The Letters Page: Publisher's Note 5
It's your favorite Paul and your second favorite Christopher!
Run Time: 1:07:16
We talk about a bunch of things in a variety of topics, including a new name for the questions section that we finish off with. What will that name be?! Listen to find out!
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- More Trademark/Copyright/Cease-and-Desist-bait game ideas:
- You play as living beams of light trying to become the baddest biker gang out there in Rider Lasers [or some variant thereof, possibly with Ys and Zs]? The lawyers would probably be grumpy about that one. Paul likes the pun, though.
- Become the greatest aquatic distillery and corner the alcoholic drink market in Spirit Island? Literally the same name, definitely would cause problems.
- A party game where you use your psychic powers to determine which word would be between two other terms in Median? Maybe not for that one - since you can’t lock down mechanics, if it’s exactly the same game it would come down to what the trade dress of the game is like. The name being so similar could be an issue - if the gameplay was different that would be one thing, but being the same game with a similar name we get into “market confusion” territory.
- [Letter comments that they couldn’t come up with a pun on Sleepy Hollow, but that’s public domain anyway.] Yes, but while the IP is public domain, if you were to try to make a similar game also called Legend of Sleepy Hollow you’d run into problems. They don’t own a trademark on the title, but their existing game with that name is still something that they can protect.
- In Publisher’s Note 2 Christopher mentioned The History of Sentinel Comics in a list of RPG books; is it meant to be an RPG source book? It got lumped in there for a few reasons. First, it was funded as part of the RPG Kickstarter. Second, writing for it fills a similar mental mode for Christopher as writing for the RPG (as opposed to making up rules for, say, SotM decks). It is a book about the setting in that it gives detail about the Metaverse and publication history of the comics that predate the RPG’s setting. It does not contain RPG rules, but can be useful for players/GMs to get a grounding in the setting regardless. It’s not going to be branded or sold as being part of the RPG, but still might be considered a “related product” for the RPG just on the basis that it’s about Sentinel Comics broadly and the RPG is the product that’s most similar to it.
- [Return of the philosophical conundrums!] Say Baron Blade is chasing Heritage through some old castle, and Paul runs through a door. When Baron Blade opens the door, he sees there are three doors on the other side, and Wager Master is there waiting for him. Wager Master reveals that Heritage has gone through one of the three doors, but will only permit Baron Blade to commit to open one. Baron Blade picks his first door, and before he opens it, Wager Master opens another door, revealing The Goat. Now, knowing that Heritage can only be behind one door, and that the other likely leads to nothing of value to him, would Baron Blade: A. Stick with his original choice, B. Switch to the other closed door, or C. save The Goat from this crazy situation? Christopher has to explain The Goat to Paul, first. After considering things, Paul says that he doesn’t know if Baron Blade would know the correct solution to the Monty Hall Problem and so guesses that he’d save The Goat. Christopher points out that The Goat is a transient thing - it’s not one specific goat all the time, just one that gets picked when it’s festival time. Baron Blade’s arrogance would actually be the deciding factor here and that he’d stick with his original choice.
- Did the existence of Silver Age Sentinels by Guardians of Order pose any hurdles as you moved to get into the RPG market? It did not. They’ve been using “Sentinel Comics” as a Trademark for long enough that they own it so thoroughly that it would be unlikely that anybody could challenge it now. GoO would have had to have brought some kind of action long ago. At this point it’s more likely that they would challenge some other company who used the word Sentinels given just how completely they have it locked in as their brand. They don’t like to be jerks about their Trademarks, but their lawyers have to be because they know all about the way you can lose a Trademark if you don’t put in the work to protect them.
- What are your thresholds for dilution of the Sentinels Intellectual Property? So far, you have strictly controlled third party stuff like Sentinels of Freedom, and I’m assuming the same for the Freedom Five board game. If the company continues to be successful and grow, and the Sentinels property continues to grow in popularity, will the Sentinels IP always be your baby, or do you see a point at which you’d loosen control? Would you ever sell the Sentinels IP? There are a few things that could convince them to sell the Sentinel Comics IP. One is being offered just a silly amount of money. They can always just go and make new things later, so if the price is ridiculous enough, sure. They’re not looking for that, but it could happen. Another is if some bigger company wanted to buy it, but they also like what GTG’s actually doing with things as well - they could see having a “parent company” who would technically own the IP, but they still have creative control over it internally. Those situations aside, Christopher doesn’t see a situation where he still has control of the Sentinel Comics IP where there’s a third-party project that he doesn’t have some level of creative/editorial control over.
- Does Paul know anything or have an opinion on the Cauldron? It’s a fan-made expansion that exists that they’ve worked out a licensing deal so that it can be sold. It’s a weird edge-case. Nobody at GTG has gone through the content of it, but there was enough popular support within the fanbase for it that they agreed to let it happen. It’s “authorized” in that it exists with their knowledge and permission and can mention that it’s to be used with SotM, but it’s not “official” in any capacity and GTG is not responsible for any of its content. Paul doesn’t even know what kinds of decks it has or what their names are.
- [Letter from Cult of Gloom, which in turn requires some explanation - Paul does know that they’re related to GloomWeaver, but Christopher explains the frequent letter-writer and some of the related “bits” on the podcast they’re responsible for. This does jog Paul’s memory regarding people who LARP as Cult members/try to recruit people at Gen Con. This includes meeting at swamps somehow and that Adam’s joined up, but Christopher hasn’t.] So, previously you, Paul, mentioned on air that you knew that GloomWeaver was “bad” and not much else and Christopher agreed with that assessment (while he might have some grounds for authority in the matter, the Cult of Gloom subscribes to the Death of the Author). Anyway, you mentioned that if Ermine knew a gem was magical that she would avoid it as not worth the trouble. What if it was a gem that promised to make the owner the most beautiful person in the world? Is she so arrogant as to believe that she’s already the most beautiful, or is she insecure enough to think the Wraith might be better than her in every way, that included? Standard “making sure Paul knows things” stuff: he knows the Wraith and that Ermine is a socialite thief that she’s often at odds with. He knows what magic gems are from Tolkien. Christopher expands the magic a bit to be a promise to make her “better than the Wraith at everything”. That would probably be enough to tempt her into picking the thing up. She’s easily tempted, so even if she has a general “magic isn’t worth the trouble” rule she can be induced to break that rule. This isn’t too dissimilar to the “if somebody pays her enough to steal the magic thing, she’ll do so” situation.
- How important is “beating the Wraith” vs. “Wraith knowing that she’s been beaten”? She wants both. She’d probably be satisfied with tricking Wraith into thinking that she’s better. She would rather be better, though. (This reminds Paul of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine villain Gul Dukat in that his motivations are for people to think well of him, but he’s just a terrible person. Everything reminds Paul of either Star Trek or Tolkien, apparently.)
- “The faster Tachyon runs, the heavier she gets because blah blah science mass/energy equivalence.” She has a cool super suit to shield her from the effects of her speed, but why doesn’t she crush everything she steps on? She doesn’t actually have a super suit that’s shielding her, that’s just part of the effect that gave her the powers in the first place (although, as has been mentioned before, there are limits to that and she could injure/kill herself if she goes beyond them). The suit is more monitoring her vital signs and other status things so she has more information about herself at any moment. She doesn’t crush things or leave holes in her wake because… she’s… modulating her… behavior to not do those things. [very handwavy don’t-think-about-it-too-much tone here]. Blah blah science yadda yadda mass/energy equivalence.
- How does anyone with a job even remotely related to science do their job effectively in a world where the laws of nature are being violated by these superpowers all the time? The people and events that mess with things are rare enough that you just continue on as if they didn’t exist. Like, structural engineers here don’t always build things to withstand meteor impacts as the odds of that outlier event being a problem are so low as to not factor into the plans. Like, Mount Rainier is going to go the way of Mount St. Helens eventually, but that doesn’t stop people from living in/near Seattle. Similar with the fault line that runs through St. Louis. Pretty much every place that has a city has this sort of thing, though. Melbourne Australia might be the best place (and other cities on the south coast) as while they do get wildfires near there occasionally, they’re pretty well shielded from most likely tsunami/typhoon events.
- When Luminary hit OblivAeon with a giant chunk of the moon, what was the scientific community’s response to this spreading of a good amount of moon rock all over Megalopolis? Did anything unexpected happen due to the moon losing a big chunk of itself? [Explanation of Luminary’s montage of “What if we hit him with the moon?” stuff, culminates in the detail that the amount used was “a small mountain”.] Scientists were happy to have more access to moon rocks without the hassle of going there to get them. The rocks didn’t have “moon radiation” or anything that they were worried about. The intro to the “Off the Rails” adventure [the bridge adventure between the SCRPG Starter Kit and the Sentinels of Freedom video game - Justice Comics vol. 2 #4 we have the cover in a recent RPG Kickstarter update] will deal with it in some way, though. Paul is here for your orbital mechanics needs and points out that a “small mountain” worth of rock is not enough mass relative to the overall totals to really make a difference in the moon/earth system.
- Would the Phoenix as described in the Ra Villains episode [explanation from Christopher for how it works] react poorly to the presence of a Phoenix from another reality (the one you described seems to lean more towards the “Death” part of the “Life and Death” motif common for Phoenix stories - so let’s say the intruder leans more towards the “Life” end)? So, yeah, Death and Memory are the big important parts for this one, but they don’t think that it would react negatively to another being present.
- Have you considered filling Paul in on the following aspects of the Letters Page metafiction:
- Adam’s membership in the Cult of Gloom? Happened earlier to the extent that he wasn’t already somewhat aware of it.
- The Telenovelaverse? No, but he is able to figure it out based solely on the name. Christopher does have to explain what happened to it in OblivAeon, the fandom reaction, and his growing anti-desire to ever do anything with it ever again.
- Princess Cool and Cooltopia? He’d heard the name Princess Cool, but was out of the loop regarding how much things snowballed regarding “Cooltopia”. He’s also informed here that she’s one of the primary shippers of the fandom and how things came to a head around the Shipping Episode. Paul questions if this is in any way related to a “ranking of thirst-trapness” that he’s seen mentioned in the Discord. Nope, that’s just a Discord thing that various people decided to do on their own. Christopher’s pretty sure that Paul mentioning it here is the first time that it’s been acknowledged to exist in the podcast, so that’s fun. Christopher has nothing to do with it because those are all his babies and it’s weird for him to get involved, but has no problems with other people doing that if they want.
- Biomancer’s attempts to take over/infiltrate the podcast? He knows this somewhat because they had him come in as part of a bit they did involving it.
- [This letter has been by Armored Phoenix, previously established as being somebody from St. Louis] In a previous episode you asked where I went to high school (joy at this sublimely St. Louis question!) and Paul also mentioned Parkway North by name later on - funnily enough, that’s the school he attended and is where his children will go when they get to that age.
- So we had a discussion the other day that started off with wondering if Absolute Zero could smell coffee (or, you know, anything) and went into how he circulates air in order to actually talk to people. We wondered if that means they have to actually use helium in his suit/cryo chamber due to the extremely low temperature at which it liquefies, but aside from sharing that hilarious mental image (mental sound?), what is the comic book science here? As previously established, he doesn’t need to eat or breathe, but can inhale/exhale to speak. They use liquid helium and hydrogen as the cryogenic fluids to cool his environment. Christopher says that hydrogen is probably what solves the “squeaky voice” problem (although it’s quickly pointed out by Paul that hydrogen would be just as bad in regards to that due to the low molecular weight while also being horrifyingly dangerous - maybe Tachyon just has all sorts of fail-safe devices installed).
- A while back, Trevor took a few months off for a well deserved break. Earlier this year, Adam took some time off for baby reasons and is now taking an every other week break to do some labor in the art mines. Paul gets a break every other week, You are the only one who hasn’t taken a break from the podcast! Unless you count the Biomancer episode that you were a flesh child. Are you ever going to take a break? And if so, who would you have take your place? Paul answers this: Christopher won’t take a break unless Paul makes him. Maybe some edge case where they think it’d be funny for Paul and Adam to do one without Christopher, but it would have to be a bit. Also if Christopher winds up in a hospital for some reason (to the point where he couldn’t just wheel in a microphone to record). They’re more likely to just take a break from the podcast entirely if he can’t participate, but that’s also assuming that it’s not something that they can plan/record ahead for as they’ve done in the past (between Christmas and New Years, near Gen Con, etc.). In the history of the company, Christopher has taken one vacation and that was last year. In hypothetical future vacations, as with the last one, they’ll pre-record some episodes to cover that time.
- I have found the loophole for Setback's curse! In the curse, Kismet says “when Anvils are falling, I wish you the best of luck.” So, what we need to do is put Citizen Anvil in a portal to somewhere where he is falling forever, take away his ability to fly, and bing bang boom, lucky Setback! Ah, but that’s only one Anvil. You’ll need to toss some more anvils into that situation. Maybe perform some scientific experiments to test this out.
- While it’s been a fun bit, they want to rename the last section of these episodes to be more inclusive by way of not confusing people with what the title means. So, with Andy Arenson’s permission we’re officially renaming “Andy Questions” to something else. Paul met Andy at GTG’s very first Gen Con in 2011 (Christopher met him and what became SotM was brought up the week before GTG was even officially formed) and he has always just been very adept at asking very niche/probing/narrowly-focused questions to Paul (about business logistics/practices, choices, etc.) - often they’re very short questions that wind up requiring very long answers. They give Andy himself the honor to pick the new name and his choice is…
Meta Meta Questions
- Why is the hobby board game market so strong in Germany than other countries with a similar economic position? It’s almost assuredly related to a historical/founder effect. If you think about a corporate culture, GTG’s internal culture is very reflective of what Paul, Christopher, and Adam brought with them and their attitudes regarding business when they started it. If a company is big and has some kind of toxic culture, it’s almost impossible to change it because it gets ingrained in how everybody just expects things to operate - anybody who doesn’t like it is much more likely to leave than to be able to cause actual changes. In Germany, Paul’s pretty certain that there was something that happened in the 20th Century (possibly related to the World Wars, but likely picking up steam in the 2nd half of the century) where some group of people really got into board games and their influence spread. It’s likely similar to why, per capita, there are more hobby gaming stores in the Midwest of the US than elsewhere - TSR and Gen Con and whatnot started in Wisconsin and the culture grew up in that region (Seattle being another outlier, being where Wizards of the Coast is based - creators of Magic the Gathering and the company that bought D&D from TSR).
- How does localization of a game get done? Hiring outside contractors? Translated by algorithm? Never by algorithm. There are two major ways this happens. The one GTG uses is to find a partner local to the new market, license the game to them, and let them translate and publish the game in that market. For example, Pegasus Spiele is the German publisher of Spirit Island. They translated it, manufacture, market, and sell it - just paying GTG a royalty. Similar with Hobby World in Russia. The other option (used by bigger companies, typically) is to hire the translators and do all of the work yourself. The margins are higher, but you’re also assuming all of the risks involved in entering those new markets.
- Are there any particularly interesting translation features for SotM, Spirit Island, etc.? A meta-level answer involves that German version of Spirit Island. It sells very well there and everybody is pleased by this. The funny story is that there’s a guy there named Sebastian who was a fan of the game and was personally responsible for pushing Pegasus to license it. SI is a bit too thematic and “American” a game for the typical German market, so Sebastian had to really lobby within the company to make it happen in the first place. It worked out for him and he’s been very pleased with how right he was about it. Along with this, Pegasus has continued to ask very detailed questions about rules meanings so that translations can be as accurate as possible. Christopher also brings up how he likes just now many languages their games have been translated into: there’s a Portuguese/Brazilian SotM, a Japanese Bottom of the 9th, and a lot of Spirit Islands (Paul’s off-the-cuff memory is German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and French), there are some translations for Medium in the works.
- Why do some people think that the Arkenstone is a Silmaril and why are they wrong? [This was a question from me prompted by Paul’s comment about knowing all about magic gems from Tolkien that I thought would be a fun “Paul explains things” topic.] Christopher feigns ignorance to prompt an explanation of the question itself: what is meant by “Arkenstone”, “Silmaril”, and “people”. People, it turns out, means “Elves”. The Arkenstone is a large gem that factors into the plot of the latter half of The Hobbit. It’s the “heart of the mountain” and is a big, semi-luminous gem that the Dwarves in the old days found in the Lonely Mountain (where their home was) that a lot of people want. The Silmarils are three beautiful gems crafted by the elf Fëanor, the greatest Elvish craftsmen, back in the First Age and are important to the plot of The Silmarillion (as indicated by the title) that emit their own light (captured from the two Trees that lit the world before the Sun and Moon) and a lot of people want them too. People’s justification for thinking that the Arkenstone is one of them is because at the end of The Silmarillion the elf Maedhros steals one, is burned by it (due to his evil actions), and casts himself and the Silmaril into a deep chasm in the Earth and it’s lost down there. People think that this Silmaril is underground, and the Arkenstone was found underground, they have these superficial similarities, so they’re the same thing, right? The first argument against is that Maedros and his Silmaril were described as falling deep into the earth and the Arkenstone was found in a mountain (but not, like, deep under it in the magma or whatever). Much more persuasive, however, is that at the end of The Silmarilion we’re told that the three Silmarils won’t be recovered until the end times when the earth is destroyed and remade - you can’t get at them until then. Also, people would frickin’ notice if it was a Silmaril. There are some Elves around at the time of The Hobbit who were around when the Silmarils were accessible (like, Galadriel is Fëanor’s niece, was around when he made the things and has seen them with her eyes, and has lived for thousands of years not all that far from the Lonely Mountain - she could just go see for herself).
- For a game you’re designing/publishing, what length of time are you targeting for gameplay? That’s all over the place, but has a range. They like a 10 minute game, a 2 hour game, and pretty much anything between. They probably don’t want to publish a game that regularly goes longer than 2 hours. Spirit Island is about as long a game as they expect to publish. One exception: Christopher says that he wishes they could have been the company to publish Inheritance and that goes around 3 hours or something. A lot of the time, if a game takes 3 or 4 hours, you can usually tighten up the design to get it down around 2.
- Are there any games that have done well in other countries that surprise you? Spirit Island in Germany. There were a ton of people who were skeptical-to-“this is a bad idea/won’t work” since it’s very much not a eurogame.