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The Letters Page: Publisher's Note 2
Paul is back! Get hype!
Run Time: 1:13:07
We goof about, talk about Trevor, tell some stories, and then get to questions!
Paul and I answer questions about:
- Alternate European history of Spirit Island
- St. Louis
- GTG plans
- Drinking songs
Sentinel Comics Lore
- Questions from chat
- Andy Questions
- and more!
- This starts off with discussion about how Trevor left in a bunch of their fumbling around in the first Publisher’s Note recording, but also how he recorded the “Christopher and Paul Reading Letters to You” song. Apparently, Trevor is known to be a bit of a troll. They tell a story about a game that involves a traitor mechanic (they think Battlestar Galactica, something in that genre with hidden roles at least). Trevor’s role in life is apparently to be a “traitor” in such games but there’s often 2 in higher player counts in these things. So, they start the game and Trevor is being Trevor and everybody just assumes that he’s one of the traitors. Meanwhile, the game is just going on and on forever for some reason. Eventually, after 5 or 6 hours of this they just give up and ask who the traitors are. That’s when Trevor’s true treachery was revealed - instead of 1 or 2 “traitor” cards in a stack of otherwise “loyal” cards, he put one “loyal” card in a stack of “traitors”. So everybody but one player was constantly trying to be sneakily disruptive to the progress of the game.
- Paul tells another story of a game of Risk where temporary alliances often form. Paul and one player formed one and Trevor and the other player did likewise. After, basically, one round of play it became obvious that Trevor isn’t to be trusted at all in anything ever.
- A mention of a birthday quickly gets sidetracked into a quick bit of storytelling about how there’s one day that nobody has ever been born and there’s a conspiracy of midwives or OB/GYNs to keep it that way. This prompts a comment about “February 30” which in turn gets Paul going on how the Romans took days from February to make the months renamed in honor of Julius and Augustus Caesar (i.e. July and August) into 31-day months [this is a common belief, but the reality is actually very complicated as it involves the fact that early calendars before the Julian one often had esoteric rules for how they worked - for example one of the oldest Roman calendars didn’t have what we now call January and February at all, just a period of about 61 days in winter that were outside of any month because they were worthless times of the year for things like farming that people actually used the calendar for in the first place. As such, March was the beginning of the new year in such reckonings. Once it got created, February was the end of the year and so whatever variations in year length were necessary in subsequent calendar systems got made there so that things were correct again for March and the new year]. He also points out that the calendar in the appendices of Lord of the Rings that were used by the Hobbits and whatnot is superior in several ways [they note that I had already mentioned this calendar in chat - specifically I brought up that all months had 30 days, so “February 30” does exist in that context].
- Since Paul is a Bender, which element can he bend? Ytterbium. It doesn’t come up that often.
- Christopher extends this line of questioning on his own: Benders of great skill can develop additional tricks (a Water Bender can bend organisms’ bodily fluids, an Earth Bender can bend metals, Fire Benders can do stuff with lightning, etc.), so what’s the specialist form of Ytterbium Bending? It comes up so rarely that he doesn’t know what it might be (it’s a cop-out answer; he hadn’t thought through the joke any farther yet). Christopher suggests that the additional element he could bend was a Honda. Paul comments that he makes a lot of jokes about Hondas, Walruses, and 1st Millennium Germanic Tribes.
- Can you go into your process for developing the alternate history for Spirit Island? If you had a hand in the rules for the different nationalities, can you talk about those as well? He didn’t have much to do with the rules. Even as far as the story goes, the alternate history of Europe was the extent of his involvement (so questions about the Dahan, Spirits, and other elements of the setting that were asked about in several letters are, sadly, not going to get addressed as he doesn’t know - maybe an eventual forum where Eric is around to ask, but this Sentinel Comics-centric podcast is an unlikely venue for that). Anyway, the story is that Eric had said that he wanted to use real nations as the invader factions rather than inventing fictional ones. The problem with that is that in the Age of Discovery, there were only a few nations that were real players in terms of colonization if we’re going to try to be realistic, and so you’d run out. So, they made up an Alternate History to explain there being so many more viable options in terms of maritime powers while still being recognizable. So, Eric would come up with an idea for how a faction could work, and Paul would workshop who that could be and why they were an option. They settled on a year to peg the story to in order to have a snapshot of what powers could be around (they landed on 1700) and then Paul looked for inflection points in history prior to that which could have enough of an impact to make the necessary changes. So far he’s gotten away with only making 2 major changes (with a 3rd that hasn’t come into play yet): first is that Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden didn’t die young and so Sweden continued to be more sustainably successful throughout the 1600s which had some knock-on effects regarding the size of Brandenburg-Prussia or Russia, second was saying that Elizabeth I had heirs, which avoided all of the turmoil following her death that eventually resulted in the United Kingdom forming (so England and Scotland are separate Adversaries in the game). The last one that hasn’t come up yet is that up until shortly before 1700 there was a union of crowns between Portugal and Spain, and they wanted them more separate. [A bit later on, once they start answering chat questions they get to the point where user Jan Agro notes that Paul is now his favorite person due to the Gustavus Adolphus alternate history stuff.]
- A funny consequence of the first change: so if Sweden is a major power, Brandenburg-Prussia is bigger, and Russia has more frontage on the Baltic Sea to enable it to be a stronger maritime power, they decided that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had to go. However, Spirit Island has been licensed by a Polish games publisher and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is a big deal for Polish identity, history, and the national mythology. When they were translating things and came across this detail, they were not pleased and wouldn’t produce the game if this detail was retained. So, in the Polish version of Spirit Island, they rewrote the history, redrew the map, and you can play as them instead of as, Paul thinks, Brandenburg-Prussia.
- Now that the Spirit Island: Jagged Earth expansion is out I call back to a question answered in the first Gen Con Live episode: are any of the spirits the “original” form of Akash'Bhuta? Either way, do you have favorite spirits to play as? Adam’s favorite is probably Ocean’s Hungry Grasp if they remember correctly. Christopher’s right now is Finder of Paths Unseen, Stone’s Unyielding Defiance, or Starlight Seeks Its Form (he likes most of them for one reason or another, though, and keeps thinking of them as he went about this answer). Paul hasn’t played enough of the Jagged Earth ones to factor them into the calculation yet, but of the ones released prior to that he likes Thunderspeaker and Heart of the Wildfire. Regarding Akash'Bhuta: no. This comes down to the one-way setting connection - the Nexus of the Void is Spirit Island and so many of the Spirits there in SotM are based on ones in Spirit Island, but none of the spirits in Spirit Island are a form of Akash'Bhuta because the within the setting of Spirit Island there is no connection to Sentinel Comics.
- Paul: Of all of GTG’s products, are there any that you regret releasing too soon or ones that you didn’t get a chance to release? There aren’t really ones that they regret not releasing at all because at any time they could move them off the back burner and push to release them. They regret not being able to release Legends of Sleepy Hollow by now, but that’s a different thing. Galactic Strike Force is the answer for one that they released too early. They were thinking that people were likely getting tired of SotM stuff and so they pushed forward on a new product - then the response was mainly “this is fun and all, but I’d rather be playing Sentinels”. They don’t regret the idea of "GTG publishes Galactic Strike Force", but Christopher’s a better designer now and the company is better at designing products now, so it probably could have benefited from not being produced so early. They would like to revisit that one eventually if they can.
- [A bit in the Argent Adept Supporting Cast episode about letter writer Armored Phoenix being from St. Louis prompted a discussion there about whether they were somebody known to Christopher and Adam, possibly Paul himself. Armored Phoenix reveals that he is indeed Paul. Paul plays along with the bit now, revealing that he has listed to every episode 6 times and goes through the wiki info a lot. Christopher tells him that he needs to stop that and go work on more spreadsheets. Then Armored Phoenix continues that he’s a different Paul. His kids love the podcast and Henry and Sakura say “Hi.”]
- [This prompts a question from Paul:] Where did you go to high school, Armored Phoenix? This in turn prompts a story from Christopher about a PAX Unplugged event - he met somebody who asked where GTG was based and when Christopher mentioned St. Louis the guy got excited since he was from there. Then Christopher asks THE QUESTION: “Where did you go to high school?” and the guy’s face just lit up. He answered, but then Christopher had to come clean that he didn’t grow up there and doesn’t know the schools or anything that locals get out of the question. This is, apparently, a touchstone from the area: people from St. Louis love to ask one another that question and since this guy moved away from the area years ago nobody had asked him and there’s a part of him that desperately wants to be asked so that he can answer. Then Christopher bursts his bubble a bit by pointing out that the question is really asking “What was your parents’ socioeconomic status while you were growing up and/or what’s your religion?” The St. Louis metro area has a lot of suburbs and the school districts are frequently larger than the individual suburbs. It’s easier to remember the schools than the individual towns and telling which school gives a good ballpark of which area you’re from and, if it’s a parochial school, whether you’re, say, Catholic or Jewish or whatever. Paul didn’t grow up in St. Louis either, but his wife did and he’s been there long enough to know all of this stuff at an academic level. [Later on somebody asks where Christopher went to high school: he didn’t grow up in St. Louis, so that doesn’t apply in the same way, but he also says that he “didn’t go to high school, like, technically speaking”. Paul says that while he didn’t grow up there either, he can tell people the closest analogue to his actual high school in terms of some of the above stuff (but which would still give the person erroneous information about him in other respects). Even later somebody asks if Christopher was home schooled and the answer is “Yes. Sort of, but yes.”]
- So, since SotM, and Spirit Island are done, Prime War is cancelled, the RPG is almost done, and Sentinels of Freedom and Freedom Five are licensed games being produced by other companies, what’s actually next for Greater Than Games (all we know is that Adam has to do a lot of art)? Can you hype us up about GTG’s future projects? First things first: while Spirit Island has just shipped/is in the process of shipping Jagged Earth it’s not “done” in that there’s more content planned for it - they’re just not going to announce new stuff until that Kickstarter is done being fulfilled. Similarly for the RPG, the core book is almost ready, but there’s still History of Sentinel Comics, and the Dark Watch, Guise, Urban Settings, and the Diamond Book of Monsters and Xxtz’Hulissh Adventures books that they’ve already committed to and are in various stages of development, to say nothing of any other future plans. The RPG is just getting started. As for (vague) hype: over the last 2-ish years, they’ve been completing big stuff that are publicly known and starting work on stuff that isn’t public yet. They don’t want to add more Swords of Damocles hanging over their heads in terms of “stuff we’ve announced that we have to release, OMG” which is why they do more background work without announcements. “Certainly, Adam is working on a lot of art and a big major thing that isn’t any of the stuff we’ve talked about.” Another thing they’ve been working on is taking stuff from the Cheapass Games catalogue and doing “cool new stuff” with them. There are a number of far out and not so far out projects that they can’t tell us about yet. They admit that they’ve had a 2 year-ish dry spell, but some of that is Kickstarter campaigns that didn’t succeed and the fact that Sleepy Hollow has wound up being more work than they anticipated. The RPG book also took more time than they estimated, which is unsurprising given that it’s the first time they’d ever done that sort of project. Once those are out, then the only backlog stuff are the additional RPG source books which will quietly get worked on and released (hopefully) at a steady pace and they’ll be more willing to do more announcements and whatnot.
- Do you think Christopher, Adam, and Dave would be willing to do a Creative Process where you just making stuff using the RPG's core rulebook? I know that it was at one point a planned panel for Gen Con - is this something we can vote on and have sooner or is it something that will have to wait for when that panel happens at some point in the future? They’d like to do that at some point after the physical book is out. They’d like to do one with Eric for the Jagged Earth stuff as well, once it’s done being fulfilled, but that’s more likely something for the GTG Podcast than The Letters Page (the RPG one could be here, but likely cross-posted to that one as well). If Adam manages to finish the art backlog early they might even see about having him and Dave on one of the later Publisher’s Notes to do this.
- With Sentinels, there was a planned sequence for the expansions; do you see that holding true for Spirit Island? Is there a plan for a specific number/set of expansions? Or a cap for the number of expansions? There is a thematic plan for the order with what is likely a similar level of rigidity to how SotM’s went. There was some tweaking as things went along and the ideas became more concrete, but for the most part it was done in the original plan. Vaguely speaking at this point: they imagine a few expansions each of both the Branch and Claw and Jagged Earth sizes by the time they’re done. We’ll have to see how development goes and what the market demand is.
- Would you like to sing a song for me [Andy Arenson - he of the many questions, especially directed at Paul at Gen Con panels] on my 50th birthday, which is today (I’m happy to defer to Paul for choice of song)? Sure, rather than doing the traditional birthday song bit, they just have Paul sing one now (Christopher knows that he 1) likes to sing, 2) is good at singing, and 3) likely would like to sing Andy a song). Christopher picks “one of your ‘drinking buddies’ songs that I don’t know” as the prompt. Paul selects a genuine 19th Century drinking song and starts at around 40:15 giving a verse and chorus. Christopher mentions that the song was sung at a higher pitch than he typically hears from Paul - it has a small enough range that he could start it higher as a baritone without running into problems. Not so if he were to sing “To Anacreon in Heaven” which requires a much wider vocal range and so would need to be started much lower. [A bit later somebody in chat mentions that Paul’s singing makes him want to go to a bar and sing drinking songs with 1-5 of his friends, and he doesn’t even drink. Paul responds that he used to go out singing at a bar with his friends every week before the pandemic and he misses it.]
- How do you cope with always having so many plates spinning, never having down time between projects, and needing to go full-tilt all the time? Christopher’s preferred modus operandi is to tackle one project with something like 90% of his focus (not just work focus either - like it gets to the point where he’s ignoring basic necessities if he’s really into something). However, that’s not really feasible as an approach to work and life as there are a variety of projects that require attention at once. He and Paul have attempted in the past to arrange things so that Christopher can approach this “one project at 100%” ideal, but it’s always failed. Working towards that as they can has helped, though. Paul’s ideal is to take quarterly vacations to decompress, which the pandemic is not helping with. Even if that’s not always feasible, periodic work travel and the change of scenery that goes along with that helps (although it’s possible to travel too much and it backfires).
- What’s the best edutainment product made by sentinel comics? Christopher has to punt to Paul to even know what a good “edutainment” format even is these days. Paul uses the PBS program Wild Kratts as an example of something that’s like 30% science/nature programming with 70% animated elaboration on the topic. Christopher says that the Sentinel Comics version of this is something where Captain Cosmic is the presenter of a show that teaches kids about space.
- Would it be correct to say that the History of Sentinel Comics book will not ship with the RPG book? Yes, that’s correct. They initially wanted them to be shipped together, but instead they poured as many resources in to the RPG to get it done as fast as possible with the History continuing at its own pace and so it’s lagging the RPG a bit. Rather than holding up the RPG to ship them together they’re splitting them up. It’s likely the next book after the core rules (although several of them are all being worked on in parallel). They hope to have a better idea of that schedule by the time another few months pass.
- Will the History of Sentinel Comics be available separately for purchase after the Kickstarter? It will certainly be on the GTG webstore. They’d like for it to be available elsewhere, but they’re not getting their hopes up on that. If you tell your local game store that you’d buy a book if they had it, and they ask their distributor for it, it’s possible that the distributor may decide to actually carry it. This would have to be a wide enough phenomenon to make that worth it to them. It’s possible, but not terribly likely as they see things now.
- I vaguely recall a comic where Superman collapses in exhaustion at the end of the day, because any minute he isn’t actively working, somebody, somewhere isn’t being saved. Has SC done a story like that, perhaps about Legacy? Christopher can think of that story, but more likely a Freedom Five story where they explore how each of them reacts when pushed to their limits. The OblivAeon event actually plays into this a bit in that it is part of the inspiration for the Freedom Academy and having more heroes around.
- Have either of you been in any good RPG games recently? Yes, both together and separately. They’ve been in a Torchbearer game run by its creator. Paul has been running a Burning Wheel game (by the same guy as Torchbearer, which is loosely based on Burning Wheel’s system) since March and the pandemic lockdown started. Burning Wheel has a lot more social conflict stuff in it than many RPGs do and one thing they decided when they started this game was to not have any combat in it. The first whole arc was dealing with Dwarven politics. They are about to introduce some fighting, if only to see how those sub-systems work in the game. Christopher’s running a weekly game (which also includes Adam) which is a “monster of the week” game where all of the players are supernatural monster hunters of some sort.
- At 57:30-ish we get one from Dr. Magic that’s another of those heavy “thank you for being awesome” letters that we’ve had in the past, addressed to the entire GTG crew.
Bonus “Andy-question” Lightning Round
- [These aren’t all by Andy, just meant to evoke the essence of the sorts of questions Andy asks. Although we do start with one from him:] How big would you like GtG to get? No specific preferences or targets. As big as it can sustainably get.
- What is your favorite Zoom background to use? Christopher goes through a few. It makes for great radio, but he uses this one, this one, a silent loop of this clip, but ends saying his favorite is probably this one. Paul’s is the one that he has up now, which was also pointed out last week as being “The Light of Valinor on the Western Sea” (2004 version) by Ted Nasmith. Paul describes it by naming the geographical feature it depicts, which is the Calacirya.
- What is the biggest adaptation you have had to do when doing RPGs remotely? For Paul, almost nothing. Just using Zoom instead of having people around the table. He still uses actual physical books, character sheets, and dice. Christopher can’t use notecards the way that he likes to use them to indicate things that are in play. They use Roll20, but not in the intended manner. He just uses it as a place for everybody to be logged in and then he just puts up the digital equivalent of notecards rather than anything fancy.
- Do you think the Kickstarter tabletop boom will last forever? First off, while this isn’t a question from Andy, this is a perfect example of an Andy Question. Well done in grokking the genre. No, because nothing lasts forever. That being said, the tabletop Kickstarter book has lasted much longer than they expected. Paul thinks that the question itself is somewhat wrong - it’s stopped becoming a “boom” at this point and is just a new thing that exists. It’s like asking if the “Amazon e-commerce boom” will end. The Kickstarter model of hyping and judging interest in luxury consumer goods (which tabletop games are - nobody needs these things) is just too useful.
- How are the markets for RPG games different from boardgames? Different marketing channels? Distribution channels? Size of markets? Demographics of markets? Profit margins? Up front costs? They’re very similar, but the biggest difference is that the market for RPGs is simply smaller than boardgames. Paul hopes that, and notes that there is some evidence that this is changing. The RPG field is dominated by Dungeons and Dragons - people get into it and then a small subset of those players get into other games. As the popularity of 5th Edition D&D in the general populace goes up, that fraction of people who move on to other games goes up in absolute terms as well. Distribution is largely the same. He doesn’t know demographics offhand. Profit margins - if they were selling at a volume comparable to a popular boardgame the margins would be slightly better, but the up-front cost of getting things ready to print and the greater “R&D” costs means that smaller print runs are worse off.
- [In response to Christopher’s Zoom backgrounds:] Is Christopher the memelord of GTG? Probably not. That’s likely Matt. They’re all fairly memey, but not real memey. Plus they’re all too old to really know all the ones that the kids these days are into.
- What is the wildest use of the SCRPG system being used outside of superheroes you've seen? Somebody was using it for a Pokemon-type thing.
- What advantages does the SCRPG have as the first RPG for a new player? There are actually a bunch. The mental overhead for understanding the game is much lower than for many of the more popular games. The idea of “describe the thing you want to do and then your character does it” rather than needing to specifically work out how that thing would be modeled in the system is nice for newbies - that fact that it’s so descriptive. It’s also very GM-friendly as you almost always need somebody to run the game and this relatively simple system is easier for new GMs to pick up. Additionally, it’s a very “gentle” RPG - it’s very hard to kill a player character by default. Part of that’s the genre. It’s like going to a Marvel movie; you know the heroes are going to win, but how do they go about it and what does it cost them?