March 2018 - Roll For Combat: A Starfinder Actual Play Podcast

Talking Combat 027: You No Take Tenure!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 027: Meeting Of The Minds.

This one’s going to be a little short – first, I ran into a little bit of time crunch doing this and reviewing Pact Worlds. But also, I have to confess this week’s episode was a little weird for me.

On one hand, dealing with snobby academics should have been right up Tuttle’s alley. The episode had some nice individual roleplaying moments, and hey, we got to interact with a Contemplative. That alone is worth the proverbial price of admission. We finally managed to find someone who’s a bigger snob than Tuttle!

On the other hand – and I hope saying this doesn’t place a bounty on my character’s head when I go to PaizoCon – the central premise of the quest just didn’t work for me. Steve says we sometimes get impatient or trigger-happy: while that’s true in general, this wasn’t that. When you really strip it down, it feels like it needlessly complicated a simple issue for the sake of giving us players something to do. In short: it felt a little too much like busy-work.

So let me get this straight. Muhali and Austin 3:16 could very easily walk down a hall and just talk to each other and sort this issue out. But instead, they’re going to rely on total strangers to mediate their dispute, even though these mediators have no background or standing in any of the subjects that are in dispute. I guess you can hand-wave some of that as respect for the clout of the Starfinder Society, but it still seems like a situation that could’ve resolved itself without our efforts.

Also, just as a technical matter, I was expecting it to require more than ONE Diplomacy roll to resolve. MAYBE even some research type activities that would’ve given Tuttle a more active role. We are at a university, after all.

Honestly, it reminded me of one of those quests in WoW where you turn in one quest, and the next step of the quest is the NPC standing right next to the one you’re talking to. “You two guys can’t talk to each other? Really?”

Nevertheless, we got it done. Muhali gets her apology, Ailabiens 21:2 gets his career back on track, and presumably next episode, we get access to Halukeem Zan’s notes about the alien writing. Win-win all around. Now can we get poor Mo some food?

This week’s random pet peeve: every time Steve has someone call us the “Fabulous Five” I keep thinking of the Furious Five from Kung-Fu Panda. It can’t just be me, right?

[And as long as we’re going there: Mo = Monkey (good-natured goof, sort of the tank of the group), Rusty = Tigress (aloof leader), Tuttle and CHDRR are Crane and Mantis (they tend to be a package deal in the movies as well), and I guess that makes Hirogi Viper.]

The GM tip regarding shopping left me with a twinge of guilty conscience because I’m a craptacular book-keeper in that regard. Historically, I have a pretty good memory (you might catch it when I’m the one to pull the name of an NPC from four episodes ago out of thin air) but sometimes I rely on it too much when it comes to my character sheet. Steve’s far too kind to admit it, but I suspect at least part of the reason he keeps track of it centrally is that I have a rich history of forgetting the contents of my inventory unless someone writes them on my forehead in Sharpie.

From the player perspective, I tend to finalize my shopping list about 80% between sessions. We almost always – Pathfinder OR Starfinder – end up with some shared group expenses that don’t get resolved until we’re at the table again, so it’s almost impossible to lock a shopping list down to the last credit/gold piece. (Or, on at least one or two occasions, between the time Steve told us to get our lists ready and when we returned to civilization, we took a detour and ended up with more money than expected.) So what I do is I create two different lists – the “must have”s that I’m pretty much walking out the door with regardless of what the rest of the group wants to do (this time around, it was an armor upgrade and the personal ability enhancement), and a second list of “nice to have” purchases that I’ll dip into if our group decisions result in some leftover funds or if we do somehow stumble into more money than we expected. I will note that Starfinder is a little heavier on consumables than Pathfinder tended to be, so in this game, I’ve also had be more explicit about budgeting for that, with the understanding that those can change if needed. The net effect of all of this is that when we finally get to the table, I have my most immediate needs covered with minimal muss and fuss, but I still have some flexibility to tweak it without adding a lot of extra time to the proceedings – in essence, Plan A is already locked in, but I’ve also got Plans B, C, and D ready to go as needed.

Next week, I guess we’ll finally get access to the archives and gain access to Halukeem Zan’s writings (I keep thinking of the notebook Indiana Jones’ dad kept in Last Crusade – ONLY THE PENITENT MAN SHALL PASS!). I’m torn here – more chances to use Tuttle’s brains would be a good thing, but so would getting out into the wilds of Castrovel and fighting some stuff. (There’s that impatience Steve was talking about!). Which one will it be? Brains or brawn? Tune in next week and find out, I guess.

The Starfinder Pact Worlds Review – Let’s Meet The Neighbors

starfinder pact worlds

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path. Check out the podcast and check our new contest – a free trip to Paizocon 2018!

Free airfare, free hotel, free badge, free ticket to the Paizo banquest and a closed session preview of Pathfinder v2 with a Paizo developer! Check out the latest podcast for more details!

In the Alien Archive, Paizo decided to kick off its line of Starfinder supplements by looking deep into space and seeing what sort of creepy crawlies lived out in the great unknown. In their newest release, Pact Worlds, Paizo trades the telescope for a microscope and takes a deeper look at the worlds we’re already familiar with from the Core Rulebook.

Now, when I say “worlds” you have to take an expansive view of the word. Yes, you have traditional planets like Castrovel: fairly close to Earth-like, if a little hot and jungle-y. On the other hand, you also have planets that play around with planetary physics, such as Verces (doesn’t rotate, so it has a day side, a night side, and a thin habitable strip in the middle) or Triaxus (goes around the sun so slowly that seasons last centuries). It’s also got things that don’t count as planets at all – Absalom Station ought to be pretty well-known to even a passing Starfinder fan, the Diaspora is a series of colonies out in an asteroid belt, Idari is a space-ship that has been recognized as a planet, and ohbytheway, there’s a series of magically-protected bubble-cities inside the Sun itself. There’s a lot of different and surprising concepts – 14 in all.

Logistically, the book is organized into four major sections, though the real meat of the book is in the first and last parts.

The first, and largest, section is the information on the Pact Worlds themselves. If you like, think of it as Chapter 12 (“Setting”) of the Core Rulebook on steroids. Each of the 1-2 page planetary summaries from the Core Rulebook is expanded to a more fully fleshed-out description of each world. These generally include information on geography (including full-page maps of each), how society is structured, who their friends and foes are, plus a summary of various people and places of interest.

At its simplest level, it’s just a lore-dump, but what it really gives you framework on which the enterprising GM can build his or her own stories. Need a gladiator pit? Akiton has you covered. Want a story involving space pirates? Welcome to the Diaspora. Or, when in doubt, you can always send them to Eox and see what sort of shenanigans Zo! can inflict on them. (Think of Zo! – and yes, the exclamation mark is part of his name – as the undead version of Ryan Seacrest). A brief bone is thrown to players in the form of a planet-specific character theme for each world (to pick a few examples, the Diaspora gets the Space Pirate; the undead world of Eox gets the Deathtouched) but this part of the book is mostly for the GMs.

The players get theirs in the final chapter of the book. Gear, spells, feats… there are some of each, but they’re really the appetizers here. The big additions are six new archetypes (the core rulebook only had two) and six new playable races. I suspect the one that’s going to be a fan favorite is the SROs (“Sentient Robotic Organisms”) which are exactly what they sound like – robot PCs. If you want to play as HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic… Paizo’s got your back, meatbag.

The middle two sections are smaller and a little more specialized in nature. Chapter 2 offers a selection of various faction-specific spaceships. To pick a couple examples, Hellknight vessels (you may remember them from Pathfinder) are heavily armored and full of jagged edges and pointy bits, while Xenowarden vessels incorporate living plant material into the ship design. Chapter 3, on the other hand, lays out NPC generics – cultists, mercenaries, street gangs – in case your campaign needs some extra cannon fodder. These seem useful in the right situations but might not make it into every campaign.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of the book. The real question is: is it something your gaming table really needs? I’ll put it this way – I think anyone can enjoy it, but where it’s really going to shine is for the GM who homebrews his own stories – groups that predominantly play adventure paths may not get as much out of it. If you’re sticking to adventure paths… OK, it deepens the lore a little and gives you a few more character options, but there might be a fair amount of overlap between the lore available in Pact Worlds and the lore in any given AP. But if you’re looking to make your own adventures, this thing is an idea factory and it’s probably worth having at hand – it’s almost impossible to read all the world lore and not have some sort of storytelling gears start turning in your head.

027: Meeting Of The Minds

Ailabiens 21:2 Roll for Combat

This week, the party flexes their diplomatic muscles as they have to untangle a dispute between Qabarat’s academics. The team zeroes in on the scholar they need to see to get access to Halukeem Zan’s original writings, but he’s currently in hot water with the university and not very cooperative as a result. (There’s also the fact that he’s the only academic in the universe who’s more of a snob than Tuttle.) Can the team smooth things over and make both sides happy enough to get their hands on Zan’s journals?

Also, we’re giving away a free trip to PaizoCon 2018! Listen to the episode for full details on the contest and how to enter!

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses how you can turn your PC buying sessions into a quick and painless experience.

Of course, we also announce another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 026: Odo’s Nose

Deep Space 9

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 026: Back To School.

Consider Odo’s nose.

I’m going to assume most of you have watched Deep Space Nine and know who Odo is – I gotta think the overlap on the fandom is pretty high. But just in case you sat out DS9 because you liked Babylon 5 better or something, Odo was a shapeshifter who can turn himself into pretty much any object, but for some reason can never get human noses right, so he looks a little… “off”.

Think about that as a Starfinder character for a second. Odo is probably an Operative, though if you wanted to make a case for Soldier, I wouldn’t argue too strenuously. What’s a disfigured nose? Maybe a -1 or -2 to Charisma? It’s a dump stat anyway. If you were playing Odo at a gaming table, that nose isn’t going to lose you any fights; you probably don’t even think twice about it.

But think about Odo’s nose as a story element. Think about how it represents his distance from his fellow crew members, a symbol of his otherness. Think about how his sense of being an outsider holds him back from making his feelings for Major Kira known. There’s even something about the fact that it’s kind of human, kind of Bajoran, but not really either. That’s an awful lot of meaning to pack into a little bit of prosthetic makeup. That little detail has a way of signifying a whole lot more.

All of this is preamble to discussing Steve’s GM tip this week about flawed characters.

One of the recurring themes I come back to in these posts is the idea of the balance between gameplay and storytelling. When it comes to designing characters, I think this is one of those places where the gameplay and storytelling missions of a roleplaying game can come into conflict with each other if you’re not careful.

The gameplay side of the house often pushes the player to emphasize survivability. The elephant in the room is that one can tout the storytelling aspects of role-playing games until the cows come home, but at some point, 99% of these stories involve combat, and you can’t experience the rest of the story if you’re dead. So that tends to push people to create characters that win fights.

Unfortunately, if you’ve designed your character just to win fights, those are actually some of the least interesting kinds of characters from the storytelling standpoint.

The Min-Maxer is the obvious example: that guy who digs through the back pages of the rules and finds some esoteric combination of feats and gear that lets him do 4d12 with a freakin’ dagger or something. For a player like that, the rules themselves represent the puzzle to be solved, not the story. While I can respect the technical acumen of something like that, I don’t have a lot of patience for it as a player (or a GM, though I don’t GM a lot these days). It almost always ends up in a situation where the GM has to start modifying his story to neutralize the Min-Maxer’s choices, and it reduces the entire game into a pissing contest between the GM and the Min-Maxer with the rest of the group as bystanders.

In short: don’t be That Guy.

The slightly lesser offense is the purgatory of Safe Choice Charlie, which is – full disclosure – a trap I sometimes fall into. It’s not full-blown Min-Maxing, but it’s playing everything conservatively by the numbers. Take the race that has the right racial stats for the class. Stop all your ability scores at even numbers to get the most bang for your point-buy buck. Optimize feats, skills, etc. for combat survivability. Overly planning your character out multiple levels down the road. It’s not game-breaking in the same way Min-Maxing is, but it also leads to kind of generic characters that don’t really stand out. Their defining trait is that they fight well, and that doesn’t give the GM a lot to play with on the story side.

I don’t think you can do much about the Min-Maxer situation. That’s a fundamentally different way of viewing the game. If someone wants to play that way and you don’t want that at your table, I think you just have to confront it and either ask that player to change for the good of the game (as Steve did with Chris way back when), or maybe even just admit you have different gaming goals and move on. I think building in imperfections is more valuable for bringing some texture to that character that’s within the bounds of the rules, but is in danger of being meta-gamed into a generic shell. The main difference between a tabletop RPG and an MMO is that level of creativity you can bring to it, and I think the latter case is where the meat of Steve’s tip becomes helpful.

And here’s where we come back to Odo’s nose. Injecting flavor into your character doesn’t have to mean kneecapping your stats and making it unplayable. Put another way: the character build can still be fairly conventional if you can find a way to play it in an unconventional manner. I think I mentioned this in a previous Talking, but Bob had a character in Iron Gods that was a fairly by-the-book sorcerer in terms of stats/spell choices/etc. – if you put that character sheet next to 100 other sorcerers, nothing about it would stand out. But Bob played him with limited social awareness, so the differences came in how he reacted to people and situations. That created a lot of interesting story moments without any real adverse impact on the stats sheet.

To tie into THIS campaign, one of my first character concepts before I settled on Tuttle, was going to be something along those same lines – a Solarian who rejected half their powers and only used their dark/light powers. It kind of died on the vine a) because it felt too much like I’d be ripping off the Jedi-Sith dynamic of Star Wars and b) some of it was the unfamiliarity with the system – since Starfinder was so new, I didn’t want to create a quirk that might lead to a TPK because I didn’t understand the rules and borked my character too thoroughly.

And that brings me to my other point. If you ARE going to play a character with flaws that could be problematic in the game itself, I do think that presupposes a long-term group you’re comfortable with and would be accepting of such shenanigans. Steve mentions working with your GM on character concepts like these, but there’s also an assumption that your fellow players are OK with a bit of suboptimal character design in service of the story. Thinking back to Ezrik – my warpriest who kept drinking Numerian fluid – every time I did that, there was always a chance I’d roll that 1 or 2, kill my character and derail the game for a few sessions while I re-roll. I do think you have to be in a group that’s accepting of that (and that’s one thing this group definitely has going for it – we embrace all sorts of weird shit if it makes the game more fun) and doesn’t see it as screwing around or hogging the spotlight.

If you’re playing in a setting where you don’t know the GM or the other players (first session with a new group, or a short-term setting like a convention or something), maybe it’s OK to just be a little boring and play by the book. I’m not sure a pick-up game would be welcoming of these sorts of idiosyncratic characters, and “hey look at me, I’m a rogue with bad DEX” might come across like you’re just trying to derail the game. But if you’re in a long-term group? Embrace the weirdness. Find your character’s new nose.

Unfortunately, my thoughts on the substance of this week’s episode are a little slim. Some of it is real life intruding, but part of it is that it was a kind of transitional “getting from A to B” episode. We get our next mission from ChexMix – dig into the mystery of the alien writing with the writings of some bygone alien explorer – and it’s off to Castrovel. It’s got a feel like we’ll eventually be doing an Indiana Jones-style treasure hunt (I counted at least four Raiders references while re-listening) where we go looking for the alien runes in the scarier parts of Castrovel, but we’re still at the “getting the headpiece from Marian” stage of the story. (Guess that makes five references.)

Does that also imply we’re going to have Space Nazis? Is Wahloss destined to be the more serious Marcus Brody of Raiders or the comic-relief Brody of Last Crusade? Will we have to teach CHDRR to fight with a bullwhip? All important questions.

On a character level, I am kind of excited we’re heading to an academic setting because that might mean more intelligence-based skill challenges that would give Tuttle a chance to do what he does best. Smashing around the criminal underworld of Absalom? That’s Mo or Hirogi’s bag. Bossing around a PhD student or searching dusty archives? Science Rat’s got you covered! Off to college we go!

OK, for extra credit this week, since I’m actually re-watching DS9 on Netflix these days:

Commander Sisko – starts as a Themeless Envoy, takes on Icon or Priest once he embraces his role as the Emissary.

Major Kira – Priest theme, class is either Operative or Soldier, depending on how you characterize her role in the Bajoran resistance. Was she more of a fighter or more of a spy? Could go either way, but leaning Soldier.

Dax – let’s see… married a Klingon, played tongo with the Ferengi, thought the alien with the transparent skull was cute… definitely a Xenoseeker Mechanic. Though one of the previous hosts was a test pilot so the Ace Pilot theme wouldn’t be a stretch. Kurzon Dax was DEFINITELY an Envoy, though.

O’Brien – Themeless Mechanic. Maybe take a level or two of Soldier to symbolize his role fighting the Cardies.

Bashir – Spacefarer Mystic. I realize there’s no perfect analog for magic in the Trek world, but since Mystics are healer types, I’m rolling with it. Spacefarer goes to his earlier season infatuations with “frontier medicine”.

Odo – Bounty Hunter Operative (but with a Lawful, probably Lawful Good, alignment).

Quark – Mercenary Envoy. He’s more of an influencer than a fighter. Speaking of flawed characters, he’d be an Envoy with low charisma.

Worf – Priest Soldier (Klingon beliefs representing a religious identity).

Garak – Outlaw Operative. Character spec is fairly straightforward. Alignment is where it gets tricky with Garak. True neutral? Some sort of evil?

The World of Warcraft Diary Sneak Preview!

World of Warcraft Diary 1

One of our very own Roll For Combat team members is kickstarting a book about what it truly takes to make video games!

John Staats, who plays Maurice “Mo” Dupinski in our Dead Suns Starfinder campaign, has written a book about his years at Blizzard and what it took to create one of the greatest video games of all time!

John was on the World of Warcraft team for over 10 years and his book is a VERY detailed look at how they made Vanilla WOW. He sent me an advance copy and I’m still reading (it’s over 300 pages), but look out for it on Kickstarter soon!

World of Warcraft Diary 2

While John was developing World of Warcraft, he took constant notes, created monthly updates, and interviewed his co-workers throughout the development of the project. I count 140 pictures (all with captions) in the book, most of which I’ve never seen before and they’re all very behind-the-scenes.

With hundreds of never-seen-before pictures and behind-the-scenes interviews, this is a must-read for anyone interested in video game development or the history of World of Warcraft!

World of Warcraft Diary 3

John’s been working this book for over for two years, and he recently got permission from Blizzard to use their content. Next week he’s launching his Kickstarter campaign where you can pick up a copy of this amazing book. If you’re into computer games, check out his webpage where you can read more about this book: whenitsready.com

Good luck John, and look for more information in the near future about this amazing look into one of the most popular games in history!

026: Back To School

Qabarat

The boys return to Starfinder HQ for a debriefing and to get their next mission – investigate the strange alien writing they found on the Drift Rock. The trail leads to Hirogi’s home planet of Castrovel, and specifically to Qabarat University. Hirogi is happy to be on his home turf, Rusty is unnerved by a planet full of non-humans, Tuttle is overjoyed at the chance to mingle with other academics and Mo… he just wants someone to punch (or shoot).

Also, we’re giving away a free trip to PaizoCon 2018! Listen to the episode for full details on the contest and how to enter!

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses why PCs should build their characters with flaws.

Of course, we also announce another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 025: You Been Shopping? No, I Been Shopping

starfinder general

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 025: Keeping Up with the Combatians.

So it’s milestones galore this week.

First, it’s the end of the first book of the adventure path! That’s pretty exciting. First and foremost, surviving was nice – it actually seemed a little touch-and-go at times. But more importantly, we’ve experienced most of the facets of the game, and our characters are starting to grow out of Newbie-Land and be able to do some interesting things. It’s going to be exciting to see how things start opening up as we have our own ship and can stretch our legs in the universe a little more.

It’s also episode 25… THE SILVER ANNIVERSARY – but I’m not really too wrapped up in that. Yes, it’s kind of neat that we’ve been doing this that long, but from my perspective, it’s mostly just a continuation of years of gaming with these guys. Also, it’s a little hard to process milestones in the moment – since we never know how much of the raw footage is going to make the final podcast, we don’t know we’re in the midst of Episode 25 as we’re recording it or anything.

Heck, until about three days ago, I had been figuring Episode 25 was going to be the space combat. I was initially surprised Steve decided to cut it, but I understand the reasons. It was a really long combat (It pretty much took the entire session the night we played it) and there was a certain sameness to a lot of it. And it probably would’ve been a lot of work to edit it in a way that a) still made game sense to our more technically-minded listeners and b) and still preserved the dramatic flow of the fight.

But selfishly – and I don’t want to spend too much time on something you don’t get to hear, but I wanted to touch on it briefly – the second space battle was a lot more interesting and dynamic for Tuttle. The fact that we had more shields made “balancing the shields” a non-trivial option and a longer battle where we took more damage provided more interesting trade-offs between the Science Officer and Engineer roles. The Hippocampus didn’t really present much in the way of managing resources – wait around until something breaks, then go fix it. The Sunrise Maiden kept me a lot busier. I don’t recall ever having to drop down to gunner because I was out of things to do. It bodes well for future fights.

Getting back to Absalom… and to things that were actually in the episode… our unwitting participation in the reality TV show was a nice touch. (Yeah, I know it’s not “TV”, but it’s a frame of reference we can all agree on.) It’s certainly something that delivers that sci-fi feel and gives us something we couldn’t get in a fantasy environment. (I almost used the word “milieu” there, but it was just soooo pretentious.)

As the player, I don’t mind that it raises our general public profile – it might open some doors for us somewhere along the line, maybe we get leads or discounts on gear or something. Privileges of celebrity, I suppose. Tuttle, the character, is probably mortified to be part of something so low-brow. The great unanswered question is how much of the Drift Rock mission – particularly the attacks by Clara and the other space-ship – was embellished for the benefit of the show. We never did get a satisfying answer on any of that. My gut says Clara was legit, but that the second ship might have been a plant but there’s some creeping doubt there. Did Clara have ulterior motives in not fighting to the death?

We also never really figured out a) what was in Nor’s crate and b) what the ultimate resolution of the dispute was (though Nor hinted he would lean toward our decision). But I think most of those questions got swept off the table by the fact that we got paid and had to go shopping.

First, am I the only one old enough to remember the old Wheel of Fortune when contestants would actually buy their prizes after each round? “I’ll take the dinette set for $340, the his and hers recliners for $790, the English tavern dartboard for $290, and I’ll take the rest as a gift certificate”. The shopping sessions always feel like that. Are Mk 1 Healing Serums the Turtle Wax of the Starfinder universe?

You’ll note that my shopping was fairly quick compared to the rest of the guys. A lot of that revolves around my role in combat – basically, I hover in the rear, give CHDRR orders, and occasionally pew-pew-pew with my gun. Survivability was my key theme, so most of my money (about 4000 of my 5000 credits) was on an Estex Suit II and a personal upgrade to DEX (reflex saves, armor class, better chance to hit). I thought about going INT on the personal upgrade, but I felt like we get another skill bump in a few levels and I can put a point into INT then if I really want to. I had a plan B where I bought a gun upgrade instead of the personal upgrade, but none of the available weapons was a clear improvement for the amount of money they’d cost. Basically, it was half my money to move up from a d4 to a d6 of damage, and MAYBE get a better crit out of it. Final analysis: I’ll revisit weapons in a few more levels when there’s a real jump in damage output to be had.

We end our adventure with another summons to the Starfinder Society… presumably to get a new mission. I’m feeling a little mistrustful around the edges now that they signed us up for this reality show without telling us, but on the bright side, they hooked us up with some paid gigs and they fixed the Sunrise Maiden for free. So I guess we’ll leave our minor qualms at the door and see what the next chapter has in store for us. Let’s just be sure to read any contracts a little more carefully going forward.

Turning to the Jason Keeley interview, I don’t have a lot to add to what’s already there, because I had Pathfinder 2 (Son of Pathfinder) on the brain and it’s probably too early to get the answers to most of the questions I had. (GIVE ME 10TH LEVEL SPELL LISTS, DAMNIT!). It sounds like maybe they’re going to take some of the best pieces of Starfinder and try to graft them back onto Pathfinder, which could end up being really good. Can’t wait for the playtest.

The one thing that stuck in my mind was the process of adventure paths – I guess I was a little surprised to learn how autonomous the individual adventures ended up being. I didn’t necessarily expect it to be a completely serial process, but I assumed there would be more top-down control. It sounds like the marching orders are “here’s where you start, here’s where we need you to end, maybe a few plot points in the middle, see you in a few weeks”.  It’s almost more reminiscent of a writer’s room on a TV series.

I think that approach is a double-edged sword – both the strength and the weakness of that approach is the freedom it gives the writers to create. On the good side, you get a writer’s best work if they’re unleashing their creativity and writing things they’re personally vested in rather than banging out pages where they flesh out other people’s ideas. On the other hand, that can sometimes lead to disjointed content, and sometimes the connective tissue between episodes can feel a little flimsy if the pieces are TOO different. I suppose another good analogy is the Marvel Cinematic Universe – it gives the creators the freedom to come up with Guardians of the Galaxy (silly adventure romp), Ant-Man (heist movie), and Black Panther (socially aware superhero movie) under the same broad umbrella… but it can also give you a shit sandwich like Thor 2.

I’m not going to single out an adventure path that did this badly, but Carrion Crown stands out as one that handled this particularly well. You had the horror theme tying the whole thing together at a high-level, but the individual adventures each got to bite off a different chunk of the horror genre – vampires, werewolves, Cthulhu cultists, even a take on Frankenstein’s monster. Furthermore, they tended to have a deft mix where they would engage with the existing tropes in familiar ways at sometimes, but then break sharply and make it their own in other places  –  a nice combination of familiar and fresh. (And now I sound like a food critic. THE COBB SALAD WAS GREAT, BUT THE LEMON CHICKEN WAS UNDER-SEASONED.)

So next week, hopefully, we get back to adventuring and see where the new chapter leads. In the meantime… Got some Pathfinder 2 speculation? Care to share your own personal favorite adventure paths? Are you in a mood to pick apart our shopping lists? Feel free to drop us a line and let us know.

025: Keeping Up with the Combatians

Pact Worlds Starfinder Playtest PaizoCon

ATTENTION NEW LISTENERS: We here at Roll For Combat recognize that jumping into an existing podcast can be a daunting task, especially one like this that involves an unfolding story. To help newer listeners out, we’ve prepared a brief synopsis at the start of this episode that will catch you up on the story so far. Give it a listen, and you’ll be ready to join us, all caught up ready to jump right into the podcast. Enjoy the show!

It’s a jam-packed 25th episode of Roll For Combat, as we finish Book 1 of Dead Suns and start on Book 2. After a space combat session that didn’t make for good listening (SPOILER: we won!), the team returns Absalom Station to find themselves newly minted reality… holo-vid?… celebrities: it turns their Drift Rock adventures have been turned into a hot new reality show. The boys finally get some answers from Gevalarsk Nor, and they bid farewell to their NPC companions. The crew then takes a little break to do some shopping and strategize on their characters before checking back in with the Starfinder Society to receive their next mission.

We also have a special guest join us on this episode. Jason Keeley, author, editor, and Developer at Paizo Inc., creators of the Pathfinder and Starfinder Roleplaying Games. We discuss with him what goes into developing an adventure path campaign, the upcoming Starfinder Pact Worlds hardcover book, the recently announced Pathfinder Playtest, and we dig up a surprise from Jason’s past!

Also, we’re giving away a free trip to PaizoCon 2018! Listen to the episode for full details on this contest and how to enter! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 024: Push the Button, Tuttle!

The Sunrise Maiden

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 024: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

FINALLY, Pt. 1!

We finished the first chunk of story arc and fought the Big Boss Monster. And… OK, I gotta say it, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. All those teeth, no healing potions… I have to admit I was worried we were going to be saying farewell to someone, even if it might have been one of the NPCs or another CHDRR rebuild. But we actually put some pretty solid damage on Gazorpazorp (that was the Rick and Morty reference I was looking for… tip of my tongue), I think it might have even missed once or twice (shocking!) and it turned out to be… well, not a trivial fight, but not SO bad.

As far as the story, I admit I was hoping for a more conclusive resolution to the dispute we’re supposed to be arbitrating. I was hoping for some sort of clear-cut sign that one of the two parties had broken the deal, or that Astral Extractions had sabotaged the mission. In that sense, it doesn’t feel like we “solved” that mystery, though we did reveal the ultimate fate of the crew. I guess we’ll just have to see what Nor says when we get back to Absalom. Assuming he starts taking our calls again.

FINALLY, Part 2!

Gentlemen, the ship is ours. (Huzzah! Huzzah!) We finally found the Sunrise Maiden and can get the hell back to civilization and get paid. Until we ran into the dead captain, I’d been assuming Nor would send the Hippo back or the Drift Rock itself would be a ship, but having a ship to call our own is kinda nice going forward. Especially since interstellar law dictates that it’s OURS-ours. I’m a little surprised how big it is (that’s what she said) – I wonder if someday down the road, we could hire NPC gunners to man some of the “extra” stations? (In other words, THE DOOR IS OPEN FOR US TO HAVE OUR OWN REDSHIRTS SOMEDAY.)

I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the name Sunrise Maiden. I’m not bagging on the name itself: it’s got a quaint Firefly feel to it, and generally fits the maritime “ship = she” motif. We could do worse. On the other hand, part of me wants to re-christen it just to make it feel like it’s ours. Even if that means listening to Bob and Chris debate whether it should be called “Rusty’s Revenge” or “Hirogi’s Prize” for an hour before settling on some obscure Star Trek reference. (Three strips of gold-pressed latinum to whoever can give me the name of Gowron’s pet targ.)

Or we can always go with the cheese route again – the “Star-Wandering Interlinked Space Speeder”? “Gravitational Oscillating Unobtanium-Driven Avenger”?

I fully encourage fan suggestions on this one, but can we all just agree in advance that “Starship McStarshipface” is SO 2017?

LEONARD, Part 6!

Just checking who’s still paying attention.

FINALLY, Part 3!

THE BUTTON HAS BEEN PUSHED. And it was equal parts glorious and underwhelming.

Underwhelming in terms of the game effects, insofar as I’d probably built it up a little too much in my head. I was imaging something like a whirling dervish of chainsaw blades or that CHDRR would form Voltron with Zerk and Torsa (well, Zerk’s corpse, anyway). Or on the negative side, that CHDRR would just explode and kill us all.  So there was a degree to which there was a little “wait… that’s it?” when we only got a +1 buff. The good news is that does suggest the stakes aren’t as high as I thought, and that I can be a little freer using it going forward. So expect more BUTTON hijinks to come.

The “glorious” part? The song. The general dance club trappings. The whole spirit of fun about the whole thing. Does it break with the overall tone of the adventure? Maybe. Will it be a lot less amusing the 5th or 6th time I roll the same result? Entirely possible. But here and now, I was DYING. I can’t wait to see what other sorts of things are in store.

Now, since we’re talking about THE BUTTON… time to end on a bit more of a serious note. There’s Steve’s GM note this week, which leaves me in an interesting quandary.

On one hand, player autonomy, being allowed to be responsible for your own choices, is one of my few red-line issues as a gamer. I’ve quit a campaign over it (not these guys – one of my middle school games). “The Coach” Steve mentioned? He and I butted heads a few times over the years. Adult Me has too much respect for other people’s time to actually bail mid-session, but I do remember an incident of disconnecting from the last 15 minutes of bookkeeping (leveling/buying new gear) at the end of a session without saying a word because I was pissed about being told what to do all night. So this issue matters to me.

On the other hand, I worry that spending too much time on it magnifies the importance of a “water under the bridge moment” and I don’t really want to do an entire column where I do nothing but complain about a fellow player. Especially when we’re reaching such a major milestone in the game itself.

So, if we can all agree with the tone I’m going for is scholarly examination (imagine me in a tweed jacket with the elbow patches, pipe optional) rather than “boy isn’t Chris an asshole” (imagine whatever clothes you wish, as long as it’s not a fursuit or head-to-toe TAPOUT gear), let’s talk about this thing a little.

Let me start by admitting my biases. As I’ve said, this is one of those issues I find big enough to be a deal-breaker, so maybe it matters to me too much. I’ll also admit I’m open to the possibility that I was, and possibly still am, being overly sensitive. Maybe on the heels of Chris going against us on Clara’s guns and jumping through the portal just to see what happened, maybe I assumed the worst of him at the moment and misread his intentions. Maybe I’ve been guilty of being too possessive about CHDRR and being the one to push THE BUTTON. I suppose those are possibilities.

Conceding all of that, I still ultimately disagree with Steve. No, I don’t think Chris was trying to be “helpful” or save me a move action. Yes, I DO think he was trying to play my character for me – or more accurately, I think he wanted to be the one to Make The Cool Thing Happen. And yes, it upset me at the moment. I’m not going to make a voodoo doll or cut the brakes on Chris’ car – frankly, it was forgotten by the next session – but I’m also not going to sugarcoat my reaction to it because my reaction re-listening to it now is still pretty much the same.

The first part of my counter-argument is “Hirogi Being Hirogi”. Chris likes to play an aggressive game, make things happen, and keep the story moving – that’s who he is as a player. It is known, khaleesi. This should not be news to anyone who has listened to the podcast so far. Hell, this shouldn’t be news to anyone who listened to this episode – see also: when he stepped through the portal while the rest of us were still talking about it.

And… I genuinely don’t care a lot when he’s making decisions for himself. It’s a little frustrating when he puts the rest of the party at risk or goes against a decision we made as a group, but that’s the flip side of this autonomy coin we’re talking about: it’s his character and he’s allowed to run it as he likes. For the most part, I’ll roll my eyes, grind my teeth, maybe make a smart-ass comment and move on. But that’s also why I expect the same courtesy when I’m playing my character. And no, I don’t feel like that courtesy was being extended here.

And that brings me to the second prong of my rebuttal. Steve suggests he was trying to help, but that implies cooperation, or at least discussing what I was trying to do and working with me. Let’s break out the John Madden Telestrator and look at the X’s and O’s. My plan for THE BUTTON was to get CHDRR in melee range to get him closer to the monster (and further from the bulk of the group if anything bad happened). But Chris didn’t seem to care about any of that. If I remember the map right, CHDRR was still 20 or 30 feet away when Chris tried to push THE BUTTON. He didn’t talk to me about my strategy or why I was waiting. Like I said, it felt like he just wanted to be the one to Make The Cool Thing Happen.

Again, I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. It happened, and frankly, it was quickly forgotten UNTIL I had to do the write-up for this episode. And I will still overall defend Chris’ playstyle as a net positive – “Hirogi Being Hirogi” generally leads to fun things happening. But I figured I should throw my two cents in since Steve put it out there for discussion.

So there we are. End of “Season” 1. Unlike Firefly, we’re not about to be canceled, so what happens next? Does Nor ever explain what happened with his cargo? What’s the ultimate resolution of the dispute between Astral Extractions and the Hardscrabble Collective? Where do we go next now that we have a ship of our own and stars to guide her by? Tune in next week and find out. And in the meantime, feel free to drop by social media and let us know how you think we’re doing.

024: Exit Through the Drift Shop

Fight with Garaggakal

The crew returns to the Drift Rock and the crew finally finds a way home. Unfortunately, it’s being guarded by… something. Something with lots and lots of teeth. And the time has finally come… THE BUTTON gets pushed!

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses how to recognize and prevent players from playing other people’s PCs.

Also, make sure to check out our first RPG product! The Loot Box of Wonder by Thurston Hillman was created for the podcast and adds a bit of deck of many things to the Starfinder Universe. Get your own free copy right here: http://lootboxofwonder.rollforcombat.com

Of course, we also announce another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!