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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
Language pack installed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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