The Letters Page: Episode 85
We take another stab at making a live story element! What are we going to make? We have no idea.
Run Time: 1:24:10
This episode is all over the place, as we intentionally did no planning, letting our creative process take us where it would... and it turned out pretty interesting! Listen on to discover a bit of world building as we craft it. (After we spend the first 6 minutes stalling...)
We get to live questions right around the one hour and 12 minute mark. These are all questions from the Discord chat, as questions couldn't have been written in for a topic that no one could predict!
At the end, we mention briefly that we're looking at doing some Patreon restructuring, which we are going to be doing at the end of October! This will be the last month of Patreon working the way it currently does - next month, it'll be different! We'll be talking more about that over the course of this month.
- Slaughter-House Six
- The Vandals
- The Freedom Five
- The Paradigms
- Ray Manta
- Void Guard
- Captain Cosmic
- Greazer Clutch
- Dark Watch
- The Hippo
- Baron Blade
- Vengeful Five
- The as yet unnamed 4 founders of the Order
- They're flying by the seat of their pants for this one, no prep work at all so let's see where this takes them [and so, like with the last time they did something like this and wound up creating the Sentinel-verse version of oni, my ability to summarize this is probably going to be pretty truncated compared to the actual process, more so than with the normal amount of paraphrasing and whatnot].
- Christopher's idea is something that he thinks will be something they can use for more stuff going forward: a small villain team of new characters. He's thinking a duo or trio as they've already got several 4-6 person teams (Perestroika, Helfyre [I don't recall hearing of them before this], Slaughter-House Six, Vengeful Five, etc.). Sure they have the Vandals as a trio and the Ermine/Fright Train duo, but he wants something new.
- The first thing to determine is to pick "where" in Sentinel Comics they feature. Like, he doesn't want to do a horror comics team (the Vandals kind of operate in that space already). The Freedom Five already have enough villains. How about kind of a techy team - somebody to be a foil for the Paradigms? They could have the illicit connections to be able to buy gear from Revenant or to get equipped by Ray Manta or something. Adam's counter to this: the Slaughter-House Six is already a tech-heavy team. [They talk about the "new" Slaughter-House Six here a bit - mentioning that Ray Manta is the one outfitting it and they're all augmented, except maybe Kismet, so I guess we know where she winds up now. Glamour is also mentioned.] How about a space team? They need stuff for Void Guard and Captain Cosmic to be doing. Adam hints at an as-yet unspecified space duo they've already worked out. Having a trio of space baddies out there would give some variety to the various good-guy teams, though - Void Guard and the K.N.Y.F.E./Sky-Scraper duo both being out there. A downside for Space as the theme is that the RPG materials won't be getting to that content for a while. An alternative could be a street-level, Rook City kind of thing. So, they go to the Discord to vote. Somebody throws in the suggestion of doing "street level in space" but that requires them to pick some specific place like Dok'Thorath and just have stories there (which is kind of what the stories there already were - could count as "street level", but "war stories" is more fitting) - Greazer is mentioned as being somebody who's "street level space" and the guys agree. Street-level wins the vote.
- Having arrived at this location, Adam brings up a concept they've been wanting to do for a while: "gun villain with gimmick", basically somebody who's a normal criminal guy who happens to be good with guns and/or has special/gimmicky guns (they think that this conceptual space is empty with the evolution of Expatriette over the years).
- An important distinction to keep in mind is that "street-level" doesn't necessarily imply dark/gritty/noir. Dark Watch has that end of things pretty well covered, but that doesn't mean that this new thing will fall into that genre.
- So, street-level villains. Leaning towards a trio of them. What's their angle? Not saying they need to be "themed" with one another, but why are they together? Adam suggests maybe somebody trying to start up a new mob, but as the Chairman/Operative/Organization already represents that concept, why retread that ground? So the next pitch is "anarchists", like Fight Club style anarchists? They start going through some of the other groups they've got to see where things fall. Vandals and Hellfire kind of fit that angle. Ermine/Fright Train are thieves (in the "Fright Train is a big ol' distraction while Ermine actually steals the thing" sense) and the Slaughter-House Six are, as Adam puts it, a heist team (except for Ray Manta who's a conspiracy theorist [also indications that the Hippo is on this iteration of the team]).
- So, the "domestic terrorists" angle might be the space for the new team to occupy (the best match for that prior to this was the Tactics version of Proletariat). A trick for "street level" stories about characters like this, however, is that it generally requires more actual thought put into the character's logistics. If they have lots of powers and can just blow stuff up on their own that's one thing, but if they've got to acquire or build bombs, how they get the money to pay for them/their components is an important question to answer. They need to limit the scope of the team's operations to focus their objectives to something reasonably workable.
- Christopher's idea is to have at least one of them, if not the whole team, be tied into the idea of "villainous reporters". They have access to all kinds of inside information that they can use for blackmail purposes (they also don't have a lot of villains with "day jobs", so that's another interesting thing). Adam pitches the idea that it's one member and they're an investigative reporter, but Christopher counters that that's too highly-visible a position and that being something like a copy editor, who sees everything that comes through, would be better. A psychological angle is that they see the truth coming in as the reporters do their job, but see things get watered down/twisted before they make it out to the public in Rook City and this is just a travesty. It wears them down. So, they decide that one member of this new team is a copy editor at the Rook City Gazette.
- The idea, then, is to just have this person be this disillusioned person who, one day while complaining about this stuff, happens to be talking to the real mastermind behind what becomes this group; the person who hears all of this stuff and responds with "Well, here's what we can do about that." So, between them we have a Mastermind and an Informant, that leaves a "wetwork person" which is more likely to be their gimmicky gunman or whatever (although Adam sees the Mastermind as the Gun Guy - somebody without any other real abilities, just a gun as a holdout weapon - Christopher responds here with a preference at the moment that they're all unpowered or at least low-powered, but we'll see how things develop). A suggestion from Discord is to have the third guy be a garbage man, which is picked up as a good job for the third person (picking through trash to find evidence, handy way to dispose of dead bodies, etc.). It was also suggested that part of what's going on being discovering heroes' secret identities, but we'll see if they pick up on that thread too.
- So, who's the Mastermind going to be? So far they've got two very slice-of-life people/professions in the Informant and Wet-work guys, so they want to keep that kind of thing going. Something along those lines (but specifically not this) is the person coordinating things at the 9-1-1 dispatch center - not the person on the phone with people, but keeping track of where people are and where they're going. Maybe an air-traffic controller? Somebody with that same kind of juggling things in real-time job, but one who's not really in the down and dirty goings-on of the city like the other two are. He learns about that part of it from the other two and then has the idea of what to do about it. How about the Dockmaster who can get things on/off ships and move things around. That also kind of works out the logistics/resources thing - a dockmaster can "lose" things occasionally so that this small group can use them. They also come up with an idea for a few cargo containers to "accidentally" get lost overboard and then turned into a base of operations (reached by the sewers).
- With the idea of underwater welding crews being necessary to actually hook up the underwater lair, we've kind of transitioned from this being just a trio of villains to being a Fight Club/Project Mayhem-style organization made up of regular Joes with these three just as the leadership. People working with this group wear masks to protect their identities, but it's not necessarily a permanent "gig" for everybody. These three guys are running a group that can make problems go away. The payment is that now you owe them and if they need your skill-set for a later job, you're called in to help. They still want to keep this as a distinct thing from the Organization - that group is building a system to run things while this new one is more about tearing down the extant systems. Members of the Organization work for the Organization - that's what they do. This new thing is an ad hoc arrangement among people who still have normal, every-day jobs. Other ways to describe the difference: Organization as an Army vs. this group as a Militia, this group is a criminal underworld in Rook City while the Organization is more like a criminal "overworld" as they're the ones actually running the town.
- A thought: getting back to the idea that they didn't want an investigative reporter as that's too high-profile, they want somebody more "just a cog in the machine" at the docks as well - not have the person be the dockmaster, but just some minor inventory manager subordinate to the dockmaster, and still having access to that kind of information, but less top-of-the-foodchain.
- Another thought - they don't think that any of the three "main" guys are the leader/figurehead of the group. At any given meeting of the people involved in the current project (they said earlier that any such meeting probably has somewhere between a handful and 20 people - the largest ever probably reaching 30, with the largest operation running at one time maybe had 100 people involved) one of the three of them would wear the "leader" mask. This also lets any one of them make excuses about needing to run something by "the boss" when no such person actually exists. Hell, they can even bring in a ringer of a charismatic speaker (e.g. a news anchor they've helped in the past) for an important speech or something.
- Spinning off from that, the "leader" role should probably include more of a costume, and one that works to obscure things like body-type not only to make these kinds of role-swapping easier to pull off, but also add a bit of mystery to the leader ("I just can't get a read on who this person could be..."). Similarly, the mask should have a voice modulator to further obscure the identity. Chat brings up that any ringer brought in would then know that the leader isn't always the same person, but the three could pass that off as "the leader is [really busy with something else right now/worried about an assassination attempt/some other reason the "real" leader can't give the speech], we just need you to do this just this once".
- A fun side-effect of all of this rigamarole is that comics readers wouldn't know that there wasn't a leader - that would be a big reveal after a bunch of stories leading up to it.
- And all of this is still leading them to the conclusion that these three guys don't have powers, but they all need "villain names" (even the fictional "leader" character would have a name - so they need 4 character names and a name for the overall group). There's some discussion about how they're all "cogs" or "gears" in "the machine" (Adam just doesn't like the word "cog" despite some arguments from Christopher as to why it could be apt - just that the word itself isn't euphonic). At the very least it's a good motif.
- Another angle is the "economy" they've developed for this group - the "we'll do a favor for you, but that puts you on the hook for doing a favor or two for the group". If they can find a good way to factor that into the theming that could be interesting.
- After a few minutes of riffing on the gear/machine angle, they come down (at least tentatively) on "The Order of the Simple Machine" (the "machine" as it stands is too complicated and isn't working for the average person anymore, so let's simplify it). "The Order" also lends a bit of a cult-like feel, which they think is appropriate. Somebody in chat thought that a group that people approach for help should have a less intimidating name, but they don't agree. The group is more likely to hear about your problems through the grapevine and approach you rather than you seeking them out.
- Having arrived at this larger organization, they consider that they really should have another permanent member. Somebody earlier had mentioned a paralegal at the D.A. office or similar as one of the original three and that's just too useful a skill-set/information source to ignore completely, but as the "leadership" are the only permanent members, they have to bump it up from 3 to 4 members. Along with this, they've also gotten to the point where they can recruit people by offering ultimatums - they know about your troubles and offer to help in exchange for aid, but they could also make your situation much worse if you refuse.
- More nomenclature thoughts: individuals are "gears of the simple machine" but can shorten it to "simple machines" (i.e. the members can be plural, but the group is singular). Referring back to the dislike of "cog", that could be a derogatory way the heroes could refer to them.
- Worries from the chat that they're starting to feel too much like the Organization, but they guys call out that they're not thinking about them in the same space at all. The two groups are directly opposed to one another in goals and dislike each other way more than they care about whatever the heroes are doing. Also the Organization's foot soldiers are still in this for life - this is what they do. Simple Machines are just regular guys, probably arm-twisted into doing something in the first place and have no loyalty to this thing (which is probably an odd thing for the heroes to encounter when they first start running across them). This also means that if a fight breaks out, they might fight for 1 round before just trying to run away because the average person probably doesn't really know how to fight.
- Christopher starts spelling out the history of this group. It's been around in Rook City for quite a while now run by our four characters (copy editor, garbage man, inventory manager, and paralegal), but it's been so low-key that it's just flown under the radar. They wouldn't even really have registered as a "foe" for the heroes in the comics - any stories involving them would have been as kind of side action in an Organization story. The heroes might occasionally run into these guys doing bad stuff while wearing ski-masks with a gear logo on them, but once confronted they just run away. No real threat, just somebody in conflict with the Organization. Then we get an actual Villain-level character who discovers this group and decides to take over - so after all of that "there is no one leader person" history, somebody actually takes that role. The trick for picking who this is will be that it should be non-obvious, somebody who could actually manage it, and somebody who wouldn't disillusion the original group of four to the point where they'd jump ship. They'll decide this off-the-air.
- So, onto logistics of how this fits into a superhero comic/game. Three of the four original permanent members aren't even the types to fight heroes in the first place, but they also aren't "special" in the way that the Order is put together - there's "The Leader" and there are the Gears. Having 4 members that are at some kind of intermediate level goes against the general vibe they've been developing here. What they have come back around on, however, is the "tech villain group" thing from much earlier. We could have a set of specific members (with specific machine-themed names like Piston, Chain-drive, Linchpin, and Rivet) who are brought in by the leader to be the muscle of the group. They could be the ones actually breaking stuff when necessary or, at the least, acting as a distraction while the Gears are doing their job elsewhere.
- Now we've finally arrived at where this will actually show up. The bulk of this episode has been establishing the back story of this group. They now think that bumping this stuff out of the Dark Watch book and into the Paradigms one is the way to go as the actual interface between the group and heroes will be this "strike team" of the machine-themed, tech-enhanced operatives. Piston is the punchy guy with hydraulic fists. Chain-drive is a cool name, but how to use that mechanism in a cool way [another entry in the head-flies-off-into-space is cool? yes/no argument]? Rivet is definitely the ranged/projectile guy (with a rivet gun). Linchpin sounds like either the important member of this team or somebody who's good at taking apart the important part of the opposition - the name is great, but the mechanism isn't as easy to work into a usable gimmick so it might have to be more metaphorical. Oh, of course... The team is Piston, Chain-drive, and Rivet. Linchpin is the name of the Leader of the Order as a whole. So, Piston = big and punchy, Rivet = big and shooty, with Chain-drive maybe having some kind of assembly on his arms and shoulders that can loop out chains and pull things in? Pulling from ranged to melee? Could also work on coming up with more utility for this sort of thing. Linchpin could still work with this team, but he's also the leader of this whole thing.
- They've still got this street-level group, operating as domestic terrorists opposed by the hero team that represents the corporatism of the System, man, in the Paradigms. They'll still need to come up with identities for the original four members of this group.
- Are any of these characters ladies? Definitely. Don't know which ones yet.
- So we've got actual electricians and mechanics who dislike Unity? Of course they do. She does stuff the "easy" way and probably wrecks somebody else's hard work in the process.
- Are they still a new force in the comics or has that changed? They've been around in Sentinel Comics for a long time, but not in a notable way (like, just something that could be used for a filler story here and there in stuff like Rook City Renegades). It probably started out in Rook City with those original four, but by now the Order is all over the place. The new thing will be the role of Linchpin being taken over by a specific person (instead of being whoever they put the mask on) and the creation of the strike team.
- Is the Dark Watch book coming out before the Paradigms one? Could some Order of the Simple Machine stuff get introduced in DW and then brought back around in the latter book? DW is coming out first of those two, but they can definitely drop some OotSM stuff in there.
- What does the OotSM think of Baron Blade and Mordengrad? Blade uses Mordengrad like it's a machine with inconsequential parts (the people in it). They don't like that situation.
- If the original group was based around info/contacts specific to Rook City, how do they branch out to, say, Megalopolis? Is that part of the new Linchpin's doing? Yes, that's because of the new leadership.
- How did the original members accept an actual leader? It probably actually comes as something of a relief. They no longer have to pose as this leader person and can just get on with the aspects of the work that they brought to the table in the first place. There's likely also some internal tension against the expansion of the organization, though, as it brings them more on the radar.
- Does Proletariat see them as a good group? Almost certainly no. He's a Communist and these people are Anarchists. Somebody should suggest a Perestroika episode so we can get more info on what he's been up to.
- The Future is this new Linchpin showing up and with him the on-boarding of Piston, Chain-drive, and Rivet that actually starts doing "villain" stuff. This will be RPG stuff, like the oni stuff will be.