The Letters Page: Episode 98
Let's talk about the final five environments!
Run Time: 1:13:08
OK, so right off the bat, we get it terribly wrong. We claim that the SCRPG Kickstarter is live. When this episode goes live, that's not the case. The Kickstarter goes live an hour after this episode launches. We just did a bad job at thinking about time when we recorded this episode. Go us. That said, if you're listening to this episode right when it goes live, the SCRPG Kickstarter will go live around the 1 hour mark of this episode!
Moving right along, just before the 5 minute mark, we get into your questions, starting with questions about Champion Studios and San Alonso.
At around the 23 minute mark, we start in on questions about Fort Adamant and everything going on there.
A bit after 32 minutes in, we visit scenic Mordengrad! Such a lovely place. We dance with the goat!
Then, just after the 41 minute mark, we take a trip to the Nexus of the Void. Totally normal place. NBD.
And then, finally, shortly after the 57 mark, we get to Plavu'Col, the Maerynian Refuge.
The Kickstarter campaign for Sentinel Comics: the Roleplaying Game is live by now! Go check it out!
See you next time.
- Baron Blade/Luminary
- Kaargra Warfang
- Mr. Fixer
- Wager Master
- Green Grosser
- Ray Manta
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Doctor Demikahv
- General Armstrong
- The Southwest Sentinels
- Absolute Zero
- Captain Cosmic
- Citizen Dawn
- Argent Adept
- The RPG Kickstarter is live! [Well, it’s already done now that I’m writing this up, sorry. It was a heck of a ride, though. All stretch goals were met and you can probably get in on the action via the Backerkit that’s supposed to go live next week.]
- This is really more of a follow-up episode as each of these Environments have already been covered in one of the other Environment-centric episodes. However, those came out before the OblivAeon expansion did, so now people have had a chance to look at the art and whatnot to ask more specific questions and they can give more complete answers without spoiling stuff. Those previous episodes were:
- Episode 43 - Urban Settings for San Alonso (and therefore Champion Studios), Mordengrad, and the Maerynian Refuge.
- Episode 54 - Supernatural Settings for the Nexus of the Void.
- Episode 58 - Environments of Power for Fort Adamant.
- Episodes 83/84 - OblivAeon for more stuff that happened in these locations just as a matter of course - they do appear in the OblivAeon expansion for a reason, after all.
- We’re splitting this up into sections for each environment, so some letters that addressed multiples wound up split up to fit the structure of the episode.
- All of these locations are meant to be places that have existed in Sentinel Comics well before the OblivAeon expansion came out. Like, when they were working on the expansion at first they weren’t sure that they’d have Environments to still do. Then they thought about it for a minute and it became obvious that there were plenty of places that they could develop. They felt especially dumb about Mordengrad which, while the idea of it may not have preceded the idea of Megalopolis, was quite likely the first named location in the entire setting. Like, this was part of Baron Blade’s backstory and they came up with the name immediately during that creation process while “Megalopolis” was initially just their “city location” idea that didn’t get the name until later in the process. As such, the decks aren’t intrinsically tied to the OblivAeon event (although important stuff does happen at them during that event) - they’re meant to be as usable in games outside of the OblivAeon scenario as any other Environment deck in the game.
- Going by the cards, it looks like only 2 of them could have taken place during the OblivAeon event - how often did heroes wind up having adventures in Champion Studios? Not infrequently. San Alonso was the main west-coast (mostly, but not exclusively meaning “California” here) city that comics stories would take place in (standing in for San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, etc.).
- What story resulted in Setback playing baseball with Kaargra Warfang? It’s a rather lighthearted one-shot story that got published while some other heavy stuff is going down. The Bloodsworn Colosseum shows up and this time Kaargra leaves it up to the heroes (or rather, the hero in front of her, which is Setback) to define the terms of the conflict rather than her deciding. Setback picks baseball, so we wind up in a heroes vs. gladiators baseball game. Sometimes the gladiators try to do something like tackle the opposing players, but they fall in line (gotta follow the rules) and Kaargra gets really into it, but the heroes win.
- Why are Fanatic, Expatriette, and Mr. Fixer having a Nerf^(TM) war? It’s a Wager Master story. He gets frustrated that he frequently tries to get heroes to fight one another to the death and they always find a way to get out of it by working together, breaking the rules, subverting the system, and just punching Wager Master a bunch. His solution is to lean into that and just give them non-lethal weapons so that they will actually just fight for his amusement at least once. The heroes still find a way to work together, break the rules, subvert the system, and punch Wager Master a bunch, but at least this time they’re hitting him with Nerf^(TM) weapons.
- Who is Zorrm and why does he hang out here? Zorrm is a successful science fiction movie franchise monster that gets used a lot. There is one story where he is a villain that “comes to life” and attacks the heroes, but more on him in a bit.
- Why doesn’t Chrono-Ranger just use time powers to defuse the bomb like he did on Mars? This is a larger question about Chrono-Ranger. He doesn’t just have generic time manipulation powers - that’s kind of too broad and would negate the tension in most stories that he’s involved in. He still does weird stuff occasionally, but speaking in general he can’t do it that often without some negative repercussions (the best example is the time he wound up trapped outside time and space). In this case, we’re looking at a bit happening in the middle of another story, but largely unrelated to that other story. The main story is Heartbreaker and Stuntman’s fight as depicted on “Car Chase Scene” (they have a history, what with Heartbreaker being a bad guy who used to be a bad guy and Stuntman being a good guy who was once a bad guy. Heartbreaker thinks that Stuntman has “gone soft” and has an ongoing plot involving him: he figures that if he can pull off enough of a frame job (to make people think that Ambuscade isn’t really reformed as Stuntman), Ansel will just give up and be the person everybody thinks he is already. In this case he’s planted a bomb.
- This one-shot story (nominally a Freedom Five story, but Tachyon’s the only member to show up in it) titled “Ten Seconds”. It opens with Tachyon working in her lab in Freedom Tower. She gets a call over the hero-band. It’s Chrono-Ranger. “Hey, I’m in San Alonso and there’s a bomb. I need to defuse it and I don’t know anything about this bomb, so I called the person who could do the research the fastest. By the way, we have ten seconds.” This first page has the title up at the top and after every few pages we get an update in the same manner (“Nine Seconds”, etc.) as the whole book takes place over that span of time. They eventually figure it out, but the situation on the “Deadly Choice” card are from part of the deliberations. It’s not even clear at the time where this bomb came from as it’s not discussed in the course of that issue. It becomes clear later that it’s part of that ongoing Heartbreaker/Stuntman situation, though. This winds up as a pretty famous one-shot issue, though, and gets reprints occasionally.
- Why did Guise leave his banana peels all over the place? While Guise does like him some bananas, those aren’t his. Those are Green Grosser’s banana peels and they’re far more dangerous than they appear.
- What’s the deal with Death Ray (i.e. Ray Manta in slasher movie antagonist getup)? This is the story (a Halloween issue for the Freedom Five) they referred to earlier regarding Zorrm. There’s a magical Relic thing that’s been found and the director of these schlocky sci-fi movies (they’re solidly in the “so bad it’s good” realm) thinks it would lend an air of authenticity to his movies to use this thing, so he buys it to include in his future films. This is a bad idea. It winds up animating the Zorrm and several minor villains are drawn in by its power as well and turns these villains you know and love into horror movie equivalents (although it doesn’t overwrite their personalities - note that Death Ray is still talking robot conspiracies).
- Several villains show up in the deck, but I presume that these appearances are all pre-OblivAeon right? Yes, that’s correct.
- What about “Stunt Double”, though - it shows a OblivAeon-powered Voss, so why/how is he still hanging out in Champion Studios? As mentioned in the OblivAeon episodes, he had a hideout that he protected in the movie studio where he could plan his betrayal, since OblivAeon wasn’t likely to give it any further notice considering San Alonso was the very first place he destroyed. As a result of this protection, the people already in the studio at the time have their minds shielded from the destruction and so don’t know that it’s happened (and are still working normally, don’t think anything weird is happening, and don’t recognize Voss as something out of the ordinary they need to worry about - he’s obviously just a guy in a rubber suit). As for the timeline for why the powered-up Voss is there, they talked about this briefly in a prior episode - there was a story that showed that Voss did return to his hideout briefly between taking up the power of OblivAeon and heading to Megalopolis.
- Who is Doctor Demikahv? Why is she so scary? When did she move from creating giant kaiju [a reference to her appearance in season 2 of the Freedom Five animated show] to human experimentation? She is a mad scientist who’s been a background character for a while. This version of her never did the kaiju thing in this timeline, although she is still doing genetic experimentation as she’s been given free rein on what she does at Fort Adamant, which is kind of the problem. She started out doing work that you could expect for the military (trying to find ways to augment soldiers with increased strength and speed, that sort of thing), but as her position solidified and she got leverage over the powers-that-be, she starts going further afield in her experiments.
- What info did General Armstrong not want her to know such that he’d rather commit suicide than let Demikahv and Highbrow get their hands on him? Mostly the same stuff that any villain would want to get from him - the specs on the Ironclad Project and Bunker suits. If a bad guy had the technical information on the Bunker suits that he knows, they could exploit that knowledge to eliminate Bunker as a threat (or even take over the suit remotely). Armstrong is aware of what Demikahv can and will do to further her plans and takes actions to thwart her. He didn’t even want to be involved in most of this stuff as it was - he was there for the Ironclad Project and things like training up powered people to make them more effective [like the Southwest Sentinels], not all of this human experimentation nonsense. By the time things got to that point, however, and he tried to pull the plug/reveal things to others he was in too deep and would take the blame for everything anyway (plus the threat of the baddies releasing all of the Ironclad Project specs as well). Armstrong is essentially a hostage at this point, blackmailed into inaction and all he can do is protect the Ironclad information until the Termi-Nation event when everything falls apart. The heroes aren’t present for the events the flavor text on his card refer to, it’s just what they hear over the intercom. [The guys leave it ambiguous here - saying that we don’t know who shot what/whom at that time. Either they’re forgetting that they told us about what happened to him in Episode 58 or they’re retconning things to leave it ambiguous.]
- Who is Char talking to? Unity, Absolute Zero, and Bunker during the Termi-Nation event. Char is exactly the type of person to see the three of them and call them “kids” (he is a bit older and going grey). He feels like he should recognize them, but his head’s been messed with here at Fort Adamant.
- Did Doctor Demikahv get out alive? How long did the shady stuff go on there without the heroes noticing? Does Legacy just have a blind spot and think that his government couldn’t be doing bad stuff like this? Legacy doesn’t believe that anybody is above reproach - while they understand that some people might read Legacy as blindly patriotic, that’s not the case. He is patriotic, but he believes in American ideals without being blind to the fact that we often don’t live up to them. This all comes to a head in the Termi-Nation event which is primarily centered on Unity, AZ, and Bunker (and the Southwest Sentinels who are around for the lead-in bits, but then disappear for a while) without Legacy’s presence. How long have things been going on? Well, the Ironclad Project goes back all the way to the Civil War, but the stuff that’s specific to this storyline has generally only been going on a decade or two (intentionally vague). When the base was destroyed, Demikahv was still inside and her body was never recovered, so she’s probably dead. That’s standard operating procedure for a comic, right?
- What gives with the Nemeses here (Radioactivist hating Bunker now instead of Unity, etc.)? The Nemeses relationships in this deck are just showing who fought whom in the Termi-Nation event - Char happened to fight Unity, Radioactivist happened to fight Bunker, and Highbrow happened to fight AZ. That’s the extent of it.
- In Russian, the -grad suffix means “city” [see Petrograd/Leningrad/back to Petrograd, cycling being named after St. Peter, to Vladimir Lenin, and back to St. Peter or Stalingrad/Volgograd - named for Joseph Stalin and then the river Volga], so who/what is the “Morden” that the city is named for? Just a local landowner named Morden who owned much of the area centuries prior to the rise of Baron Blade.
- Outside of the OblivAeon event, what comic events happen there? A lot. The trick is that while Mordengrad is part of a lot of Baron Blade stories in some way, it’s also just a place where stuff can happen. A late Apostate story happens there, there are occasional plots involving others trying to take over the place while Baron Blade is off elsewhere. Like they said earlier, they felt really dumb for not making a Mordengrad Environment deck earlier.
- In the flavor-text of “Remote Walking Tank” the text is credited to Luminary (not Baron Blade), so why is it targeting heroes? They were programmed to shoot the heroes back before his switch to Luminary. This text was him just realizing that this would pose a problem now that he was (nominally) on their side.
- What’s Captain Cosmic doing on “Mobile Alert Platform”? That was during the aforementioned Apostate story. While they were dealing with that situation there was also this surveillance drone moving around and he’s just calling it out so they can avoid it - it’s a complication they don’t need right now.
- Why does Baron Blade make a “Black Hole Generator”? Surely even he knows that’s a bad idea, right? To answer your questions with a question - you have met Baron Blade, haven’t you? What part of his personality makes you think that this is out of character for him? If he were canonized, he’d be the patron saint of bad ideas.
- Why make your troops loudly chant the name of the country while they’re marching around? He doesn’t. They’re just that enthusiastic about their homeland.
- Baron Blade goes from “starter villain” to “final boss” when you face him in his home city and likewise for Omnitron in Omnitron IV or Chairman in Rook City (although everyone is tougher in Rook City), but Citizen Dawn gets no such boost from Insula Primalis nor GloomWeaver in the Realm of Discord - how do you determine whether or not a villain gets “home field advantage” and balance those Environments that do such that they still feel fun/fair for games against other villains? While they try to make it so every Environment can stand on its own merits (and they believe they’ve succeeded with that), they wanted things to reflect the narrative of such things. Baron Blade with the people of Mordengrad behind him, Voss on Dok’Thorath, or Omnitron in Omnitron IV are all kind of the worst possible narrative situations to be in. Lots of stories take place on Insula Primalis that have nothing to do with Dawn, and while her base is there it’s not like she’s in control of the dinosaurs or volcano like Blade is with Mordengrad. GloomWeaver’s an interesting one - the issue here is that while, yes, he’s already present in the RoD his villainous plot is to break into our reality, so he doesn’t start incarnate as that’s to represent him breaking through.
- Since Grand Warlord Voss and Blade both benefit from the “Minion” keyword, Voss also benefits from fighting in Mordengrad - is this supposed to model the two of them working together during OblivAeon or is it just a coincidence as an base-game fluke that “Minion” was used in both decks? While it was something that they noted during development of the Mordengrad deck, and they thought it was fun that Voss is more difficult there, that’s really all there is to it. It’s not an intentional thing there for story reasons. Most interesting game interactions like have story reasons, but a few don’t and this is one of the latter. Important story stuff needs to be represented/modeled in the mechanics, but if that winds up having some non-story interactions as a result they’re not going to use the latter as an excuse to remove the former.
- It sounds like the Nexus of the Void only shows up a few times, but we see a fair number of heroes there, so is it around more than I expect? Yeah, it’s been around in comics for quite a while and gets visited occasionally.
- We see Argent Adept, Haka, and Stuntman trying to wake up spirits, presumably to help against OblivAeon - a few of these spirits seem hostile to the summons, though, so did they help? The problem for this specific instance is that while AA and others are there to do like you said, OblivAeon also shows up shortly thereafter and destroys the place, so there’s not really a chance for the spirits to help.
- How can the Savannah Nocturna always be night? The same reason that one place is always snowy or any of the others are the way they are: it’s magic.
- What were Guise and Scholar doing there - something related to Scholar doing something with ley lines? You got it! The Nexus is kind of where ley lines come from in a lot of ways, so it makes sense for Scholar to do stuff there. In this case he’s also showing Guise how things work (in a “You think you know how the world works? Check this out. Nobody knows this works.” kind of way).
- As an Argent Adept/Virtuosos fangirl [this is from Liz C aka Jeysie], my eye was drawn immediately to Void Slave and thought that we’d hear more about it in the OblivAeon episodes, but no dice - what happened there and how did AA extricate himself from the situation? In the AA-focused part of the story where he’s there to summon the spirits of past Virtuosos and he can’t because he’s being blocked from doing so by the Void Slave, who is the remaining husk of Xu following AA’s reckless breaking of her bell during the Voss invasion (now, without the instrument linking Xu to the Void the spirit is no longer being sustained by the Void, but consumed by it). Now this entity wants vengeance on the one who is responsible for this, i.e. AA. When he shows up to use his musical powers to open the Void to call them forth, the Void Slave arrives and silences him, which prevents him from doing much of anything. He despairs for a moment, then reaches deep down inside and reaches out to sing the song of the Void with his very essence rather than any mundane, physical music. He manages to put this husk of Xu to a final rest and then calls forth the others as planned. This is also an important learning moment for him, though, as he has discovered what the ramifications of destroying an instrument are.
- Why does the Void need this connection to the physical world/make a new Nexus if one is destroyed? The Void can’t be there if it’s not connected to anything (Adam: “You can’t have ‘nothing isn’t’.”). Only when connected to a physical, material plane does it retain its Void-ness.
- Is the Nexus important to reality as a whole and/or the planet it exists on (like the way an organ is important to an animal)? Yes. The previous answer goes both ways - Reality needs to Void to define itself. It’s not necessarily important to the planet it exists on (although it is kind of by default “responsible” for defending it - but most are unaware that the Nexus is even present), but Reality needs it. The Void does use the connection point to create the guardian spirits from the host planet, though.
- What would the consequences be to a reality if the Nexus were to be permanently closed, somehow? Lots of things stop existing very rapidly. As stated above, reality needs the Void in order to exist. They make an analogy of a hot-air balloon. In order to fly, the balloon needs both a hole at the top and a hole at the bottom and without either one of them you’re going to run into problems real quick.
- The AA episode mentioned that the Void doesn’t have a will of its own, but what about the Nexus specifically? It is complicated. While the Void isn’t sentient or sapient in the ways we would recognize, neither is it as unresponsive as a rock. It defies understanding. There are passive effects that happen around it, but we wind up in a chicken-and-the-egg scenario - are the guardian spirits protecting the Void because they were created to do so or did the Void create the spirits to protect itself? This just happens spontaneously.
- Would it be safer for everyone on Earth if the Nexus were to be sealed or located underground? Underground, maybe. “Sealing” it would just make it crop up somewhere else. A planet without the Nexus is probably safer than one with it, as a general statement, though. However, it’s got to be somewhere and, as a weak point in reality, having it on a planet with a large number of powerful defenders is good for it/everybody.
- Is the “Nexus” a physical place or some kind of immaterial portal somewhere on the island? The Nexus is the location where the Void and physical reality connect, so it is a specific place (at least on this side - it’s not as clear cut on the Void side). More usefully for our purposes, however, we can use it to refer to the area around this point where its presence has caused changes to occur.
- In the Supernatural Settings and Akash* episodes we learned the the shadow parasites destroyed a prior Nexus out in space and it reformed almost instantly on (what would eventually be) Earth, but after OblivAeon destroyed this one it took time (until the events in the RPG Starter Kit) for it to reform and it did so still on Earth - why the difference? What is the Void Heart? “Nigh instantaneously” is the phrasing used to describe it - so in the Akash episode when they’re talking about hundreds of millions of years, a few months may as well be instantly. When it does start to reform after OblivAeon it’s initially outside Rook City (where this terrible fight had just happened and the fabric of reality is already stressed for reasons entirely unrelated to the Void). Between that and all of the other portals to other realities that are open at the time, it feels (and this is a word chosen with the acknowledgement that it implies much more cognition than they want to ascribe to this action) that if it were to jump far away to reform just now it’s entirely possible that it might wind up in another reality entirely, which is bad. So instead, it reforms nearby. The Void Heart is the thing within the Void that allows it to connect to reality - which it really needs to do, but it’s picked a highly inconvenient place so you (playing in the Starter Kit) need to redirect it to a better location.
- We know that Maerynians have technology scaling from the large (weather control) to the small (growing their buildings) - do they also use magic (or are we firmly in “indistinguishable from magic” territory)? There aren’t “wizards” or anything - while their weather control might often be perceived as “magical” by outsiders, it’s just a function of their biology.
- Are there Maerynians with stunted weather-control abilities and, if so, are they treated differently within the society? While they have that intrinsic connection to weather stuff, there is a wide variety in ability/aptitude just as there is in any skill that people have. Those whose skills fall below the threshold of “controlling the weather” in skill aren’t pariahs or looked down on or anything (well, some people might pity them, but it’s seen as somewhat gauche).
- [The letter that the prior questions came from also touches on non-Maerynians, but they’re including them here so as to not need to split the letter across episodes or something] We know that Unity’s constructs are temporary and hold their shapes while she’s nearby/maintaining them, do they not last longer because of the way her magic works or is it more a feature of magic in general? Could she find ways to increase their duration if she worked on the mechanics of her powers more? If she used something less durable than metal would they last even less time? A version of her that makes golems out of other materials could very well last different times, but the limiting factor really is her concentration on them. They posit the idea of an alternate reality version of Unity who can make permanent things, but at some kind of cost/sacrifice that “pays” for that longevity (like, she imbues each of them with a chunk of her soul or something). The trick when discussing pretty much any kind of “super power” is to include some kind of limitation [that’s one of author Brandon Sanderson’s “laws” of fantasy writing/magic systems - Limitations are more interesting than powers].
- The deck seems to be representing a specific story where Leviathan attacks the city, can you tell us that story? They disagree that the deck is all about him - certainly, some parts of it represent that story, but plenty of it doesn’t (Empyreon stuff during OblivAeon, dealings with humans in general, etc.). That being said:
- Leviathan was a Maerynian who had been captured by Voss’s forces and started to be gene-bound, but broke free about halfway through the process. This twisting of body and mind has left him more violent, but the experience has also left him even more opposed to subjugation than Tempest. He sees the Maerynians settling on Earth as a kind of subjugation in itself. They used to be these respected members of the cosmic society, with a whole world of their own. Now they’re just an asterisk on the story of Earth. His attack is less on Plavu'Col directly and more on some humans who are there at the time. This isn’t entirely without some support from other Maerynians (Tempest thinks it’s ok that these humans are here, but they think that Leviathan has a point). This radicalization of Maerynians is kind of Leviathan’s plan - that Maerynians should rise up to be the dominant society on the planet.
- This is a pretty early story following the reformation of the Prime Wardens and the founding of Plavu'Col. Leviathan is only this minor event/threat in terms of Sentinel Comics, but he’s a big deal in terms of the story of Tempest and Plavu'Col. He was a candidate for a deck in VotM, though - the major point against him here is that he doesn’t ever team up with outsiders, which is kind of central to the point of that game mode. He’s also much more of a personal nemesis of Tempest and so removing him from the specific setting of their conflict is problematic.
- In “Superheated Waterspout” Tempest seems to be talking to the Maerynians and/or the humans to prevent hostilities - is that an accurate reading? What created the waterspout? This is during a fight between humans and Maerynians with the latter threatening to use weather stuff against any humans who come in and Tempest is calling this out as just war. Maybe a cold war (or “a cold, wet, rainy war”), but a war. It’s bringing up tensions from when the Maerynians were first put in camps when they arrived and now that they have their own space they just want others to leave them be. Simultaneously, it’s important to non-Maerynians who want to help that they try to protect them, but how much of that “protection” crosses the line into “interference”? It’s a sticky situation all around.
- If Leviathan gave Tempest a hard time for taking a human name, what’s his excuse for using “Leviathan”? Is that just a title that, say, newspapers gave him? It’s the fact that M'kk Dall'ton responds to Mack Dalton that pisses Leviathan off. He takes up the name “Leviathan” because it’s a local name for the thing in the deeps that you fear. He’s taking it specifically to intimidate humans and so he has to use a human term. His personal name is Z'vr Kamm'tor and he doesn’t take a “humanized” version of that (“Zeke Comstock”?).