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

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: 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.


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:

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: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 023: Deck in a Box

Deck of Many Things The Void

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 023: The Mysteries of Lootboxing.

I think the themes of randomness and the Loot Boxes of Wonder are going to dominate this week’s discussion, so I’m going to do things out of order and “clear the decks” of the lesser stuff first and come back to those themes.

So let’s take a brief detour into the thought process on Level 3 Tuttle and CHDRR. I won’t mention it every time we level, but at least one more time for the people in the back: odd levels focus more on CHDRR, even levels focus mostly on Tuttle. Now, my original plan for CHDRR was that I was going to focus him more heavily on utility powers and combat was going to be a secondary thing, but take your pick of “Mo complaining about having to do all the tanking wore me down” or “CHDRR has already died twice and I’d like to make that a little less likely to happen”.  So now combat survivability is the main focus – at least at the low levels.

For CHDRR’s drone mod, Enhanced Armor: pretty hard to say “no” to a +2 armor class. For CHDRR’s feat? You guessed it. CLEAVE, the “Mom’s apple pie” of combat feats. Cleave is almost always either my first or second feat with melee builds – sometimes it’s Blind Fight because I had a few bad experiences fighting in the dark, but CHDRR has darkvision now, so I’m a little less worried about that in this case. There’s a half-formed thought of “if we’re gonna get hit every time anyway, let’s focus on ending fights quicker”.

The other thing I’ll very briefly mention is Hirogi’s new grenades. Is it just me, or does this feel like “Steve and/or Chris were getting impatient for me to push THE BUTTON and decided to give Hirogi another similar outlet for that? I’m a little disappointed that Tuttle is losing his fan club – I kind of liked having the goblins looking up to Tuttle – but beyond that… anything that gives us more firepower is OK by me. (OK, I’m also not sure how I feel about Hirogi cornering the allegiance of all the NPC’s… I sense an uprising in the making.)

So now, let’s talk randomness.

I think I would draw the distinction a little differently than Steve, though somewhere at the end, our two thought process end up in roughly the same place. I think for me, my distinction would be story randomness, which is great, versus combat randomness, which can get really frustrating.

I do agree with his general point that mixing randomness into a campaign is a healthy thing. It keeps players on their toes, and it keeps the game from devolving into a complete paint-by-numbers. I mean, that’s part of what sets a true role-playing game apart from just playing an MMO – these moments that only a live game with real people’s imaginations working overtime can create.

And yeah, sometimes randomness can lead to bad outcomes, but I would argue bad is only truly bad if it’s not interesting. Steve mentioned Ezrik’s fun with Numerian Fluid in our Iron Gods game – Steve mentioned perma-death or losing your sight as potential negative consequences. I think the severity is part of the issue, but the other part is that something that severe paints the story into a corner – you either have NO recourse, or the sole focus of the story becomes fixing the problem created by the randomness. And even something as serious as death or blindness might be doable if there’s an engaging story that can be spun off of it (see also: Daredevil); but if it’s just “you’re screwed, what next?”, that’s where it hits a wall and stops being interesting.

The other thing is: bad doesn’t even always have to be bad. Going back to Ezrik losing his sense of taste: later in the campaign, it actually turned out to be a good thing in the right context. We were in a town looking for a person we were tracking, and Ezrik was able to befriend the locals in by drinking the undrinkable swill drink at the local bar (think of it like taking an “atomic wings” challenge). There was supposed to be a check to be nauseated, but Steve either bypassed it entirely or gave me a huge plus because I couldn’t taste how disgusting it was (though I think it still smelled bad). So the negative actually turned into a positive at that moment, and the townspeople gave us a lead on our quarry.

But that’s the situation when you have time to process a negative outcome and fold it into the story in a meaningful way that keeps people engaged. Doing it in the heat of combat? That’s where I struggle with it.

As the intro of every episode reminds us, the roleplaying game is a combination of improv theater and a traditional board game, but combat is the part of the game session that lives the furthest toward the “game” end of the spectrum. I don’t know about you, but I like to know what those rules are and know how things will function within those rules. Combat already has enough unknowns and calculated risks as it is – I’m not sure throwing random disasters in on top of everything else is my cup of tea.

I think there’s also some ego factoring in. Combat is also where you get to prove you know what you’re doing when you built and played your character. To have that taken out of your hands by random asshattery – “surprise, your magic sword is now a watermelon” – feels like achievement is being stolen from you. Even random boons might leave you feeling a little cheated, like “you weren’t able to do it yourself, you had to have outside help”. So I guess what I’m saying is that when the fighting starts, that’s where I stop finding the randomness quite so entertaining.

Which… maybe that last bit is why I’ve been a little reluctant to push THE BUTTON – yeah, I get the feeling most of the outcomes are good (and minor), but I don’t really want to be responsible for a party wipe if I get one of the few bad ones at the wrong time. I’ll get over it, but it’s something I’m wrestling with internally.

Now about these Loot Boxes Of Wonder.

First (logistical) disclaimer: I’m not going to download the PDF and see what they do. I want to have my surprise preserved. At least for now… if we open 15 or 20 of these and they become old hat, maybe at some point I’ll take a look. But for now, I choose to maintain my ignorance.

Second disclaimer: I’m not as enamored of the original Deck Of Many Things as Steve is, but I have to admit part of that is because the only time I ran into it, it was with a bad DM who I think deep down wanted to see the bad outcomes and kinda-sorta pushed the story in the direction of making us use it until something bad did happen. That gets into Steve’s point about randomness being voluntary and having buy-in from the players – in my one encounter with the DoMT, it kinda… wasn’t.

So, the loot boxes. Maybe it’s because Overwatch has trained me well, but so far I think I like them. I will admit that when I opened mine, I was expecting… loot. Physical things. But that’s not a big deal, and it is more in the spirit of the Deck of Many Things for them to be buffs rather than objects. I don’t know how the Greater ones are going to play out, but the Lesser ones seem like the sort of buffs you would cast pre-combat. That doesn’t seem too terrible or game-breaking, and seems like a fun little way to add a new dimension to things. We kinda screwed ourselves by opening three of them and then taking a rest (oops) but we’ll still have a few hours left of them and we’ll know better for next time.

I am quite curious what that portal that came from my box does, though. My gut reaction is I’m not worried about the destination being bad – “oh, hey look… Zon-Kuthon’s beach bungalow!” – but I’m worried about the mechanics of it: is it bi-directional or are you stuck wherever you end up? Can multiple people go through, or does it disappear after someone uses it? Essentially, I’m a little worried it would take us someplace nice, but in a way that splits the party, and then whoever is left on the Drift Rock really is screwed because some part of the team is just gone. MAYBE it’s a way out of here once we clear the final few rooms though… that could be verrrry useful, especially if the Hippo isn’t coming back and/or Nor doesn’t send another ship.

So if you look up at the end of the day, this was kind of a transitional episode. In terms of progress on the mission itself, we opened one door (and Tuttle got zapped again… gotta work on that), but we got a lot of interesting developments on the side – leveling, the loot boxes, Hirogi’s new grenades – and we end the episode ready to tackle what feels like the endgame of the Drift Rock escapade. I’m assuming you listeners are as ready as we are to get back to civilization, so tune in next week and let’s see if we do!