Sunday, January 30, 2011

After Action Report

So, yesterday's DC Adventures game, "The Return of Lex Luthor."

As mentioned previously, this adventure was set in the DC Animated Universe, aka the "Timm-Verse."  I wrote it as a sequel to the end of the "Justice League Unlimited" TV series.  In that, Lex Luthor had inadvertently brought about the return of Darkseid, lord of Apokalypse, who promptly invaded the Earth in order to take revenge on Superman (who'd banished him from existence in the first place).  The Justice League joined forces with the villains of Earth to repel the invaders, and ultimately, it was Lex Luthor who ended the threat of Darkseid, presenting him with the one thing he most wanted, the "Anti-Life Equation."  In the process, Luthor vanished.

For this session, the Justice League consisted of the following members:  Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Mister Terrific, and (eventually) The Atom.  Six players signed up for the game.  Five turned up, along with one person hoping to get in.  I'd signed up to run for six, but I always make an extra PC, so that no one feels stuck with the last choice character.  This also means that if another person turns up hoping to get in, I can usually accommodate them.

All six (eventually seven) players had played earlier editions of Mutants & Masterminds before, and a couple had copies of DCA, so getting them up to speed on the rules was a breeze.  They were also, to a man, comic book readers and animated DC Universe fans.  This made my job a whole lot easier.

The adventure opened en media res, with the Justice League confronting Metallo and two dozen minions during a raid on S*T*A*R Labs.  This was a "before the opening credits" fight to get everyone used to the system.  The nice thing about the minion rules in M&M/DCA is that two dozen thugs isn't overkill.  It's just a nice way for everyone to participate in the fight, even the characters who'd have trouble scoring hits on the Big Bad.  In this case, The Flash, Black Canary, and Green Arrow started in on the goons, while Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl began waling on Metallo.  Mister Terrific played his support role perfectly, helping Hawkgirl set up her attacks.  The end of the first round of action saw Metallo a bit dazed and a half dozen thugs out of the fight.  In the second round, Green Arrow shifted targets and landed a beautiful shot that dislodged the Kryptonite "heart" that powered Metallo, forcing him into shutdown mode.  Before he could get there, Wonder Woman  KOed him with a beautiful punch.  Meanwhile, the remaining thugs either went down or gave up.

As the Metropolis Science Police cleaned up the scene, the press arrived in the form of Lois Lane.  Ignoring the Flash's inevitable banter, she went up to Wonder Woman to get her reaction to news that Lex Luthor was back.


When we returned from commercial, Lois informed the heroes that Lexcorp had announce that Lex had returned and would be reassuming his position as head of the company.  A press conference was scheduled to be held in an hour outside the Lexcorp tower.  The Justice League immediately left to check it out.

Sure enough, a stage was set up outside the main doors to the building with a banner over it reading, "Welcome Back Lex!"  A crowd of press and Lexcorp employees gathered in front of it.  On stage, Mercy Grace, Lex Luthor's former chauffeur/bodyguard and current head of Lexcorp introduced "The man we'd all given up for lost.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor and privilege to give you our founder, the man who saved the world from Apokalypse: Lex Luthor!"

Luthor took the stage and made a brief statement.  "Thank you, Mercy.  It's been a long road home.  When I undertook my actions in the war against Darkseid, I fully understood the potential consequences of my actions.  But I undertook them to save this precious world.  And I knew that someday, somehow, I would return.  I am surprised -- and humbled -- that it took me so long to pull it off, but I'm back, and better than ever!"

Before he could field any questions, a rocket shot out at the stage from a building across the street.  A massive explosion shook the earth, but a force field around the stage prevented Lex from harm.  The League was able to spot Deadshot lurking on a nearby roof.  Worse, they spotted other supervillains emerging from the crowd:  Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Count Vertigo, Killer Frost, and Giganta.  This had all the makings of a Task Force X job.  But surely Task Force X was out of business, weren't they?

The answer to that would have to wait, as there were innocent lives at stake.  The JL leapt into action.  The Flash used his air control to divert a large amount of debris from falling onto the crowd.  Black Canary moved in to engage Bronze Tiger.  Green Arrow drew a bead on Deadshot, and a duel of marksmen began.  Hawkgirl drew the ire of Killer Frost, and Wonder Woman flew in to contain Giganta.

Early on, the League didn't make much headway.  Black Canary couldn't hit Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost and Hawkgirl were in a stalemate, and Wonder Woman missed her initial attempt to lasso Giganta's fist.

However, after that, things improved quickly.  Black Canary used her Canary Cry to counter Count Vertigo's attacks, and then stunned him with a blast of her own.  Green Arrow pulled of a monumental feat of marksmanship, shooting an arrow straight down the barrel of Deadshot's wrist gun, jamming it. Mister Terrific hacked their frequency and kept and tried to see if he could figure out who hired them.  Flash dumped a load of debris onto Captain Boomerang, rendering him temporarily harmless, and Wonder Woman got Giganta's full attention.

At this point, our seventh player showed up.  He was friends with some of the other guys playing and they'd texted him when we first realized there was an open seat.  I asked him if he wanted to play The Atom.  He was game, and we just had him show up for the first time in the middle of the scene.

Shrunk to the size of a dust mote, he launched himself at Bronze Tiger's eye.  I ruled this as an Aid Another action which allowed Black Canary a significant bonus to hit the rival martial artist.  She connected and discovered that while the Tiger can dish it out, he can't take it nearly so well.  Her blow staggered him, leaving him vulnerable to The Atom's next action, a quick move to Bronze Tiger's ear, where he pummeled him from within until he fell unconscious.  We described this as "Black Canary is squared off with Bronze Tiger.  Suddenly, he flinches, like something's in his eye.  Black Canary sees the opening and slams him hard with a spinning kick.  Before she can launch a follow up attack, Tiger claws at his ear, cries out in pain, and falls unconscious.  A moment later, there's a glow of energy and The Atom appears beside him. 'I thought you might need an assist!'"

While that was going on, Green Arrow managed to get a net arrow on Deadshot, and Mister Terrific kayoed him with his T-Spheres.  Captain Boomerang dug himself out and decided that discretion was the better part of valor.  And Wonder Woman tossed the end of her lasso down to Flash, who ran circles around Giganta, pinning her ankles and bringing the Brobdingnagian Babe to ground.  At this point, it was all over but the mop up.  Flash easily caught Boomer, and Count Vertigo was never a factor to begin with.

"You disappoint me, Giganta," Wonder Woman said.

"I know," said the villainess (who was, after all, compelled to tell the truth at the time).

Interrogating the villains with the magic lasso, the League found out they'd been hired by an unknown individual to take out Luthor.  While they'd worked for Task Force X in the past, this was not a Suicide Squad job, nor was Amanda Waller involved, insofar as they knew.  Mister Terrific hadn't been able to track their communications in any useful way, and the signal was now dead.  Lexcorp was on security lockdown and Lex wasn't taking calls.

Returning to the Justice League Embassy, the team got to work on investigating matters.  Trying to track the financing of the job hit a dead end at the Swiss border.  Mister Terrific ran an intense data trawl and discovered there'd been a break-in at an old Cadmus facility a few weeks ago, and the payments to the villains were dated exactly three weeks after that.

While the heroes were mulling their options, an unexpected guest arrive.  It was Mercy Grace, looking frightened (a very unusual look for her one must note).  "I need your protection.  I don't know who that is, but it's not Lex."


(During the break -- we actually broke for a few minutes at this point -- I brought The Atom's player up to speed.  One of the guys spent the entire break on his iPad and phone trying to find a copy of DCA for sale in the area.  Between my game and two run by my buddy Rick, I honestly believe someone could have sold ten copies of the game at the convention.  Unfortunately, no dealers had them.  None.  And you wonder why brick & mortar game stores are going the way of the dodo.)

Back at the Embassy, the League questioned Mercy further.  She claimed that whoever it is, he looks like Lex, he sounds like Lex, and he's smart like Lex, but it's not him.  After the attack, he went into his office and put on "Madame Butterfly."  Lex hates opera!"

(At this point, The Atom's player hit on the solution to the mystery.  I didn't tip my hand, but it's worth mentioning because it just shows how good this group was.)

She offered them her executive passcard to get into the building.  "If he hasn't changed the codes, it should work."  She even allowed herself to be questioned under the Magic Lasso, and her story didn't change.  She was worried and afraid and asked them to lock her in a cell until the crisis was past.

Proceeding back to Lexcorp, the team worked out a plan of entry.  Black Canary and Green Arrow would case the penthouse from the shadows.  The Atom and Mister Terrific would take care of getting in and disabling the security system (a good thing, because Lex HAD changed the codes).  Flash took care of remaining security personnel at superspeed, while Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl waited in the air for a chance to hit the penthouse.

Of course, since this is television, everyone arrived at the penthouse simultaneously.  The lights were off, and the only illumination came from the green, yellow, and red circuitry of Lex's armored battlesuit.  "So, Mercy went running to the Justice League.  Now there's some sweet irony.  You lift someone out of the gutter.  You provide her an education.  You give her opportunities.  You think you know her.  Ah well.  After I dispose of you, I'll go teach her a lesson."

And so, the battle was joined.  And a crazy fight it was.  Battlesuit Lex is one tough customer.  Initially, only Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl had a chance of hurting her, but teamwork began to turn the odds.  Green Arrow set off a flare in his face, temporarily blinding him.  The Flash couldn't hurt him but used his air control to pin him to the roof. The Atom got into his knee joint, hindering his mobility, and Mister Terrific managed to hack the strength enhancement system and shut it down.  The Atom burned a Hero Point for a power stunt and altered the atomic weight of the armor sufficiently to allow his teammates to actually hurt Luthor.  Wonder Woman got the lasso on him, and while he resisted its compulsion effect, it did tie him up enough for the Flash to literally dismantle the armor while he was wearing it.

Before the League could do more, bright floodlights filled the room and a picture window smashed in.  Standing in the opening was Amanda Waller, toting one of her big-ass energy weapons, backed by about a dozen armored DEO operatives.  "Stand down, Justice League, I'll take it from here.  This is my mess, and I'll clean it up."

She explained, "As you've probably surmised, that's not Lex Luthor. Well, it is, and it isn't. After the Justice Lords crisis, Professor Hamilton and I realized that if it could happen once, it could happen again. And if we didn't have a Lex Luthor to stop them, we might have a problem. That's when I decided the world always needed a Lex Luthor. A "mere" mortal who isn't bound by intellectual limitations. A human who can stand toe to toe with superhumans on their playing field."

"Unfortunately, someone stole our clone," she finishes, glaring at the ersatz Luthor. "Somebody who's going to pay dearly."

Before she could take further action, the voice of Lex Luthor emanated from everywhere at once: “Ah, Ms Waller. Once more, you monkeyed around with something you shouldn’t. And what good did it do?.”

A blinding light appeared, then faded revealing the figure of a man. Lex Luthor, in the same black suit he wore when he vanished with Darkseid. He acknowledged the Justice League. “Once again, it falls to me to clean up Waller’s messes. First,” he waved his hand, bathing the bound “Lex” in blinding light, “To deal with this impertinence.” The light diminished, revealing a familiar form, the mutated white gorilla body of the Ultra-Humanite. He then turned to Waller, “As for your little science experiment, I’ve removed all records of my genome from your database. You may have thought cloning me was a good idea, Ms Waller, but rest assured, you will not attempt such a thing again on my watch.”

He began to fade from view.

“And rest assured,” he added, with a contemptuous sneer, “I will be watching.”


And that was that.  The players all seemed to have a great time with it. I got compliments on working the story into the existing JLU continuity in a believable way, and I was thrilled to have players who actually knew the continuity well enough to catch the details.  The fights all went well, and the few rules questions that did crop up were either handled by a quick look-up or table consensus (for instance, I had the rules for Impervious wrong in my head.  We worked them out and all was golden).

So, big thanks to the players.  Hopefully, one or two of them will read this.  I had a blast running for you.

And big ups to Steve Kenson and Green Ronin for making such an awesome game.

(NB:  In writing this up, I've doubtlessly misremembered some bits and enhanced the dialog in a place or two to punch things up.  Such is life.)


  1. This is a fantastic, action-packed writeup. I wish I could run a superhero game half as good as you do.

  2. @Tyler: I really think it mostly comes down to experience. From 1982 to 1999, supers were pretty much the only genre I ran. (Being an obsessive member of the Cult of Allston probably helped as well.)

  3. Dag, yo. That was SWEET.

    From here on out, no more I'll-just-let-other-people-play-because-I've-gamed-with-Theron-for-years altruism.

    (And I'll never forgive myself for missing a run-in with Task Force X. GAH!)