The Letters Page: Episode 71
How do the heroes and villains do what they do?! Let's dig into that!
Run Time: 1:24:26
We start off with an overview section that's based on the character creation system from the upcoming Sentinel Comics RPG! We go through each of the "Power Sources" from that system and talk about how they relate to the rest of Sentinel Comics.
Around 30 minutes in, we get to your questions, which end up being the bulk of the episode!
This week, we're recording 3 episodes again, as Christopher is out of town next week for Origins. (If you're there, come say hi!) On Thursday, we'll be recording the X-treme Verse episode! On Friday morning at 11 AM Central, we'll be recording the Story Meets Mechanics Extrasode! It'll be a LIVE recording for the Contributors on our Patreon, and everyone else on the Patreon will get access to that video shortly after the recording is done. Then, later that same day, we'll be recording the Young Legacy episode!
Make sure you get your questions in for those three episodes before then!
Thanks for listening!
- Absolute Zero
- Mr. Fixer
- Spite, Peacemaker
- Zhu Long
- Argent Adept
- Captain Cosmic
- Void Guard
- Desert Eagle
- Ray Manta
- La Comodora
- Dr. Medico
- The Idolater
- The Seer
- Citizen Dawn
- Night Snake
- Baron Blade
- Wager Master
- They'll be using the Sentinel Comics RPG as the scaffolding for this episode; they'll be using the rules that they've written up for that as the organizational structure here. During character creation, players pick a character background, a power source (what we're discussing here), an archetype, and a personality. Each of these will have 20 options in the core rule book, so we're looking at the 20 power sources today. They're just going to be going through them in the order that they appear in the core book (which is, loosely, based on how common the power source is). Some of these will be broad at this point (although they do break things down more than "science, magic, or no external source"), but may get more granular as time goes by. The Questions section is where they'll get into specific narrative examples (like Isoflux Alpha or OblivAeon Shards).
- Accident - fairly straightforward. Something bad happened to you and you got powers as a result. There is a lot of leeway in defining that - science, magic, or cosmic accidents all fit here. They even posit just "getting hit by a car" as an inciting incident that unlocked some inherent psychic ability your character had now that they are paralyzed or something. Tachyon falls in here (an accident involving the P.Y.E.W.), as would Absolute Zero (the cryo accident). This is a common source for both heroes and villains.
- Training - learning how to do what you do. Wraith [and Expatriette] fall in here as non-powered examples, but this doesn't rule out powers as long as they were developed through practice/discipline - like Mr. Fixer who's "trained in martial arts to the point that it borders on mysticism". A lot of characters can actually be modeled in several different ways, though - for example K.N.Y.F.E. could be built around training with the energy blades being modeled as "signature weapons".
- Genetic - you're like this just because of your DNA. They claim this as the power source for Legacy, even though they've recently revealed the origin of the Parsons family powers as coming from the intervention of the Singular Entity called Wellspring, but given that the powers are still passed on in a family line, they still argue that Legacy fits here. The powers are heritable.
- Experimentation - Tachyon could fit here too if you built her right (although she wasn't experimenting on herself). Spite fits here (or Peacemaker from the Inverse Universe). Setback's non-luck-based powers come in here. There's easily some overlap between this one and Accident as an experiment gone wrong is a perfectly valid situation, it comes down to what you want to emphasize about your character.
- Mystical - a very broad category. Kind of a catch-all for magic things, but is heavily slanted towards "spells". Rather than having separate categories for Blood/Natural/Void/etc. Magic or breaking effects up into "schools" like D&D does, they put things here. Later game supplements might break this down farther to give more specifics for these various flavors of magic as character options (like the Dark Watch book mentioned in previous episodes might have something specifically about the kind of magic that Zhu Long uses, or the Prime Wardens book will likely have a few different options given the nature of that team). Argent Adept would be modeled with Mystical out the gate with the core book or you can do so with Void Magic once the relevant source book is available - not that the latter is "more correct", it's just another question of how to model things.
- Nature - you derive your powers from nature in some way. Naturalist or Akash'Thriya fit here. There are a few ways to approach this - you can flavor "Nature Magic" through this, or an alternative to Training by spinning it as having lived in the wild your whole life (the Tarzan approach).
- Relic - Ra and the Ennead are the obvious examples here. You have power that's derived from the use of a Relic of some sort. Most of the time these are also "magic" in nature, but you could flavor Captain Cosmic or Void Guard (or any OblivAeon shard-bearer) as having encountered a "cosmic" relic.
- Powered Suit - Bunker is the obvious example, but Absolute Zero could be modeled this way as well (as the suit is what allows him to actually participate as a hero). K.N.Y.F.E. could use this too. Benchmark would probably go here, although Experimentation could work too.
- Radiation - one that's very common in older comics, but not necessarily limited to "nuclear radiation" ("cosmic rays" is a classic). An Omega could be built from here due to radiation's involvement in the creation of Isoflux Alpha. Tachyon could fit here too due to the nature of the experimental accident.
- Tech Upgrades - Benchmark could fit here as well, but they don't have to be upgrades to your self. Desert Eagle fits here too, but so could Ray Manta who just uses the upgraded tech. It differs from Powered Suit in that the tech isn't necessarily a suit or something worn. Wraith could be modeled with this as well due to all of her gadgets. The important thing is that you're using technological devices.
- Supernatural - kind of like Mystic, but where that one is slanted to spells, this one is more about your own nature - either you're a Supernatural Being yourself or something similar. Werewolves and Gorgons probably fit here. Man-Grove is probably here despite the large mystic component to its existence.
- Artificial Being - Omnitron is the obvious example. Man-Grove could fit here as well. Biomancer could even fit here now (although he didn't start as an Artificial Being). Something that has been built or created. A Golem character would fit here nicely.
- Cursed - NightMist, Naturalist, and Setback (if focusing on the luck powers) all qualify here. There's a high probability that magic or the supernatural are involved, but by a certain point of view Absolute Zero could be seen as cursed as well.
- Alien - people who are aliens and have what we would consider powers because of that are the main use of this category - Tempest or red Thorathians are the most prominent examples (although the latter like Sky-Scraper could also go into Genetic). However, it could simply be that you have powers due to interactions with alien things - say getting involved in the Bloodsworn Colosseum or this thing that you found in the Enclave of the Endlings (could be modeled using Relic, but no reason you couldn't use Alien if you wanted). Another example of later granularity/specificity would come here where things like "Maerynian" will be category options down the line.
- Genius - another option for non-powered characters (although not precluding powers because Highbrow or Parse could fit here). Chairman could fit here to take into account his scheming aspects. Generally, your "powers" are derived from your mental acumen. Once again, Tachyon could be built using this if the Science! aspect is what you want to push rather than the speed thing.
- Cosmos - your power comes "from the stars" in some way. Say you charge up inside a star for a while, or a Singular Entity empowered you. Any OblivAeon shard-bearers could easily fit here too.
- Extra-Dimensional - you get powers from other realms/dimensions. Stuff from the Realm of Discord would fit here. K.N.Y.F.E. could count this as well due to her work based from the Block. NightMist could count if you're looking at her connection to the mist realm. You want to play a Portal Fiend - here's your best option.
- Unknown - You don't know where your powers come from (although this isn't the same as the source of your powers being unknowable). Unity's powers are Unknown, even though we the audience has some more information on that. Haka could be modeled this way (although Extra-Dimensional or Nature are valid options as well). This one is probably more character-based than many of the others.
- Higher Power - the Host (and so Fanatic and Apostate) fit here, as could being empowered by a Singular Entity. A member of the Cult of Gloom could fit here. Even Ra or other "deity" based characters could fit if you flavor it as being a manifestation of this higher power.
- The Multiverse - your powers are based on the fact that the setting is based on this concept of a multiverse. A Singular Entity being involved could fit here, as could Haka (due to the shenanigans that La Comodora got up to to create them). La Capitan/Comodora easily fits here too (any time traveler character could fit in here if that's the aspect your playing up, although this overlaps with Extra-Dimensional in a lot of ways). An inspiration for this being a category is the fact that a lot of people have mentioned their character ideas to Christopher and a lot of start with "OblivAeon happened" and run from there. A member of Daybreak will have this as their power source, but more on them later this month.
- In the real world "energy" doesn't exist on its own, it's simply a property of an object or system representing the capacity to do work - how is this different (if at all) in Sentinel Comics? Does "energy" exist as it's own thing (like, could you have a jar full of "energy")? Would, say, Void Energy be intrinsically different from another type of energy? Yes, there could be a jar full of energy in Sentinel Comics (looking at you, Dr. Medico). There is still energy like we think about it in real life too, but there's also this Energy+ which is not a measurement of the expression of force, but there's at the very least a kind of "living energy" that gets at things like the spirit or soul without getting into the theological quagmire that those words evoke. Things like qi also fall in with that. Then we have things like Void Energy that almost has a form to it, but lacks a real-world analogue. Not all forms of these Energy+ things are equivalent like the conservation of energy would imply here.
- Do Host spirits contribute to/exacerbate exiting personality disorders (e.g. depression) or vice versa with people who are more sensitive to/more open to influence by the Host? Yes the Host spirits would aggravate things; that's largely what they are - if you're experiencing an emotion they'll amplify that feeling (and be drawn to somebody with that feeling in the first place whereas they'd be repelled by somebody feeling the opposite emotion than what they represent). It's a vicious cycle. There aren't any Host-sensitive beings at an innate level, but one could behave in such a way as to be more attractive to them - the more empathetic one is the more likely they are to be in tune with the Host, where somebody who's very closed-off emotionally is less so.
- Assuming one has Host spirits bound to objects (see the Idolater), how many could one person reasonably hold onto without losing themselves? What's the mechanism for such a binding and how do the spirits interact with the world once bound? Host spirits are not naturally bound up in objects, such a binding is damaging to the spirit and is a Bad Thing that tends to corrupt those people using such items. That being said, there's not really a hard limit in terms of how many you're capable of wielding at once, but it's more tied to the will and fortitude of the person [i.e. it's not like item slots in D&D where you can make use of x items at one time, but it's more up to the strength of the individual] as the nature of the different spirits would be pulling you in multiple directions at once. If you happened to have 2 spirits of the same "type", that might work to make you more effective in the way that those naturally would on their own, but if you're working with two spirits that would naturally oppose one another you're likely to be driven crazy in short order. We've never seen anybody using more than 1 at a time.
- Do all Host spirits and Host-empowered people work off the power of belief like, say, Fanatic or Apostate? Hosts aren't about "faith" or "belief" innately. It's more about being aware of the things you can do. Fanatic isn't really aware of what she can do, but her faith is such that she believes that she can do things and then does. Fanatic and Apostate are weird cases, though, as nobody else is in the same category as them - other people might have a Host spirit inhabit them for a time, but that doesn't make them into a different sort of being. Idolater has very specific, limited powers as he's restricted by his human imagination and whatever he can make this Host spirit do. So, no, it's not about faith, but more about being aware of your emotions and being open to those emotions in order to get any kind of power from them.
- If somebody empowered by the Host had a child who they believed had the power to defeat the Host, what would happen? Being empowered by the Host is, in the vast majority of cases, a temporary thing and wouldn't be able to impart any power onto the child. If Fanatic had a child... whew... well, after the child was born her belief would cease to have any impact on it, but her belief in what the child would be while gestating would shape what the child would be. There's also the question of Fanatic's body probably being messed up enough that she'd likely be incapable of bearing a child - unless she believes that she should be able to bear a child, at which point she would be able to - she'd be capable of an immaculate conception as well [point of order here: "immaculate conception" specifically refers to the conception of the Virgin Mary and her status of being born without the stain of original sin, making her worthy to bear Jesus, but the way the guys are talking here I take it to mean that they're saying that Fanatic should be able to believe her way into bearing a child without there being a father involved, which is a common misuse of the term]. While she wouldn't be able to deterministically plot out the child's future and the child wouldn't automatically be a Host-person like her, she could likely create a human child that would develop powers ("empowered by the Host, but without an active Host spirit").
- Does what Mr. Fixer/Black Fist can do re: making radiant damage with his fists to defeat vampires count as "magic"? Going back to an earlier statement in this episode: his martial arts training is so advanced as to border on mysticism. If we are going back to the overarching categories of "science", "magic", or "nothing" it would qualify as "magic". For other definitions, what he's doing isn't a spell (breaking into D&D terminology, though, somebody casting the spell "Detect Magic" on him wouldn't identify another spell, but would identify his fists as being "magical weapons"). It's more that he's manipulating his internal energy to create an effect that, if not "magical" is at least "mystical".
- Are there qi abilities in Sentinels and are they a type of magic? Yeah, that's what this would be and they would be a kind of magic, but one that's accessed in a much different way than most other "magic" in the setting. This is also how he's able to "see" - by perceiving the qi in the people/things around him. Of the various Magic categories we've been told about, it's probably actually most closely related to Blood Magic as it has to do with this life energy stuff.
- Are there other types of magic besides NightMist's European-style spells/incantations and Scholar's alchemy? Yes. Nigh-infinite types depending on how you go about a thing. Some examples of "things you do to perform magic" (as distinct from the power sources for that magic): spells/incantations (which includes Argent Adept's songs - they're "spells" for Void Magic, or a spell involving the Host to bind a spirit as Idolater or the Seer does), using your body as a conduit (like Lifeline for his Blood Magic). They give no more examples, but there's a lot of discussion on that point - there are two aspects to magic, the power source (which is what gives us the categories like Void Magic or Blood Magic) and the methods used to employ that magic (like spells or whatnot).
- Are there things like Technomancy, Shinto-style spiritualist magic, others? Yes (you could call what Unity or Chokepoint do "technomancy" to some extent). The Shinto spiritualism could be drawing from a number of sources (nature, cosmic, etc.), but that's the method they use to do things with it. The system gives you a lot of leeway in setting up these things. If you're doing magic, just define what the source of the power is and how you go about doing it (dance, punching, speaking words, thinking thoughts - like you have a portion of your mind trapped in the Realm of Discord and that allows you to funnel Discordian Magic through that connection, etc.).
- [Letter introduction posits an "emotion based" magic system that could be tied into things like the Host or the Cult of Gloom which he has named "Pathomancy" from the Greek "pathos"] That's a good one and could work right into the system described above as a source of power (like Blood Magic), then it's up to you to also find how the character uses it.
- Would Pathomancy, where I use my emotions or the emotions of others to power an effect, be a distinct thing or would it be a subset of Arcane or Discordian Magic? Back-peddling a bit: that description, where you're using the emotions for the effect, is more of a method than a source. So, the Cult of Gloom would likely be using Pathomancy to access Discordian Magic.
- Would this work or is it contradictory to how other things work? You've slotted it into the overall framework nicely. That being said, the rule is still "make something up that works for you in your game" - we're not beholden to Christopher and Adam's opinions.
- What exactly is the difference between Arcane Magic and Discordian Magic (and why not "Discordant" magic)? For the latter, just because "Discordian" is the word that was chosen (also "Discordant" sounds more like what you'd call a corrupted form of what the Virtuosos of the Void do, a hypothetical Virtuoso of the Realm of Discord). Discordian Magic is power drawn from the Realm of Discord. Arcane Magic is powered by the magic inherent to normal reality - it's much closer to Natural Magic. It's not drawing from "Nature" but the ambient "magical energy" of the universe.
- [Letter starts with the proposition that we haven't heard about the power source for Citizen Dawn or the other Citizens] See last week's episode on the Sunrise story arc where they actually go over a lot of that. The game lists her power source as "Cosmic" but that's mainly an a reference to her getting the bulk of her energy from the sun, while her initial gaining of powers is chalked up to "nuclear radiation". You could build her using either Cosmic or Radiation in the RPG (or even possibly Accident). The use of "Power Source" is more specifically about what the origin of your powers were rather than the source of power after the fact (Dawn gets her energy absorption powers from the Radiation of nuclear plants, but those energy absorption powers are largely used to take in Cosmic solar radiation).
- Which power source has the least amount of downside? Almost certainly Training. They use an analogy of cramming for an exam and promptly forgetting everything vs. actually applying yourself and studying diligently.
- OblivAeon Shards are confusing for how they grant powers: the Southwest Sentinels already had powers when they got theirs and seemed to just get augmented, while Proletariat and the Lowsley brothers got entirely new powers, so what's the deal? With people who already have powers tend to just have those powers boosted and pushed to extremes (Tachyon has one briefly and Dawn gets a bunch and that's what we see for them). For people without powers, it does something to them to make new powers, but it's not like Isoflux Alpha that keys into their personality or something about them as a theme (Isoflux Alpha is like an "irony device" - I'm in a van with a bunch of snakes, and now I'm Night Snake). If the person doesn't have a power already for the shard to "imprint" on, it will grant a power related to the shard itself in some way. It's not easy to understand (by design) due to the relationship to a Singular Entity.
- Why do some (like the Sentinels/Void Guard) continue to carry their shards around, while others (like the Nigel and Hugh) not? The shard being absorbed by Infinitor is the exception as every other time the shard will persist - Void Guard carry theirs around mainly to keep others from getting them, but if they lost the shards they'd still have the extra power. The "using up" of the shard is partly what drove Infinitor insane as now he's got this thing as a part of him after he and his brother both got the power from it.
- Are there always downsides to getting powers from OblivAeon shards and, if so, what are they typically? Yes. The downside is that the power is in some way overwhelming and corrupting to the individual and using them is damaging to reality. Void Guard having four shards, using those four shards, and keeping those four shards in close proximity to one another is super bad (but, y'know, they need all the help they can get to fight OblivAeon and prevent the end of everything in existence, which is worse). Minor spoiler - their immediate actions post-OblivAeon is to try to get rid of these shards. The Mist Storm Universe also has a lot more shards in regular use, contributing to the problems there.
- Is there any kind of limit to the kinds of powers one can get from Isoflux Alpha exposure? In terms of type, no. In terms of scale, certainly. (Well, it's not likely to get you a Training type of power, but it might be a cheat way to get the same kinds of end results).
- Is Isoflux Alpha a "weaker" power source (given that Dr. Medico and Mainstay generally couldn't go toe-to-toe with villains before they got their shards)? It's a fair question considering those examples, but Choke is also an Omega (although she's significantly more powerful once she gets the Zenith Gauge as Chokepoint). It's not necessarily that they're all weak, exactly, but they're all new as Omegas are a fairly late addition to the Multiverse.
- Are there any power sources new for the RPG that weren't used for SotM? None of the defined categories given in the overview, but the granular, more specific things that people come up with (like the Pathomancy example created by a listener) are possible. The "magic system" described can be generalized to superpowers in general: what is your power source, how do you access that, and what was the inciting incident that allows you to do so?
- We know that OblivAeon is a Singular Entity, but that while his power is great it's also finite (given that non-singular entities defeat him) - given that OblivAeon shards are physical pieces of him that are broken off, does doing so reduce his overall power in a noticeable way? Given that he's lost shards here and there (maybe only a few per universe), and that the multiverse is infinite, doesn't that mean that he's lost an infinite amount of power as he loses shards in various realities? Every shard that is broken off of him is the result of some major event and this has only happened a very small number of times. The supposition of the question that he's had an infinite number broken off is incorrect. Every shard that exists in the Multiverse-era is one we know about - between the main comics and Disparation, there's about a dozen - maybe in the high-teens at most. In total, the power they represent is less than 0.001 of the total. He doesn't feel diminished by this and, in fact, can "grow back" the power lost in this way. However, post-OblivAeon these things are everywhere.
- In the Disparation Freedom Five story, Infinitor's consciousness was retained within the shard when he was destroyed, is that a unique event or would that happen to any shard-bearer who had their shard handy when they died (looking at you Mist Storm Dr. Medico)? That was an exception due to Infinitor's relationship to his shard. Apostate also binds his being to a shard in the Mist Storm Universe, but that's his own actions rather than a quality of shards.
- RPG Starter Kit Spoilers within: Read at your own risk!From the RPG starter kit we know that Proletariat's shard can't do anything other than mess with his duplication powers; was this a result of it being 'drained' by his empowerment - a difference in quantity - or was the shard itself somehow transformed when he was empowered - a difference in quality? A bit of both - there's some amount of 'drainage' from Proletariat's creation, but somebody has also messed with the shard in the attempt to use it as a power source, so by the time the heroes encounter it it's not what it once was and is now destructible in the story.
- Given that various military personnel have been involved in the collection of shards (Proletariat's and the ones in Fort Adamant that the Sentinels found), what prevented the shards from empowering everybody who encountered them? Skin contact is necessary and the various personnel involved would have been using protective gear to move them around.
- After OblivAeon's defeat, how small can shards get? Like, are there clouds of OblivAeon dust blowing around just waiting to give people powers? No on the latter. The smallest one is Writhe's, which is slightly smaller than a normal person's fist.
- What's the weirdest power source a character has had? The easy answer is Guise (with the power coming from a Singular Entity, but the situation surrounding that involving Wager Master's "blood", him slipping on it on the sidewalk, and then a piano falling on him is pretty weird). K.N.Y.F.E. is also pretty weird due to the extradimensional nature of the Block and dealing with things from various realities - just a general hodgepodge of weird stuff around her until she erupts with green energy knives.
- Not so much about the future in the various realities, more a discussion about how powers are used within the game products.
- The RPG has kind of been covered in that the categories above are used in part of character creation. Villain characters are made with a similar system, but one where the Power Source is considered more part of the story than part of the mechanics.
- The card game doesn't really consider the Power Source at all mechanically - it might have some impact on the damage type done, but that's more of an expression of the power than tied intrinsically to the point of origin. There are exceptions, though, in that the magic users in SotM have mechanical features having to deal with their magic. Even then it's an abstraction (i.e. Argent Adept doesn't have specific Melodies/Harmonies/Rhythms in the comics and NightMist doesn't have randomized spell power numbers), but it's at least something.
- Sentinel Tactics has the Power Source abstracted away rather than mechanically simulated. Prime War on the other hand will have an additional layer of mechanics that tie into that more.