The Letters Page: Extrasode 5
We had a great time playing the Sentinel Comics RPG on Twitch in July, and this Extrasode is all about how that went!
Run Time: 1:12:20
We recommend you watch the live streams before listening to this episode. Here they all are!
At the beginning, we talk about the stuff that Christopher and Adam have wanted to talk about this whole time but have not gotten a chance to go over yet, as the veil of secrecy between the GM and the players had to be maintained! But now, the fetters are loosed, and the talking commenced!
Then, around 18 minutes in, we get to your questions.
We finish with questions and wrap up with some discussion about what comes next just after the 1 hour and 5 minute mark.
See you this coming Tuesday for an episode about the MistStorm Universe... and how it ends! And more!
- As of recording, Adam had not yet watched the GM prep sessions that were also streamed on Twitch. The next RPG game will be kicking off soon. Christopher isn't involved with this one, but Paul will be running the character creation session next week with the game starting the week after (the players will be Jenn, Jodie, Matt, and Chris). After that we'll have another Christopher-run game, but then one run by Adam with Alex, Twuana, Sarah, and Christopher playing.
- Adam was surprised by the extent to which his character, Starblight, had an arc involving his sword so quickly, but it was largely fortuitous that Stella Nova's backstory offered good story hooks to include the sword as part of some other plot (i.e. the existence of Stella Tenebrae and her use of the corrupted sword to destroy the Knights Cosmic).
- Christopher was kind of worried that Craig would feel left out a bit (he's a time traveler from the past and the plot took the heroes into space to deal with a bunch of cosmic nonsense), but things seem to have worked out ok.
- Adam asks if there was anything Christopher was disappointed that they missed or that he didn't get to use, and the main thing is that he had to lean on the hint button a bit more than he would have liked, occasionally. It's hard to gauge how subtle a clue is until you see the reaction to it.
- What was the biggest surprise for Christopher? There really wasn't so much in terms of something the players did that he really wasn't expecting, but the overall direction things wound up going collectively was a bit of a surprise (how the "going back in time" stuff went was fun - a strength of this system is that even when the session is basically one big fight, the fact that the Environment has stuff that it does/is a source of twists makes it feel like there's more going on than just two sides punching each other).
- It was just a pleasure to see the mechanics they've been working on for a number of years now just click along and work. The GM prep sessions were great for that in that he could just open the villain/minion/environment creation rules and run with it (with one exception where he had to invent something, but we'll get to that in the questions). It's one thing to take pre-made adventures and running those, but another to just work the process and see it work.
- That's not to say that pre-made adventures can only be used one way - even if you never run them, people will often look at them to mine out useful content for whatever they're making for themselves (the Stolen Legacy adventure even has suggestions for how you can use the Vandals without the extra power they have due to the plot of this specific adventure). Pre-mades can go off the rails pretty much immediately anyway as they're not going to account for everything the players are likely to do. It was fun at Gen Con to talk to the various GMs to ask them what weird stuff happened outside of the text as written for the adventures.
- Is any of this canon (yes, we know that "whatever happens at your table is canon", but in a more general Sentinel Comics sense)? They intentionally hadn't had this discussion prior to recording as they want us to be able to observe their process on this.
- Session 1: Laser Dragons were a concept they'd invented for Galactic Strike Force, but do they exist in Sentinel Comics? Yes - they've said before that GSF was in the far future of the Sentinel Comics Universe and if Laser Dragons exist there, they had to come from somewhere (which hadn't been previously defined in that game), so I guess now we have the answer that they were created by this cosmic entity. There is also this building near Mexico City that was damaged during the OblivAeon events, but you can basically assume that any given place has some OA-related destruction going on.
- Session 2: the Vandals doing magic is already canonical. The Impossum and the Pepper Genie can be canonical in that they're possible for magic users to conjure that kind of thing up (and the Pepper Genie is something Christopher has been trying to get into the canon since like 2012 as it was something he'd pitched as something for the Dreamer's deck and he's rather pleased that he's finally worked it in somewhere - apparently the Whipacorn was another of these weird ideas).
- Session 3: We get the introduction to the stuff involving the Order of the Knights Cosmic which they decide at the very least is canonical as a group that existed in the past of Sentinel Comics.
- Session 4: they visit Tarvalis, which was already canonical and apparently the Knights had access to giant mechs.
- Session 5: inside the sword - this was kind of a one-off event, so how canonical this was largely depends on how canonical the events related to the final session are.
- Session 6: Stella Tenebrae and the Visitors themselves? Is there any reason why not have them be canon? Basically the only reason why not would be if things they did were at odds with previously established or planned aspects of the setting or if they were wildly inappropriate for the feel of Sentinel Comics as a brand. While Violet Heart is kind of a weird character, she's not so far out there that she couldn't fit. If they're saying that Stella Tenebrae is the source of the Laser Dragons, then there's no reason why Stella Nova can't work too. Starblight's an astronaut that got wrapped up in another of Stella Tenebrae's plots, so that tracks. Dynamo is a time traveler, but he was careful to establish for his backstory that his trip happened pre-OblivAeon, so that fits ok. There might be some massaging of details to get everything to fit, but they don't see any reason why these characters can't fit into the canon.
- General: they succeeded on the things that could have made it non-canonical (like the Laser Dragon winning and destroying the Earth in the first issue). Sir Arton surviving and going about rebuilding the Order of the Knights Cosmic is something that they would have wanted to be canonical even if nothing else was as Christopher has plans for this. So, turns out that pretty much everything here has been canonical, but they warn that this isn't necessarily going to be the case for their live streams. While there's a better chance for the stuff coming from Christopher and Adam being so, they don't want to burden, say, Paul with making everything fit.
- What's up with Blood, Sweat, and Tears and how did they get Sir Merienda's amulet? Had we heard their new names before? They're Stygian, Inductor, and Tear now [while we hadn't heard those names before, we had heard a cryptic reference to "the Vandals" at the end of Editor's Note 16]. They'd already created this iteration of those characters for Stolen Legacy and he included them here in session 2 just as a little bit of fan-service by dropping in some familiar characters. He needed somebody who, upon finding this weird amulet, would try to do some magic to it - these bozos fit that bill nicely. Stella Tenebrae had intended to turn it into another Laser Dragon, but had lost it at some point and that didn't happen. The Vandals found this thing with weird cosmic magic stuff going on that they couldn't understand and tried to do their thing anyway, because that fits their m.o.
- How long has it been since the Order fell? Centuries, long before even the Ray Talbot Captain Cosmic was around. The only reason Sir Arton was still around was because he was preserved within the sword. The only canonical appearance of the Order would be if some cosmic stories happen across some ruins or something out in space that are retroactively attributed to the Order after this introduction.
- Who are the other wielders of Starblight (4 were mentioned, so who besides Sam and Sir Arton)? The other 2 were not meant to be defined. It was designed to be a temptation and trap for Sir Arton, which worked. The other two were just others who, like Sam, came across it later. They both fell to it, but were not strong enough to have been preserved by it as Sir Arton was (and were it not for his friends, Sam would have fallen to it in this way as well).
- Did this also work as a playtest/was there anything that came up in the process of playing these sessions that will result in a tweak to the system? In the fight against Sir Arton, he was designed to be an inverse of Starblight and had that ability where if he had put a penalty on somebody he could destroy that penalty to negate an attack made by that person. This worked mechanically just fine, but wasn't especially fun so he tweaked that ability in the Chapter 5 rules to make it more satisfying (as a general rule, anything that says "no, you don't get to do what you want to do" is an unsatisfying/frustrating element to a game - Christopher only wound up using it a few times as he recognized on the fly that it wasn't making the scenario better). Another that's been in the works for a while is a minor change, but to an important mechanic (to the point where the Starter Kit now is outdated and gives incorrect information) - the problem is that Minions feel anticlimactic after a point. Once they get down to a d4 in strength, any attack against them will destroy them and so heroes having to take actions just to mop them up feels less interesting. This also means that they can't wind up with one who punches above its weight class by just sticking around (like the original version of Sergeant Steel did in their old RPG games). The change they're making is that once a Minion is down to a d4, succeeding at their save prevents them from being degraded/destroyed - this allows them to have something of a "last stand".
- How many bonuses did get handed out in the final session? [I get namechecked here, but I'm not likely to go back through the last session just to count - somebody else feel free to do so.] They don't know either.
- Can we get that evil laugh that was paid for at Gen Con, but Christopher's voice was too shot to do? [jump to 40:52 to hear it]
- Starblight got a lot of "help" being awesome in the game through things like being eaten by Laser Dragons and possessed by an evil sword, etc. Will you give Christopher similar help being awesome in your game? Sure. So, when Adam was going through character creation and was talking about having this cursed sword, Christopher was like "if you're cursed by an evil artifact, you're going to play like you're cursed by this evil artifact." His personality was also "Brash" so the kind of things he got into were fitting. If Christopher winds up playing somebody quiet and timid and "don't look at me, I'm just over here doing magic" he's got to have different kinds of awesome than Starblight has.
- Are you going to stick with "Game Master" or are you going to have a more thematic term in the main book (such as "Editor")? They don't even use "Game Master, they use GM, but it's specifically Game Moderator given the level of agency given to the players - the GM isn't the master of the game, but the adjudicator who keeps things moving along. They wanted to shy away from something more thematic for comic books like "Editor" as that would imply a greater level of say in what the heroes are doing than they wanted.
- Will the core book have rules for scaling things up like you did with the mechs? That's the one thing Christopher mentioned earlier as something he had to wing as the rules didn't account for it. By having the heroes health bumped up but also increasing the amount of damage being done, it makes it feel like things are at a bigger scale even if the math works out the same either way. This kind of thing might come up in a supplemental book (like a space book for things like having spaceship battles or something else like kaiju battles), but it wasn't something that had been playtested prior to this (other than the extra bonuses given by the audience).
- If a GM wanted to include something like a star dreadnought, should that be statted up as a Titan like the laser dragons were, or more something like a hostile Environment with a series of challenges? It really depends on how you want it to interact with the players. If it's something they're fighting, sure, stat it up as a villain. If it's something that they'll board and infiltrate, maybe an Environment would be a better option. Either way you could still have "Minions" to represent things like laser turrets or something.
- Did the Vandals appear in Legacy #1 or Visitors #2 first? The Stolen Legacy adventure is the first appearance of them in their Vandals iteration with the Visitors story happening somewhat later (although how much later that would be isn't clear at this time). Legacy #1 is one of the very first batch of issues after the OblivAeon wrap-up stories.
- What actions did the heroes take that you didn't expect? There were several times when the heroes went after threats that Christopher expected them to ignore until after they took care of other things. Given how intimately familiar Christopher is with the entire character creation system and the fact that he had the character sheets in front of him, it's pretty difficult for the players to surprise him in terms of doing unexpected mechanical shenanigans.
- Did Adam feel like he was being set up every time when he'd go in for a big attack to no effect? That really only happened with the first Laser Dragon fight (where it had a perfect shield, which is a pretty clear indication that they need to find some other method of dealing with it) and again against Sir Arton, but that's the case where Christopher wanted to show how similar he and Starblight were and Adam didn't feel "baited" into attacking.
- What would have happened if Dynamo had been able to save the space station? Those people wouldn't have died and they wouldn't have been marking off the scene tracker (also, Tarvalis would have been continuing to advance instead of suffering another setback).
- What surprised each of you as the game progressed? They kind of talked about this already. Adam was surprised at the transition of his character from edgelord to bishonen. Christopher was surprised that Dynamo didn't evoke his time stuff to interact with the location they were in. He seemed to stick to "armored defender" when in a fight, and Christopher would like him to lean on the time travel thing a bit more.
- How did Christopher feel about the insanity of the audience boosts in the last session? Great! He enjoyed turning the boosts into Minions, which was something he just kind of did on the fly.
- How would you have handled things if you'd had a few more bonuses in the last session and had managed to incapacitate the whole party? If everybody had been incapacitated, Sir Arton would have staggered to his feet, utter a "Not again", and then use some latent connection to the castle to get everybody out of there. They would have "lost" the fight, but he had plans for getting them out of the immediate danger posed by Stella Tenebrae. The second Visitors arc would have started from the position of Stella Tenebrae being in charge of the galaxy or whatever and how do they handle that situation. Losing isn't not fun.
- Will we see the Visitors in a future sourcebook? It depends on the direction they go in future games and what books they get to do in the first place. They've got several planned books that they would want to get through before getting to this stuff (although they do plan on releasing the character sheets for people to see). They could fit into a space book, but it's more likely that we'd see them show up as side characters in an adventure.
- Have you reconsidered the Twitch cheer-for-boosts thing after that last session broke things? They don't think it broke anything, but made things more awesome in the way he'd hoped.
- Who is on the art behind them [on the video stream]? Christopher's got Muerto and Inductor behind him, Adam has the Hippo and Aeon Girl.
- Could a player make a character based on an Endling race? Sure, with all of the realities open to one another during OblivAeon you could have such aliens around. Good drama potential as you go to find your people and discover that not only was there only one member remaining at all, but that with the Enclave leaving reality, there's not even that individual anymore.
- We've been told that somewhere in the multiverse every game of SotM is canonical, but with the post-OblivAeon closing of realities, how does the RPG canon policy compare with the SotM one? [This letter was from Gloomweaver with an aside about not being able to spread his influence to other realities anymore - there are other Gloomweavers there, he gets to be 1 king of 2 realms and that should be enough. Riffing on that last bit got into a hypothetical about Proletariat-type powers if you had to split the energy among the copies - like, you could do the Gen Con setup all on your own, but then when you recombined you wind up in a coma from the accumulated exhaustion. They now want Jodie to have Citizen Anvil powers and Matt Proletariat's to make their shipping process so much easier.] They are putting out the books and adventures that represent the "canon" of Sentinel Comics, but the canon at your table is the canon for your game (to the point where you're free/encouraged to change details presented in those books/adventures to better suit your game). Just because the alternate realities aren't accessible doesn't mean that they don't exist.
- Is it possible for Stella Tenebrae to return later to exact revenge upon the Visitors? Seems likely - sure, she got knocked through a portal that almost assuredly would have destroyed her, but since when is that any indication that a villain is gone for good? Speaking of that, she (and the Impossum, Laser Dragons, and the Pepper Genie) seem like good candidates for being included in a supplement/adventure for people to use.