeneration). Only when Metamorpho turns into the specific formula designed to weaken it is it defeated. This is a common idea in comics: opponents immune to most attacks other than a specific way of beating them.
Action Economy: In the Metamorpho vs. JL fight, it’s one guy versus five heroes, yet Metamorpho acts just as often as the heroes do (or the heroes act just as little as Metamorpho does, depending on how you look at it). The allocation of actions in most RPGs is character based: that is, each character gets to do X number of things each turn, regardless of the number of characters. It might be interesting to set up an action allocation that is “side” based, with the players getting X number of actions and the GM getting X number, regardless of the number of characters. So five heroes versus a single opponent is five actions on each side, meaning the solo guy gets to go five times. That would make the whole middle conflict with Metamorpho into a single turn:
- Turn 1: Superman blocks Metamorpho’s flame blast.
- Turn 2: Metamorpho attacks Superman with blades, Superman knocks him away.
- Turn 3: Superman moves in to grab Metamorpho, who turns into kryptonite and weakens him.
- Turn 4: Hawkgirl, Batman, and J’onn attack. Metamorpho attacks three times, downing Hawkgirl and stunning J’onn (whom he attacks twice).
- Turn 5: Batman hits Metamorpho, who counter attacks with his explosive blast.
No “I” in Team: Batman hanging back to analyze the chemical composition of the synthoid turns out to be the best use of his talents and what ultimately defeats it. In a roleplaying context, this may just be a player wisely playing to a character’s strengths (Batman’s intellect and inventiveness, in this case) but superhero RPGs should encourage this kind of lateral thinking and allow heroes to contribute towards achieving success in different ways. It’s interesting to wonder if Batman’s solution is something pre-planned by the GM (which the player managed to find) or something proposed by the player, and backed up by the right game traits, actions, and die-rolls, allowing Batman’s player to propose the whole plan and put it into motion. Given the improvisational quality of game play, the latter seems more likely.
Next Up: It’s the beginning of the end (of Season One, anyway) with Part 1 of “The Savage Time”