INTERVIEWS 1.4

“While the camera is rolling, obviously we’re not yet able to begin our interview. Security is, as always at the Hexagon, incredibly tight. The Tyrant is officially a 4th Tier Parahuman, but as a result of his experience, vast resources, and record of escape from both incarceration and any serious sentencing for crimes he fully confesses to having committed, the Hexagon has placed him under 3rd Tier precautions. That means that this interview will take place virtually, with light projectors and low-fidelity analog speakers and microphones transmitting sight and sound between ourselves and the Tyrant rather than any direct or even digital connection, the entire proceedings are monitored by off-sight personnel including at least one unable to hear us and one unable to see us, and both rooms are rigged with deadman-switch countermeasures ranging from strobe lights and tear gas to explosives and a 100-ton free-standing ceiling that can be dropped to crush either chamber. Further, the interview is on a 30-day delay, and we will have no access to it for review or edit prior to its first broadcast. So it you are seeing this for the first time, so are we.
A 2nd Tier inmate, of course, is never interviewed by the press short of a court order and military operation. And, officially, there is no such thing at a 1st Tier Parahuman.
And we see the Tyrant’s image is being projected onto the viewing wall, so we presume everything is set to begin? And we are being given the signal that is the case.
So, first, let me say welcome to the Tyrant, and express our appreciation for your willingness to speak to us this morning.”

“It is a trifle. Much to my surprise, my appointment schedule is remarkably open.”

“Yes, indeed. You have been held for 103 days now, with no trial date in sight. So, let us begin with this: do you feel you are being treated fairly?”

“I have no complaints. I intend to conquer the world. I do not begrudge the existing governments their temporary victories. I do, in fact, see them as necessary steps in my long-term plans. Each engagement that fails to go my way is an opportunity to learn, to improve. I welcome those.”

“At the same time, isn’t it true you don’t recognize the authority of any government?”

“You mean some drivel like “legitimate authority,” the idea that some group or individual has the privilege of commanding and expecting to receive my obedience without gaining compliance through force or mutual self-interest? Of course I don’t recognize such things. If I told you I was now your king, would you obey me to the detriment of your own condition?”

“Certainly not.”

“And why should you? And if I gather a score or more like-minded individuals, and we all say you must obey, does the fact we outnumber you cause you to suddenly become loyal to us if you are not threatened?”

“A group such as, say, the Teen Tyrants?”

“Not even in the hypothetical would I ask anyone to obey that battery of self-propelled disasters.”

“The Crime Council, then?”

“Unlikely, given how we parted company, but appropriate for this discussion, yes. Imagine I was to work with the Crime Council again, and we took control of this facility. Indeed, suppose we declared we had conquered it, as the ancestors of every modern nation of note once conquered the natives of the lands they now rule. Would you feel some moral obligation to obey our dictates?”

“No, we would not.”

“No! You would not. And if we maintained control of this facility for three generations, feeding those we ruled and keeping them from outside harm, and your children’s grandchildren were suddenly allowed some say in a government we established, for our benefit, and designed to enrich us above others, would that mote of participation somehow obligate your offspring to be willingly obedient?”

“We do not believe it would.”

“Indeed it would not! And yet when I turn in defiance against the United States, who, as a nation, conquered a land not their own, repeatedly made and broke treaties with the indigenous people, brought whole other populations to these shores in chains, and then pats itself on the back for freeing those who were only enslaved by its actions, I am told that I am rejecting “legal” authority. I accept no authority other than that which I grant of my own free will or can be compelled from me through force or negotiation. I accept the state’s power to incarcerate me here, because there is a logic to their actions and they have proven they have the power to enforce their will.”

“And if you manage to escape?”

“Then I shall enforce my will on others. That is the only reality of the world. Politics is just the language of oppressions, used to determine who can enforce their will while doing the least damage. Not because we wish to avoid harming others, but because we plan to rule them, and why damage what you will own?”

“Well, we confess there seems to be no point arguing this issue further. Let’s move on to some interesting positions you touched on during your explanation. You seem to have little regard for the Teen Tyrants.”

“Very little.”

“But they are your apprentices, aren’t they?”

“I wouldn’t say apprentice. I think ‘child soldier’ is the commonly accepted term that comes closest to describing them. But yes, they are my child soldiers.”

“But why spend so much time, and apparently considerable effort, training them and sending them to commit crimes on your behalf if you have no respect for them?”

“Do you respect a box of rats?”

“Ah… no. Not as such.”

“If you wanted to distract someone, do you see how releasing a box of rats in their home might be useful, despite a total lack of regard for the rats. And how training the rats to be more violent and cunning might make your distraction even more effective?”

“So, you see them as nothing more than disposable tools?”

“Perhaps not nothing more than that – I see potential in many of them, much as a blacksmith need not respect an ingot of iron, but can envision hammering it into a sword. But yes, they are primarily a way to keep those masks and agencies that might trouble me too busy to do so as often.”

“Do the Teen Tyrants *know* that?”

“Of course they do. A reputation for brutal honestly is an amazingly powerful tool, one I have honed over decades. I’m not going to put it at risk by dissembling to the likes of Double-Tap and Slamazon.”

“So, why do they follow you?”

“Why do teens do anything? Some are troubled and have formed foolish emotional attachments to me, so they lie to themselves even when I tell them the truth. Others wish to anger their families, and this this as a means to that ends. And many correctly see this as their best chance to be trained in arts others refuse to teach young Powers. As long as they are obedient, their reasons are their own.”

“You also seem to have left the Crime Council on poor terms?”

“Well, perhaps more accurately on ‘unfriendly’ terms. I was well along in taken control of the Crime Council when the Masked Alliance tracked me down and defeated me in combat in response to unrelated operations of mine. That left me unable to complete my takeover, and exposed my plan and methods to the Council. I suspect Red Jack and Kubla Kong, at the least, won’t easily forgive such machinations. Most of the rest will follow the strong leaders, like sheep.”

“So, are there any colleagues you respect? Or any Parahuman at all, for that matter.”

“Certainly! I am not such a vainglory as to claim I have no peers.”

“So, name a few.”

“As you wish. Kubla Kong certainly has my respect, given that he lacks many of the societal privileges others take for granted and yet remains a force to be reckoned with at least as great as my own. He cannot hide in the world population, or see how others have done what he wishes to do. The ‘Great Ape’ must use his own strength and intellect to forge his own path. I’d be a fool to claim the core members of the Masked Alliance do not include several individuals who are in my league, if not at the same pinnacle as I. The Pulsar Knights serve an invaluable service to our whole region of space, and Gold Pulsar himself has my deepest respect. The Morlock King is without a doubt a peer…”

“We’re sorry – did you say the Morlock King?”

“I did. I respect him perhaps most of all.”

“The… the Morlock King who has been defeated by the Powers Clan something like seven times? Not to mention Angel’s Host, the Quiverfull, Science Team Alpha, and for that matter the Auxiliaries’ Alliance?”

“Indeed, the very same. A tall, thin and pale man with filed teeth and beady eyes, who you all take so lightly. But ask me this, have any of those heroic orders you mention ever managed to keep him locked up?”

Ah… not that we know of.”

“Precisely. To you all, the Morlock King is an under-powered joke to be defeated by B-Teams and teen bands of sidekicks and poseurs. But he is in truth a king, a royal ruler of a vast empire of ghouls and cannibals, who will inevitably conquer the surface world in a few thousand years. He is a time traveler, and a master tactician, and even when you defeat him now it is rarely until after he has managed some minor adjustment to the present that results in his Feasting Empire continuing for centuries longer in his own dread future. The Morlock King has, from his perspective, already one, and his every appearance just drives the moment of his people’s ascendance a few epochs closer to the time the races of the surface world will be cattle, playthings to be hunted, tortured, mated with, and eaten at his leisure. He is the greatest threat your entire species faces, and you don’t even take him seriously.”

“We, ah, we had no idea. When does this horrifically-described future come to pass?”

“As things stand now? Ten-thousand or so years hence.”

“That seems fairly distant.”

“Of course it does, to you. But when he first took power, it was nearly a million years until his kind would rule. In the temporal halls, his domain controls more years than any other has ever claimed. And he can relentlessly consider current events with the full benefit of hindsight, and contemplate how to bring about his reign earlier and earlier. I confess, I made a conciliation with him decades ago, to our perception, and have never regretted it.”

“If you are right about this, why haven’t you warned the Powers Clan? Or the Masked Alliance?”

“Who claims I haven’t? But I am renowned for using distractions to pull foes away from areas I wish to operate. No one believes me.”

“And what is going to be the result of that disbelief among the world’s greatest heroes?

“And now, this interview is concluded. Thank you for your time. I trust this moment will, when broadcast, bring about exactly the sequence of events I plan for.”

Unchained Economy

I’ve been thinking about my idea to run a game with several Pathfinder Unchained rules, including Automatic Bonus Progressions at character level +2, and thus having no assumed Wealth by Level.
The trick with that is, I still want potions, wands, and scrolls, so there has to be SOME money. But I want an economy where even at high level, hundreds of gold is exciting.
Here’s my twin baselines: a masterwork falchion is 375 gp, a masterwork composite mighty +4 longbow is 800 gp, and masterwork full plate is 1,350. I’d like for those to be the sorts of things that are exciting as treasure up to even 8th level. So if I figure those three items average out to 850 (842.6 repeating, rounded up), and getting something worth 1/4 your wealth by level is “exiting,” that means I want 8th level wealth by level to be around 3,400 gp.
That’s pretty close to WLB for a 3rd level character, so I can use a general guideline of level – 5 for the WLB chart, which works for characters of 9th level and up. That just leaves me needing to figure WLB for 1st-7th level characters.
The highest average starting wealth for any character is 175 gp, so I can start there. That means I want to go from 175 gp to 3,000 gp over 7 levels.
If I increase the wealth by 150% at each level (rounding), the breakdown looks like this:
1st: 175 gp
2nd: 262 gp
3rd: 393 gp
4th: 590 gp
5th: 886 gp
6th: 1329 gp
7th: 1993 gp
8th: 2990 gp
That’s not a bad approximation, and I can round it to near comfortable numbers like this:
1st: 175 gp
2nd: 275 gp
3rd: 400 gp
4th: 600 gp
5th: 900 gp
6th: 1350 gp
7th: 2000 gp
8th: 3000 gp
With that as a starting point, I can figure out how much I want to charge for potions, scrolls, and other one-shot magic items so my economy isn’t broken.
Of course that also means that some other things characters might have, like wands of healing and non-bonus miscellaneous items and mithral and adamantine, becomes rarer. So I need to either reprice them (which I am disinclined to do – I like mithral shirts being kingly gifts), or compensate the players with more scaling benefits… maybe a free set of multiclassing feats for a very, very minor kind of gestalt game…

Sorting through Links of Pathfinder Unchained

I know not everyone has Pathfinder Unchained yet (and since it’s 100% optional rules, not everyone will get it anyway), but I have been thinking about how I’d like to use if it next time I start a new campaign. Note that I’d happily play in someone else’s game using different (or no) alternate rules, this is just my first thoughts on the new systems. So, in order:

*Unchained Barbarian: Optional. I don’t have an issue with the Core Bar, but if someone prefers UnBar I’d be okay with that.

*Unchained Monk: Mandatory. At least for the a little bit, I’d like to see how this plays in comparison. Since it’d be mandatory, I’d revise Core Monk archetypes and options a player liked to work as UnMonk options.

*Unchained Rogue: Mandatory, with exactly the same notes as UnMonk.

*Unchained Summoner: Mandatory, with exactly the same notes as UnMonk.

*Fractional Bonuses. Nope, for reasons that’ll be clear a little later.

*Staggered Advancement: Nope – addresses something I haven’t had an issue with, and increases bookkeeping.

*Background Skills: In. I generally run a style of game where people enjoy background skills as it is, and this helps those characters not be penalized.

*Consolidated Skills: Nope. I don’t want to have to remember which crucial skill does what – I’ve pretty well memorized the existing system.

*Grouped Skills” Nope. I see the appeal, but I like the existing skill point system.

*Alternate Crafting and Profession: I’m on the fence. It’s a whole new system, but it does look better. I might see what the player’s think.

*Skill Unlocks: Restricted to UnRogues, who can also take the Signature Skill feat whenever they gain a feat at the same level they are taking a UnRogue level.

*Variant Multiclassing: Used in place of regular multiclassing, and in place or Prestige Classes, and maybe expanded in ways I think I’ll be turning into an RGG product.

*Gameplay: Mostly because I understand am and comfortable with the existing systems, none of these are in use except :

*Stamina and Combat Tricks: This system is in place, but is largely restricted to fighters. Specifically, each time a character gains a feat for which they could have selected a fighter-only feat, they also get to select one combat feat (not necessarily the feat they just took) to use the stamina and combat trick rules. For fighters, this is all their feats but (for example) a warpriest can only apply these rules to one combat feat at 3rd level (when they gain their first bonus feat that allows them to treat their warpriest levels as fighter levels) and again every 3 levels thereafter. This keeps the system fighter-centric, while giving limited access to classes that are supposed to have access to fighter feats.

*Magic: Most of the things in this chapter are not in use. The main exception is Automatic Bonus Progressions, which are calculated at character level +2. Magic items are so rare that there is no expectation that a character will ever find one. There is no assumed wealth by level. Magic Item Creation feats exist, but creating magic items costs 100% of their value and weapons and armor uses the costs from the Automatic Bonus system. Magic item shops do not exist beyond those dealing in 1-shot items and occasionally wands. What few rare magic items exist are likely to be scaling items (using both the system in this book and from Relics of the Godlings and its sequel from Rogue Genius), which can’t be intentionally crafted. I *might* also adopt Dynamic Magic Item Creation. I also might use spell points, from RGG’s Houserule Handbooks: Spellpoints Compilation.

*Monsters: I may use it, I may not. Not only does that not impact the player’s choices, I don’t promise to tell them if I do. 

Doctor Jefferies Lab is Open!

We’re opening a new section of the roguegeniusgames.com website, Doctor Jeffries Lab! As with most Rogue Genius’s Labs everything the good doctor has in here is a little… experimental. But in the long run we plan for this to be a repository of free ideas we’re playing around with.

INTERVIEWS 1.3

Interviews 1.3
“Can I grab a pen and pad, too?”

“Not right. Not how you talk. Hnnn. With the other masks. They get the we.”

“Wha?”

“The we. The editorial we. You speak to masks in the formal tone, the Fourth Estate voice.”

“Ah… so we do. Sorry, we were not prepared for this.”

“Unavoidable. Apologies. Hnnn. Can not appear in a station house. Can not risk a call.”

“I… er, WE totally understand. May we grab a pen, and writing pad?”

“No. Recorder is enough. Nothing pointed. Nothing flammable. Unacceptable risks.”

“Very well. For the record, we wish to state that we are in the basement of our own home, tied to a chair. Ah… not one of our chairs. Where did this chair come from?”

“Hnnn. Home Depot. Sturdier than your chairs. On sale.”

“Ah… of course. We are tied to a chair from Home Depot, speaking to the vigilante known as Kilroy. The conversation is being recorded digitally, with a dedicated recorder. We do have a recorder program on our phone, if you’d prefer.”

“No cell phones. Traceable. Trackable. Possibly cancerous. Recommend against them.”

“Ah, yes. We’ll consider that. So… Kilroy. This is your show. What do you want to say?”

“Hnnn… nnn. Do not know. Not a reporter.”

“You… you forced me to interview you, and you don’t have anything to say.”

“Not my job. Your job.”

“So, you want me to ask you questions?”

“Yes. Faster. Security weak, no one coming yet. But major reporter of interest. Watched, monitored. Random patrol may come by, or random hero. Twelve minutes safe, hnnn, thirteen a risk. Have used eight.”

“Of course. Well, then, let’s get to the basics. You are a wanted criminal, a vigilante who deals street justice, yet you claim to be an agent of law and order. How do you justify your actions.”

“Hnnn. No justification. Lawbreaker. Should be taken in.”

“You… you think you should be taken in?”

“Yes. Hunted. Brought down. Judged. Locked away. Hnnn. Violent offender. Likely insane. But dangerous. Maybe in Segefield. Maybe in Hexagon.”

“So, if you think you deserve to be locked up, why not turn yourself in?”

“Heroes can’t reach everyone. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Some only I can reach. Hnnn. If I stop, who catches those? No one. Unacceptable.”

“But, who will catch them if you get caught?”

“If caught, then no longer the best. Whoever catches me can catch anyone. I would not, hnnn, not be needed. Survival of the Justice.”

“So, you want to be caught, because that would mean you weren’t needed?”

“If caught by a righteous agent. If caught by evil, hnnn, my loss would be disastrous. But, also, a warning. Heroes would notice. Work together. End the greater threat. But only so long as I am best. As long as I never falter, or give up.”

“So no matter what, you should keep doing what you are doing and make every effort to avoid capture, which you deserve, because only by doing your best can you ensure your loss brings about even greater good?”

“Hnnn. Never put in those terms. Yes.”

“Isn’t that a little self-serving?”

“Yes. Likely insane. Well aware.”

“All right… let’s move on to some specifics. You are famous for spray-painting “Kilroy Was Here” wherever you take down a criminal, or even a common thug. Why?”

“Because it is unusual, and the media talks about it often.”

“Wha… ah. No. Not why are you famous for it. Why do you do it?”

“First, to mark my work. So when the day came, I could be convicted of everything. My mind, hnnn, my mind lies to me sometimes. Paint doesn’t lie.”

“You say at first. Did other reasons emerge?”

“Yes. A warning. When taking down a fence, each post is marked. The next post sees, and knows it is next. The posts shake. Boards fall lose. Fear does half the work.”

“Are… are you literally speaking about a fence?”

“No. Allegory.”
“So, the fence is… ?”

“Any group of scum. Racketeers. Cheaters. Mobsters. Corporations. Thugs. Homeowner’s Associations. Gangs. Bikers. As you mark the loss of each outer member, the inner circle sees you coming, and knows fear.”

“I’m sorry, did you say homeowner’s associations?”

“Modern cattle barons. Petty tyrants, and a common source for money laundering, extortion, and, hnnn, drugs. Many are alien fronts.”

“Do… do you have any proof of this?”

“No, Cats took it to the moon.”

“Cats?”

“Allegory.”

“Ooooo-kay. Let’s move on. You also work with several vigilantes, the so-called Nomads, though you carefully don’t accept that you are yourself part of that group. If you deserve to be brought in as a vigilante, don’t they?”

“Most, yes. Some never break the law. Centipede. Huntsman. NIN. Maybe Tarnkappe, though he mostly likely does, just not while he is seen.”

“But the rest are lawbreakers.”

“Yes. Many times. Serious crimes.”

“But you work with them. Why not bring them in?”

“Bring in those who do more harm than good. Brought in Balefire, and hnnn, Sinstress. The rest are lower on the list. New entries higher up keep getting added before I get to them.”

“Yes you did, both after specific spectacular crimes. But… you do intent to bring the rest of them in eventually? To either hand them over to authorities, or disable them yourself as you’ve been known to do?”

“Yes. Have told them as much. Many times. Most don’t believe me. Or don’t want to.”

“While we are on the subject, why do you turn some criminals in, kill a few, and mutilate others?”

“Turn in those that can be punished by the law. Cripple those who can’t, if it will end their crimes. Kill them if nothing else works. Or if they resist so much no other option.”

“Does it bother you, deciding who lives, and who dies?”

“Hn. Not anymore. One of the most serious signs of mental illness. That and the cats.”

“Real cats, or allegorical ones?”

“Both. Time is nearly up.”

“We… understand. Very well, let’s talk about something you’ve never talked about before. How do you avoid getting caught?”

“Cautious. Smart. Not a big enough threat to enough people for the right resources to be brought in.”

“All right, sure. But, some amazingly successful heroes have states their intent to bring you in. Anthem and Anthem Lass can both see through solid matter. How have they not identified you to sketch artists for a manhunt?”

“Can’t see through the cowl.”

“You… you mean the dirty piece of cloth you always pull over your face?” That bit of warn linen can block Anthem Lass’ vision, when a solid steel door doesn’t?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell us how?”

“If you ask, hnn, yes.”

“Ah… very well. How? How does an apparently ordinary piece of cloth protect your identity from the heroes who can see through hundreds of feet of concrete, metal, and flesh?”

“Cowl is not one piece of cloth. Cowl is ur-rag, the perfect piece of cloth in all universes. It is the ultimate unimportant object. In every reality, in every place where choices lead to people, there is a Kilroy. We all have the cowl. Hnnn. One cowl. It makes us the same, but we are all different. We have no powers, no magic. Nothing but the cowl. Anthem looks through it, sees us all.”

“If… if that’s true it’s amazing. How did you come by the cowl?”

“Saw it, hnnn, in the gutter. Saw it for what it was, when life broke. Saw the mission. Saw the crimes. Knew I was Kilroy.”

“Very well, but, listen. You say you know you are mentally ill. You say your mind lies to you. And you have a social, unique cowl that gave you a special destiny. Doesn’t it seem more likely that you are seriously schizophrenic, and that’s all a delusion.”

“Yes, hnnn, of course. Not stupid. Except… ”

“Except what?”

“Anthem never found me. Anthem Lass doesn’t know my face. Gargoyle can’t find me. Troubleshooter can’t track me. Which is more likely — a schizophrenic no hero can catch, or a universal agent of the multiverse with destiny?”

“Um… “

“Time is up. Good interview. Do not edit it.”

“No, we won’t, of course. If we can ask just one more… “

“No.”

click

INTERVIEWS 1.2

“So, ah, can you hear us?”

“Yes, I can hear you perfectly. In fact given the pickup on my parabolic microphones, I could hear you when you were still inside. Doing this outside is more about you hearing me, without my speakers blowing out windshields and breaking windows.”

“We’d have been happy to have you leave your…. suit?… for the interview and come inside.”

“I’m… I’m not prepared for encounters outside the battle pod. Or, rather, I’m not satisfied with my preparation for such encounters.”

“That’s fine, really. We’ve done interviews on the quad before. Red Giant, Colossia. Even the Mist, though that was more about ventilation than size.”

“I saw that interview. I was amazed the Mist agreed to one.”

“Well let’s start there, then. You’re Scrap-Iron, one of the newest masked heroes on the scene. You’ve already made a major name for yourself, helping to take down the most recent attack of Injustice Machines on Flint, Michigan. Several editorial programs have made public offers of big money if you speak with them exclusively. Why agree to an interview with us?”

“Someone I trust suggested a four-meter-tall, rusted armored capsule with big guns and no sign of humanity might make people nervous. So, I thought this might help. If people have a better idea who I am, what I hope to accomplish, they might be less likely to crap themselves when I land behind them at a park. Ah… can I say crap? I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Believe it or not the 1994 McCloud Act actually allows us to broadcast what you say word-for-word without repercussions. You may get a visit from federal regulators, however. So, you wanted to get a message out–why not do it on a show that pays you for it?”

“All those shows seem… look I don’t want to claim I know how television works. But I also don’t want to feel like I’m being turned into a corporate mascot or somehow find myself on billboards selling used cars. I talked to some of those shows, and their interview contracts are hundreds of pages long. I didn’t trust them.”

“So, you’re cautious about corporate intentions?”

“I’m cautious about anyone who needs 200 pages to outline their intentions.”

“Fair enough, and obviously we’re delighted to have you. Since you are new on the scene, and you want to put people at ease, perhaps we should cover the Severin-Simonson Questionnaire?”

“Oh, awesome! Ah, I mean, sure, Yes.”

“Do you want to go over them all yourself, or have us ask you one at a time?”

“I, ah… Why don’t you ask.”

“Okay. Everyone remembers the first two, which we think go together. What is your nom de masque, and why did you select it?”

“My masked name is Scrap-Iron, and mostly that’s because this thing looks like it’s made of scrap. Well, and it is. It is scrap, and recycled parts and leftovers. I got most of it from junkyards and scrap heaps. It’s all I could afford, to be honest. But, I guess, I also wanted to make a point. About the things no one considers worthwhile. Scrap. Refuse. Garbage. If scrap can become something like Scrap-Iron, something like a hero, then what else are we throwing away, or ignoring, that could help save the world?”

“That’s interesting, and we’d like to get back to that in a moment if you don’t mind. But let’s finish the Severin-Simonson first. What made you want to be a masked hero?”

“I live in Saginaw Valley, the Tri-Cities region of Michigan. Times are hard. Unemployment is up, crime is up, hope is down. In Detroit, they have Gargoyle and his whole crew. But in Flint, Bay City, places like that there’s aren’t a lot of major heroes. Saginaw Joe, the Tri-City Sentinals, and that’s about it. People needed help, and instead governments are doing things like cutting back on services, not patrolling blighted areas, turning off street lights at night. I thought I could help. I thought someone had to.”

“What gives you the authority to act outside the law?”

“I don’t accept I do act outside the law. Most of my actions are based on preventing imminent bodily harm to myself or others. Where I move beyond that, I am applying the standards of citizen’s arrest under Michigan law and the Taylor v. Trantor ruling.”

“That’s a popular answer, since Anthem first gave it. Do you really think the ‘Bounty Hero’ Supreme Court case from 1872 is relevant today?”

“Anthem set a standard for a lot of us. He made it relevant, for a lot of people. I never met him of course, but I am certainly inspired to try to meet the expectations he set for masked heroes.”

“All right, last items from the Questionnaire. Where do your powers come from, and where do your loyalties lie?”

“I designed and built Scrap-Iron myself, so I guess my powers come from my own mind. My loyalties…”

“Are you a Boomer? We’re sorry, but we need to delve a little more into your powers. Obviously the Scrap-Iron, what did you call it earlier, a battle pod? Your battle pod is obviously a remarkably accomplishment of incredibly advanced science. The fact you build something from junk that can take on multiple Injustice Machines is proof your mind is well beyond normal human limits. So, are you a Boomer baby?”

“No, I’m way too young to be a Boomer.”

“NextGen, then? One of your parents or grandparents might have been a latent Boomer.”

“No, I know all my grandparents, and know about my great-grandparents. We’re all native to Michigan. No one was in New York for the Big Boom.”

“So, where does the intellect to build a battle pod from scrap come from?”

“I, ah, I wasn’t planning on talking about this.”

“You wanted to put people at ease. Whether it’s fair or not, there’s a lot of suspicion of masks who conceal the source of their powers.”

“Yeah, but shouldn’t we be judged by our actions, not our origins?”

“Does that mean you don’t want to answer the question? It’s entirely up to you.”

“I guess… I guess I should. Two years ago, during the Midnight Sun?”

“The 2013 conflict in Near Earth Orbit, between a Kindred Seeder Ship and the Vaelar High Guard Fleet?”

“Yeah, that. Like a lot of people I went outside to see why the sky was so bright at night. A Vaelar Tech Princess got shot down near where I live. I went to see if she needed help, and a wounded Kindred blade-drone was attacking her. I hit it with a bat, and it was in such bad shape it collapsed. I tried to help her, but she was dying. She asked me to take her thought grid – that’s a, ah, a virtual program that lives in her brain. It’ll die if it doesn’t have a host, and she didn’t want a Kindred to get hold of it. So I took it, and it moved in. Into my brain. The Vaelar weren’t happy, but apparently a Tech Princess can do what she wants with her thought grid. And since then, I’ve had a much stronger grasp of technology.”

“Okay, let’s look at some of that. You, ah, you attacked a Kindred? With a bat?”

“It was already pretty badly banged up. It had to survive re-entry”

“Blade-drones are eight feet tall and weigh six hundred pounds. That still must have been very frightening.”

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. They’re all claws and teeth and quills, and mucus.”

“And then an alien put a cybernetic implant in your head, and you use it to create alien technology.”

“Um, no. It didn’t come with any technology. The Tech Princess wiped it clean, so she wasn’t betraying her people’s secrets. No blueprints, nothing like that. It just shows me new ways of thinking about things. About how they go together. But it’s all Earth technology. Actually, the Vaellar keep asking if I’ll give them the thought grid when I’m dead, so they can see how I built Scrap-Iron. Sometimes they ask… rigorously.”

“Are you saying you’ve been attacked by Vaellar?”

“No. I am not saying that. You wanted to come back to something, earlier?”

“Yes, but first, the end of the Questionnaire. Your loyalties?”

“My loyalties are with everyone who is need of defense, justice, or a second chance.”

“So, not with the United States?”

“I take my cues from Anthem. The United States is my home, and I love it. But it’s better, WE are better, when we worry more about the downtrodden of the world than ourselves. And I want the United States to be a better place. And I think it can be. It must be.”

“Okay, so, we wanted to come back to your thoughts on Scrap-Iron showing that garbage can be something more. We’d love for you to expound on that.”

“I… I don’t know, exactly. I think too often, we through away things when they aren’t perfect. People, too. If it’s easier to get a new anything, rather than fix the old, we do. But… but not everything is easily replaced. And everything you get rid of has a cost. If we all took it on ourselves to make things, people, places, all useful, I think we’d all benefit. There are more abandoned houses in the U.S. than homeless people. That can’t be the only way to do things. But… but I don’t have a better answer yet.”

“Thank you. That takes you through the Questionnaire, and our initial thoughts on your answers. We hope you’ll speak to us again, when you’ve had some time to think about the answers you’d like to see enacted.”

“Yeah. I mean yes, sure. I’d be happy to. So… if we’re done you’d better back up. The backblast when I take off is a bit much close up.”

INTERVIEWS. 1.1

“Thank you for joining us.”
“Thank you for having me. I know both my schedule and my security requirements can be difficult to work with.”
“We’re more than happy to make accommodations. You are, after all, the world’s greatest hero.”
“I certainly wouldn’t characterize myself that way, but I do appreciate your willingness to take the steps to make this possible.”
“The security is obviously for our benefit. And, well, you missed our last appointment because you were, what, stopping an alien invasion?”
“The Pulsar Knight Accords prevent me from going into details, but it was a situation involving non-Terrans, and yes some military options were being explored before it was resolved.”
“But you’re here now! So… Anthem Lass?”
“Yes?”
“That’s the first question. Your name. Why ‘Anthem Lass?’ Is that the kind of name you think all female masked heroes should take?”
“I think heroes of any gender should take names that are meaningful to them, and speak to what they stand for. As for why I took Anthem Lass, I’d think that would be obvious.”
“Yes, but you took it in the late 1960s. Times have changed, our culture has changed. Many women in public venues have suggested it’s not appropriate for you to have a name that makes you seem like a lesser version of a male hero. That as a role-model for young women, you should identify as you own, unique person. Do you not worry about that?”
“I worry about how my actions will influence people, young women especially, every day. It is one of my greatest concerns. I have had the remarkable privilege of being given the power to help people in ways very few can, and society as a whole has largely embraced my doing so. I think that’s part of a social contract, and part of upholding my end of it is that I need to be mindful of how my words and deeds may impact what is considered normal, and right, and reasonable.”
“And yet you still present yourself as the female version of Anthem, rather than your own person.”
“I like to believe I present myself as much more than a name.”
“But you acknowledge that your name is an homage to Anthem?”
“Of course I do. Anthem was my mentor, and friend, and a great role model in his own right. And when I first started taking public action, in many ways I was a lesser version of him. He was older, more experienced, wiser, and better-known. When Eddie and I first got costumes…”
“You are referring to Eddie Throne, better known as the masked hero Power?”
“Yes, Eddie Throne. When Eddie and I first got costumes, we were both just trying to live up to Anthem’s example. He became Anthem Lad, and I become Anthem Lass. We were pretty clearly inspired by the ‘Science Heroes’ radio dramas of the 40s and 50s, with Atom Lad and Atom Lass, and similar characters. But we also really wanted to identify ourselves with Anthem.”
“Because he’s your father?”
“No, but nice try. Even Eddie doesn’t talk about our exact connection to Anthem, and I don’t expect we ever will. But he was an important part of our lives, and we wanted to honor that.”
“But in the 90s, Anthem Lad became Power. You don’t think it’s time for you to make a similar change?”
“When we lost Anthem, it hit us all very hard. Eddie had to handle that however he felt best, though I’m never going to call him ‘Power.” That shouldn’t be what our public roles are about. So no, I don’t think it’s time for me to make a similar change.”
“A lot of heroes other than Eddie Throne changed their names in the 1990s.”
“A lot of heroes did a lot of things in the 1990s I think were mistakes. In many cases, they’ve reversed those decisions. I think many of them wish they’d never done some of those things. But as I said, having Anthem die, having the one hero who never failed, never gave up, and always fought the good fight, fall… it hit us all. I don’t blame anyone for making bad decisions right after that, though I also don’t forgive those I think went too far.”
“Like Power?”
“Eddie deserves to have me say anything I have to say about him to his face, and nowhere else.”
“Okay Anthem Lass, but you changed your name too, didn’t you? In the early 1990s, just a few years before the Battle of Hell Gate…”
“Mill Rock.”
“… sorry?”
“The island is officially named Mill Rock, so it should be the Battle of Mill Rock. I don’t believe in allowing murderous tyrannical demonic invaders to name Terran historical events. And I don’t like the idea of saying ‘We lost Anthem at Hell Gate.’ I’d appreciate it if you’d use the location’s actual name.”
“Okay, we can do that. The point is, even before the battle when Anthem died, you changed your name for more than a year.”
“You mean the Aurora Angel identity? Yes… and no. While that was me, in a sense, it was the mind of a version of me from an alternate reality, where everyone but her has super-powers, inhabiting my body in this reality.”
“… Seriously?”
“Absolutely. During that same time, I was living the life of ‘Normal Lass,’ the only person without powers in Reality-AACX1. I was there for roughly 18 months. I switched back to Anthem Lass within a few weeks of returning. Mostly because it took that long to get new costumes.”
“Why have we never heard about this before?”
“Mostly because I took legal responsibility for all the actions of Aurora Angel. I think an alternate version of myself, in my body, is close enough to me that I’m not going to hide behind transdimensional drift to avoid some citations and lawsuits. But my statement about the event is on file with the Masked Alliance legal registry, and has been vetted by both Professor Phoenix and Dr. Athens.”
“So… you’ve never considered a different hero name?”
“Of course I have. Every time I change costume, if nothing else. But I always conclude I am still proud to be Anthem Lass, even if that seems a bit out-of-place for a woman now in her late 70s, however young I still look. But there was only one Anthem, so I can’t take his exact name, and Anthem Lady sounds terrible. At least Anthem lass has a history of actions I am proud of behind it.”
“What do you say to women who feel you are undermining gender equality with that name?”
“Only that I encourage them to continue to fight for what they believe is right. Gender equality is an incredibly important issue. It’s one I have spoken out on, despite it still not being the norm for masked heroes to address social issues. And there’s no doubt that some institutions and organizations have a double standard when it comes to female masked heroes, and women are taken less seriously than men in many fields of endeavor. I do think how we act, and how we demand others treat us, is more important than what names we use, but I won’t pretend the issues might not be related. I think it would be different if most female heroes these days felt the need to identify as distaff versions of male heroes. I think Hexen made a powerful statement when she stopped being Gargoyle Girl, Nemean made a good choice when she switched from Lady Hercules, and Tech is a stronger name than Tech Woman. I applaud those choices, and I am glad we’ve come far enough that most people accept them. But all you have to do is read the comments section of any online article about those heroes, and you’ll see that societally we still have a lot of sexism and gender bias, and there’s a long way to go. I may even be making a mistake to decide to continue to honor my mentor this way. I’m far from perfect. But I have to do what I think is best. With the influence and power at my disposal, I very rarely have the luxury of doing anything other than what I think is wisest.”
“There’s a rumor that the Masked Alliance won’t let you change the name, for marketing reasons.”
“That is totally, unequivocally, untrue.”
“But there are rules about the names of heroes in the Alliance?”
“Yes, there are now. There didn’t used to be, but a few juvenile stunts forced the organization to ban names that are obviously inappropriate.”
“Like what?”
“One member claimed to be switching his name to Goat Porn Man, pointing out there was no rule against it.”
“Why?”
“You’d have to ask Troubleshooter, he’s the one that pressed the point. And unfortunately, that’ll have to be the last question. An alert just went up on a volcano in Ecuador, and I need to leave now if I am going to be sure to be there if it erupts. Thank you, again, for your patience.”

Story Time!

When I was interviewed by Wizards of the Coast in 2000 for a possible design job, I’d already been freelancing for a few years. I had a few articles in various magazines, and was working on two big game manuscripts (which were never published by the companies that paid me for them). The WotC interviewers asked me dozens of questions. How did I go about outlining a project? What were my experiences as a DM? What did I most like to write? What did I think of The Phantom Menace? How would I handle getting art back for a project that didn’t match what I had written? This process took a few hours.
At no point, for some reason, did anyone ask me how fast I could write. I had, of course, finished the Design Test, which was roughly 1500 words of an encounter, with map, in 3 days. That was the minimum to even be considered for the job. And I had slaved and struggled and pulled all nighters to do it. It was the most I had ever written in 3 days, by a huge margin.
But I was hired, and WotC moved me out to Seattle, and I started to get introduced around on my first day. In the hallway my manager ran into a senior designer in the department, and asked how his most recent project was going. The designer commented that he was going to have a long weekend, because he had to write 60,000 words in 2 days.*
I honestly believe that is as close to having a heart attack as I have ever come in my life. Because my NORMAL game writing rate was about 1,000 words… per week.
I managed to maintain consciousness, and asked my manager if we could go talk in his office. We did, and I explained that no one had ever gone over the rate at which I was expected to write, and I was afraid I would be too slow. The manager revealed the average would be 22,000 words in 4 weeks… or a little more than 5x my normal pace. I explained my concern about by 1k/week schedule, and my manager got a bit pale.
Luckily, as a new junior developer, I was expected to take some time to get up to speed, and within 3 months I was hitting 22k/4 weeks just fine. I have even done 60k in 2 days more than once in my career, though I am mostly not up to the kind of caffeine-infused craziness that requires anymore.
But it IS something I have remembered for 15 years, and keep in mind anytime I am talking with new writers and big projects.

*Since it’s come up in the comments: The designer who said this wasn’t intentionally messing with me – but he also wasn’t expecting to actually hit said goal. He was offering what it would take to be done by the original deadline, while well aware that wasn’t going to happen. I believe he actually did 20k words over Friday, Sat, and Sun of that weekend, because I checked with him later.

And while I HAVE done 60k words in 2 days, it was 48 hours nonstop, and I only did it because a publisher asked me to, as an emergency. That was never *ever* normal, and I doubt I could do it at all anymore.

GM’s Day

I met Gary Gygax once, at a Gen Con in the late 1990s. He was running a D&D game in-or-near the TSR Castle. I don’t know what edition. It doesn’t matter. A crowd of us were watching, Someone died (killed mysteriously in the darkness, having walked away from the campfire without a light). That player had to get up, and Mr. Gygax pointed at me and boomed “You want to play!?”
Of course I did.
A character sheet was slapped in front of me. My turn came soon enough. THINGS were circling our camp. I was a warrior of some type – I think a ranger, but I didn’t last long enough to get acquainted with my character. As my one action, I grabbed a burning log from our campfire and hurled it out at the multiple sets of red eyes stalking us. “Good!” Mr. Gygax shouted approvingly, and had me roll a d20. I have no idea what I rolled.
It wasn’t good enough to hit any of the red-eyed threats, but it was enough to illuminate them. Massive black wolves, snarling and, we realized *talking*.
“Kill that one!” Mr. Gygax said the biggest wolf growled to the pack.
And they did.
I lasted exactly one round.
Mr. Gygax smiled, told me I was dead, and I should let someone else play,
I got up, smiled back, and said “Thank you.”
I like to believe he understood I didn’t mean  “Thank you for this one game, this one time.” I meant “Thank you for ALL the games, forever.”

More Than Two Decades

Twenty-four years ago today, I married Lj Hamilton, who opted to stick my last name onto the end of hers and become Lj Stephens.

Lj was already my best friend. She was also already a bad-ass gamer chick, an artist, a writer in her own right, she had a lot more going on than I did. I knew it was a big step and it scared me, but since we’d been living together for more than a year, and dating on-and-off for a while before that, I thought I knew what being married to her would be like. In many ways I was right. In the crucial ones, I was wrong. Being married is different than living together, in the same way camping is different than sleeping in a tent in your backyard.

I’ve been married to my wife for more than half my life. We have had ups and down, both together and in regards to one another, but I have never regretted getting down on one knee and asking her to be a permanent part of my life. But make no mistake, marriage is work. Having someone be part of your life means they are there for your good and bad, and for their own, and you promised to never leave, which can make you feel stuck. We did the work a marriage takes, and we love each other enough to keep doing the work. The results are worth it.

Everything good I have done in 24 years she suggested, helped with, or encouraged me to do. Every bad habit I have gotten rid of she helped me fight. Every sorrow has been comforted by her, and every victory celebrated. I have no doubt she has helped me be a better man, and that’s just a small part of why I love her.

Twenty-four years ago today, I made the best decision I have ever made. Later this week (Wednesday, at 6pm) she and I invite you all to come join us in celebrating this accomplishment (along with her birthday). The moment deserves commemorating, and our circle of friends and acquaintances is part of the environment that has made our marriage so great for more than two decades.

Then the next day, we’ll wake up to an alarm again, groan and moan as we get up and get to work again, and smile when we hold hands in the car again. That’s what marriage is. A joining, but a joining that has to move forward with real life.

I plan for many more milestones with my wife, and many more celebrations of that one really good decision.

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