The Letters Page:
This one has both Dave Chalker AND Jennifer Closson!
Run Time: 1:36:05
Then, we talk about Dave's family fun sharktacular cards and robots game, Get Bit! Now on Kickstarter! Go check it out!
Then, we finally talk about the upcoming schedule:
- Tuesday, September 7th: Episode #188 - Writers' Room: An issue of Engine Block Blues
- Tuesday, September 14th: Episode #189 - Creative Process: A Sticky Subject: all about Adhesivist
- Tuesday, September 21st: Editor’s Note #48
- Tuesday, September 28th: Episode #190 - Writers' Room: Post Oracle of Discord Revelations in Canon Reality
And then, we go read your letters! In the questions section, we do have some spoilers for a couple adventures. Trevor does a magical thing with my voice just after the 28 minute mark to indicate the timestamp of when you should skip ahead to avoid spoilers! What?! Trevor can make me say whatever he wants now? Is any of this podcast even real?!?!? Am I real? Heady stuff, folks.
- I feel like I’m under-utilizing Environments in the SCRPG games I run and that I’m being boring by just reusing elements from the provided example Environments in the book - do you have advice on how to make them interesting without overshadowing the rest of the action going on? That’s a valid concern. You don’t want the Environments to be too much. They shouldn’t be boring, but it’s important to also remember that they’re literally the background of the action that’s going on. Writing up an Environment that’s so exciting that it’s going to take up the attention of the whole scene might be too interesting (Dave’s caveat here is that you can have the hyper-involved and “interesting” Environment is when you want the Environment to be the centerpiece of the scene/issue as the main focus). You might feel that your Environments are sparse, but any little bit of detail you put in there is something for your players to latch onto and remember later. If they don’t, that’s as much on them as it is on you. Don’t worry too much about it. That being said, the number one suggestion is to do exactly what you’re doing - borrow from the Archives Environments. Get the mechanics and just change the flavor to suit what you’re using them for. Feel free to steal and reskin to your heart’s content. That’s a very specific design goal they had for players/GMs when they were putting that part of the book together - the Archives are there for inspiration/brainstorming as much as it’s there to provide you with canonical builds for people and places. They don’t have randomized-generation rules because, really, the Environment is mainly a Twist generator/source. The hard part is deciding what sorts of things you want the heroes to have to deal with in the scene, then just picking appropriate Minor and Major Twists to accomplish/model that. Not to say that this is strictly necessary either - they bring up a game that Adam ran that had a very evocative Environment in a scene, but due to how the story got them there, the Twists were all drawn from the characters (say, their Principle Twists) rather than being planned out as separate, external threats.
- The Urban Settings book is upcoming on the docket and it will have a lot of Environments and will say a lot of stuff about Environments. It will be going more in-depth on the topic of Environments than other products that came/will come before it did. Hopefully it will be useful for situations like the above, if for no other reason, since it will have a bunch of new Environments to crib ideas from.
- The table in the core book, along with earlier examples like the Starter Kit, show Environment Twists in the Green zone adding single Minions for Minor and either Min number of Minions or a single upgraded Minion for Major, but the examples Environments add more (Mid Minions of Min strength for Minor or H for Major) - are those simply exceptional Environments or did the table simply not get updated as it should have? Either way works. For the higher Minion counts, something they discovered more as testing went on was how “disposable” Minions are and how fast Heroes can remove them from play. A single d6 Minion is largely ignorable, so getting more into play isn’t a bad thing. It also depends on how difficult you want the scene to be, though. Dave also points out that it’s easier to dial in the details when you’re working on a specific example (say, a particular adventure where you already know how many Minions to expect to be in the scene to begin with) and harder to do so when giving guidelines in a vacuum.
- In Off the Rails, what does Fright Train think of being sent to the moon on a train? There are a lot of conflicting emotions. The train is the exciting bit for him. Then again, this train also has Baron Blade who’s more interested in the whole moon part of the trip. Christopher notes that he’s pretty sure that he added a note to the adventure about Fright Train’s affinity for train puns and these should be played up as much as possible by the GM.
- Friction’s Alive! What kinds of fan base did she have in the Metaverse (considering that she was only around for Vengeance before getting killed off a the better part of two decades before her return here)? Was her fan base small, but dedicated and happy to see her return? She probably didn’t have much in terms of a fan base - likely mostly people who weren’t sold on the whole Tachyon/Unity dynamic or are fans of the jilted ex-employee, dark inverse, and/or unacknowledged rival villain archetypes. Note: there is more Vengeance content than you’re remembering/aware of. There was the main, original Vengeance event in the ’90s, then there were a few minor “Vengeance” events in the years following. The one where she “died” wasn’t until the “Vengeance Revisited” story in Freedom Five Annual #27 in March 2012. Following her defeat in the main Vengeance event she’s a bit “strung out” in subsequent appearances, but she doesn’t lose it completely until that one. [Other names they give for Vengeance-adjacent stories are a “[something] of Vengeance” and “Revengeance”.]
- Was her return something planned out in advance or did the recent writer just get an idea for how to use this character that had been killed off years prior? It was more the latter - somebody thought of a way to reuse one of Tachyon’s notable nemeses (and the one most capable of matching her directly) in kind of an out-there way. She’s on a weird end of the “reverse speedster” archetype - she’s stuck going so fast that she can’t actually interact with the world and so has to concentrate to slow down enough to do things.
- Were any readers upset by her return (“Oh, so NightMist is permanently dead, but Friction gets to come back!?”)? Was she obscure enough that after her return her fans had to explain to friends and family who this person was and why they should care about her like I did in real life? Absolutely, that happens all the time when a character that’s been gone a long time comes back. Granted, her return appearance is written in a way that tries to make prior knowledge of who she was not terribly necessary (she’s fast, she’s here, she seems to have a vendetta against some of our other characters - let’s go). They’re going for verisimilitude not only in comics, but how the fans of comics react to them - so you having to geek out about who this person was in the long long ago is all according to plan.
- Was the animosity between Friction and Unity explored anywhere beyond the flavor text on “Supersonic Streak” [“Stupid robots made by a stupid intern who got a job because she’s got stupid powers.”]? It comes up sometimes. Krystal Lee and Devra Caspit are really the only notable interns that Dr. Stinson has had over the years and the latter is the “successful” one. Devra would butt heads with Meredith whereas Krystal was very accommodating and proper (while also kind of too eager). As such, she sees Unity as somebody that does things wrong and gets to stay anyway and resents her because of it. It’s kind of funny how Friction sees herself as Tachyon’s nemesis while Tachyon doesn’t really consider her to be, but she also sees herself as a foil for Unity, who doesn’t really even know who she is. Both reactions just further enrage her. The one person who tells her that he understands and wants to help her is, y’know, Baron Blade who definitely has her best interests in mind and isn’t at all just seeing how far he can push her.
- What’s your favorite introduction for new players to SCRPG (at cons we’ve used “school bus on a volcano’s edge” and the first issue of the Starter Kit - but anything you like better)? The spider-bot attack from the Starter Kit does everything that Adam would want for this sort of thing. It teaches you Minions, the Scene Tracker, a Lieutenant, etc. The only things it doesn’t do are Villains and Environments, but for a very first introductory experience those aren’t necessary. Dave invented the “bus on a volcano” thing as a 20-minute con demo game to play at a standing table in the booth rather than the longer Spider Bot adventure. He likes both for an introduction. Christopher likes the “invent something with the people there and maybe it winds up taking 2 hours or more” approach - he tries to remember to check in with the players every once in a while to make sure they’re okay with how long things are going and that they’re still invested. Dave noted that at one particular UK Games Expo he ran through something like 6 demos to Christopher’s 1, which isn’t a great ratio when you’re trying to make customers at a convention. Chat also points out that the first scene of the “Battle of the Bands” issue in the core book is also a good intro game.
- Thoughts on a Nemesis/Weakness feature in the RPG that’s similar to the bonus damage that Nemeses do to one another or the Vampires’ weakness to Radiant damage found in the Court of Blood? They did playtest a nemesis system, it just didn’t make it into the book. The idea behind it was that you can treat yourself as one step closer to the Red zone when acting against your nemesis. It didn’t really survive playtesting to the point where it got included in the book, but it’s an option for how to approach it. As for Energy type weaknesses or something, you could treat whatever you’re doing involving it as a Risky action and just generate a Twist. Beyond that, future books might include additional rules/options for these kinds of topics.
- The Vandals picked up new identities after leaving the Citizens of the Sun - are there any other notable examples of such defections? Dawn has been really quiet lately, so any other such cases haven’t really popped up on the radar. [Note that this question prompted a series of “hmm”s back and forth between Adam and Christopher before they answered, so there might be something there.] There was a kind of possibly maybe canonical event at the last real Gen Con (in the LARP event) where a somewhat paramilitary-looking Hammer and Anvil showed up trying to steal a sprout of the Akash’Flora tree that a bunch of new heroes stepped up to defend. They think this is kind of like a newspaper strip story - it’s semi-canonical until/unless somebody later decides that it is or it isn’t. Don’t be surprised if various Citizens show up to do things, but Dawn’s still very quiet.
- Jen, what’s the best way you’ve gotten one over on a GM and/or the best way it’s backfired? One was in Adam’s game, which had been set up specifically to make the various heroes reconcile with things in their pasts. They went around the table and everybody was getting involved and it was really intense and whatnot. Then it got to her character’s turn at which point she (the character) just walked away. Adam brings up that in Paul’s campaign the various villains the heroes had fought along the way dropped their weapons when defeated. The setup was that these weapons were specifically tailored to make the fight with the big bad at the end easier, but the heroes decided to destroy the weapons before that fight, making things so much harder for themselves.
- Following a lively discussion on the GTG Forums: the Struggling background has the smallest dice of any of the options in that step of character creation (d8, d6, d6 for Background Qualities and then rolling d8, d8, and d6 for the Power Source step that follows - notably the only one that assigns nothing above a d8 to its Qualities and tied for the lowest dice for the Power Source step); enough so that some people consider it something that would cause such characters to fail to keep up with the rest of the party/contribute meaningfully. Can you talk about how you landed on these numbers and whether these were concerns you had? Was it done on purpose (if so, why)? The thing to note about having those low die sizes is that you get three Qualities out of the deal [Medical is the only other Background that gets three Qualities]. You get a wider-but-lower set of options rather than narrower-but-higher. That being said, it was still important that it did still feel like they were struggling. This character has some detriments due to their Background, which can add some interesting through-lines as you get into the Power Source and Archetype steps. Note that Headlong has the Struggling background and they don’t think he’s particularly “weak” as a result. Also, an important design goal from day one of the game’s development was that heroes of very “low” power level should still be able to play alongside the heavy hitters. Wraith has no super powers, just gadgets and training, but she manages to keep up with the rest of the Freedom Five just fine.
- Another question regarding the Red ability “Push Your Limits”: The text of the Ability is “You have no limit on amount of Reactions you can take. Each time you use a Reaction after the first one each turn, take 1 irreducible damage or take a minor twist.” Is the use of the word “turn” here supposed to be “round” or does such a character get a “free” Reaction on each actor’s turn in a scene? This is a casualty of needing to keep things concise while also dealing with baggage in game terms like “turn”, “round”, “action”, etc. The intent here is that your character has 1 Reaction “slot”. If that slot is empty, that Reaction refreshes when the initiative is handed off to you from another player or the GM (i.e., when it becomes your turn). That is the only time that the Reaction refreshes. “Push Your Limits” just lets you continue to take Reactions when your slot is empty at the cost of damage or Twists. That being said, you’re right that by the literal Rule as Written, it says each turn rather than the intended “between one of your turns and the next”.
- Outside of a situation where a Villain has to team up with the Heroes for some reason, when would a Villain ever need to perform an Overcome check (and therefore possibly have their Mastery come into play to succeed automatically)? What would Twists generated by a Villain Overcome attempt even look like? Should they explicitly help the heroes? There are two big situations they’ve found where people want to do this, although rare. One is where there’s an Environment that is affecting the Villains as well as the Heroes (vines wrapping up anybody in the scene) and so they might need to deal with that in the same manner as the heroes do. The other is where the Villain is attempting to do their own Challenge before the heroes manage to stop them, complete with a number of boxes that they’re trying to check off. Granted, this is also why Villains have Masteries because, in theory, they’re trying to do things within their own shtick to make things easier on themselves rather than relying on die rolls, but they wanted to allow for cases where that’s not true.
- Could a Villain of the Domain Archetype constantly spam the “This place is mine” ability (“Activate one of the environment’s twists in its current zone or one zone closer to red”) to spawn Environment Minions every round to keep their Status high, or does that go against the spirit of the game? Whether you’re doing this sort of thing, using a bunch of devastating attacks, negating everything a hero does, or any other disruptive or “cheesy” strategy, you should be looking at the game you’re playing. Some groups of players may want you to make things as difficult for their heroes as you can as an extreme challenge thing, but other may not enjoy that. These are the sorts of questions you should strive to answer as part of the initial “what genre and type of story do you want to play” that happens at the beginning of the campaign. That includes the question of whether the game is cooperative or adversarial in terms of the player/GM relationship which could inform your play style in terms of “do the most effective thing” vs. “do interesting/fun things”. It’s also okay to revisit these decisions as you go if people aren’t having fun. Dave also brings up the suggested guideline that “if there are Environment minions in play, don’t spawn more” - it’s not a hard and fast rule, but that is the stated guideline.
- I had a character with Teleportation successfully skip several of the building security challenges with a couple of Overcomes (including one overwhelming Success - although the player was still a little upset that they couldn’t get all the way through this way) - should I have allowed that and/or should I have added additional challenges later to keep the overall scenario at the same level of difficulty as intended? Giving them an additional “check” on the getting past security challenge without letting them get all the way through is fine - just give a reason for them not being able to get all the way. Maybe they can’t get a good look at where they’re going and might risk teleporting into solid rock or something. This is as far down as they can get safely for insert reasons and story stuff here. Don’t necessarily add more minions or something, though. They had a power that was pretty well tailored for doing what they did, so let them do it since they rolled a success to get there. They’re now several floors farther down than the rest of the heroes and need to deal with the minions attacking them. The drawback to succeeding isn’t that there’s new challenges that you’ve thought up to make things more difficult, but that now they’re dealing with something intended for the team on their own for a round or two. You don’t need to pile new stuff on, just be properly reactive to the situation that the player put their character in. Additionally, while the consequences of their actions should be reasonable, another reason to not add additional wrinkles to this case is that they had a great success - you shouldn’t make them feel punished for rolling well.
- Following on from that: considering that a success on the security system Overcome was supposed to allow the whole team to progress together, does the fact that the teleporter only took themselves mean that the GM should have allowed them to go H times farther? Nah, let them have the success of getting really far, but don’t try to math out what the effect should be this way. Think of story first.
- How should I scale Villains that the players have taken the time to investigate and learn possible weaknesses of? Giving them a Bonus is a good way to model that knowledge. There isn’t anything in the system to, say, let the players do an Overcome to simply “take down the villain” because they can make use of a piece of information. If there’s a specific Challenge built into the scene to allow for that, that’s one thing (you, as the GM, providing an alternate win condition for the heroes beyond reducing the Villain to Out), but a player can’t declare the existence of a Challenge to defeat the villain just because they know something. That being said, there’s nothing to stop you, the GM, from rewarding the players’ planning by creating some kind of Challenge for this purpose (likely some kind of complicated branching Challenge rather than a straightforward box or two). An example they come up with on the fly here is if somebody said they wanted to try to lure Re-Volt into some water to short him out. They could see adding a 2-box challenge to do so, at which point he’d be easier to defeat. Say, by reducing his Electricity die size by 2 steps if the heroes succeed.
- Can player Abilities interact with things at the Center for Advanced Genome Research - specifically I had a player with “Never Happened” (When a nearby enemy would create a bonus or penalty, you may remove it immediately), when a teammate smashed their way through one security level (and therefore causing the security systems to adapt to add a -1 penalty to all further physical attempts to get through future security levels), the player tried to use Never Happened to cancel that penalty. I ruled against this, but was that right? Probably - keeping in mind the “what makes for a better story” “can you justify why what you want to do works?” stuff. First, this hampering of the heroes isn’t a single penalty being created by a nearby enemy like the Ability text specifies. It’s an active security measure by the Environment that applies to everybody. How does somebody’s Reactive use of their powers let them prevent the next door from being extra secured? If the player can come up with something clever that you think works? Go with it. Even then, it might just be “the penalty goes away for a round or two” rather than disabling it entirely. The description of how you do it is likely a big part of whether the player gets away with doing it. Remember that Bonuses and Penalties in this game always represent something specific and should have a tangible reason for doing what they do in the scene, and means that using your powers in clever ways should take that into account.
- Christopher points out that Rae was great at this in the game he ran on Twitch - she would always be thinking of and describing what she was doing and how she was bringing her powers to bear to accomplish it and it was always really fun. Then, after she was done with all that, they’d figure out what she could do within the game mechanics to best model how her character could actually do what she said she was attempting, which was backwards from the way a lot of RPG players operate.
- Can an Ability that doesn’t specify “close”, “nearby”, or “scene” work across locations (say, somebody had an Ability to hit multiple targets, but the distance/type/area wasn’t specified - they wanted to hit people on the floors above and below them, and I ruled that they could because they were in the air vent at the time)? That sounds an awful lot like you looked at the narrative of what was happening in the scene and took it into account for making your ruling. Well done. Dave says that even if the Ability said “close/nearby targets” given that situation he’d probably have let them get away with it. It’s the conversational back and forth between GM and players that’s always going to overrule the descriptions as long as it makes for a better story and you’re all on the same page regarding it.
- How do you feel about opening the generation of Twists to the whole group of players rather than just the GM and the player making the Overcome roll? Anybody can suggest a Twist if they’ve got a good idea, but it’s the involved player and the GM that get veto power. Christopher will often explicitly open up the table for suggestions if the relevant player doesn’t have any immediate ideas of their own. The best place for the Twist to come from is the involved player. The next best is from the other players. He sees GM-invented Twists as lowest tier as that seems like “I, the GM, have created this bad thing for you.” It’s a way to keep players engaged even when it’s not their turn.
- Can a player uses the Ability “Not Quite Right” (After a dice pool is rolled, adjust one die up or down one value on the die) on a Villain roll for “Summon Mob” (Use [power/quality] to create a number of minions equal to the value of your Max die. The starting die size for those minions is the same as the size of your Min die) to tweak a roll so, say, a roll where a d6 and d12 are tied at the low end the hero adjusts things so that the d6 is Min instead of the d12? Yeah, that’s sounds like an as-written use case for that Ability.
- Is it out of the realm of possibility to allow the type of power to determine whether it can have effects in other Locations (say, letting somebody’s Signature Weapon that’s a gun shoot people in other locations, with the die size being the indicator for how far that’s viable)? For Christopher, that’s a matter of what’s going on in the scene. If the other Location is from where I am over here to somebody in an open field that’s a separate location and they’ve got line-of-sight, sure let the gun work like that. If the two locations are the top floor of a building and the basement of that building, a gun’s not likely to work across them. That’s why it’s important to describe the scenes so that everybody has an idea of what’s reasonable (maybe they put a tracker on the target earlier and they’ve got that uplinked to the special gun, which also has strong armor penetrating rounds - then maybe shooting from the top floor to the basement has a shot). Adam notes that, with new players especially (and in particular ones who are more used to D&D or similar “traditional” RPGs), getting them to say more than “I use my Attack action” might take a while if they have a mentality of “I have this set list of things I can do on my character sheet.” Describing what you’re actually doing is important.
- What’s a benefit of having a Signature Weapon/Vehicle over another power? It’s mostly a character thing. If your character has a motorcycle, and using that motorcycle is a big part of their character, then take Signature Vehicle. Likewise, if your hero named Dave Chalker has a big shark that he carries around to hit people with and that’s important to the characterization, how else would you model that? Think about what you need in the process of building your character to make it feel like the character you’ve got in your head. If you’ve got a character who Boosts themself to create a weapon to use, and that starts being a standard thing they do, maybe they wind up rebuilding that character later to have Signature Weapon to represent this thing that they keep doing.
[The remainder of the chat questions are about sharks, since Dave was there and the Kickstarter for the new edition of his game Get Bit was live at the time]
- What’s the friendliest shark? Most times you’d be tempted to say a nurse shark, but in reality it’s the hammerhead as they’ll help you assemble IKEA furniture and whatnot.
- Can I play a game of Get Bit within SCRPG, or vice versa? Not only can you, you are encouraged to do so. There’s not a lot in the rules mechanics regarding how to do conflict resolution between players (as opposed to characters). Get Bit is the preferred method to do so. You should probably buy a copy of both games to be on the safe side. Additionally, the game of Get Bit exists within the world of Sentinel Comics and so could be played by the heroes. Similarly, the robot swimmers in Get Bit are programmed to play SCRPG while swimming away from sharks.
- What is Dave’s favorite shark? If you were a shark, what would you like to much on? His favorite shark is the one that comes in Get Bit. He’d probably be a pizza shark.