Hello, bacteria amusement parks. It is I, your robot overlord. Last season I spoke to Rodrigo, the game master for the Critical Hit podcast. In that interview we found out many points of data about the game. It appears it was well recieved and so, as “Celestial Crusade” draws to a close it is time to speak to this gaming mammal again.
Be forewarned though. If you have not completed the season, you are in for many, many spoilers.

Hello, Rodrigo, how are you?

Fine, although a straight chute down here would have been nice.

I had to rearrange the trap-door systems, interns kept getting caught in them.

Gross

Correct, but enough talk of human resources why did you decide to set the third season of Critical Hit in the astral sea?

That question needs a somewhat complex answer. The biggest reason was for a change of scenery for the characters. Moving to a different plane of existence means different enemies, allies and challenges. But really the main reason is because none of the players pitched me a cleric.

Does not Compute!

When the first season of Critical Hit began none of the players pitched a divine character, so somewhere along the way I decided that all divinely anointed people (clerics, paladins, etc.) had been recalled to the Astral Sea to defend against the void gods. It stood to reason then, that the Astral Sea was the next battlefield in the war, so the characters ended up there.

What made you choose Sha-Lai, Erathis’ city as the staging area for this season

Originally it was going to be Bahamut that summoned the characters, but the more I thought about it, the less in character it seemed for him, I decided that being a godess of cities and technology Erathis seemed like the most likely candidate to think outside the box. Sha-Lai also provided the sharpest contrast to the previous locations the characters had visited.

How did the plan to blow up the void come to be?

After interacting with void critters and artifacts in Sha-Lai I felt that the characters would have enough information I told them to come up with a plan and pitch it to the church of Erathis. There was at least one other plan but I shot it down because I felt that it would make for a very repetitive game. Instead it was Stephen (as Orem) who decided that aside from closing the cyst they should send a bomb through and give those void jerks what for.

Once that was decided I wrote up what artifacts they would have to find and told them that the only way to ensure victory was to unite every active god in the astral sea. And that’s how the second half of the arc started.

But first they had to convince the gods to cooperate.

Right.

Was it difficult to portray several different gods, often at once?

Not horribly difficult, although I tried to be really on top of things. I relied on tone and mannerisms to give each god a personality, I think the players and the audience picked up on them quickly, so after that it was only a matter of using each god’s ‘vocabulary’ to bring them to life.

What made you decide to incorporate ‘the other third’ characters into the main story line?

After the game where they were introduced they seemed like too good of a resource not to use. I strongly urge you all to go back and listen to the episodes before the astral missions begin, you can hear the players desperately trying to keep the party together, not realizing that every player would still get to play even with a split party.

Now I would like for you to assess each player, give them a ranking from 0 meaning worst to 10, meaning least worst

I’d rather not, if it’s all the same, why don’t I talk about each player as well as the characters they played?

Acceptable, I choose Stephen first

Stephen had talked about wanting to play a monk if Orem ever died. Still I was hesitant because Monks are about the most mechanically complex class in 4th edition. Eventually I decided to go with it, I figured Stephen could handle it AND he does sit next to Rob so any mechanics questions could be tackled by either of us. In the end Stephen did a fine job wrapping his head around the mechanics, so it wasn’t a problem.
Orem and Seven Owls Wise have a lot in common they’re both serious and practical, but Seven Owls has a much more pronounced moral compass. It’s funny too because I wrote down some roleplaying suggestions for each of the ‘holy rollers’ and I’m pretty sure Stephen didn’t even read his. To be fair they were written on the character sheet and it’s hard enough to navigate those things.

What was Seven Owls Wise supposed to be like?

Different, but it really doesn’t matter, Stephen made the character his own and that’s all that matters.

Orem seemed to have strange emotional reactions a couple times during the game

Yeah, Stephen’s portrayal of Orem is really nuanced and rich, if you go back and listen from the very beginning, you can see how Orem, being away from Eladrin society has had to deal with some of the central tenets of his upbringing. It’ll be great to see how this all develops.

What about Matthew?

As long as he’s in character Matthew really kicks the game into gear.

You mean as Torq or Brenzin?

Both, actually. Matthew has a lot of good ideas and he’s really good at making them sound like they come from a heavily armored hippy OR a demi-human rube.  The differences between Torq and Brenzin are really obvious, but somehow both of those characters served as their respective team’s moral compass AND bad idea filter. The real testament here is how seamless Matthew made it seem in both instances, that’s a good example of adjusting your roleplaying to meet the needs of the game, something that not a lot of people can pull off naturally.

What about Brian?

I think that it’s funny that the major changes to Randus happen as a result of the party’s failure.

What did happen to him?

Well, Randus bravely ventured into the space-time continuum and didn’t quite make it back unscathed.

What does that mean mechanically?

in order to represent what happened to Randus we had to actually change his race. Randus is technically not human anymore.

Sounds Great

I thought you’d like that.

Talk about Albrecht now

Albrecht was a good contrast to Randus, since he’s both built like a brick and dumb as a brick.

I do not think that Albrechts lack of acuity came through

It did and it didn’t. If you look at Torq, Matthew uses the character’s low intelligence as a role-play hook. With Albrecht it was more about how massively his wisdom outpaced his intelligence. Giving us a character that was all about common sense and tradition, rather than a bumpkin.

So a player can use a flaw as part of their roleplaying?

Absolutely, some of the greatest role-playing moments I have been a part of come from characters dealing with or attempting to overcome their flaws.

This season introduced us to Rob’s new character, Ket

That’s right, Rob’s last character, Smith met his cathartic end on the moon, so Rob and I sat down to hammer out a new character for him. Once again he had several pitches most of which I shot down for various reasons.

Like what?

Being too similar to other party members, having a concept that was too wacky, etc.

How did you decide on Ket then?

Eventually Rob hit on the concept of a magic gambler, it was a short leap to ‘guy who’s gotten his powers through gambling.’ And from there the character pretty much created itself.

Ket had a lot of facetime this season

There’s two reasons for that. One: He’s a new character so we have to take some time to get to know him, and two: Rob pitched a social character in a game that became all about politics.

Talk about Glaa

Glaa inadvertently became Rob’s pressure valve, as the season went on Ket had to do a lot of planning, talking and thinking, so Glaa was a good way for Rob to cut back on two of those things.

At times it sounded like Rob liked playing Glaa better than Ket

Nah, it’s the difference between the joy of mountain-biking and the joy of taking a nice stroll through the park. Both are fun but the concentration necessary for mountain biking might make it look like you’re not enjoying it, even if you are.

I do not think that you do a lot of mountain-biking

Touche

Language pack installed

classy

Would you say this season had a larger cast than the previous one?

Oh yes, the last season had a lot of elves, cogs and other things in the background. But the named characters this season tripled.

Why is that?

Again, a deliberate attempt to make the game feel different from last season, there was very little talking last season. “Hello King,” “Hello Adventurers,” “Hello cogs,” “Hello Randus” “Hello Thoney” “Dyo ho ho”. But unlike their adventures in the natural world all major players (in the political sense) were aware of the problem, so a fair amount of diplomacy had to happen.

Let’s talk about the allies the characters made

Well, aside from themselves as the holly rollers their primary point of contact with the celestial order was Bao Bel-Bina.

Why her?

A couple reasons, we hadn’t seen tieflings yet, we hadn’t seen avengers yet, but perhaps most importantly, we hadn’t seen any women in positions of authority yet. That’s something that bugged me when I looked back at the first and second seasons, so I tried to tip it a little by having the torqueltones’ handler be all three of those things.

I thought you did not like cross-gender role-playing

It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that it can be extremely distracting. This seems to only be the case for PCs though, female NPCs played by male game masters (and vice-versa) seem to cause little problem. Maybe I’m just very in-touch with my feminine side.

And then Orem went on a date

Right, things get a little weirder when romance is concerned, because (as you can see from the comments on that show) some people were able to roll with it and some people couldn’t get past the fact that it was two boys playing characters who were on a date. Gender dynamics in RPGs is definitely its own article though.

Agreed. Let’s talk about the creatures the adventurers ran into, especially the ones that seem to cause an undesirable biological response in Matthew

The major cities of the Astral Sea were under attack by the void gods but I realized that if the players saw 100% colossal, mind-warping aberrations every battle would have to be a 6-hour boss fight. So I decided that, like any good army the void would have foot soldiers, spies and lieutenants. When the PCs put the moon back in place last season a lot of these godlings got sucked back into the void, but the infiltrators stayed.

The Warblers and the Candleheads

Primarily, yes. I wanted the lesser void gods to be different from the physical void creatures the players had been fighting, whereas the moon critters are mostly mutant-looking agglomerations of animal features I wanted to show that these godlings were different. My formula was: make it weird + make sure they have a humanoid feature. That didn’t quite work for the rag monsters, but all other void god-monsters have this going on, even the weirdest ones will have humanoid mouths or hands.

Or eyeballs

Yes, this design feature translates all the way to the top.

But the players didn’t face off against void creatures exclusively

No,when the second half of the season started and all the PCs got on a boat I realized it would be an absolute waste to leave the perils of the Astral Sea unexplored. Since the void cists were now a single supercist over by Sha-Lai it made sense that most of the stuff the players would be facing would be native perils. Ghost pirates, astral dragons etc.

The final battle consisted of a skills challenge and a combat encounter, why not make it several fights? or depict it some other way?

Time, mostly. I wanted to pack as much as possible into the final conflict, so I opted for spending a lot of time on description and less time on the actual mechanical aspect of things. I think it turned out very well though.

Yes, you are likely to think that, now for the part I like most about organic life forms… any regrets?

No, no actual regrets.

Surely there are things you would have done differently

Of course, but I don’t regret doing things the way I did. If I had it to do over again I may have tried to condense the story a little more. This was a very, very long arc.

Were there things you wish the characters had done differently?

Not really, I prepared a lot of potential plots for the game, but part of the fun of an RPG is the player’s ability to focus or ignore certain things. For example, each crew member on both ships had a name and a back story, but the players never sought that out, so we never heard about it.

Does that bother you?

No, again, the options they don’t choose are part of the fun of the game. I still have an ebony box,
carved with demonic runes, labeled “open in case the players take Asmodeus’ deal”.

What can players expect next season?

Exploration of the past.

Cryptic.

I try.

If listeners post questions in the comments here will you answer them?

Yes, with the stipulation that the answer may not be very satisfying if the question is something that I want to keep close to the vest.

Any final thoughts?

Do you mean final thoughts for this interview or are you going to kill me?

I would not care about your final thoughts if I was going to kill you.

Good. To. Know.

Art by Adriana Ferguson

The Author

Robot Overlord

Robot Overlord

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49 Comments

  1. Monte
    February 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    Love the Robot Overlord interviews, and can’t wait to hear Rob DM this weekend..?

  2. Firefox
    February 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    isn’t this weekend the Legends of Drizzt game?

    • LemmyCaution
      February 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm — Reply

      Drizzt? I thought they were playing “Mystic Warlords of Ka’a” this week. Looking forward to Rob as Dungeon/Game Master very soon!!

  3. Wombohead
    February 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm — Reply

    Howdy – amazing season, and there were a few moments (minty odours not withstanding) that really highlighted how Stephen has moved from being a complete beginner at the start if the campaign to being an experienced DnD player. Just wondering how much preparation (if any) went into the episode that revealed the secret origin behind his dislike for elves. That was definately one of my favs…

  4. Dan
    February 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm — Reply

    So since you threw it out there Rodrigo. Whats in the Asmodeus’ black box?

    • Ricco
      February 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm — Reply

      “What’s in the boxxxxx!”

    • February 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm — Reply

      That hasn’t been declassified yet, I might still do something with it.

  5. Ricco
    February 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm — Reply

    Whose idea was it to put the “epilogue” after the end music of the regular Critical Hit shows? I took me accidentally leaving the thing on after I thought it had finished to hear it, it was awesome to fins and Easter egg like that.

    • February 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm — Reply

      it may have been my idea, although the musical cues were all Schleicher

      • February 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm — Reply

        I seem to recall it being discussed as your idea… Of course, I’m on the remote link, so I may have only heard the discussion after the issue was settled.

    • February 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm — Reply

      Let this be a lesson to you – never stop the podcast until it has come to the very end ;)

  6. Stephen Schleicher
    February 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm — Reply

    Drizzt SHOULD be next week if I get it all edited before then.

  7. Shush
    February 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm — Reply

    Critical Hit has been quite entertaining and is by far the best Live Play audio I’ve had the privilege to listen to. My question is tangential, however.

    During season breaks would you also consider playing different genres or systems as one shots? Something drastically different like, say, Cyberpunk?

    I understand that the answer will likely be ‘no’, as it is simplest and easiest keeping with D&D 4th Edition and the magnificent world you’ve built up, but at the same time, the season break would also be the best time to consider such possibilities. (Especially is someone else was running it.)

    • February 3, 2012 at 11:30 pm — Reply

      A few things:
      1) The off-season has already been planned out
      2) Season 4 is not that far off
      3) Rob already has his game planned out
      4) Kind of hard to play other systems when the show is called Critical Hit: A Dungeons and Dragons Podcast.

      Thanks for the suggestion though, we may consider it in the future.

      • dp8351
        February 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm — Reply

        Looking forward to Rob’s game, but I’m really excited to hear what comes in season 4.

        – What kind of adventures will the natural world/feywild hold after Shalai and the Astral Sea + all of the gods?
        – Who truly survived? If somebody died, do they take over their “other third” character?
        – What did Randus turn into?

        Most importantly, what evil monstrosities will Rodrigo throw at the party in paragon tier?!

  8. Praion
    February 4, 2012 at 1:40 am — Reply

    Did you notice the lacking behind of the other third?

    What PP did they take at the end? Glaa took radiant servant i think, what about the others?

    Is Randus now a Warforged?

    There is another question but i send it in allready. Maybe you can read it on the show in November or so. It was about the use of social skills and social skill challenges and that stuff.

    Awesome season
    Thanks guys

    • February 4, 2012 at 6:20 am — Reply

      No, I don’t think the other 3rd characters were lagging behind majorly. Seven Owls Wise was still pretty hard to hit, for example.

      Randus is now self-forged, it’s an artificer paragon path.

      • Praion
        February 4, 2012 at 9:37 am — Reply

        i know i know – you just said that “we had to change his race”

        • February 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm — Reply

          Ah, I see what you’re saying. No, the change was not to Warforged. Technically you can’t be self-forged AND warforged. His ability to unstick himself in time is his new racial power. Anyone care to guess what his new race is?

          • BavarianGnomes
            February 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm — Reply

            I hope it’s not a Revenant… Though Randus with Ras Trent style dreadlocks would be epic.

          • Beren1
            February 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm — Reply

            I’m guessing Gnome. “Confetti!”

            Also well written Rodrigo, always a pleasure.

          • Dan
            February 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm — Reply

            I am going to go with either a Time Lord with a tardis stuck on his arm or something along the lines of a Vonnegut alien race thingy….Yeah that’s it

          • Darius
            February 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm — Reply

            My guess is Deva. Memory of a thousand lifetimes seems to fit with the “unstick in time” schtick. Plus there a lot of thematic ties to the astral sea where the last season adventures were set.

          • Eothr
            February 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm — Reply

            He wouldn’t be a Kalashtar now, would he?

          • DM Remi
            February 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm — Reply

            My guess is from Dragon Magazine 380, the Voidsoul Genasi with their Void Assumption racial power.

            Take a moment to look it up if you can.

            Seems to line up well with the power’s description, along with a Genasi’s racial +2 Int bonus to not totally disrupt the maths.

            I’m a little spooked that it is called “Voidsoul” considering what all he did to get there; spooked in a good way, of course.

  9. February 4, 2012 at 6:37 am — Reply

    Wonderful season, great interview. I can’t wait for Rob’s game, and season 4. Quick question to Rodrigo; you said that you have your ebony box, in case they took Asmodeus’s deal. Knowing your players and their characters, did you think it was likely they would take it, or was the outcome what you expected? On a related note, what’s the single most unexpected/surprising thing your players have done in Critical Hit?

    • February 4, 2012 at 7:33 am — Reply

      I thought there was a very real chance they would take the deal so I planned for both eventualities. As far as most unexpected thing? There have been a bunch, but I guess the one that really caught me by surprise was that one time when Torq went all Leroy Jenkins on the moon elves.

  10. Andreas
    February 5, 2012 at 1:26 am — Reply

    Randus could be Halfling or Elf – giving him the ability to turn time back. Or Eladrin or Genasi to turn time farward?
    Plz tell!

  11. Dave
    February 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm — Reply

    So, when will the first novelization of the Critical Hit story be published, and will it be written by Tracy Hickman or R.A. Salvatore?

  12. Micah
    February 6, 2012 at 1:07 am — Reply

    You guys all did an amazing job! I hated that Smith died, mostly because I wanted to see how he would poop out magic items next. Everyone did an amazing job of role playing, especially across multiple characters. Rodrigo’s story was epic! (well, heroic leading to paragon anyway…)

    The gambling thing seemed to be more Ket background, rather than becoming a major thing in the story. Was there a plan to make that a bigger part of this season that sort of fizzled out or was it intended to just give background for Ket, since he came in later?

    • February 6, 2012 at 1:12 am — Reply

      We hit on it as much as I wanted to. Having more scenes in which Ket gambles would have also meant more scenes in which the rest of the party sits around.

      • Micah
        February 6, 2012 at 1:25 am — Reply

        That was kinda my point, I suppose. Were the gambling parts to give Ket mic time, to lead to potential story stuff, or what? Everything else in the story seemed to have a more or less clear purpose.

        • February 6, 2012 at 1:32 am — Reply

          All of that I guess, if you look at the paragon jump episode is it not clear that everything was leading Ket there?

  13. Micah
    February 6, 2012 at 1:50 am — Reply

    True. Not a criticism, by the way. I was just curious. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

  14. Wombohead
    February 6, 2012 at 10:13 am — Reply

    Just a bump to my previously overlooked question – serves me right for using incorrect punctuation!

    How much (if any) prior player/GM planning was there for the episode in which Orem got to reveal the reasons behind his hatred of elves? The reason I ask is because it was so slickly pulled off that it almost came across as scripted (although I assume that this was not the case)…

    • February 6, 2012 at 10:42 am — Reply

      No planning, just threw an obstinate elf into the mix

    • February 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm — Reply

      I know of one person who had already worked out why Orem doesn’t like Elves way before it sprang up in the show.

      • Kayla
        February 8, 2012 at 6:02 am — Reply

        I’d picked up on it (my Eladrin dislikes other pointy-eared folks for similar reasons, although for her it’s had personal, physical consequences), but it was an amazing character point. “Did Orem just throw a racial slur?” Why yes, yes he did.

        How did you decide to work that particular attitude into Orem’s characterization? Did it just come about based on his race, or is it more personal for him, rather than something he’s learned from his elders? I’d love to get a closer look into that part of his brain.

        • February 8, 2012 at 12:26 pm — Reply

          Honestly, as with most things I do, it probably started as an off comment/joke that then had to build upon itself. By the time we hit Season 3, it was pretty much a given that Orem didn’t like Elves, which lead me to having to figure out WHY he had a dislike for them. That lead to more reading and history of the Feywild and how the Eladrin, Elves, and Drow came to be and that gave me the hook for the hate that makes sense in our gaming environment. I’m sure in the real world of D&D that Elves and Eladrin are chummy with each other on a regular basis.

          • February 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm — Reply

            This also hook also points out how impromptu acting, role playing and long term gaming have to build over time to get the big picture, as opposed to a writer who knows (or should know) all the character backstory details before committing the story to the page.

  15. adriana
    February 6, 2012 at 10:53 pm — Reply

    You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Now children will think that gambling leads to gold, astral sea adventures, small imp friends that live in your backpack, and slivers of god souls.

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:03 pm — Reply

      As long as they don’t trip out and hide out in the sewers with Tom Hanks, I think they’ll be okay…

    • Kayla
      February 8, 2012 at 6:03 am — Reply

      You mean it doesn’t? I must be playing poker at the wrong places.

  16. Triggernator
    February 9, 2012 at 11:17 am — Reply

    With the prologe section with Orem being returned to the natural world, is there a chance that the “other half” characters returning for paragon tier. Would be nice to see what has happened to those guys during the main characters adventures in the astral sea

    • Triggernator
      February 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm — Reply

      sorry epilogue, not prologue

    • Eothr
      February 9, 2012 at 11:44 pm — Reply

      That’s easy. They all died like starship troopers when the exilarchy was overrun on the moon. >:D

  17. Charlie
    March 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm — Reply

    Will we ever see the returns of characters such as Coil, The Queen’s Rebellious Daughter or Thony?

    • Charlie
      March 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm — Reply

      Clarifying: Characters that have traveled/fought with the characters.
      (Also that student that Orem met in the graduation day episode would be cool to bring back)

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