Robot Overlord: Greetings, organics, it is once again time for the end-of season Critical Hit interview. I am here with the Dungeon Master for the show, Rodrigo Lopez. Say Hello.
Robot Overlord: Now, in previous interviews people have described my interview process as “detached” and “murderous” so in order to keep complaints to a minimum I have enlisted another unit to conduct this interview. Rodrigo, you are familiar with Grill, correct?
Rodrigo: Hey Grill, what’s up?
Grill: My interview specs, ha ha, I am kidding.
Robot Overlord: Good. This is already going excellently. Initiate Interview.
Rodrigo: A couple, obviously I wanted to create a good story and generate an entertaining podcast. Thematically speaking, I wanted to explore the concept of “family.”
Grill: Rodrigo, why family?
Rodrigo: You know, you don’t have to address me by name every time, Grill.
Grill: Understood… searching for appropriate substitute… home skillet, why family?
Rodrigo: Ok… After Celestial Crusade I went back to the players and I told them that this was a good time to flesh out their characters a bit more, if they wanted to add some backstory ideas. Brian sent me some of Randus’ family tree, obviously we had talked about Orem’s family way back in the first season, and our new player Adriana provided a lot of material about her character’s family, so it really seemed like a no-brainer.
Grill: Yes, let’s talk about Adriana, dude. How did she come to be part of Critical Hit?
Rodrigo: Adriana is a fellow podcaster and she had done guest appearances on the Major Spoilers Podcast. I was a fan of her art and we would talk back and forth over social media. When Celestial Crusade was gearing up I asked her to join the show, but she turned me down.
Grill: How come, compadre?
Rodrigo: She didn’t feel ready. Apparently though, while we were playing Celestial Crusade she went through a whole training montage to learn to play D&D. By the time that season ended she had a few games under her belt. Then I asked her again and the rest is history.
Grill: What does Trelle bring to the party, bro?
Rodrigo: Adriana, through Trelle, brings a new level of emotional involvement to the party. One of our fans referred to it (and I’m paraphrasing here) as the shot in the arm the show didn’t even know it needed. And it’s true, it brought out a whole new dimension in roleplay.
Grill: And an actual ongoing romantic relationship, right homie?
Rodrigo: Correct, Trelle’s involvement with Kammis is a big deal, a romantic relationship is a motivator we had not seen on Critical Hit.
Grill: Were you concerned about the way a non-heterosexual character would affect your listenership?
Rodrigo: Not really, in my experience Spoilerites, and their arboreal subspecies, Critters, are pretty progressive. Besides nothing’s ever going to change if we’re afraid to change it.
Grill: So Trelle’s relationship with her family plays into the theme?
Grill: Which are also Orem’s parents.
Rodrigo: Yes. And Orem also had a lot of issues to work out, especially with his father. Orem’s arc through Critical Hit, and Lords of the Feywild, specifically is fascinating to listen to. He goes from someone who is very submissive to his parents to someone who is an equal to them. In the end Orem gains that coveted prize of adulthood: His parents’ approval.
Grill: Did Stephen’s characterization of Orem change?
Rodrigo: It did, in subtle ways. I think rather than Stephen changing the way he plays Orem he’s just gotten to know the character and allowed him to change naturally. Most of the early season focused on Orem dealing with a lot of loss, and that’s bound to change someone.
Grill: That is interesting and also fascinating.
Rodrigo: I notice you ran out of friendly names.
Grill: I was only programmed with the basic friendship suite.
Rodrigo: I think it might be better this way.
Rodrigo: Yes, a big part of what Randus got this season was “How do you deal with the potential of a family member being hurt or killed?” And the answer for Randus is “I turn into marmalade.”
Grill: Were you expecting that?
Rodrigo: Not entirely, but that was a very strong choice for Brian to make. It would have been super easy to get an unemotional, macho response, but the fact that Brian decided to have Randus freak out says volumes about him as a roleplayer.
Grill: We did not met Ket and Torq’s family though.
Rodrigo: Well, just because the theme is “family” doesn’t mean this is the game in which we meet everyone’s mom.
Grill: I see, what was the family theme with Ket?
Rodrigo: In the church of Asmodeus, Ket has a group that he’s trying to keep happy, led by an overbearing patriarch. The scenes in tuberville, I feel, were a lot like what happens when you have terrible family members and they somehow meet your friends. Obviously, dialed to +11.
Grill: Did he react the way you expected?
Rodrigo: He did. The others didn’t though, I really expected the others to say “No, sorry Ket, we have to kill these guys.” but they stuck by him. Which I think highlights another important family theme. When you spend enough time with people they start to become your family, the party really bonded after Snail Rock Island, and this was a good example of them keeping it together.
Grill: But that wasn’t always the case.
Rodrigo: No, there were a couple of big ugly fights early in the second part of the season.
Grill: Why do you think that was?
Rodrigo: Stress. I think I really cranked up the tension and the characters started taking it out on each other.
Grill: Would you have changed that?
Rodrigo: There’s a few things I would have done differently. There are pressure valves that a game master can set up, so I would have tried to reduce the stress level a bit. Intra-party conflict is fine and interesting, but I think those arguments slowed things down. Since the game is pretty immersive it got to the point where both characters and players were annoyed and no one’s arguments were making sense to anyone else.
Grill: Was Torq’s “family” the orcs escaping from Mandravo?
Rodrigo: Yes, for Torq the theme became, “How do you deal with the family you don’t know?” The response turned out to be “Barely at all.”
Rodrigo: Torq had plenty of good moments this season, but the plot revolved heavily around Orem and Trelle. As a game master, I always try to build things for the players to do. You’ll recall Torq and Randus being doctors in Mem Fendyen, for example. Honestly a big part of Torq’s reduced involvement came from Matthew. He’s someone who understands the importance of the narrative. So in the feywild he said very little because the story focus was on Orem, but he was still present and reacted to things (like Orem’s parents sending them to the servants’ quarters).
Grill: How does that factor into the big decision at the end?
Rodrigo: As you can see from the way the season ended Torq has done a lot of growing up. He also knows the group pretty well, I think some of the stuff he said there at the end showed that he had his companions pegged.
Grill: Have we seen the last of Torq?
Rodrigo: The future is uncertain.
Grill: Ha ha, classic cryptic home skillet.
Grill: Are you happy with the decisions your players made?
Rodrigo: Yes. I have a great group of players and they approach their characters from very different angles. It makes the game a lot richer and more interesting for me. Also the crew is really funny. Playing D&D with these guys is a lot of fun.
Grill: Talk about the structure of the season. There are big differences between the Feywild and the Natural World.
Rodrigo: Yes. First off, some listeners were confused and thought that the season ended when Spud blasted everyone out of the feywild. It didn’t, that was the halfway point… Or at least it was supposed to be…
Every season of Critical Hit has had a big change of direction somewhere in the middle. From the Natural World to the Moon; From Sha-Lai to the Astral Sea; and from The Feywild to the Natural world.
Grill: What do you mean when you say it was supposed to be the halfway point?
Rodrigo: This was a very long season.
Grill: Yes, I know the exact amount of time, but in conversation it is better to say “over two years”, why so long?
Rodrigo: Lots of reasons. Again, the half-and-half structure is going to require a certain amount of treatment, so that’s going to add time. Then, there were things that HAD to happen in order for the plot to continue to move forward, that takes time too. Then on top of that there were the themes I wanted to hit. Now simmer that in the entirely unpredictable mess that is player decisions and you have a recipe for a long season.
Grill: Do you wish it had been shorter?
Rodrigo: Yes. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, there are a few things I would have tweaked, but in the end, even if I could do it over, the season wouldn’t be that much shorter. There was a fair amount of talking, explaining and fighting that had to happen and when you start taking structural stuff out, people start getting confused.
Grill: Could you take out one of the situations in the natural world that did not relate directly to the feywild plot? The coup in Diamond Throne comes to mind.
Rodrigo: Not really, the Diamond Throne thing is a good example of an event that does triple-duty for me as a GM. For one, we revisit a place we’ve seen before, that’s important. We get to see how the party has affected the world around them.
Second, the coup did relate to the feywild quest as a complication. The players felt they were safe and would get some much needed resources, but then they didn’t. That sort of thing adds to the urgency of the plot.
Third the king of Diamond Throne asks for some help after the main quest. Giving the characters yet another reason to split up.
Grill: You wanted the characters to split up at the end?
Rodrigo: Yes. I felt it would be thematically strong for the party to split up.
Grill: How so?
Rodrigo: Because of their family duties. There comes a time when you have to prioritize your own concerns and times when the concerns of others take precedence. Randus had his parents, Trelle the issues with her people and Orem had eladrin culture to rebuild.
Grill: What about Ket and Torq?
Rodrigo: Torq had a loving, rag-tag adoptive family to sacrifice himself for. Long may he be remembered.
Grill: Ket didn’t want to split up, though.
Rodrigo: Nope. I think his final gambit surprised everyone there.
Grill: Did you know that Randus, Torq and Orem were going to try to sacrifice themselves?
Rodrigo: No, that’s actually a great example of something I set up, but had no control over. I let the players ask me questions about it, but most of my answers were the usual nebulous nonsense. And let me tell you this, the impact of that decision will be a big deal moving forward and that is something that was 100% down to the players.
Grill: Is the party going to get back together next season?
Rodrigo: In a way, although things will definitely change.
Grill: I think one thing everyone is dying to know is: will Grill appear in the next season?
Rodrigo: I’ll see what I can do, I get a lot of NPC return requests. Maybe I’ll just make a spinoff that’s a David Seville and the Chipmunks thing except it’ll be Stagzi and the Hedgehogs. You can play their next-door neighbor.
Grill: Ha ha, that sounds great!
Robot Overlord: That is enough merriment. I declare this interview complete. Grill, back to your closet.
Grill: Ha ha, that sounds great!
Rodrigo: If it’s all the same to you I think I’ll stick around and answer questions in the comments. At least for a while.
Robot Overlord: Request accepted, but remember to turn off the lights before you leave.
Rodrigo: That’s surprisingly energy conscious of you.
Robot Overlord: Yes. Also that is what triggers the defense drones.
Rodrigo: Of course it is.