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[personal profile] stevekenson
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 7: “The Breakout – Part 2”
The conclusion of the intro two-parter, with the Avengers versus Graviton!

• Interestingly, Graviton’s whole backstory is essentially irrelevant to his interaction with the Avengers. Ant-Man figures out most of it on his own, so the brief origin flashback at the start of the episode might be entirely absent in the context of a game scenario, or it could be introductory flavor-text intended for the players rather than their heroes.

• Wasp can carry Nick Fury while shrunk (albeit with some difficulty), indicating that she, too, retains her normal-size strength while wasp-sized.

• Graviton’s force field takes four direct blows from Thor’s hammer and he is completely unmoved. That’s some serious defense! Of course, we’re establishing early on that Graviton is a big threat.

• The Hulk’s (literal) internal dialog at the Vital Signs diner: a solo roleplaying scene (perhaps with the GM in the Banner role) or something to allow the Hulk’s player to activate certain traits or gain bonuses for later? At least part of the later fight in the episode is about redemption for the Hulk.

• Interestingly, the Wasp’s sting actually hurts (or at least shocks) Graviton! Not just when she catches him by surprise, but several times. Perhaps Graviton’s defenses are less effective against energy attacks, or can only screen out part of them?

• Iron Man slams into Graviton and repulsor blasts him into the water, but them Graviton flings him into space! Note that he claimed he could do the same to Thor previously, but only actually does it to the guy with the built-in life support system.

• Giant Man! Pym goes big and grabs Graviton. He doesn’t manage to hold on to him, getting flung away, but that seems to weaken Graviton’s hold on Thor at the bottom of the bay.

• The heroes momentarily out of the way, Graviton seized Fury again and crushes him, revealing he’s actually a SHIELD LMD (Life Model Decoy, a human-like android). This could easily be some sort of “retcon” or escape clause in-game, but on who’s part? If Fury is an NPC (as seems likely) then it could just be a plot twist by the GM to keep Fury from being killed during the brief period where the heroes can’t help him. Is this protecting the heroes from the consequences of their actions too much or is it just maintaining the genre appropriately? This kind of clever escape could also be a game trait of Fury’s, used in this instance.

• Graviton ups the stakes even further by lifting part of Manhattan into the air!

• This time, Thor manages to hit Graviton hard enough to knock him back and stun him, possibly because Mjolnir is charged with/surrounded by lightning this time? (Recall Graviton’s earlier vulnerability to Wasp’s stings.) Of course, stunning Graviton while he’s levitating part of the island...

• Clearly, at this point, Graviton has to maintain some degree of focus and concentration to maintain his powers. Thor is forced to swoop under the falling portion of Manhattan and catch it!

• Note that stunning Graviton also frees Iron Man from his anti-gravity grip.

• Thor slams Graviton into the pavement, but he starts getting up, only slightly shaken. Before he can counterattack, Iron Man’s uni-beam slams him down again. Then Graviton blasts all of the Avengers away from him, smashing them into the surrounding buildings and pinning them there.

“I’m the strongest one there is!” shouts Graviton. “You sure about that?” asks a smirking Hulk. Somebody is clearly invoking the Hulk’s battle-cry here. Is it giving ol’ jade jaws a bonus? Seems to, since...

• Hulk does a tackle, punch, grandslam combo (combination attack? Some sort of game option?) and has Graviton on the ropes until he recoups and crushes the entire area, pinning the Hulk.

• Note that this time, Graviton’s force field seems to block Wasp’s stings entirely. He pins all of the Avengers down with increased gravity. Ant-Man tries, unsuccessfully, to shrink out of the gravity field’s effect.

• The Hulk shouldn’t be able to move, but does! Graviton tries to crush him again. “Nothing is that powerful!” This is clearly a moment where the Hulk establishes or uses the fact that “strength” is his primary trait, allowing to fight against Graviton’s field where nobody else could.

• A bite by one of Ant-Man’s summoned ants distracts Graviton long enough to free the Avengers. This is an effective tactic given what was established earlier about Graviton needing to focus to use his powers. Hulk grabs and hits Graviton but gets flung away.

• The Wasp blows an entire cargo container in half with her stings! Apparently they’re a bit more powerful than they’ve been shown thus far or else more effective against objects than people, since that kind of force applied to, say, Whirlwind, should have done quiet a bit more damage. Wasp encourages Hulk by helping him and them saying, “So hit him!” Teamwork bonus here?

• The Avengers pile it on: Hulk hits, Iron Man blasts with his uni-beam. Giant Man hucks an entire ship (!) at Graviton, then Thor calls down an almost cosmic lightning strike. Graviton is down! Then Ant-Man lectures him... and the Wasp stings him. I kind of like to think that the stern lecture and the sting are actually what finish him off.

Lessons Learned
What does this episode teach us about superhero game design?

Stunned? It’s important there be some mechanism for stunning or distracting characters such that the ongoing effects of their powers lessen or stop. Stunning Graviton is key to at least two scenes in this story: causing him to drop Manhattan and release Iron Man, and freeing the Avengers from his gravitic grip. Note, however, that both of those occasions did not overly lessen Graviton’s defenses; his force field remained seemingly (or at least largely) intact until he was pretty seriously beaten down at the end.

“Super” May Be Strong Enough: Just how strong are the super-strong characters in Avengers? Most superhero RPGs are quite precise about exactly how much mass a particular Strength rating can move. Still, Thor manages to slow the fall of what must be millions of tons (a big part of the island of Manhattan!) which Graviton levitated with relative ease. Giant-Man picks up and throws a cargo ship, which must weigh thousands of tons. The Hulk stands against the force capable of lifting millions of tons. The interesting thing about most superhero RPGs is the focus on how much a character can lift as opposed to what they can lift. After all, is it more useful, in game-play terms, to know that a hero can bench press 6,000 tons or that he can pick up a cargo ship? At the “super” level of strength, the exact weight values hardly seem to matter, it is the kind of feats the characters can be expected to pull off.

It’s a Fragile World: Property damage is the most spectacular and non-lethal way to show off just how powerful different characters and attacks are. In spite of the fact that ordinary human beings are probably one of the most fragile aspects of the landscape, what heroes and villains end up smashing are streets, buildings, steel cargo containers, and so forth. Even strong (but not necessarily superhuman) punches smash concrete to emphasize how potent they are. A realistic treatment of the damage resistance of ordinary objects isn’t very in-keeping with the genre, which says the scenery is there to get smashed up.

Next Up: Some Assembly Required
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stevekenson

July 2011

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