Game Recap - The Alternates Episode #1

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mistergone
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Game Recap - The Alternates Episode #1

Here's a recap of our first Sentinels game! First, there's a narrative recap (written as if it was in-metaverse) and then I talk a little about running the game.

First, a note: In the meta-verse (where Sentinel comics is a published comic book multimedia empire), there is a premium cable computer-animated (in a style similar to “Into the Spider-Verse”) television series. This RPG campaign represents that show, with each game session (ideally) representing one hour-long Episode of the show. The recap below is written in-metaverse as if it was an article on a popular website that posts recaps of episodes. Enjoy!

The Alternates Episode 1 Recap - “This Is How the World Ends”

By Eddie Jaczerkowski

Finally, the long-awaited first episode of The Alternates comes to television!

Of course, if you weren’t a fan of the comic book series of the same name, then you might not have been waiting at all, and you probably have a lot of questions! No worries - whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer to this fabulous series, we’ve got you covered in this recap. This article contains spoilers for this episode, of course, but we promise not to spoil what might be coming in future episodes of this series!

If you don’t know the history of The Alternates comic book, then you should know it was written by comedian and writer Ari Litvin, who is well-known for being the head writer of Friday Night Comedy Bits, and for hosting its long-running segment, The Fake News. Unsurprisingly, the Alternates has a lot of levity, but there’s plenty of drama and social commentary as well. Most importantly, The Alternates takes place in a very different comic book world than the one you might be used to if you read Sentinels Comics or watch the movies in the ever-expanding Sentinels Cinematic Universe.

But that should become clear as the show goes on!

Enough introduction, let’s get into the first episode!

Episode Recap:

Episode 1 (appropriately titled “This Is How the World Ends”) opens with a montage of news footage, starting with a clip that is obviously from the early 1970s. In the first clip, we find out Baron Blade was killed in a battle with the superhero Starshadow. And apparently, this was after “Mad Bomber” Baron Blade succeeded in killing tens of thousands of people in Megalopolis (which didn’t happen in the comics)! This quickly introduces the audience to the fact that this is not the Sentinels world we’re used to - it’s a world in which (arguably) the greatest villain in the universe was killed in the very early 1970s. (Apparently, the Baron’s panache for faking his own death didn’t work this time.)

More news clips inform us that the Cold War ended early, that Legacy helped negotiate an end to the Troubles in Ireland, and that the Freedom Five provided humanitarian assistance in Rwanda in the `90s. A more modern news clip (we can assume it was from the 2000s) informs us that Legacy has semi-retired, taking the name “Heritage” (a name you might be familiar with, but in a different context). We’re also told that there’s a new Legacy, and the team is going to be re-named “The Freedom Seven”. (Seven? Who are they? We’ll get to that!)

This is all a way of telling us that, without Baron Blade around to harass them, heroes were able to solve more world problems (and become more involved in world politics, a running theme in the original comic book series). And without his greatest and most dangerous nemesis, Legacy feels comfortable retiring.

That’s a lot for the first few minutes of the first episode, but it’s an important setup!

Finally, a news clip tells us that the alien menace known as Progeny has attacked Earth, and it took the might of all heroes to defeat it (and that Captain Cosmic lost his life in the fight). That means that the events we’re about to see are right after that event, which takes place immediately before the events of Oblivaeon.

The action starts with a wide shot of an auditorium full of superheroes we recognize. (A few are missing, for the keen-eyed observer, but the show will probably talk about that, so no spoilers for now!) This is in Freedom Tower, and we see the Freedom Seven, especially Heritage, organizing things as the crowd of supers murmurs in the background.

In this scene, we can see the changes to the “Freedom Seven” - Unity seems to be a robot now, Bunker is some kind of cyborg, Miss Information (in a slightly different costume) is a hero and a member of the team (this version is called “Miss Conception,” but no one mentions that in the episode), Wraith is semi-transparent (a literal wraith?), Absolute Zero isn’t wearing a protective suit, and finally we have Felicia Parsons as Legacy and Paul Parson as Heritage, working on the same team (an image that makes fans world-wide rejoice).

Heritage calls the group to order. In the ensuing silence, we hear a loud bubble gum pop, and everyone turns to Kid Radical (who we’ll see more of later), chewing gum in the back. Heritage informs them that a great threat to all of reality is about to attack - Oblivaeon! Heritage talks about finishing an evacuation of Megalopolis and defensive preparations. In a montage (over music - we don’t hear any dialogue), Heritage seems to hand out orders to the heroes in the room, team by team, and we see the room empty out until there are only five heroes left.

These five heroes don’t even know each other yet, but they will become the main characters of this series! Heritage gets a big smile on his face as he looks at the five heroes who are left in the room. (Meanwhile, casual viewers would not be blamed for asking, “Who are these losers?”)

At this point, Heritage is interrupted by the entrance of a big man in a tropical shirt and shorts (who comic fans might recognize as the invulnerable brawler called The Bouncer). He looks embarrassed and takes a seat.

Heritage calls the six superheroes down to the floor as he tells them he has a very special mission for them.

This is our first look at the titular team - first up is the unassuming biologist and mystic named Douglas Hemlocke, who can transform into the plant monster known as Cytoblast. Next, floating a few inches off the ground, is the super-scientist and cursed sorceress Dr. Comet. After her, the exuberant young hero who travelled through time from the far-flung future, Quasar Kid, and the skateboard-riding trend-follower Kid Radical (a gimmicky character who seems to have never left the 1980s). Rounding out the group is the creepy shadow monster Jersey Devil, who introduces himself as “Mr. Leeds.”

Heritage then tells the heroes that he needs them to travel to Coopersville, outside Megalopolis, and visit Blackleaf Research Laboratories, and ask Dr. Vivian Attebury (Easter egg for super-fans!) to bring the Duality Stabilization Field Generator. Cytoblast is busily taking notes. Heritage asks Bouncer to take the team there in his “flying car”, and Bouncer grudgingly agrees.

The heroes introduce themselves to one another, and once they’re on the roof, they all jump into Bouncer’s flying car (which looks like a `57 Chevy with jet boosters, another Easter egg for fans of older comics) and they jet off to Blackleaf Labs.

In the lobby of the lab, they encounter a computerized receptionist who refuses to let them in to see Dr. Attebury. (Quasar Kid says the A.I. is “adorable,” hinting that he’s seen much more advanced computer systems in the far future.) The team accidentally activates the lab’s security measures, and - while the combat seems a little superfluous and unnecessary to the plot - it gives the animators and writers a chance to have the heroes show off their abilities. Besides, who doesn’t love an action scene in a superhero show?

Jersey Devil teleports around, punching a series of drones as he slips through reality itself (an awesome animation sequence). We also get to see how Dr. Comet’s emotions make her magical powers erupt - frustration with the A.I. receptionist leads to her creating a layer of ice over the whole room, which causes problems for her new teammates. Quasar Kid and Kid Radical (a whole lot of “kids” in this team) get their punches in as well.

This scene also gives us a taste of the series’ humor, as Cytoblast, in his plant monster form, gets indignant with the A.I. receptionist and recites his scientific bona fides while a chaotic combat is unfolding behind him.

Finally, the A.I. is convinced to call Dr. Attebury, and the security robots are defeated. The door to the lab opens, and a middle-aged man appears and introduces himself as Dr. Attebury. (Fun trivia: “Vivian” is also a masculine name!) The team does a quick recap of the reason they’re there, and Attebury seems confused. He invites them into the lab.

We see all the super-science and super-tech stored here in the laboratory as Dr. Attebury asks the team a few odd questions. Finally, he asks them how Heritage even knows about “Duality Stabilization Fields” - apparently the doctor has never even told anyone about his “Duality Stabilization Field Generator.” Weird, huh?

The team tells Dr. Attebury about the impending threat to reality, and the doctor quickly leads them to a room deeper in the laboratory. (Another Easter egg in this scene - there’s a Thorathian space ship in the background, covered by a tarp. What’s that doing in the lab? It becomes clear pretty quickly.) There, we see some sort of map of the universe (or some region of space), with a bunch of red alerts that read “Duality Violation.”

The doctor doesn’t explain, but instead rushes the team through another set of hallways (on a high-speed moving walkway), one of which contains old costumes for the hero Starshadow, as well as news clippings about Starshadow, and finally into a hangar with a high-tech spaceship.

Here, Dr. Vivian Attebury reveals that he is, in fact, the hero Starshadow, who retired decades ago and has been focused on science and technology research in the meantime. (The foreshadowing of this got a little heavy-handed in the previous scene, so this was hardly a “big reveal” when he finally admitted it.) He holds out his arms and takes on Starshadow’s cosmic shadow form, with crackling black energy all around him (big kudos to the animators here, but it was a little silly for him to take on his famed “battle form” when he’s not in a fight). The black energy slowly fades away, and he’s now in his superhero costume.

Soon, the team flies off in the jet, as we cut to Bouncer (still in the parking lot of the lab), watching in confusion as the jet flies off overhead. In another funny moment, Jersey Devil teleports behind him and tells him that they’re flying back to the city, scaring the Heck out of Bouncer in the process.

The jet approaches Megalopolis as a voice comes over the radio. It’s Heritage, in Freedom Tower, telling all heroes to get back to the tower as soon as possible. Suddenly, we see the enormous, towering form of Oblivaeon materialize in the middle of Megalopolis. He reaches down and crushes Freedom Tower.

The credits roll as the song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” (performed by Leo Moracchioli) plays over them.

Final thoughts

If you know the Oblivaeon story in the comics, then you might remember it was Baron Blade who rescued the Freedom Five from Freedom Tower when Oblivaeon destroyed it. With no Baron Blade in this world, there’s no rescue, setting off a domino effect that defines the differences between the Sentinels comics world we’re used to and the “Disparation” world of The Alternates.

In fact, The Alternates comic book series is itself based on an issue of “Disparation” (a comic book which explores alternate Sentinels comics universes). In that issue, as is introduced in the first minute of this episode, Baron Blade succeeds in bombing Megalopolis, driving the Baron mad (the idea being that the Baron never really expects to succeed at mass-murder, and he couldn’t handle the actual guilt) and enraging Legacy in a way we’ve never seen before. Legacy (and Starshadow) follow the Baron to a secret space station. However, in the end, Legacy is unwilling to take the Baron’s life, leading Starshadow to summarily disintegrate the Baron. The issue of Disparation ends there. The Alternates picks up that story forty-some years later, which allows the writers to explore a world that is both familiar but also very different.

The television series has already started in a very different place than the comic book series, as the show is starting with backstory and the comic books tell all of these events through flashbacks and characters making references to past events. As much as I love the way the comic book series tells this story, I’m also very excited to see how the television show tells the same story through a different lens.

Can’t wait until Episode #2 (which is titled “Running Out of Time”)!

Eddie Jaczerkowski is a staff writer who loves comic books and writes about television.

Running the game...

This was my first-ever session running the Sentinels RPG, and it was a joy. Now, normally I am a "seat of the pants" kind of GM, and I have big ideas for how plots unfold, but I respond to what the players want to do and wing it from there. This makes it a lot easier on me, and it prevents rigid "this is how it has to be" kind of stories and challenges, but it also leads to the players not knowing what to do next and some messy game sessions. So this time, I decided to over-plan!

And it worked great! I think that kind of speaks to the system itself. Firstly, it happens in "comic book world" and my players accept that. It's easy to tell them, "Okay, now you're at Blackleaf Laboratories" without worrying overly about the trip in between. There aren't going to be "random encounters" - there are only the encounters I script. If the players are in space at the end of one session, but then back on Earth at the beginning of the next session, we can all just accept that. If I tell the player who can teleport that, for story reasons, he can't just teleport past the defenses "for some reason," he's more likely to accept it because he knows that everything that unfolds in "comic book world" is more about furthering a story than about making perfect sense. This game isn't a "combat simulation" like the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons (which remains a part of the game to this day) - it's much more of a story creation game. Now, it's not unique in that - there's a lot of RPGs that are much more "story" than "simulation," but I feel like the mechanics of the Sentinels RPG match the feel of "comic book world" in a very good way, and it makes it easy to run a "comic book story" using these rules.

But enough praise for now.

I ran things pretty much out of the book. The security drones had the ability to reduce their damage by 2 (if they rolled a 3 or higher) to Hinder the target by their die roll (the penalty was called "Zapped"). There were also "security robot" lieutenants which got a +1 to Attack to anyone who had been "Zapped". Everyone in the party ended up "Zapped," so that wasn't really an interesting mechanic, and I'll try something different next time.

The combat scene was "Easy" by the book, and the scene only got into the third box of the scene tracker. D6 minions die pretty quickly, and D8 lieutenants don't do much better, so the die type chosen for these opponents is obviously going to be important to length of scenes.

Also, we played for about 3 hours and the action/combat scene took about an hour and a half. Now, it was everyone's first time, so in the future I'm sure it'll be shorter, but I am interested to see if I can realistically run two "Action scenes" in 3 hours (because I can't go much longer before my players start to yawn - we are all old people who have to go to work in the morning). We'll see.

My early recommendations is to over-plan, and I also really recommend that Game Masters try to make the content feel like a complete start-to-finish issue of a comic book (or episode of a TV show, in my case). It really feels great to end the session on a cliff-hanger!

Until next time!


I live to meet expectations!
 

Edited by: mistergone on Jan 22 2020 - 5:47pm
TakeWalker
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Oh boy. This now has me excited to see what other game sessions are summarized here. :D I hope they all have heroes as fun as these, and writing as good as yours! To the next episode!

mistergone
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Thanks so much for the compliment! Knowing someone likes it certainly encourages me to post more of them!


I live to meet expectations!
 

catDreaming
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I'll be sure to post a transcript of my game on Saturday.


A single man
Standing alone in a field of swords
Blades borne to the unmoving air
An unchanging world as their sheathe
Preserved for eternity
This is my Origin
- Avalon, The Living Sheathe