The Letters Page: Episode 125
Let's get Monstrous and Magical?
Who are we kidding - we're always monstrous and magical.
Run Time: 1:18:43
We start out assuming we've already covered all the monsters and magics... but we prove that untrue quite swiftly.
But then! Your questions are what unlock even MORE great content! We start in on those questions just after the 30 minute mark.
Thanks everyone for listening to these spooky but not too spooky episodes - but don't you fret: November is right around the corner!
We're recording two episodes this week - tomorrow is a Disparation episode about the Extremeverse and Friday we're recording a Creative Process episode about the Animated Series, Phase 3. So, get your questions in for those episodes ASAP!
- Martin Adams
- Zhu Long
- Wager Master
- Crackjaw Crew
- The Kraken
- Captain Cosmic
- Argent Adept
- Count Barzakh
- Plague Rat
- Mr. Fixer
- Dr. Frankenstein
- Doc Tusser
- Blood Countess Bathory
- Marjorie Mittermeier
- The Vandals
- So… they think they’ve done a pretty good job covering your classic “monsters” in Sentinel Comics.
- Werewolves: Episode 44 on Blood Magic.
- Vampires: also Episode 44.
- Mummies: Episode 27 on Ra and Episode 54 on Supernatural Settings. This is real brief anyway - they’re just normal mummified people, but their proximity to the portal to the “underworld” (which we now know more about) animates them with infernal energies. They decide here that there probably is something like a “mummy’s curse” they can do to people - channeling the destructive energies of the destroyed realm to affect the target of the curse. After coming up with that, they remember that they already knew that this could happen because of something that happened to Marty Adams way back when that Ra had to make a deal with Anubis to fix it.
- Zombies: There’s the standard GloomWeaver thing, but zombies are a generic “animate corpse” designation. Zhu Long does stuff that would qualify. Heck, mummies are a specific subcategory set apart by the power source animating them (which also results in them being more conscious than your typical zombie).
- Ghosts: they’ve talked about them often. Often they’re just caused by some attachment to a thing or event that prevents them from moving on.
- Demons: They’ve done “demons” (Episode 38 on Apostate), but have they actually done stuff on denizens of a Hell dimension? Myriad kind of counts as his bug dimension could qualify.
- Let’s discuss what a “Hell Dimension” is: a dimension that is infernal/bad in some way. It implies that it’s eternal agony to humans, but might have things that live there natively just fine. It’s not destructive to a human - it wouldn’t kill you, but torment you. That being said, there isn’t a specific dimension called Hell. This would be more like a designation that NightMist has in one of her books or something (probably somewhat after the inevitable late-’70s/early-’80s “NightMist Goes to Hell” story when they decide to flesh out that idea to get away from the idea that there is a specific Hell).
- Contrasting to that, are there “Heaven Dimensions”? There are probably places that people would call “heaven”, but what would that imply? Are they just paradise or are there more sinister things behind them? Like, there might be some omnipotent being running the show - we know that Wager Master has his own dimension after all (it’s where the Crackjaw Crew played their gig for him). Does that mean that all Singular Entities have a home pocket dimension? At the very least they can probably create one as needed, and if one was feeling hospitable/benevolent it would probably be something like this. Adam had been thinking more along the lines of something that was omnipotent within that dimension and is making the place nice for some other purpose. What of the Host dimension? They probably need to define it like they did with Hell Dimension above. If there’s a place of “Eternal Comfort” then why don’t people just move there en masse (Adam brings up a good point that, within a rounding error, 100% of people in Sentinel Comics don’t travel to other dimensions - the number of people who even know about things like the Realm of Discord is vanishingly small in terms of the total population, so even if a “Heaven Dimension” was as well-known as that place it’d be really under-the-radar). There’s some room for NightMist to know about such places as theoretical - they’re just not as easily encountered as Hell Dimensions as the latter tend to leak into reality due to their corrupting nature and people seek them out for power and whatnot. There’s also narrative space for a story where somebody finds a Heaven Dimension and corrupts it. Another option: Extremeverse Fanatic goes to a Hell Dimension and purifies it (“Fanatic Kills Hell” - she doesn’t make it a paradise so much as just murders everything and burns it to the ground).
- Other monsters… Wendigo? A problem they run into is that a major point of Chrono-Ranger’s existence is that, after he’s done with them, there aren’t a lot of things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster around because he’s “taken care of them.” How about one we know exists:
- The Kraken
- Is there just the one? How old is it? Does the Kraken pre-date Atlantis? [This prompts them to have the same idea simultaneously, which is pretty funny:] It was created to protect Atlantis. When the Atlanteans did the thing to sink the place as a seal on whatever evil-in-a-can they’re sealing away, they also created the Kraken to patrol/protect the place to prevent people from unsealing it. Anybody who goes to Atlantis has to deal with/is killed by/is driven off by the Kraken, so maybe there’s some good story potential for a “Whoops” moment later on if when the Prime Wardens set up shop there eventually they kill/drive off/seal away the Kraken because they didn’t know why it was there in the first place. Trying to ball-park how far back in time this was they waffle a bit between “thousands” and “less than tens of thousands” of years ago, but then figure it might be around ten thousand years ago - certainly less than twenty, but they can’t say that it was necessarily less than ten [I can’t quickly find any prior indication that they’ve said exactly how long ago the Atlantis stuff happened beyond vaguely “prehistorical”, and that seems like the sort of detail I would have noted.] So, when they were doing their sealing-away stuff, the Atlanteans used what was around them as a template, so giant squid but more-so is basically what’s going on. When you fight the Kraken in the game, you’re just dealing with a tentacle or two (we see more of it on Akash’Thriya’s card “Accelerate Nature’s Order”).
- Is it intelligent/does it know it’s job? At the very least it knows its job. It’s not sapient, but is built to be territorial and protective of the area it’s bound to.
- So, what do the Prime Wardens do? Since the picture we have features it with the “new” La Paradoja Magnifica, they can’t kill it. They plan out the bones of the story. Tempest goes to try to communicate with it and it reaches out to touch his mind - it is ancient and unknowable and will protect this place forever. They need a new plan. Or, maybe Haka, Captain Cosmic, and Fanatic are fighting it while Tempest is trying to establish this contact with Argent Adept’s help. Eventually AA puts it to sleep with nature magic or something (along the lines of altering the spell compelling it to convince it that they, the Prime Wardens, are the protectors of this place now and that it may rest). Then, when we get to the “Accelerate Nature’s Order” event, that’s basically just Akash’Thriya saying “Awaken!” to it.
- So, this is a unique magical creature that the ancient masters of Atlantis made out of terrible sea beasts to be a guardian. There aren’t multiple Krakens and it doesn’t reproduce. Good times.
- Is it still around? Did OblivAeon kill it? Christopher has an idea, but for spoiler reasons can’t actually talk about them.
- Moving on… a swamp monster of some kind? They’ve already got Man-Grove, but they know there’s a lot of stuff that comes out of swamps generally. Maybe that’s enough monsters for now. Are there magical categories or whatever that they haven’t covered already? A “pact with a higher power” is a standard means of acquiring power in other settings, but the Host kind of fits here, as does the Cult of Gloom or people getting power from Singular Entities. For their purposes they need to know what magic can and cannot do, what the cost of doing the magic is, and what the experience of using that magic is like.
- Are there “animal races” that they haven’t covered yet? Lizard People? Maybe not, but something else besides Magmarians might live underground. We’ve got Gorgons, but how about other Greek-myth things like Minotaurs? They like the idea of that kind of thing falling into Biomancer territory - things like Minotaurs was him stitching parts together. Hydra kind of fits into a vague “dragon” category. All myths are at least based in reality if misunderstood.
- Genies? Of course, there’s the Pepper Genie [from Christopher’s RPG livestreams] which was said to be from some dimension of spice, but there are probably more traditional genies/djinn. This seems like some Zhu Long-level sorcerer crams somebody’s consciousness into an artifact to gain some control over said artifact with vast power but it was necessary to connect a mind to it to be in control of that power and dole it out as appropriate. It’s not a “race”, but something created as a one-off (although that doesn’t preclude more than one such entity from existing). Even better, maybe it was some artificer who created the thing, realized that they had gone too far and was not able to destroy it and then bound their own soul or whatever to the object. So we’ve got that initial one and maybe similar objects created by later people trying to recreate the thing, so it’s possible that there are a small handful of these things, but with the guardian spirits having varied personalities. The original is the one with unlimited power available, but it’s not as simple as “you get three wishes” - the trade-off for getting a wish granted is to do your best to hide it so that it’s never found again - the genie in that one hopes that every wish it grants is the last one it ever gives as he hopes that this time the person will succeed in hiding it forever. This one probably isn’t a lamp, but one of the copycat objects (which is a pale imitation and can only grant some limited wishes) is the best known one which is a lamp.
- To back up a bit: if there are demons in hell dimensions (i.e. things native to hell dimensions), are there “angels” from heaven dimensions? Yeah, in the same way that they’re just beings that are native to said dimensions, but they’re probably more like the descriptions in the Old Testament than the kinds of things we might normally think of now [“winged humans” like what Fanatic resembles].
- [Hey, a Biomancer gimmick letter like in the old days!] Since most types of magic we know about seem to come from a particular place (Discordian Magic from the Realm of Discord, Natural Magic from the normal world, the Egyptian pantheon being powered from the remnants of their old realm, Void Magic from the Void, etc.) it seems like Blood Magic is an outlier, being connected to blood/life force - does this make it a subset of Natural Magic? Is there a “blood dimension” that it’s tied to somehow? Natural Magic is stuff that follows from the natural order of things in reality - stuff like how the ley-lines interact and whatnot results in energies that can then be tapped into. Blood Magic is something that runs across that at right angles. It is akin to Natural Magic, but is a perversion of the natural order of things. This isn’t to imply that there’s a normal duality involved with every magic type. Natural magic is done by being so in-tune with the natural order that you can do magic with it. Blood Magic is an exploit where you do something terribly against the natural order to make use of some of the latent power sitting around (in people’s blood vessels, say).
- How’s this for an analogy: magic is like art in that there is both the medium you work in (the Magic type) and the kind of art/techniques used when working with it - the two things are linked (sculpting clay is different from painting on a canvas, but medium and technique are technically separate things)? It’s not bad - like Adam draws stuff using a number of mediums and while some techniques cross over, there are still differences between them. There’s also the differences between precision work and doing things in a more intuitive manner. NightMist is very precise as opposed to Argent Adept’s more intuitive approach.
- Since the magicians we see either appear to be self-taught or part of a master/apprentice relationship, and the population of magicians is very small and insular, do they wind up with lots of assumptions about how things work that aren’t necessarily true just because of how the knowledge was built up over time as opposed to being due to outside observation of reality? Yeah, there’s probably a lot of that. Like, GloomWeaver probably doesn’t need the Cult to do this whole involved ritual to get him to show up, but that’s what they “know” that gets them to the important bit eventually. All of the stuff the Virtuosos of the Void do is elaborate.
- Is there no large-scale magical study going on (even Argent Adept’s search for more Virtuosos isn’t to make new breakthroughs into magic, only to find more potential recruits for an army to deal with the bad stuff going on in the Void)? Not so much an army, maybe a “strike force” or council. Zhu Long’s temple is doing this sort of study/research, but that’s at most a few hundred people there and that’s one of the larger such groups. Most others are probably no more than a dozen or two at a time. Previous Counts Barzakh had their little groups of students and probably represented the next largest active gropus. The Cult of Gloom has more people involved, but they care more about the worship of GloomWeaver than studying magic - some members wind up getting access to magic as a matter of course, but it’s not their purpose. In the past there were more of these things going on, but technology has largely supplanted the need for the vast majority of people (who don’t even think that magic is real).
- Are there more sources of power that could be channeled by practitioners, they’re just limited by what their teachers know about? Yes. They’re not going to put a cap on “these types of magic power exist and no more” because it’s advantageous for comics writers to not be so limited. There are also a lot of “lost arts”, but even taking those into account there are more untapped sources out there than have been discovered. There are essentially “infinite magics” and they all have the list of what they can and cannot do, the price paid, and how they feel to use like was mentioned earlier.
- You’ve said in the past that most magics can do the same end effects if you try hard enough, just that some types of magic might be more difficult than others to wrangle to that point; is that what makes Zhu Long so dangerous - that he’s had more time to learn the ins and outs of getting his magic to do what he wants and taking techniques he’s learned in one type to apply to other types? Eh… it’s more just the fact that he’s this ancient master of magic - the foremost expert in a particular magical type and by far the most knowledgeable about magic in the world. The “turning into a dragon” thing is easy for him - maybe nobody else in the comics knows this, but we (and readers) know that he was originally just a man and that’s something that he’s just able to do casually now. And he wasn’t the first such person, although he’s the most ancient “master of magic” around now.
- Is this part of why Ancient Magic is no longer available - the power source and the techniques necessary for manipulating it both being unavailable? The means of accessing it have been lost to the extent that it’s nigh impossible to see a way to recreate them [I point out that Atlantean artifacts still work, so this must mean that the power source is still there - just that the means of unlocking it for novel purposes is lost]. Adam says that Zhu Long does Ancient Magic, which prompts Christopher to correct him that he does a bunch of different types of magic and is ancient and is a magician, but that isn’t the same as doing Ancient Magic. [They also name-check me in a hypothetical case where I point out a mistake here in what they’ve said about Ancient Magic - as far as I can recall/can find in my notes they have only ever said that Ancient Magic is lost, so no contradiction there. They indicated in the Magic Episode that what Zhu Long does is closer to Ancient Magic than what anyone else is doing, but still distinct from it.]
- You’ve mentioned that fairies exist in Sentinel Comics; can you tell us more about them? They look like tiny little people. They hide from the world both magically and physically - the Black Book of Monsters episode has a bit about them. They hide because they distrust humans who have screwed them over too many times in the past - they’re not Evil, but are racist against humans for those traditional reasons. Interactions between humans and fairies wind up with negative results for the humans. There aren’t any stories involving a person who has been accepted by a court of fairies as an ally, but there might be stories about individual fairies who have left and befriended somebody. These latter stories probably happened hundreds if not thousands of years ago, probably ended poorly, and are therefore even more evidence that people aren’t to be trusted. They’re on the fringes and if they had their way would never interact with humanity with whom they simply have incompatible society.
- Have there been stories where a hero gets turned into a monster (like Legacy growing extra arms from his abdomen or Naturalist turning into something unnatural)? Heroes getting turned into rat-beasts in Plague Rat encounters is the obvious example. There’s got to be a vampire story - we see Tempest [and Fanatic] get bit, but neither has a lasting vampire status (any time a hero gets vampirized it gets resolved by the end of the story). Even having a heroic vampire would be challenging (like leaving the Court of Blood and whatnot) - not that this should stop you from making your RPG character. Werewolves operate differently enough here that it’s not really a possibility. There’s always Mr. Fixer’s case of being a ghost that’s haunting his own zombified body. There are probably plenty of generic stories where some kind of transformation hits a hero for a couple of issues. We have a variation on the “evil twin” thing with Dark Visionary. There’s probably a misleading cover teasing that Tempest gets gene-bound.
- Is there a Dr. Frankenstein in Sentinel Comics or does Biomancer pretty much cover that kind of “mad scientist” role? Does he reanimate the dead? Are there any kind of rock/paper/scissors situation with monsters like “only a werewolf can kill a vampire” or similar? No on this last, because while some things need to be killed in specific ways, that doesn’t depend on the type of person doing the killing. They mentioned Dr. Frankenstein [in the Nightmist’s Book of Monsters episode] - he keeps himself alive by stitching replacement body parts onto himself. This is similar to Biomancer who’s replaced most of his body over the years, but he’s doing it with Alchemy rather than Frankenstein’s more scientific methods. [Funnily enough, while the novel version of Victor Frankenstein never actually described his methods of creating life (exemplified in his creature) - he actually talked a lot about alchemy in terms of his studies along with more modern ideas of “science” so it’s likely that alchemy was involved in his process, but this aspect is largely discarded in most subsequent depictions.] They also get into the standard “Victor was the real monster” thing again (while also pointing out that because of the “stitching together body parts” bit he kind of fills the role of his creation anyway in Sentinel Comics). Biomancer doesn’t really go into the whole “raise the dead” think like Frankenstein did.
- Is metal a weakness for any creatures? Silver for werewolves. Cold Iron for fairies. They can imagine scenarios that people can come up with though (like a bronze cage being good for catching a Chupacabra or something). [We also get a decent aside from Christopher regarding historical metallurgy from 57:40 or so to 59:25 and then Adam talking about being annoyed by a case where Wolverine and Deadpool fought Werewolves from then until 1:00:35.]
- Has Haka fought creatures from Maori folklore? For sure. Battle Unending was a book about him fighting things from all over the world, so it’s fair to say that ones from his home culture would have occurred to the writers as things to include.
- We know that Chrono-Ranger is why cryptids aren’t around - are there ones besides the ones related to the ones we see in the Final Wasteland deck that were featured in his stories (like Mothman)? So, we definitely saw the ones related to the Final Wasteland things in his book, but he didn’t really have a book of his own for long - it was basically just his backstory. We know about Doc Tusser. He doesn’t have a Battle Unending like book that showcases everything - it’s just that cryptids are what he deals with. We do not specifically see him fight Mothman, but it does fit his m. o. and can be assumed that he took care of it, but also not if that’s what your story requires (and that applies for any of these things).
- What about staples of Universal Pictures monster movies that you haven’t covered yet: The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc.? Any monster in the public domain probably has NightMist or somebody fighting them. This might be a good idea for a Writer’s Room episode [I note that The Invisible Man entered the public domain with the rest of H.G. Wells’ work a few years ago, Jekyll and Hyde has been for a long time as Stevenson died in the 1890s, and both the original novel and the 1925 Universal film of Phantom of the Opera (the former simply from being old enough, the latter because its copyright wasn’t renewed) are in the public domain. The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Gill Man, however, was an original creation of Universal Pictures in 1954 and is still under copyright as far as I can determine.]
- How does Atlantis work? Are there Mermaids? Did the original inhabitants become Tibetans? Did they worship beings from the Realm of Discord and wind up consumed by their own hubris? No original Atlanteans survived the sinking event beyond the 12 masters of magic that did the sinking/sealing deal and then went their separate ways. There are/were Mermaids, but they aren’t related to Atlantis. They worshiped the study of magic itself. This prompts a discussion on Mermaids as they hadn’t thought of them earlier:
- Are they still around now? Probably. They’re certainly hiding. Are they evil or just “people” who have hidden themselves away? They like the idea that one day of their lives they can grow legs and come on land. Of course, this prompts the detail that they lose their voice in the process. That means they can observe the world but can’t blab to the humans about themselves. They can then choose to remain a human or not - getting their voice back, but at the cost of losing their memories of their former life (this is an uncommon choice). So there are people walking around who were once Mermaids, but have forgotten. There’s also a good option for an old fable about a Mermaid who got legs and chose to remain human, but knew their past and couldn’t stand losing the sea and eventually jumped off a cliff or something and drowned. A cautionary tale explaining the way the choice works now.
- How do you drive home a sense of peril when dealing with powerful characters like NightMist and Argent Adept? AA has a sense of peril a lot - he’s outclassed a lot. You deal with a powerful character by putting them up against foes beyond mortal ken who often come to the heroes’ attention after they’re already doing the thing that threatens the fabric of reality (so not a lot of time to plan). Both of those characters’ books tend to be “puzzle-solving” stories rather than pure displays of power.
- With mystic-themed characters like Ra, NightMist, and Scholar dead while corresponding threats like Zhu Long, Biomancer, Count Barzakh (to say nothing of the Cult of Gloom) are still around - is that an intentional state of affairs? Somewhat planned, but worked out better than they intended. During OblivAeon they really were leaning in the Cosmic direction and left kind of a “magic vacuum” - there are only really two heroes around to handle things and one is new at this while the other is distracted by other priorities.
- Has there been a type of monster in the “always right behind you” variety? That seems like a ghost thing or a kind of psychological horror thing where you’re the monster (like you go to sleep, but your body gets up and does stuff/interacts with people while that’s happening). Could be a “NightMist goes to cleanse an old sanitorium” story. So, yeah, monsters like that could show up, but maybe not always in the way you expect.
- How’s this oldest-to-youngest evil magician list: GloomWeaver, Zhu Long, Biomancer, Hermetic, Blood Countess, Count Barzakh, Madame Mittermeier, and the Vandals? The tricky part is the middle. We know when Blood Countess Bathory “lived” because she’s based on a historical figure. Mittermeier is older than you give her credit for (probably since the late 1700s) and we know about Hermetic being around in the 1800s. The current Count Barzakh is relatively modern. GloomWeaver is the oldest, but it’s worth pointing out that he’s so far removed from the person he was originally and humanity to almost cease to count. So, GloomWeaver, Zhu Long, Biomancer, Blood Countess, Madame Mittermeier, Hermetic, Count Barzakh, and the Vandals.
- Which one knows the most about magic? GloomWeaver is the most magic as a creature of magic and discord, but isn’t necessarily the most knowledgeable about it like Zhu Long is. GloomWeaver likely doesn’t care about the knowledge as much as the power. Zhu Long is likely the answer.