It is no secret, Dear Meatbags, that the Critical Hit podcast has become quite popular. Although my mechanical brain does not understand the appeal of five overweight humanoids pretending to be technologically backwards mythical creatures, I know that its popularity is worth investigating. Thus in order to learn more about it I have sequestered its ring leader and seek to interrogate him about this strange phenomenon.
Also, I have been advised to warn you that, if you are one of the few who have not finished the first arc of Critical Hit the following transcript is a veritable minefield of spoilers. You have been warned.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Hello, Rodrigo, how are you?
RODRIGO: Aside from being roughed up and driven here with a burlap sack over my head? I’m fine, thanks, and you?
ROBOT OVERLORD: Resplendent in all my mechanical magnificence, as always! But enough pleasantries, let’s get to the data.
ROBOT OVERLORD: How did Critical Hit get started?
RODRIGO: I had mentioned D&D 4th Edition to Stephen, right around the time when he had decided to get into Magic: The Gathering. Eventually we decided that we’d like to talk about it on the Major Spoilers Podcast, really Critical Hit largely exists due to Stephen’s curiosity, he had never played a tabletop game and was itching to explore the potential in a non-videogame fantasy game.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Non-Videogame?
RODRIGO: Stephen comes to fantasy gaming from WoW – that’s World of Warcraft if you haven’t heard of it, so a lot of his early experiences in the game were colored by that.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Ah yes, other organics give Stephen grief for his comparisons to World of Warcraft, right?
RODRIGO: The complaints about his comparisons were few, but they were usually very acerbic. I think when the criticism started it kind of blindsided him, because Stephen wasn’t aware that there was some soreness about MMOs in the current D&D environment.
ROBOT OVERLORD: What is the source of that soreness?
RODRIGO: Some people feel that 4th edition “Copies” MMORPGs with its power structure and “cooldown times”. Honestly though, it may have taken some ideas from MMOs but mostly I feel that Wizards took a look at what was working for other gaming companies and incorporated what was compatible with D&D. I’d go into specifics but that’s not really what this interview’s about.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Unfascinating. We talked a little bit about Stephen, so let’s talk about the players… who is your favorite?
RODRIGO: I love all my children equally… and torture them accordingly.
ROBOT OVERLORD: A man after my own central valve, so how did Stephen come to make Orem?
RODRIGO: Against my recommendations, as usual.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Oh?
RODRIGO: When we were first getting started with the D&D podcasts, originally just weekend shows for the MSP, I had decided that I was going to steer Stephen towards playing an “easy” character. The easiest characters are strikers, since their job is to deal damage to enemies. Thus they don’t have to concern themselves with party members, board positioning or healing. So I had made up my mind to steer Stephen toward a ranger, rogue or warlock.
ROBOT OVERLORD: But Stephen had other ideas?
RODRIGO: Oh yes, before I even got a chance to suggest any of those classes I got a call from him at work [holds an imaginary phone to his ear]“Rodrigo? Stephen. I want to play a Wizard.”
And even though I tried to explain to him how awesome warlocks and rangers were it was no use, he had already spent the time putting the character on paper. Which, for someone who is not familiar with the game at all is a big, big deal.
ROBOT OVERLORD: In your position, I would have forced him to do my bidding.
RODRIGO: That’s not my place, I wanted to give him an easier option, but there’s no point in forcing a player to do anything. Everything you would be gaining in simplicity you would be losing in enjoyment. That said, it’s funny that Stephen then proceeded to make the strikeriest wizard ever.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Is that a problem?
RODRIGO: No, although if you go back and listen to the character building shows I’m always trying to steer him toward more control, while he usually goes for the more damaging, or often, most flashy spells.
ROBOT OVERLORD: How does that translate to the character of Orem?
RODRIGO: Very well, actually. Orem is a young hot shot. Back in the Feywild he was kind of a rock star (as far as recent graduates went) so the fact that he goes for Ka-Boom over strategy is perfectly in character.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Where did the animosity with elves come from?
RODRIGO: That’s all Stephen, in fact the Player’s Handbook is fairly luke-warm about character relationships, pretty much saying that every playable race gets along with every other race. Stephen’s decision to make Orem stuck up is a wonderful character choice, especially for a new player. People are usually fine with roleplaying how awesome their characters are, but usually neglect any character flaws. Orem is, like many great literary heroes, largely defined by his flaws, his distrust of others, his self-centeredness it shows that Stephen understands what makes a good narrative.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Charming, let’s talk about the party’s tank now.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Yes, played by the Incorrigible Matthew, how did Torq come to be?
RODRIGO: Torq’s mechanical genesis was a lot simpler, since Stephen had already taken the scholarly magic guy Matthew decided to play the exact opposite of that. He asked me to make him a character with as low of an intelligence as possible. I asked him if he wanted to be a half-orc and, like a jerk, he answered that he wanted to be a ¾ Orc. Now, I know Matthew, and I knew that if he ended up missing a lot in combat, or having a lot of complicated side-effects to his powers he’d just end up getting bored and frustrated, so when I made Torq I made him very focused on hitting all the time.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Sounds like it worked.
RODRIGO: Sort of. Matthew’s luck on the dice is, by now legendary, of course if you go back and listen to ALL of his rolls, including skills and saving throws you’ll notice that he rolls pretty low sometimes, for some reason though, when it comes to critical hits in combat Matthew is in some sort of transcendental polyhedron groove.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Does that make things more difficult for you?
RODRIGO: Nah, I like my combats to be fast and deadly, and that goes for both sides.
ROBOT OVERLORD: What does Torq bring to the table roleplaywise?
RODRIGO: Torq plays an important part, as the only non-arcane character he is very much the layman when it comes to eldritch affairs, allowing for more explanation, which helps make sure that listeners are on the same page as us. Also, although everyone has their moments of comic relief, Torq brings the sort of physical humor that only throwing an Orc out of a window can achieve.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Does Torq have a dark side?
RODRIGO: Yes, of course, I think both Orem and Torq have a cunning and calculating side, just like the paranoid old men that play them.
ROBOT OVERLORD: My datafiles show that Brian and Rob were not originally going to be part of the podcast.
RODRIGO: Correct, the original lineup was going to be Stephen, Matthew, Alex and Matthew’s wife.
ROBOT OVERLORD: What was the reason for the line-up alterations?
RODRIGO: Right before our first session Matthew’s wife had something come up with her job, simultaneously Alex was offered the opportunity to travel around Europe for a while. Of course, both of them made the logical choice of real life > Gaming. But it did leave us with a big hole.
ROBOT OVERLORD: So is that where D&D Brian and Rob come in?
RODRIGO: Yes, I had talked to Brian about potentially joining before this all got started, so when we got a vacancy he stepped right up to bat. Later on Brian talked to Rob about it and Rob approached me about joining up. I had run games for Rob before and had played in his games, I knew that he wasn’t hella lame, and thus we got our fourth player.
ROBOT OVERLORD: I like Randus as a character, especially now with his new arm.
RODRIGO: Randus is a very cool character, D&D Brian is actually a very creative guy. Here is Brian’s original character writeup for Randus:
OK, here’s what I’m thinking. A human artificer, named Randus Duthain I guess. Randus is an explorer, inventor and healer, among other things. He often makes many excursions into unexplored places to obtain samples of of various substances and other items of interest. During one such exploration into some great cavern system, Randus had discovered a grand city of mechanical beings. His curiosity had led him into grand complex but he was quickly spotted by a group of the residents. Although he was unsure if they had hostile intent, they certainly had some very menacing looking implements. In his eagerness to escape, Randus inadvertently causes some machinery to malfunction violently. Through the havoc, he barely manages to get back out through a tunnel as it collapses. Randus has returned to the caves various times trying to another entrance or clear the rubble from the collapsed tunnel. Although he had no luck being able to find the great city again, he has been able to salvage some mechanical pieces and rebuild them into functional devices. Randus continues his adventures, both in his general quest for knowledge and in hope of finding another entrance to the city or locating other similar mechanical wonders.
ROBOT OVERLORD: That sounds like the Exilarchy of Cogs.
RODRIGO: That’s right, The Exilarchy wasn’t part of the game originally, but once I got Brian’s character I decided to write it in. It ended up becoming an extremely important part of the story too.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Talk about the decision to remove his arm.
RODRIGO: Well, after the party got wiped out on the tower and Orem made the decision to fight another day I wanted there to be some consequences. Obviously it’s somewhat lame to kill party members off screen, so I decided that one of them should at least lose a limb, and as someone who thematically could end up with a replacement arm, Randus seemed like the right choice.
ROBOT OVERLORD: That seems like you were punishing Brian for the party’s failure.
RODRIGO: Really? Last I checked guys with robot arms are more awesome than guys with normal arms.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Roundabout compliment acknowledged, but let’s move on to Smith and Rob.
RODRIGO: Ah, Rob, poor doomed Rob.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Do you mean Smith?
RODRIGO: No, when Rob and I first talked about him joining the game he had a different concept but I turned it down. Because it was a little too out there… now, I know what you’re thinking “Isn’t Smith a little out there too?” Yes, of course, but Rob’s first concept, although creative, was significantly weirder than the stuff the other players had seen so far and I was concerned that it wouldn’t fit in.
ROBOT OVERLORD: So then he pitched Smith?
RODRIGO: I told him that he was free to pitch me another character (as long as it was a striker) But that, if he wanted, there was potential plot real-estate in playing a shifter. So he made a shifter sorcerer, I told him that his character had originally been human and now had developed his weird wolf-turning and lightning-spewing powers. He was fine with that and thus “Smith” was born.
ROBOT OVERLORD: And then he died.
RODRIGO: Well some other stuff happened first, but yeah.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Was it always your plan for Smith to die?
RODRIGO: It was and it wasn’t, it became obvious that Smith’s life would go on the line at the end of the arc, but I actually left it up to Rob as to whether Smith lived or died.
ROBOT OVERLORD: So Rob decided that Smith would die?
RODRIGO: Yes, we talked about it and he decided that he wanted a statue.
ROBOT OVERLORD: So what would have happened if he had decided to keep the character?
RODRIGO: I can’t say. I get frequent e-mails asking “What would you have done if the Torqueltones had done X instead of Y?” and my answer is always, “I can’t say.” because part of being a PC, and making a big decision in game is knowing that you can’t go back, and you’ll never know what could have been.
ROBOT OVERLORD: Devious, I like it.
RODRIGO: I thought you might.
ROBOT OVERLORD: So what can the players expect from the next arc of Critical Hit?
RODRIGO: In the first arc I tried to leave plenty of room for exploration and alternatives, but in the end it was somewhat linear. In the next season the players will have a lot more control over their decisions, so expect a lot of the plot to develop directly from what the players decide to do.
ROBOT OVERLORD: What can the listeners expect from the next arc of Critical Hit?
RODRIGO: More action, more intrigue, more romance, and at least one TPK
ROBOT OVERLORD: I like the way you think.
RODRIGO: Can I go home now?