The Letters Page: Publisher's Note 7
Paul and Christopher are a bit loopy, but that doesn't mean they can't answer questions!
Run Time: 1:42:48
There's a pretty heavy-hitting topic right off the bat, even before the actual question section, but then we get into questions and never quite recover!
Paul spends... a LOT of time talking about Star Trek. We hope you like Star Trek. Or at least hearing Paul talk about Star Trek.
And there are TWO different game shows in this episode! Who would have guessed?!
All in all, more silliness and also some potentially useful (though mostly useless) info was dispensed. Another successful Publishers' Note!
If you have any questions for the next episode: "Writers’ Room: NightMist vs Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde" make sure you get them in before this Friday, November 13th! Send them in using this handy form!
- [There are several minutes near the beginning where they riff on things like a rapper writing a song about using a PPP loan to buy a Ferrari getting arrested for using a PPP loan to buy a Ferrari (I can’t seem to find an actual song about this, but it’s the jumping off point of the discussion). This gets into talk of ill-conceived crimes, what the cost-benefit of rapping about the crime you’re going to commit would be, etc. I include this in the summary at all as it gets into the fact that Paul’s answer is “War Crimes” - not that he wants to commit such crimes, it’s just the hypothetical answer to having the best chance to do a crime and then rap about it without the rapping about it invalidating your ability to have gotten away with the crime. War criminals tend to be important people in their countries, but need to be punished by some kind of international tribunal. So if you do war crimes, but also do a good job of running your country (defined for our purposes here as managing to stay in power by whatever means) then doing a rap about the war crimes isn’t likely to get you any closer to that international tribunal. So, if you ever hear further discussion about Paul regarding War Crimes, here’s the starting point. While Christopher agrees that as a general, objectively correct answer that’s a good one, but his answer for the specific type of thing that Paul could do and write a rap about and not have it invalidated would be “transporting liquor across state lines” as it’s not that huge a deal at the scale that Paul would be likely to do it but is also small-time enough that no regulatory body/law enforcement agency would bother following up on it. Speeding on the highway is another.]
- Paul, my last name is Miller and The Joke stopped being funny decades ago, what’s it like having a last name synonymous with a period of drunkenness and a famous cartoon robot? The existence of Futurama was actually great - the existing jokes one could make about “Bender” were stupid and the existence of the robot pushed them aside. It’s also handy as a shorthand for how to spell his name - instead of having to spell out B E N D E R, which can also be annoying over a phone connection, he could just say “like the robot in Futurama.” His suggestion to the letter writer is to take it back - always answer people who ask what time it is with “Miller Time”. Own it. Make it your joke. Christopher wonders about the Avatar: The Last Air-Bender option as a cultural touchstone for him, which he acknowledges, but it’s not as widely-known as Futurama.
- Paul (and Christopher if he so desires), what is you’re ranking of Star Trek shows (not counting movies)? Christopher jumps in first to say Deep Space 9 by reputation, then the rest are tied since he’s seen none of it (he also hasn’t seen any Futurama - Christopher really, really doesn’t watch TV). [This starts right around the 14 minute mark, but between some preliminary stuff like explaining what some of the shows even are to Christopher, Paul starts his discussion of Star Trek at around 15:40 and runs to roughly 28:40].
- There are a few problems - he doesn’t always have CBS’ streaming service and doesn’t watch shows very fast, so the newest stuff (Picard, Lower Decks, and season 3 of Discovery) will not be included as he hasn’t gotten to them yet.
- He also gets into a side story about he and his wife pledging enough in a crowdfunding campaign for a documentary to where they got to go to the premier at Paramount Studios and he got to meet an actual Rocket Scientist while in line who he’s now friends with (the guy figured that Paul’s interest in rockets was the regular layperson’s level of interest, but then Paul actually knew what the guy’s thesis was about and they had actual discussions about it, so this episode is also the touchstone for Paul Bender, Rocket Scientist).
- How did you get into Star Trek [insert story about watching TNG with his father]? Paul’s dad was really into the original series and had most of them (and some of the movies) on VHS, and getting to watch them was a treat. His dad also invented a great game to play with his kids, which was sit in his recliner as the Captain’s Chair with Paul and his brother in front manning the some control consoles. His dad just got to sit and make up whatever Star Trek-style nonsense the “Enterprise” was dealing with today. As a teenager, the local UPN (or whatever) station would run episodes of TNG, DS9, and Voyager in a block late at night. Paul’s family had pretty strict rules about TV watching, which in turn ensures that the kids are experts at surreptitiously watching TV pretty much all the time. He and his brother would set up the VCR to tape those blocks of episodes so they had a bunch of them cached and which they would watch at their leisure at other times. This is his main introduction to those three shows and it was during this time that he discovered (to get back to the initial question):
- It’s obvious that DS9 is the best. It’s the one that’s made to be watched like a modern TV show where there’s an actual ongoing story arc that benefits from being watched in order in its entirety as opposed to the very status-quo driven, written for syndication nature of the rest of them. In college he started getting the DVDs to watch the whole run, then got TNG DVDs, etc. So, DS9 at the top, then chunks of TNG (he’s got watch lists he’s put together for people - DS9 starts of with some filler that he’d have you skip, but eventually is just “everything”, TNG remains curated through to the end, although there’s less dross as the seasons go on). If he’s allowed to break out individual seasons from a show as a whole, he’d put season 4 of Enterprise next. Then the original series and Voyager are essentially tied (Star Trek is, for the most part, just ok - there are some really stellar episodes in there, but also a lot of chaff with iffy writing; Voyager generally has better writing and has some good chunks, but has the problem that several of its characters are just boring and they have the Gilligan’s Island problem of the plot being “try to get home and fail” for 7 seasons - he thinks that while the high points of Voyager never equal the high points of TNG, its low points aren’t as bad as the worst TNG either). Discovery is tricky for him as he likes the casting and the things they’re going for with the characters, but they consistently don’t care about the built-universe, “this is how things work” stuff that’s been remarkably consistent from around mid-TNG through Voyager and Enterprise. Discovery plays fast and loose with the minutia that the nerds care about, seemingly not understanding who their audience is. Another problem with it is that, due to only having 10 episodes a season (instead of the network standard 23 for the older shows) they can’t get into the side characters much - when you’ve got over double the number of episodes you’ve got room for B plots in most of them and just more time in general to get to know the people who aren’t main-cast. Beyond that, there’s a new status quo every season, so Discovery can’t even really rely on the previous season’s character work to build on.
- Paul, I am very bad as Spirit Island; do you have any general tips to help me improve? Play it without an Adversary (essentially the “easy mode” setting) but with Events. That makes it a bit easier while also teaching you the flexibility you need to succeed. Christopher adds that you can play to fight symptoms or causes - it’s often better to allow some Ravages if you can prevent some Builds, and it’s often better to deal with Explorers than Builds. Try to push back on the early stages of the Invader’s progression.
- When given a choice, would you rather have German players buy the German or English editions (or whatever other language of game translation)? They get more money from an English-language purchase, but having the German (or whatever) language edition purchased helps the long-term relationships with the companies in those markets and proves Sebastian (the guy at Pegasus who really believed that SI was a good game to bring to the German market) right, which delights them. So, I guess the answer is “buy one of each”. Really, though, proving that the foreign markets are viable is important (they already know the game works in the English-speaking market), so buying the localized version is preferable. Or you could spam Handelabra with a request to do a German-language option for Spirit Island, they’d probably love that.
- You mentioned looking into Facebook ads - have you hired anybody for that purpose? Not this year. Not hiring anybody for any position this year because it’s 2020 and terrible. Any job openings will get notice on the website at least, likely even here.
- [Letter opens with some delight about them knowing Luke Crane and some raving about Burning Wheel being an amazing RPG] Can you tell some Luke Crane stories? How about Paul’s Dwarf campaign? They’ve both known him for many years and he’s great. Up until recently they were playing in a Torchbearer game that he ran, but most of Christopher’s “Luke Crane stories” are around Inheritance. Short version of his best story is about the first time that Luke played it - he’d been working on creating it for something like 12 years (it’s based on a Burning Wheel one-shot, so he worked on it for like 9 or 10 years before it was a product, but then it was another few before he got to play it). Christopher and Paul were also in that game (and it was also Paul’s first time playing it). So, we have Luke Crane, who knows everything there is to know about Inheritance who has a plan. He knows what is possible within the game and he knows precisely what goals he’s going to try to achieve. In the end, he managed to get everything that he wanted going in, but anything that he hadn’t expressly set out to get he lost, and that sum total was much more than what he gained. It was amazing to watch him flail his way through that game. Regarding Paul’s Dwarf campaign: one of the things that Burning Wheel states (and that they’re in agreement with Luke on this) is that before you start a game, get everybody involved together to sit down and talk about the world and type of game you want to play in. Get that hashed out and decided as a team rather than the GM having their idea for what the game is going to be ahead of time (although, if what you all want is a “traditional” dungeon crawl, that’s also perfectly fine, but you should decide it up front). However, Burning Wheel is notable in that you can play basically anything and have it be fun - like you could all be playing blacksmiths and that’s a workable idea for a game. Their game idea was that they’d all be Dwarves and the campaign would be dealing with High Dwarven Politics. The PCs are all mid-level nobility jockeying for political advantage in the society. Some might be somewhat racist against Elves and so something like trading policy between Elves and Dwarves might be a tricky subject to navigate. They just had a session where the main discussion was centered on monetary policy. The Burning Wheel system has mechanics for social interaction (the “Duel of Wits”) that’s as robust as the rules around combat.
Christopher Explains Sentinels Lore to Paul
- In Prime Wardens vol. 2 #52 Tempest is quoted as saying “Katy Perry is a treasure,” which makes her canonical to the Sentinel Comics setting - did she ever appear in a comic? Did she survive the OblivAeon event? Christopher would go one step further considering that this issue in question was a crossover with the Extremeverse, which implies that she’s canonical there too as it appears that they both know who she is. Paul’s preference, as a fan of the web of lies that is the metafiction they’ve created, is that yes, Katy Perry exists in both the Sentinel Comics Universe and the Extremeverse, but doesn’t exist in the Metaverse. She’s a fictional pop-star as far as the Metaverse is concerned. Christopher accepts this as canonical.
- If one of the Oracle of Discord was depressed, could the other members show that one a reality where they were slightly different to give them perspective on their existence? What are the Oracles doing in the aftermath of the closing off of the other realities after OblivAeon? Paul understands most of this one except for the concept of the Oracle of Discord and what they do. Christopher explains them as the framing device that makes the Disparation title work (and what that title is in general). To answer the question, no they wouldn’t show one member who was sad another reality. They all have their own minds, but they’re all of an accord - they themselves aren’t Singular, but they’re pretty much all the same across realities. Christopher won’t yet answer the question of what they’re up to after the timelines get cut off, though.
- [Another game show with Trevor killing it in the production value area, as usual. Starts at 48 minutes in] This one will have 6 cards listed in 4 categories (Heroes, Villains, Environments, and OblivAeon), one of which is fake. [I will bold the correct answer and italicize Paul’s answer.]
- Heroes: Captain Cosmic “Potent Disruption”, NightMist “Mists of Time”, Tempest “Lightning Bolt”, VG Idealist “Sound Beating”, Setback “Turn of Events”, Ra “Wrathful Gaze”. Paul didn’t know and figured the NightMist one was “too easy”, not catching that Tempest’s was even easier in that regard.
- Villains: Kismet “Karmic Retribution”, Grand Warlord Voss “Gene-Bound Banshee”, Deadline “Calculated Orogenesis”, Ennead “The Grave Beckons”. Iron Legacy “Beat Down”, Plague Rat “Bestial Vitality”. This one even got Christopher. Kismet’s card is “Karmic Disjunction”, “Karmic Retribution” is in Setback’s deck and they both missed that.
- Environments: Magmaria “Crystal Collector”, Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities “Freak Show”, Realm of Discord “Ethereal Bonds”, Silver Gulch 1883 “Matthew Hayes”, Mobile Defense Platform “Battalion Saboteur”, Time Cataclysm “Oppressive Smog”. Total guess from Paul here. He also thought that maybe Matthew wasn’t a real Hayes brother (he remembers them existing, but not all of their names). Christopher points out that the three Battalion members in the MDP are the Mechanic, Gunner, and Brute - “Saboteur” is already too English-adjacent to fit as the other real terms are already translations from Mordengradi, so they wouldn’t have chosen such a French word.
- OblivAeon decks: OblivAeon “Absorb Energy”, Shields “Effusion of Pain”, Scion “Aeon Invasion”, Mission Rewards “Great Fortune”, Aeon Men “Aeon Vassal”, Mission “A Nation in Ruins”. He gets this one, but it was a total guess.
- We’re told that the decks represent specific stories (Baron Blade’s deck is the “Moonfall” event and took place in the Ruins of Atlantis, for example) - is there a comprehensive list of all of these events and where they took place (and whether or not the heroes were victorious)? If so, may we see it? Not exactly in that format. There’s a list of the comics and what happened in those comics, and the “events” the decks model happen in the comics somewhere, but they don’t have it mapped from one to the other in a reference document. [However, I have some friends who attempted to create one at one point if a fan-made version is acceptable.]
- Paul, could you explain what the deal is with the Shattering of Timelines and what happens after the OblivAeon event (I’d ask Christopher or Adam, but they’d be likely to go off on some tangent about beef stew or something)? Rather than beef stew, Paul attempts a fruitcake analogy. Imagine a piece of fruit existing (reality existing as one thing). Then OblivAeon comes along and dices/candies that fruit so now you have a pile of discrete pieces (timelines shattered and now there are a great many of them). These pieces are somewhat sticky and can glom onto one another (making it easy to cross from one reality to another). Then somebody bakes a fruitcake, and the dough/bread keeps the pieces separate from one another (after OblivAeon somebody makes it so that you can’t cross between realities anymore). Christopher likes this story that Paul invented on the spot, but it’s totally incorrect. To fix it - there was never just the one fruit. There have always been infinite realities. So, we start with a big pile of candied fruit pieces, but before the Shattering they’re all individually-wrapped. Hypothetically, you could get from one to another but you’ve got to get out of one wrapper and then into another, which is rather difficult (seeing from one to another is relatively easy in comparison). The Shattering is when OblivAeon unwraps all of them and puts them in a bowl together. At the end of the OblivAeon event, Voss shows up, grabs the one piece of candied fruit that represents the main “canon” reality and puts it into a plastic Easter Egg before dropping it back in the bowl. Everything else is still cross-overable, but now this one reality is locked away from the rest more than ever. Nobody bakes a fruitcake.
- The Mad Bomber Blade character card has him standing in front of vats with fire diamonds on them with 4s in the top three quadrants and a radiation symbol in the bottom one; what is this stuff and where did he get it? Something with a 4 in the Health Safety area is not at all safe to be standing next to, especially if it’s emitting radiation - does he get sick from this incident? Christopher’s question to Paul is what could this even be? The 4s mean that it’s extremely flammable (like acetylene), unstable (like nitroglycerine), and toxic (like hydrofluoric acid), so having something that dangerous in all categories at once while also being radioactive… This is a very “Baron Blade” bomb as it’s not the most effective explosive that it could be, it’s just going out of its way to be “the most dangerous, horrific nonsense” that he’s just standing in front of while it leaks out of the container. Paul’s guess would be some kind of hypergolic rocket propellant [i.e. a fuel and oxidizer that will spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with one another, no need of an ignition source - he’s right in that at least one I can find, monomethylhydrazine, does have a 4 rating in each category, but isn’t radioactive]. Paul figures that Blade found an old Soviet ICBM or something where the warhead had leaked - he stole the fuel to use as his bomb, but it had been contaminated and was now radioactive as well. “This is the perfect thing for my dirty bomb!” [The chat also helps out with a bunch of “research” into what it could be. Here’s an example on a handy website for such things..] Regarding Blade getting sick - yeah, he’s super messed up after this whole thing goes down.
- [The game show Odd One Out returns at an hour and 8 minutes in. Same formatting as the previous game this episode.]
- Citizen Teams: Blood Sweat and Tears, Toil and Trouble, Pain and Gain, Truth or Dare. Paul knew the ones that are in Citizen Dawn’s deck, but not the others, so it was a 50/50 guess although he did figure that if Toil and Trouble was going to be used they’d have done a bit more with it. Christopher does point out that Toil and Trouble would likely step on Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ toes a bit.
- RPG Power Sources: Faith, Cursed, The Multiverse, Extra-Dimensional. Once he was informed that The Multiverse is one he knew it was Faith.
- Fanatic Nemeses: The Seer, The Idolater, Blood Countess Bathory, Hellion. No idea, but he bases his guess here on the fact that Hellion is a StarCraft unit name.
- This last one is for Paul to read to Christopher - Full-Blooded Elves: Legolas, Thranduil, Galadriel, Elrond. Because Elrond’s epithet is “Half-elven” this was either very easy or a trick somehow, but Christopher actually knows this rather than needing to guess on that basis.
- Paul writes one of his own on the spot - Noldorin Elves from Lord of the Rings: Galadriel, Celeborn, Gildor, Glorfindel. He didn’t know it definitively, but he thought he remembered something about naming principles (it’s actually kind of hard to think of Noldor appearing in LotR that don’t start with G and aren’t Elrond and his family [who aren’t just Noldorin on the Elvish side anyway]).
- What happened to Setback in the Iron Legacy timeline? He was part of a somewhat-successful until it was ultimately unsuccessful resistance movement and was eventually “removed” as a hindrance.
- Does Tempest have Katy Perry posters? No, he’s not a “poster person”.
- In the preview materials on the Freedom Five boardgame Kickstarter we see that Chrono-Ranger gets a contract on Baron Blade, but we know that he doesn’t like the “people” bounties, so what’s going on? This is in the period where CON’s been messed with in the mid-to-late ’00s. Christopher and Adam would have to do more explanation elsewhere if more detail is warranted.
- Speaking of the FF game art, what is Absolute Zero’s suit made of that allows him the flexibility to sit in the lotus position? Also, AZ meditating? When did he become that zen vs. kind of broody? Some kind of fancy metal and ceramic composite that Tachyon came up with. There’s also a lot of joints to give it some room to flex as well. A lot of his story, talking to people, getting into music, etc. is about him trying to be more zen than broody. Especially in this era. He’s still pretty broody, but is attempting to turn that corner.
- Is there a Disparation story set in a world sometime after a successful Moonfall plot? That sounds like a pretty decent Writer’s Room submission if somebody wants to send it in.
- Are all of the villain decks specific events? What about Chairman? Depends on the villain. Most are a specific event, but ones like Chairman or Kismet are more “this is how this villain operates” than a specific event/plot (there is a big Chairman/Organization story, but it was Mr. Fixer trying to take them down rather than a big plan on the villain’s end).
Meta Meta Questions
- Which Sentinels character would you vote for as President? Emily Parsons, the actually-qualified one. If we had to pick somebody with a deck… There’s an argument for Legacy given his American-ness. Paul’s hot-take is Naturalist if he were qualified (but he isn’t as he’s not a natural-born citizen). Christopher can see a future where Young Legacy goes down the road to where she can become President. Paul VIII is too focused on Heroics. Somebody in chat asks if Tachyon would be a better President or Chief of Staff and it’s definitely the latter.
- [Birthday request: something heavy metal, dealer’s choice. It’s almost certainly going to be Dio. Paul notes that there’s a Scandinavian metal album that’s at least some inspiration for the alternate history stuff in Spirit Island.]
- Do you think it’s possible to make a boardgame scary (citing that while the Arkham Horror and related titles have horror theming they’re not exactly scary and that traitor-mechanic games like Battlestar Galactica can get people worried about inevitable betrayal it’s not quite the same either)? How would you do it? It’d likely wind up being more along the lines of “making you afraid that a thing was going to happen” in the game rather than making the game itself scary. Maybe tell the players ahead of time that the bad thing is going to happen and that they need to try to prevent it, but then have several false starts to it along the way so you build anticipation. Then you have some kind of timing thing is built in so that something else happens that distracts you and then the bad thing happens while you’re dealing with something else. He thinks that would set up something similar to being scared. He thinks he did something like that in a few places in the design of SotM.
- Speaking of BG, you started to tell a story about a session of it and then stopped because you thought you had told the story already, but I don’t think you have - can you share? [They had, but they go over it again.] The BG game in question was just dragging on and on for forever and after several hours they just gave up and called for the traitor to reveal themselves. Everybody was a Cylon - when Trevor had set up the game he had accidentally [or maybe “accidentally” given what we’ve heard of him] left the role deck unshuffled instead of setting it up for the number of players they had, so everybody was a traitor.
- Paul, after hearing that you’re a fan of folk music, who are your favorite artists? There are a bunch. His favorite is probably Brian McNeil. He also has been listening to Archie Fisher, Danny Spooner, and Ed Miller.
- Christopher, you said you sang barbershop in the past - do you still listen to it/any favorite groups? He doesn’t really listen anymore. Occasionally a song he used to sing would come to mind and he’d track down a recording, but he doesn’t know or follow any particular groups. In the process of moving recently he did happen across his name tag from when he first started singing in a barbershop chorus 24 years ago. It’s a little funny because at that point he sang lead (which the tag says) but he very quickly started singing baritone instead.
- Paul, in The Stepmother what crime is Greta Graham on trial for? He had no idea. This is a bit of a joke question as this is a “difficult Tolkien question” - part of the difficulty is that this book was written by J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson Simon.
- If you could pick one Sentinel Comics hero to star in a video game of similar depth to the 2018 Spider-Man game, who would it be? Christopher thinks that Benchmark would be very interesting. You’re dealing with being a hero and the public face of this corportation and the story could show the slow realization that the people you’re working for are the bad guys. That’s a fun arc for the story behind all of the “fly around the city fighting crime” gameplay stuff. Paul’s not sure he’s really qualified for this question - Christopher suggests an Expatriette mod for Far Cry 2, then Paul comes up with a Sim City type of game for RevoCorp where you’re building factories and stuff.
- What are the GTG staff’s favorite desserts to make and/or eat in these stressful times? Chris Burton bakes a lot. Paul is as well - he enjoys baking more than he likes eating the baked goods. Lately he’s been making a lot of pumpkin muffins. Christopher doesn’t really make any desserts; sometimes he’ll make rice pudding, but that’s about it. He doesn’t really eat dessert dishes either, but he loves black licorice (especially the Scandinavian style that kind of has an ammonia taste to it).
- Which Sentinels characters would you want as your bridge crew for a star ship? This sparks a bit of a discussion about how who the captain is would set the tone for the rest of the crew and might impact the other choices. They choose Tempest as the captain (angling for the diplomatic approach, plus Paul likes the idea of having an alien captain). Chief Engineer - they consider Tachyon, but choose Unity for her “making things with her brain” thing. Chief Science Officer - this is where the slot Tachyon. Chief Medical Officer - Dr. Medico is the obvious choice. Helmsman/Navigator - Christopher pitches Bunker as the best here, but says Benchmark or K.N.Y.F.E. would work, but they land on Bunker. Executive Officer (to do more day-to-day and HR style work) - detail oriented and personable, so definitely not Fanatic. While he comes off as aloof and detached, Christopher thinks that Argent Adept would do well here. Haka would too, but might be a bit too compassionate and accommodating for the needs of the position. Chief of Security - Wraith would be good (K.N.Y.F.E. could do it, but is a bit hot-headed, plus the whole occasional drunken bender thing).