The Letters Page: Episode 102
We make another thing LIVE! What kind of thing? Who knows?!
Run Time: 1:23:15
OK, look, we've gotta stall for a while, so it's a few minutes into the episode before we actually get down to brass tacks, but then we start making stuff!
We recorded this live in front of the Letters Page Patreon supporters, with many of the Contributors in the chat - you'll hear some of their names, as they were an important part of the creative process!
I don't want to spoil anything, so you'll just have to listen to the episode...
[spoilers incoming - don't look below this if you want to avoid spoilers!]
...but I will give you this quick sketch that Adam did right after the episode:
We'll catch you next week for Myriad!
- Pool Shark
- Shear Force
- Concealin' Carrie
- Mr. Hideous
- Wager Master
- Green Grosser
- Judge Mental
- Order of the Simple Machine
- Argent Adept
- Baron Blade
- Mr. Fixer
- Another live-with-Discord-audience episode where they’re making up a new thing for Sentinel Comics. They’ve done this before in episodes 68 and 85 (featuring the creation of how Oni work in Sentinel Comics and a new villain group, The Order of the Simple Machine, respectively). They have done no prep work for this, it’s largely going to be them spitballing an entirely new thing and get a concept in place before the end.
Creating the Thing!
- Christopher’s framing device for how to proceed with this episode: let’s make something that we need. No idea what that is going in, but they just funded a bunch of products for the RPG, so maybe think of material that they need to put in there. Another way to go would be to go through all of the SotM stuff to find something that slots into the existing world nicely as something that’s “always existed”, but just was not front-and-center in the game - that’s kind of how the Oni episode worked (i.e. these are things that have been around for forever, they just weren’t featured in a product prior to whatever will be happening with them in the RPG). Starting with a known need and developing from that end and fitting it in after-the-fact might be more efficient, though.
- Three places with current “needs” to think about putting stuff: the RPG, the Sentinels of Freedom video game, or Prime War. The problem Sentinels of Freedom is that they’d be adding work for other people who are already developing stuff and, frequently, that would mean either spoilers for how stuff works in them or requiring them to be really cagey the whole time in this episode. They take a vote in the Discord and we land on the RPG.
- The core rulebook is pretty much set, so they can’t really add stuff for it. They don’t want to put things off too much, so that leaves making something for the other books already funded by the Kickstarter (the Guise book, the Book of Monsters/xxtz’Hulissh adventure book, the Dark Watch book, or the Urban Settings book).
- Just starting at the beginning of that list sparks an idea for Christopher - he’d been considering the logistics of what can be included in the Guise book: we already know that it will have Guise, various antagonists, and a few adventures, but what about either locations/environments or additional heroes? This latter possibility grabs their attention: does Guise have a “team” or even just supporting cast that they could include?
- There’s also plenty of space in the Dark Watch book for any number of creative things, but Adam points out that both of the prior Create a Thing episodes have been Dark Watch kinds of things already. They’ve also kind of got a roadmap for what needs to go into this one where they like breaking new ground entirely in these things, so they make the call right here: heroes for the Guise book it is.
- First premise: the kinds of heroes who feature in Guise stories that aren’t the people we already know are going to be the D-list heroes. Think Mystery Men level. Like, less well known/respected than the Southwest Sentinels were early on. Christopher officially “cheats” by pitching the idea that they swap a character they’ve already discussed as a villain to be a hero - Concealin’ Carrie (previously mentioned in Editors Note 27). Unlike another like Mr. Hideous who already has a story and whatnot, all they have for her so far is the name.
- What kind of archetypes are they going for/haven’t done yet? The Mystery Men comparison is apt - they want people who take themselves very seriously, but anyone else looking at them/their gimmick would think they were a joke. Relatively low-powered? There’s room for a character who’s really powerful, but silly enough that they don’t use it effectively, but that’s already covered by Guise. So the rest of these people should have relatively small amounts of/limited-scope of power but are skilled in the application of it and/or have a very limited beat (like “I protect the city’s parks and that’s it.”). [A fun joke example for the “limited scope” type would be a guy who can always draw the seven of clubs from a deck of cards, then one day Wager Master shows up and requires somebody to draw the seven of clubs, but he’s such a stinker that the deck he’s using lacks the card - then this guy steps up and does so. Adam declares this the worst idea they’ve ever had.]
- So, Concealin’ Carrie - is she somebody with guns or somebody who can do stuff with invisibility? If the latter, that sounds an awful lot like a thief character. This is going to be tricky because the two concepts here are veering very close to either Expatriette or Ermine. Adam is leaning towards keeping her as a villain who does both the vanishing stuff and the gun stuff. Ok, so not dealing with her today. Moving on.
- Before getting into who anybody is in particular, they have to decide what their relationship is to Guise. They land on the idea that this is a team that Guise recruits for some reason - say, he hears about the Freedom Academy, decides to apply to join the Academy, does terribly and gets asked to leave, then goes on to form his own team
with blackjack and hookers. So, while he’s not going to turn anybody away, he’s dealing with people who aren’t accepted by the Freedom Academy. This leaves: non-powered people (or who think they have powers but don’t really), dangerous people (like a straight-up sociopath who claims to be a hero - that might be too dark), stuff like that. Maybe some of those highly-specific locations: like a “sewer hero” or somebody who patrols the monorail itself. This team may or may not wind up named “Neighborhood Watch Association”.
- Christopher comes up with somebody with one of those oddly-specific abilities that the Freedom Academy wouldn’t see a use for - somebody who’s really good at playing pool. It almost writes itself. He goes by Pool Shark and carries around a pool cue and has balls in a bandolier (that he doesn’t throw directly at people - he throws them up and then cues them at people or puts one down somewhere and then does some kind of complicated bank shot off of other surfaces), and has a shark hoodie on. This also is a perfect setup for another foe for Cueball. That’s one character sorted out. Archetype: Marksman. Power Source: Training. He needs to be super intense about everything, but the gimmick is “good at pool” - no hitting people with the cue or throwing it like a spear, no hitting a ball with the cue like a baseball or throwing the balls directly, it’s all variations on him hitting the balls with the cue like you normally would, just with novel applications (and there’s some crazy stuff people do on the table - just search YouTube for “crazy pool trick shots” or similar). Chat comes up with some catch phrases for him. Mr. Fox suggests he has various “trick chalks” (like an explosive one to give an extra kick to the shot). They like the idea of kind of filling the “Archer” archetype, but there being absolutely nothing special about the cue or balls (Cueball already has the shtick with the different balls having different effects and whatnot, so they don’t want that to be part of Pool Shark’s setup). Different chalks gives some variety, so good job. “Does he ever pretend to be bad at pool?” Of course, he’s a pool shark - he’s got to have a “Hustle” ability on his sheet somewhere - like he takes a Hinder action on himself with Min, but gives himself a Persistent Exclusive Boost with Max or something.
- Ok, so they can flesh him out more later, let’s move on to the highly-specific-turf character. They like the “park warden” idea better than the monorail guy, but does that step on Argent Adept’s toes too much with his involvement with Akash'Flora? Does Megalopolis even have parks anymore? They like the idea of somebody with “cop-level” authority, but in just one specific spot. Some “grunt-level” job in town that could then be leveraged into something interesting here. They also want to move away from Pool Shark’s non-powered, but very accomplished thing, so maybe somebody who has one power that’s not something immediately interesting to the Freedom Academy. They then think about the examples of the “sewer guy” or “monorail guy” being too location-specific - what would they bring to the team? They’d be good as local color for the city, but if Guise is recruiting they can’t be that specific. They decide that this might be easier if they take the Pool Shark/Cueball example and work backwards - figure out their nemeses and go from there.
- The chat suggests a “normal person” (like a janitor) from the Extremeverse as that’s pretty funny and could work…
- So, looking at the villains scheduled for the book, Green Grosser and Judge Mental are the obvious choices. They lean towards Green Grosser - and this brings up the idea of “a gardener from the Extremeverse” as a great plant-themed foil for him. So, what does the gardening profession look like in the Extremeverse? “Everything’s kudzu, but kudzu with teeth, and they have to stem the tide.” So, heavy work gloves, cover-alls, hedge-shears in a scabbard on his back, maybe an XTREME version of a pole-saw (used for tree trimming). The problem is it’s hard to think of a way that you can use gardening tools against people that isn’t just horrific, although that’s par for the course in the Extremeverse. They like the idea of Guise being the guy to try to make people into heroes and having to talk this guy down from just murdering everybody with a chainsaw. They consider a garden hose that he can use as a whip or to tie people up, worn like a bandolier (which makes them reconsider Pool Shark - maybe some kind of triangular dispenser thing on his back instead of a bandolier, possibly evoking the shark-fin thing). A lot of gardening equipment is really big, and an Extremeverse gardener needs to be ready for anything so they probably have some kind of bag-of-holding/extradimensional space backpack where he can stow things. Maybe even Extremeverse fertilizer and seeds that he can get some kind of plant control stuff going. So this guy is going to be a Gadgeteer Archetype. This idea has promise, but (like Pool Shark) they really need to nail the name here: several suggestions come in via chat, Alchemy suggests “Shear Force” but Christopher worries that the joke might not come across - or that it works better as a team or story arc name. Ooooh, so “Shear Force” was his team name in the Extremeverse, which means that everybody’s got to have a specialty, and he’s the Gadgeteer (as opposed to a big tough guy with a chainsaw hand and hook hand and that’s it). “Toolshed” isn’t bad [from the chat, but I can’t catch the name of who suggested it]. “Greenhouse” would be the cultivator, not the Gadgeteer. Alchemy suggests “Tech Tree” which sends Christopher laughing for a bit, but that’s better for their headquarters. “Landscape” is good as another member with ground-based powers. Alchemy comes in again with “Crop-duster” as their team vehicle. They need a word that refers to garden tools collectively, but that’s not a word yet, so let’s switch gears to…
- Christopher and Adam make up a word - they love doing this, but they use it as a last resort. Some of their favorite names (like Infinitor) came from this process. Chrisopher starts off with using a single tool and building off of it, suggesting “trowel” as the starting point, but might be too much of a mouthful. Chrisopher thinks he has it (slaps the table) with “Provisioner” but Adam doesn’t think it evokes the garden idea enough - too generic. They pull up a list of garden-related words and words “related to mechanized agriculture” to find something promising. Then Adam just throws out “Hedgelord” from nowhere as a joke and that’s too good to pass up, seeing that he’s from the Extremeverse (the name wouldn’t work otherwise). They then throw things over to chat to suggest other Shear Force member names, like Roots Lee and Mow-town, but time to move on.
- They have created two supporting-cast heroes for the Guise book - they’ll like at least a few more, but that’s as far as they’re going today. They love the idea of Shear Force (who are likely hunting down their version of Man-Grove and Akash'Whatever that have teamed up) and hope to use it for something, maybe “Project Steel”. That prompts the question of what that is: they use code-names for new game product ideas since the act of naming something might/usually does limit how you think about the thing (like, “Sentinels of the Multiverse” was applied relatively early in the process, and that means that they had to include a Multiverse element to the setting). As a convention, they use “Project [metal]” for this purpose, they also have Project Mithril and Project Gold in the pipe, Galactic Strike Force was Project Tungsten, Sentinel Tactics was Project Ununhexium (which is a super-heavy element made in the lab, but they wanted “hex” in the name - it’s since then been officially named Livermorium). They can’t tell us about this one yet.
- Can Pool Shark be from Gary, Indiana? Yes - nice Music Man reference.
- How did Cueball and Pool Shark first meet and can Pool Shark swim? Of course he can swim. When Pool Shark was younger, he was an accomplished swimmer (like on track for the Olympics), but he eventually had some kind of accident and could no longer compete (he can still swim, but he’ll never be as good as he was). Now, to be that top-level of athlete, you are by default a very driven person and he needed some new outlet for that, and that involved a pool of a different kind and that became his obsession up through the events of OblivAeon years later. When that happened it woke him up a bit - he’s been “wasting his life” with this, and he needs to do something to make the world a better place. That’s when he dons the shark hoodie and becomes Pool Shark.
- Is coming up with the character background or their name harder? The name except in those cases where they start with a name, but even in those cases the backstory just flows from it and is never a sticking point like a name will. They were glad we got to see the process in action in both directions in this episode.
- Does Pool Shark talk like he’s a 1920s gangster? No, he’s a modern guy. Go watch some trick shot videos on YouTube - these guys are somewhere between “juggler” and “magician”.
- How did Hedgelord get cut off from the Extremeverse? Did that happen to all of Shear Force, or just him? During OblivAeon, Shear Force came through a Mist Gate to aid in the fight. When the gates were closing, the rest of the team made it back through one (whether or not they’re back in the Extremeverse is unknown), but he didn’t and is still in Universe 1. This is when they come up with a Cobra type organization that Shear Force fights, they land on K.U.D.Z.U.
- Does Pool Shark have lasers? No, he’s just got a really good eye for this stuff.
- Can Pool Shark hit a ball across the water? Yeah, skipping it across, spinning, something like that.
- Does Hedgelord have a duplicate in Universe 1? Yeah, but he’s just a regular gardener somewhere.
- Has Guise tried to jump over Pool Shark while on a ski vacation? Not yet.
- Does Pool Shark care about “happy hour”? Yeah, it’s the best time to hustle.
- Is it Pool Shark, Pool-Shark, or Poolshark? Pool Shark [whew, that saves me the trouble of fixing all of the times I’ve typed it so far].
- How would Hedgelord adapt to a world where the plants aren’t trying to kill him? Would he prepare for mowing his lawn like Legacy prepares to fight Baron Blade? In the Extremeverse, yes, that would have been what he had to do. Once stuck here he figured he’d continue to help the people of this world do likewise, then saw what gardening was like and realized that he’d have to find another outlet for his skills.
- Who plays pool better, Pool Shark or Cueball? Pool Shark - he actually plays it, Cueball’s using it as a gimmick.
- Which characters “designed themselves” for SotM vs. having a long, drawn-out process? Argent Adept’s name took forever - the secondary title he has of Virtuoso of the Void is because an early name was the Viridian Virtuoso, but that’s just too much of a mouthful. Mr. Fixer was super easy. Expatriette they had the name first and went from there. When coming up with the nemesis for Omnitron they figured that it was just Omnitron, so that was easy (although they had Omniron for like half a second in there). Sky-Scraper was a difficult name - they had her as Proportia [which was used in a Disparation story according to her episode] which is why there’s a “Proportionist” card and her name is Portja Kir’Pro. Tachyon was easy (“speed” plus “science”). Legacy was tough up until the moment they wrote his backstory (but that took a while too) in which case it became obvious - one they had him nailed down the rest of Sentinel Comics kind of fell into place. Bunker and Haka were easy. Haka was one of the easiest entire characters to come up with.
- Does Shear Force have an antagonistic relationship with little-old-ladies in the Extremeverse? Not sure why they would [later clarification - because little old ladies can get rather particular about their gardens, in which case no - Shear Force can get behind anybody who’s gardening - Shear Force is there to deal with the situations that others can’t], but badass old people are definitely a thing there.
- Does Hedgelord have snazzy names for all of his gear? They’ll all have Extreme names.
- How does Hedgelord react to the Akash'Flora roots everywhere? Is his reaction to them what brought him to Guise’s attention? They’re really glad that the Urban Settings book is happening as it will involve a lot of stuff about how Akash'Flora is being integrated into the city. So, that’s probably going to be a thing for his character.