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The Letters Page: Episode 236
Creating a new SCRPG One-Shot!
One-shot. Two letters sections. Anything could happen!
Run Time: 1:28:16
We do only a few minutes of banter before getting into something of an overview... and then going into a few letters right away! And then back to making the issue itself. A playable issue! I mean, not playable YET, but this year! Ideally in about 6ish months... time will tell!
Join us this coming Friday for a live Editor's Note! Send in your questions! Join us live on the Patreon! See you then!
- The prompt is a one-shot SCRPG adventure (like “Off the Rails” they’re aiming for something in the 16 page range; “Stolen Legacy” is too long at 20 pages with little in the way of exposition).
- What should they put in it? “Urban Infestation” is a Dark Watch-preview adventure. “Stolen Legacy” is Daybreak. “Off the Rails” is kind of explicitly “use whatever heroes you want” (and even the earlier ones you can get away with using whomever even if the story intro says Daybreak or whatever) and this should also be not tied to a particular group of established heroes. Y’know what? We’re going to make Trevor’s job more interesting by having a little questions section here for the ones that have a direct bearing on the topic at hand.
Questions About the RPG Scenario
- You want one-shots? I’ll give you one-shots: one for each hero team that we know the lineup for at least -
- Daybreak: they’re challenged by the preppy kids at Freedom Academy to spend a whole night in NightMist’s manor.
- Miss Information brings the exhibits of the Megalopolis museum to life and forces the Freedom Five/Sentinels of Freedom into a deadly trip down memory lane.
- Wager Master forces Fanatic to go on a series of speed dates with a variety of other solar deities in a misguided attempt to ease her pain at the passing of Ra. The Prime Wardens are tasked with keeping the destruction to an acceptable level.
- Zhu Long empowers the Yeti with an oni mask, turning him into an actual monster that he sends to kill Dark Watch, because that’s what you do when life hands you a yeti and you’re Zhu Long.
- Mainstay teams up with Greazer to fight Space Drug Boys that work for Card Shark and the rest of Void Guard come along because more OblivAeon Shards are better, right?
- Those are all great ideas, but they all go against the “playing as a specific established team” thing they want. The Wager Master thing has potential, although they already have one with him in The Guise Book and so let’s try to be cognizant of which other villains had stories “recently”. Miss Information appeared in a Starter Kit story and while that was a long time ago for us, it was only a few months ago in terms of when they’re setting RPG adventures so far. So, if they want to use these as inspiration we’re down to Zhu Long or Card Shark. They have specific plans for some space stuff, so doing a space adventure now before they have a chance to get to an actual space book years from now is a bit of a tease. They feel like sticking to Earth is the best idea, but that none of those suggestions really fit for today. Maybe they should try to use a villain that they don’t have a lot of specific plans for. They could do a silly thing with the Adhesivist - sure he was involved in the Sentinels of Freedom video game, but they don’t mind stepping on those toes as much given the different medium. So let’s put him down as a possibility and get back to more letters.
- Are you going to release a text document for everything you make up today (it’d be nice to have a rundown of all of the things you wind up creating)? You misunderstand: they’re not just idly making up an adventure that they run on the air, the plan is to release this as a one-shot adventure to release at Gen Con much like the three they’ve put out already. You’re not going to hear enough on this podcast to be able to run the scenario yourself since they’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the stats for everything and there’s likely to be a fair amount of spoilery stuff they have Trevor cut.
- Regarding the design of Environments, how do you design positive-for-the-heroes twists, really nasty twists, or when do you thrown the players a bone by not having an active Environment at all? Christopher only doesn’t include an Environment when it’s a really straightforward scene - like it’s an expository fight where the fight itself isn’t so much about stakes as it is about relaying some information to the players. If your players are just meant to be stopping an armored car robbery in a city, but you don’t have anything “interesting” going on, that’s fine, but part of the point of them always including Environments with suggested twists in their published products is to help seed the imagination of the prospective GMs out there as to what kind of things you might have happen. Now, when making up your own stuff, try to do a similar thing and think about what kinds of things are happening in your city or whatever ahead of time so that you can describe them to your players if they ask. Think about the three features that are important enough to assign to a die in the Environment’s dice pool. You don’t have to think of twists in advance, but if you have an idea for the types of things that are going on generally you can use that as a jumping off point, or use the classic SCRPG hack of asking your players what the twist is and run with it (or tweak it if necessary). Not only will they likely have ideas about what they don’t want to happen in the scene as they’re the ones engaging with it but are likely invested in what’s going on and will have better ideas in the moment than we can think of ahead of time. Twists that are strictly positive for the heroes are very rare. What’s more common are twists that are bad for everyone, including the villains. Helpful twists are basically only when the GM thinks that they could use a little help or if it happens to be the most interesting option for what could happen in the scene as it’s playing out. Another option is to have the twist introduce some challenge to be overcome and a success there would wind up being positive. Another fun alternative is to have something strictly positive happen like an NPC ally showing up to help - but now there’s yet another actor in the scene to hang twists on.
- In SCRPG, I’ve found that following the scene-building guidelines, especially for scenes without Villains feel rather samey; what’s your advice for changing things up to make for more varied play? The guidelines are there to help make things mechanically consistent. What you want to be doing is finding ways to play off of what the Heroes care about - know and think about their various Principles and find ways to push on them in various ways. Maybe that means that certain Heroes will be better at addressing whatever problems have cropped up. Maybe it means that others will care more about a particular injustice. Play both to and against Principles as a way to make things feel more varied by changing up how the characters respond to the variety of situations you put them in. If your players are thinking that things feel samey, they’re probably approaching the game too abstractly on a mechanical level. Make things personal so they invest in the narrative. Adam actually hates this about really “crunchy” game systems - once you start looking at the numbers too hard you just start to see everything going on in terms of the mechanics. When rolling an Overcome, you shouldn’t just be trying to check a box but playing into the fiction of the scene to advance the story. You’re almost always going to check the box off, but how do you do it and what is it going to cost you to accomplish it?
- [Adam’s dislike of “doing taxes” while playing an RPG prompts Christopher to joke about “The Adhesivist Commits Tax Fraud” as the adventure they make. They’re not really going to do that, but how that would play out is starting in medias res where the Adhesivist is making some sticky problem in the middle of the city, but he doesn’t actually have a plan. Turns out he was preparing things so he was ready for whatever next job came up/plan occurred to him, but then a tax auditor shows up and he panics and just starts causing problems without a plan rather than deal with that. Ultimately you have to stop the “sticky stuff plan” and save the auditor.]
Back to the Overview-ish Thing
- A thought is “How do we do things that are synergistic with what they’ll have going on at Gen Con?” Y’know what’s going to be “new at Gen Con”? Rook City Renegades. Generic heroes are still fine. They should do an adventure with one of these three options: The Fey-Court, Terrorform, or Apex. Christopher’s leaning towards Terrorform. Fey-Court could be fun, but that’s not a one-shot (they have plans for a future book that will have Fey-Court content). Same for werewolves, you could do a one-shot, but they’re more interesting as a longer story. Terrorform, though? In the past that’s always been a RevoCorp thing, but RevoCorp is now this reformed organization that’s not behind that sort of thing anymore. When some new Terrorform thing shows up, RevoCorp is justifiably concerned about their image (while their connection to Terrorform may not exactly be “public knowledge” enough people are aware of the truth for it to be awkward for them) and so reach out to a team of heroes to look into it. They can provide field support and compensation for your aid. Adam’s on-board so let’s get into it.
- Let’s get into RevoCorp in the RPG time again:
- Aviva Natasha Aldred is in charge now (in addition to Aldred Industries and the controlling interest in Conteh Energy that she bought from Naturalist for $1).
- They are working with Montgomery Industries to revitalize Rook City after OblivAeon. The old RevoCorp would likely have used the damage that had been done as a starting point for another Terrorform to come through and wreck the place completely so that the company could be more fully in charge of rebuilding in a way that served RevoCorp’s interests and look like heroes for saving the day.
- We can open with the heroes being in Rook City for whatever reason, but they get ambushed by Revokers, who had historically been the people (hired by RevoCorp) that operated the Terrorforms. The heroes fight these guys, go talk to some RevoCorp people who ask the heroes to take care of this new Terrorform situation, the heroes fight the Terrorform and look into who’s really behind it.
- They come up with an idea (which allows for multiple robot fights) that this Terrorform is a modular thing. There are several smaller robots designed to wreck stuff in different contexts that the heroes come across while investigating things, they fight them, but these “mini” Terrorforms fly off when the heroes are close to breaking them. The climax involves the heroes finding the “base” the Revokers are operating out of just as the last component is ready and the previous ones all combine to make one giant Terrorform again.
- There should be a scene in there somewhere which is where the heroes discover who’s behind things. Christopher also doesn’t really want to talk on the air about who’s behind things. Adam offers that the point of doing this in an episode is that the listeners get to be in on the secret. Christopher doesn’t want to spoil things for listeners who will eventually be players though and that’s convincing.
- So, first scene is Revokers vs. Heroes. What are they trying to accomplish? We have an introductory bit establishing the Heroes being present in Rook City. The scene is when the Heroes come across Revokers who are looting a decommissioned RevoCorp facility. If the heroes don’t pay attention to the obvious looting behavior, that’s fine; the opposition will just have more resources available at the end. Environmental stuff could be other equipment/security devices that were present in the building that might get activated during the fight. Like, security systems might be something that the Heroes could intentionally activate to help stop the looters. Either way, RevoCorp gets in touch afterwards (“Hey, we had a facility robbed; could you look into it?” vs. “Hey, thanks for stepping in while our facility was robbed; can you follow up on that?”).
- Do we do a thing where the number of guys who get away relates to the number of smaller robots that the baddies are able to complete? Maybe have a series of challenges (tied to the number of Heroes) that tick down until the villains escape which are tied to specific pieces of tech which then relate to the unique aspects of the later robots (water propulsion for the aquatic one, hover tech for the flying one, etc.). Anything that they don’t get away with here is something that they don’t have access to in the final scene.
- It should be impossible to stop all of them and the idea is that they already got away with some of it before you arrive. The Revokers mark time on the Challenges in their attempts to steal things while others fight the Heroes. The Heroes can fight back, but they also need to Overcome on the Challenges to negate the ticks that the Revokers got. If you knock out the Revokers they can’t tick off boxes on the Challenges anymore, but doing that is time spent not preventing those guys over there from getting away with theirs. The idea is that the Heroes should have to make choices as to which things to prioritize as not being stolen.
- Anyway, back to the story. Whatever the outcome, the Heroes get contacted by somebody at RevoCorp to enlist their aid (possibly by guilting them into helping if they ignored the looting). We get a backstory for RevoCorp, Revokers, and Terrorforms. (It’s nice that there’s an in-story context for an infodump.) We fear that they’re building a new Terrorform or Terrorforms given the tech that they’ve been stealing from other RevoCorp facilities (an excuse for them still being able to build stuff even if the players have a perfect success on the first scene - stopping everything from being stolen). They’ve been setting up the Paradigms, but they’re busy (unless a player is using Unity or Benchmark as their character, in which case this is just part of their normal assignments - it’s just that any other members are off doing other stuff and we need this taken care of now). They’ve recently uncovered records of some old “secret” RevoCorp facility and they want to you check it out.
- What if we don’t just go to the secret facility? Instead of having the heroes just show up and have to fight the individual robots we have a series of leads for them to follow up on and each of those is an encounter and the secret facility is something they uncover and is just where the big final encounter takes place. Are we getting to the point where we have too many action scenes for a one-shot? Maybe we do the thing that’s good for comics but generally bad for RPGs and split the party. Sure, you don’t have to split the party and can all take on the same robot, but then there are consequences for not stopping all of them.
- Basically, they’re going to leverage the ideas of Locations in the game. We’re doing a multi-Location action scene. Everybody can go to their own Location to fight one of these and if they get done early they can travel to another to help out there. If your team did a perfect job in the first scene, then there’s only 3 of them to take care of now. Any of the “goons stealing equipment” challenges that you didn’t stop in the first scene results in an additional robot/location to manage now. The various robots are “themed” towards the piece of infrastructure that they’re attacking (flying one at the airport, water one in the harbor, tunneler attacking the subway, climbing one attacking bridges, etc.). Christopher wants to provide 10 options for the GM to use (keeping in mind that you won’t be using all of them unless you have a large player group and the heroes totally fail in the first scene).
- Adam keeps thinking of the robots as animals, but that might be leaning too much into the Zord comparison they’ve been making this whole time regarding the new Terrorform being a combined robot. There’s also the angle of these things being anti-nature in their goals, which Adam sees as a reason to do it that way.
- They spend some more time brainstorming ideas for these things: a frog-like “leaper” that’s going around wrecking power transformers, a rhino demolition thing that charges through things, a “melter” type gives them trouble for a bit until they land on a swarm of “ants” that go out and bring resources to the queen who melts them down. The water one’s an orca, the flyer is a dragonfly, the tunneler is a mole, the climber is a gorilla.
- The heroes fight these things. When they are defeated or after they complete their work they head back to base and if the heroes try to track them they can track them. If they don’t, then the RevoCorp person contacts them with information about that secret base we discussed earlier.
- Hmm… to step away from the Zord comparison, maybe we have these things go out and do their thing/collect something and then send a module back to base to connect to the main Terrorform. Instead of being a combiner robot made of smaller robots, it’s just getting augmented by things these smaller ones are out doing. When the heroes succeed in stopping any one of them, then that function isn’t available for the final fight. That also helps Adam out by not requiring the art of the Terrorform to look like it’s an amalgam of all of these animals.
- Environments! The decommissioned RevoCorp facility, All of Rook City (but made up of these specific Locations that the heroes have to move between), and the secret Revoker base. The last one can have some similarities to the first, but should obviously be a villain lair this time around.
- They think that this Terrorform is smaller/“more efficient” than the previous ones. Don’t get them wrong, it’s still huge at like 100 feet tall, but not double or triple that like some of the previous ones. They imagine that this one has to be run by a much smaller crew - there’s one guy in the head driving the thing and each of the attached “pods” that made it back have a subsidiary operator.
- Which issue and what’s the name of the story? As with other one-shots they want this story to be a jumping off point for your own continued story, so there’s a reveal at the end for that purpose. They think that this is an issue in year 2 of the post-OblivAeon books. It could be in Mystery Comics but only for Rook City reasons. Sentinels of Freedom always works since the team is larger than just the old Freedom Five people. It doesn’t feel like a Daybreak story. Justice Comics is always an option. They could put it in Paradigms and the “canonical” way to play it is as that team, but we don’t have that team in playable form yet (there’s some argument here regarding how many “extra” heroes there are beyond the official team - the point of them is to be a marketable group, but there can still be other RevoCorp heroes). It could also be in Dark Watch, but the more they talked about it the more that Paradigms is the way to go. They make it Paradigms #13 in May 2018 and they name it Terror’s New Form.
- Which of the heroes were in the Boy or Girl Scouts? Here are some guesses: A problem here is “how much would we see this come up in comics?” And with the exception of Paul and Felicia Parsons, the answer is probably “never.” We’re just going to be speculating about the types of person they are beyond that.
- Legacy is an Eagle Scout and Felicia was in Girl Scouts as well? yeah, both of those track.
- Setback, but he never makes Eagle because of paperwork SNAFUs? They don’t know about that one.
- Idealist because they have this whole “family” thing going on in their stories and she probably has the cookie-selling record or something? She doesn’t do much in the way of “normal stuff kids her age do”. When her family encourages her to do so she counters with “or I could do hero stuff”.
- Benchmark’s back story just screams Scout? Possible - the Scouts are overwhelmingly made up of white members, but it’s not like that’s a requirement, just the way that demographics worked out. It’s certainly possible that he’d have sought it out given his personality.
- The Lowsley brothers? They were both kind of outdoorsy when young (at least in terms of stargazing). They don’t really know much at all about scouting outside of the US, though.
- Tachyon as the stereotypical overachieving kid who gets really into knowing all of the things (although it’s also entirely possible that she was too busy doing science stuff to bother getting involved with the rest of the scouting activities)? While there are probably plenty of science-related badges, even at a young age she would have seen those things as rudimentary and not worth her time.
- Guise, at least for a short phase as a kid - every troop needs that one annoying kid, right? Sure. Why not.
- Any others? [Insert joke about Fanatic selling cookies.] Bunker probably.
- When was Cold Shoulder’s first appearance? They don’t have a first appearance chosen for her. Probably somewhere between the late ‘70s and the late ’80s. Likely in the twice-a-month era of Mystery Comics. Christopher suggests December ’85, but Adam pushes it back to ’84 because there’s already a bunch of first appearances in ’85. Mystery Comics volume 2 #112. Now that you know the issue, that could be a fun Writers’ Room.
- Thinking about the mythological origins of Santa (like Odin in his various forms, etc.); are there other extra-dimensional refugees like the Egyptian pantheon? Is there some alternate-dimension gift giver who uses the Santa guise (not Santa Guise) as cover? Space Santa prompts a question of whether the Ennead’s relics require a human host or whether other life forms could take up their power? Could Space Santa be an alien that picked up an appropriate relic? Adam thinks the “host” species needs to be closely similar to the original one. They have a disagreement about this as Christopher doesn’t think that just being “humanoid” makes you similar - by that metric Tarogath is “similar” to the original Ennead. They don’t think that Space Santa was an alien that picked up an appropriate relic - it’s unlikely to be the case. They think that only the Egyptian pantheon is set up this way due to their specific circumstance. If they were to introduce another pantheon to the setting it would use a different shtick. This kind of “powerful entity imbues an artifact with their power when they die in a way such that another being could take up that power and become an avatar of the original entity” thing can be done in the Sentinel Comics setting - it’s established as a think that’s possible, but the Egyptian pantheon is the established group for which we know it has been done. They could see an alien getting power from an Egyptian relic - it’s less likely than a human for a number of reasons, but not impossible. They eventually converge on the idea that the reason that humans are more compatible is that of the various alien options, humans are more similar to the original Egyptian “gods” than other aliens would be.
- [Dirge received their copy of Rook City Renegades on the 8th anniversary of their acquisition of a shipment of all of the SotM content that was available at the time, so at least in their household it looks like January 11 might just wind up being Sentinels Day.] They’re glad to hear about the various people getting their copies. Play your game and let them know what you think!