There are some numbers that seem to occur with great frequency in the universe. They reveal themselves often enough in related subjects, as if to say, “This is not a coincidence. This is a plan, and you should not dismiss it.”

 

For instance, there is the number 52.

 

Most people only know 52 by its common applications. 52 weeks in a year. 52 white keys on a piano. 52 cards in a standard playing card deck, not counting Joker cards.

 

Mathematically speaking, however, 52 is an untouchable number. It is never the sum of proper divisors. It is never the answer to the equation x – φ(x), making it a noncototient.

 

It may, however, be the answer needed to find the missing heroes.

 

Rip Hunter, the Time MasterRip Hunter didn’t dare deface the equation on his chalkboard. Though hardly a sentimental man, he couldn’t bring himself to erase the formula, even knowing what he knew. No, instead, he wrote in the margins to account for the number that also ended up being the key to unlock the secret of his time travel equation.

 

52.

 

At first, they were random notes, written to get stray thoughts out of his head. Allusions to chess, musings on the nature of time, even messages to keep himself on track, written out to focus his intention. Or was he trying to focus someone else’s intention? He knew that he would not be the only one to read this chalkboard. There would be others, pursuing the missing heroes and searching for him as a longshot to achieving that goal. But he was not ready to reveal himself to them just yet.

 

It is not yet time for us to meet, he wrote. He had to focus his intention, but where?

 

Where are Luthor and Darkseid?! he scrawled, then stepped back to consider that question. Historically, he knew they would return, but he was unaware of the exact circumstances. All he knew is that they…

 

Slipped Through The Cracks he wrote, then underlined the words. They did slip through the cracks, didn’t they? And maybe others besides. Not from this world, of course, but from others. So who? Who slipped through?

 

Rip Hunter chalkboardsGrodd

                Desaad

Cheetah

                Other Villains?

Other New Gods?

 

Rip Hunter frowned at the words he had written. Why stagger them like that? He told himself there was no significance to it, but deep down, he knew it was a lie. There was no such thing as coincidence in this plan. It should not be dismissed.

 

He continued to scribble on his chalkboard, filling in blanks that he didn’t even know were present, working out an all new equation in his mind. One that spanned time and space, even the space between space, and may be either the salvation or damnation of this world and others besides.

 

The Army. The Worlds.

The Heroes. The Villains.

The Alpha. The Omega.

 

Years. Days. Seconds.

 

52.

Sometimes you just need to throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

The DC Adventures game up to this point had focused pretty much on the heroes proving themselves to the world, fighting villains and saving the day. But there were still heroes to be found, so in an effort to jumpstart that pursuit, I had Batman give the Alternates one name: Rip Hunter.

While they didn’t find the infamous Time Master himself, they did find a hidden laboratory in the Midwest that contained several chalkboards and the spherical time machine that he used for his adventures. At that point, what followed was an entire game session of me throwing out random phrases and possible plot threads through Rip Hunter’s infamous chalkboard notes. Rip Hunter labJust like those notes, some of the phrases made sense and teased an upcoming development that I was working on. Others had absolutely no basis in my plot and might not even be touched upon in the scope of the game. It was the gaming equivalent of 52 Pickup (There’s the number again!) and seeing which cards were revealed and which were face down.

I’m very fortunate that I have a talented and creative group of gamers who love challenges and like to fill in the blanks themselves with ideas that I’d never come up with in a million years. They took the molehill of words that I threw out there and built a mountain out of them, asking questions they’d never thought to ask before, and finding connections where there previously were none.

“Alpha and Omega? Who were the first heroes to disappear? Who were the last?”

“52 heroes? I’ll bet that’s the entire roster of the Justice League, including reserve members.”

“52 villains? Is the Joker on that list? Maybe there’s another villain we don’t know about yet!”

And on and on it went, with the players playing detective and unraveling the mystery of Rip Hunter’s chalkboard. Of course, those answers raised new questions, but that’s okay. They’ll use that as the springboard to launch a renewed search for the missing heroes, and I’ll use that to fill in the outline of my overarching plot for this chronicle.

It’s that synergy between players and game master that makes this hobby fun for me.

Next week: The Alternates are about to face their greatest challenge yet as they face… Gorilla Grodd? Is this the real one, or another fake? Come back in 7 days, the outcome of this confrontation will haunt the Alternates forever!