Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
That's what Ren Song is thinking when he accepts a sponsorship to enter the shady VIP room in the back of one of Gotham's illegal casinos run by the Triads. As a kid with little to his name but a knack for gambling (and cheating), the chance to come away with the jackpot to support his parents is too good to refuse.
The stakes get higher than he ever could have imagined when the Black Mask barges in on the game. Mistaking Ren for a member of the Triads, the teenager gets two bullets to the head for his trouble. But the story doesn't end there, as Ren miraculously survives, waking up after a six-month coma to the bewilderment of medical experts. Weak and weary with two fresh scars on his forehead, Ren thinks he's hallucinating from brain damage when he sees a video game screen in front him asking about his prestige and if he'd like his free roll.
He soon finds that he's not hallucinating at all. This gamer screen is real, and it's giving him real superpowers... if he's willing to make a name for himself.
But he'll have to work fast, as Black Mask isn't one to leave loose ends untied...
Risk it All is a Young Justice (2010) fanfic written by Ideas-Guy. It follows Ren as he explores his new gamer-like superpowers, gambling his livelihood, reputation, and life against the forces conspiring against him.
Risk it All provides examples of:
- Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: Ren is frustrated to find that his prestige point shop charges high for products he needs like body armor. The only skills that are available are low-tier and grievously overpriced for what they provide. To make matters worse, he can only sell them back for a fraction of the prestige points he paid to buy them. He has little choice when it comes to getting equipment, as he has neither the money nor the means to obtain it otherwise, especially for highly-advanced and otherwise ruinously expensive items like a Surveillance Drone.
- Bland-Name Product: Ren uploads his first video to "MeTube", an obvious spoof of YouTube.
- Blinding Bangs: Due to being in a coma for six months, Ren's hair has grown to the point that it drapes over his eyes. He keeps it out of his face with a hairclip, but he complains about how inconvenient it is and intends to get it cut as soon as he can.
- Blinded by the Light: Ren starts his fight with Black Mask's bodyguards by dropping flashbang grenades from the ceiling, blinding the mobsters so he can get in and knock them all down with a few good swings without giving them the chance to fight back.
- Bulletproof Vest: Ren first buys a bulletproof vest with his leftover gambling money before his first patrol. He replaces it with a super suit Ren purchases from his prestige point shop: a spandex bodysuit with armor plates fitted over it to protect him from bullets.
- The Cameo: Renee Montoya, the future Question, and Harvey Bullock, a long-time critic but ally of Batman's, show up at the hospital to question Ren about the assassin that came after him.
- Cardboard Prison: When Ren and Black Mask finally meet face-to-face again, Black Mask boasts that it doesn't matter if he goes in handcuffs, he'll be sprung from prison within hours. Ren agrees and decides to prevent Black Mask from ever threatening anyone again by demolishing the mobster's respiratory system and spine.
- Career-Ending Injury: Invoked by Ren's Soul-Crushing Strike skill, a punch with explosive force that bypasses attempts to guard against it. Its name is apparently derived from how it crushed the dreams of many a martial artist by ruining their bodies. When going out as a vigilante, this attack leaves multiple members of the mob crippled for life, something that makes Ren uncomfortable.
- Cassandra Truth: Ren had no idea what he was getting into when he entered that VIP room, much less that the casino was owned by Black Mask. But when he tries to explain this to the mob boss, Ren gets brushed off as just another member of the Triads and shot in the head.
- Dirty Cop: Subverted. Ren expects Detectives Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock to press him into talking by dangling his underage gambling over his head, but they simply leave their contact information before letting him keep his silence. But the GCPD's reputation for being corrupt still doesn't assuage Ren's fears.
- Discard and Draw: Ren can sell abilities, giving them up in exchange for prestige points that he can allocate toward his stats, rolling for new abilities, or buying equipment.
- Double Jump: This is one of the abilities Ren rolls after going viral from his first video. He first uses this to land an axe kick on a mobster.
- Enemy Mine: Subverted. The Triads seem unusually open to fighting with Ren rather than against him, to the point that one unnamed crook is baffled when Ren pounces on him for shooting another guy dead. Ren knows that allying himself with the Triads would make achieving his vendetta against Black Mask easier, but he refuses to work with criminals who thoughtlessly kill people.
- Evil Power Vacuum: On the night he heads out to take down Black Mask, Ren worries that taking him out will change nothing in the end, as another organized crime syndicate will simply take Black Mask's place. He figures that nothing would change until Gotham runs out of gangs, but that just means he'll have to keep working until the streets are clean, hoping that he'll get to team up with Batman and Robin. He admits it's a stupid thought, but it brings a smile to his face.
- Fate Worse than Death: Discussed. Ren avoids using Soul-Crushing Strike on anything but people's arms. He didn't want to test the limits of Thou Shalt Not Kill, and he considers being a vegetable a fate worse than just killing them. The skill's description even lampshades this, saying that Ren's opponents won't be able to die even if they want to.
- Foreshadowing: After the second attempt on Ren's life, his parents go from hovering at his bedside to letting him go out on walks unsupervised following his return from the hospital. He finds it baffling how unconcerned they seem to be about the threat of one of the biggest mobsters in town, especially after said mobster tried to kill him twice. This is because Ren's father and uncle have their own superpowers, and he's implied to have ripped off Black Mask's hand in retribution for nearly killing Ren.
- Formula with a Twist: While Risk It All is far from the first fanfic to be inspired by The Gamer, it distinguishes itself by having Ren's power progression be tied to notoriety rather than Level Grinding through combat. As a result, he can't just punch people to get stronger and bide his time in secret, forcing him to make his super identity known to improve his powers.
- Irisless Eye Mask Of Mystery: When Ren meets Batman face-to-face, he notices that the eyes of Batman's bowl are white, likely a technological add-on to prevent others from identifying him via his eyes.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: According to the author the clan of Qi cultivators Ren's father belonged to were once powerful enough to reshape the world map. But after driving all of the spiritual beasts and medicines to extinction in their ceaseless pursuit of power, their power has diminished considerably by the present day, though Ren's uncle is still able to accomplish feats of Super Strength, Super Speed, and seeming teleportation.
- Kung-Fu Sonic Boom: Soul-Crushing Strike is always accompanied by a loud bang, regardless of whether or not Ren actually punched something. This emphasizes the bone-breaking force that accompanies it.
- Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Ren learns that a 24-hour diner is a front for the Snake-Flower Triads, making it a target for Black Mask's mafia. But it also means that there are ordinary people inside, springing Ren into action before Black Mask can light the place up with bullets.
- Mob War: There's been long-standing friction between the Snake-Flower Triads and the mafia led by Black Mask for some time before the start of the story, as shown by how quick Black Mask is to shoot Ren. Due to being mistaken for a member of the Triads in his vigilante identity, Ren inadvertently reignites war between the two factions, starting with Black Mask's lackeys trying to shoot up a diner.
- Morton's Fork: Ren is put in one of these after an assassin comes for his life. When the police question him, Ren is worried that spilling the beans would put his family in danger. On the other hand, keeping his silence would not necessarily stop Black Mask from coming after Ren again while impeding the police's efforts to stop Black Mask themselves. He ultimately chooses to keep his silence while planning to use his new superpowers to stop Black Mask personally.
- Mugging the Monster: Downplayed. Ren's powers make him more than a match for the average person, but the fact that he lacks Super Toughness means that any guy with a gun can kill him. He's terrified when a man pulls a gun on him to mug him and rather than be Batman he begins meekly forking over his cash, only collecting himself after the man had started walking away. That's when he breaks the man's arm and takes his money back.
- Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: The only reason Ren doesn't snicker at the name of his family's Qi cultivation technique, the Heavenly White Tiger Fist, is because his dad is saying it dead seriously while explaining his family's history.
- Ninja: Black Mask accuses the Triads of sending a "ninja fucker" after him and his men, mistaking Ren for one of the Triads. But he also says the same guy tore off his hand a month ago, which piques Ren's interest as his uncle had just informed him that his father has the same Qi powers as him.
- Not What It Looks Like:
- After breaking the arm of the man who mugged him, Ren quickly realizes that it looks like he's the one doing the mugging and feebly tries to tell onlookers that the guy mugged him first. He quickly gives up, takes his money back, and runs for dear life.
- His tendency to leave mobsters with crippled arms gives him a villainous reputation as "the Breaker", while an offscreen Triad who shoots a man in Ren just defeated inadvertently makes Ren look like a murderer.
- Ren seemingly kills Black Mask by pulverizing his respiratory system and spine in two punches... right as Batman shows up.
- Out-Gambitted: Ren's grandparents conspired to kill his father to prevent him from ever challenging Ren's uncle for the position of patriarch of their clan. They didn't count on Ren's father going as far to torch their ancestral home and plant explosives to create a diversion.
- The Paragon: The Justice League collectively represents the most powerful and morally upright of all superheroes on Earth. Ren looks to Batman in particular for inspiration as Gotham's greatest hero, trying to emulate Batman's moral fiber and fighting his foes in hand-to-hand without killing them.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Ren decides to end the threat Black Mask poses permanently by turning the latter's internal organs into chunky salsa while keeping him alive with Thou Shalt Not Kill. It's not pretty or particularly heroic, but he considers it the better alternative to sending him to a Cardboard Prison.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Ren scoffs at a mobster making his phone password "8-0-0-8" or "boob", saying that he might as well have "1-2-3-4" as his password.
- Playing the Victim Card: After Ren breaks the arm of the guy who mugged him, the mugger declares that he's the one getting mugged while coming up with a sob story about how Ren is taking his niece's birthday money. Ren tries to point out the issues with this guy's story, namely that the mugger is holding a gun in plain sight, but his words fall on deaf ears. Ren is then forced to flee, later learning that footage of the incident is filled with comments about what a loser he is for mugging a guy.
- Police Are Useless: Despite the mafia being decidedly within their paygrade, the GCPD only ever seems to show up after the fight is said and done, leaving Ren to take on Black Mask's goons by himself. The GCPD's reputation for being notoriously corrupt doesn't help matters, and Ren instinctively distrusts the cops and tries not to get get caught by them for vigilantism.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Black Mask's mobsters refer to Ren and the Triads as "fucking yellow bastards" while threatening war. The password to one mobster's phone is "8-0-0-8" or "boob".
- Professional Killer: Subverted. Ren is nearly killed by a homeless man with a gun, who Ren lampshades as looking nothing like the assassins he expected. According to the GCPD, this is Black Mask's standard MO for getting rid of loose ends, as the desperate are easily convinced to kill others for a thousand bucks. The fact that the assailant is a random hobo means that it's impossible to prove decisively that Black Mask is responsible as the payment was made in cash.
- Random Number God: The system that grants Ren his powers organizes abilities into "tiers" of general effectiveness, whatever powers Ren gets is largely up to chance. His rolls can range from skill and math-bathed games that grant him useful abilities like Soul-Crushing Strike to games of pure luck. Ren once ends up getting nothing but luck-based games multiple times in a row, leaving him with a number of abilities like Multilingual that are useless in a straight fight. But when it's feeling generous he can get a higher-tier ability like Water Stream Rock Smashing Fist.
- Red Herring: There are multiple hints that Ren's mysterious uncle is a member of the Triads, given how unusually wealthy he is to easily pay for Ren's six-month stay in intensive care, the Triads' unusual cooperativeness toward him, and his parents' unwillingness to talk about him. This is all window dressing for the real reveal that Ren's father descends from a line of superhuman Qi cultivators. Any theories of Triad connections go kaput.
- Red Shirt: One of Ren's Prestige ranks invokes this trope, being the next step up from Minor Character and just below Named Character, indicating that Ren's super identity is starting to become well-known in Gotham after his viral video of him fighting a mobster who gets shot dead.
- Revenge: Subverted. As much as Ren wants to stop Black Mask, he's not really in it to vent a grudge on him or to avenge Alice, a woman he knew for barely a week before she's murdered. He just doesn't like seeing people be killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time like he was.
- RPG-Mechanics Verse: Similarly to The Gamer, Ren is the only one to interact with the world like a game, getting new powers by playing casino games, allocating prestige points to improve himself like an MMO character, and having a personal electronic marketplace where he can spend prestige points on equipment.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Alice is portrayed as a kind, devoted, and compassionate physical therapist who cheerfully encourages Ren as he tries to get his life back. It makes it all the more tragic when she's shot to death by an assassin sent to kill him, motivating him to take on Black Mask with his new superpowers.
- Secret Test of Character: The events of "Unseen Hand" are this for Ren. At the behest of the League, Martian Manhunter traps Ren in an illusion in which Ren successfully interrupts Batman's attempt at Taking the Heat for his actions in order to judge what Ren would do in a desperate situation and to see if he could be trusted. Also Deconstructed, as Ren is understandably shaken that people he trusts would put him through such a thing and that they distrusted him enough decieve him like this.
- Serial Escalation:
- According to the author, the variety and general effectiveness of Ren's new skills will go up as his fame grows. Ren might go from Supernatural Martial Arts to more impressive abilities like airbending. In addition, Ren can invest prestige points into skills that he already has to make them more useful.
- Ren later finds that he can combine powers to make new ones or mix their effects.
- Sickening "Crunch!": Ren hears this whenever he breaks someone's bones via Soul-Crushing Strike.
- Speed Blitz: Ren makes use of the athleticism granted by his powers and his Flash Step ability to repeatedly rush toward his opponents faster than they can react before incapacitating them with Soul-Crushing Strike or a simple punch or kick.
- Surveillance Drone: Ren invests some of his prestige points into purchasing a few of these to help track down Black Mask's location. They're made to look and feel like real pigeons, allowing them to blend seamlessly into Gotham City without arousing suspicion, letting them tail Black Mask and listen in on his goons' conversations. In addition to this, they're helpful as cameras to record his actions so he can safely gain some prestige without having to blow his Secret Identity.
- Theme Naming: The chapter titles are all named after gambling terminology, usually in correlation with what Ren is experiencing.
- "Risk it All" means to bet everything in hopes of a huge payout, though it takes on a Double Meaning as Ren didn't expect to risk his life because of Black Mask.
- "2-7 Offsuit" is widely regarded as one of the worst possible starting hands in Texas Hold 'Em poker. In the same chapter, one of Black Mask's assassins attempts to kill Ren, who is undergoing physical therapy. If not for his powers, Ren would have been helpless. Even then, his therapist, the kindly and supportive Alice, gets shot dead.
- "Hedging Bets" refers to trying to reduce risk and secure one's winnings. This chapter covers Ren's attempts to raise his prestige without exposing his identity.
- The Triads and the Tongs: The Snake-Flower Triads compete with Black Mask's mafia for control of Gotham City's Chinatown. While they're still ruthless crooks that Ren has little sympathy for, they come across as A Lighter Shade of Black, given how one Triad seems to shoot a guy Ren had incapacitated to help him, nodding at him in affirmation.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Alice, Ren's physical therapist, is introduced as a kindly and supportive doctor working to help him recover from his coma. She's unfortunately shot dead by an assassin sent after him, motivating Ren to use his new powers to stop Black Mask from hurting anyone else. This is also discussed by Ren, who admits that he barely knew Alice, so he's not really out to avenge her.
- Wham Line: Ren is stopped in his tracks when he meets his estranged uncle, who warmly greets him and is not surprised by Ren's powers.An unorthodox set of techniques, I see. I suppose I should expect nothing less from my nephew.
- Wretched Hive: Gotham City, natch. As Ren says, Gotham is infamous for its crime rate and you'd be forgiven for thinking you would be mugged a dozen times over while walking down the street. The air is full of smog and the light pollution is so prevalent that Ren has never seen the stars with his own eyes before. That's not even taking into account the supervillains and gangs rampaging every other day. Ren can't even imagine what it was like before Batman showed up, as it was apparently a hundred times worse then.
- Your Head A-Splode: According to the author, punching someone in the face with Soul-Crushing Strike without Thou Shalt Not Kill would cause their head to explode like a watermelon struck with a hammer, especially after Ren ups his strength to peak human levels.