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

Talking Combat 035: Getaway Day

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 035: Do You Want to Build a Sporeman.

This week at Talking Combat, let’s be honest; we’ve mostly got PaizoCon on the brain.

As you’re reading this, the various members of Team RFC are winging their way across the US, headed for the Paizo Mothership in Seattle. So, while I don’t want to blow off this week’s episode entirely, I’m probably going to turn the majority of this into a soft preview of the weekend’s fun.

Part of the problem is that this is one of those episodes that lives and dies with the table banter. We’re not fighting, we don’t have any social encounter, we’re not particularly moving the plot along – most of the episode is just a snapshot of Life At A Gaming Table.

As a listening experience, I think it’s valuable to include an occasional episode like that. Yes, sometimes the fun of a gaming table is going on weird mental field trips where you talk about the Star Trek transporters to beam human waste out of the body. But it’s kinda tough to write about an episode like that without just resetting every joke and saying “remember that, that was funny” like that one Chris Farley sketch from SNL.

For the record, beaming your poop out of your body totally sounds like something the Vulcans would’ve come up with – why have a completely unsanitary system to remove waste with an access point in every home, when you can just beam it away? (Oh dear God, they probably repurpose it into the food replicators. Vulcans eat their own shit. It certainly explains why they’re so humorless all the time. Head-canon established.)

If you’re looking for tangible accomplishments this week…

Well, I guess we may have established that Rusty is using some sort of technological solution to hide his undead-ed-ness . It’s a curious development, but we’ll have to put a pin in it and come back to it once we’re out of the jungle. My inner Rules Lawyer does wonder: if he’s turning undead, shouldn’t he have immunity to the jungle heat? Maybe I’m operating from a Romero-centric view of the undead, but they never struck me as being all that concerned about the weather. Show me the episode of The Walking Dead where a zombie takes a break from brain-munching to go put on a sweater. I’ll wait.

Tuttle also took his first (half) day au naturel. I’d been holding off as long as possible because Fortitude saves aren’t Tuttle’s strong suit, but as Bob said (and it mirrors what I was thinking) I want to have a couple days’ worth of cooling left for potential dungeoneering at the destination, so I’ve reached the point where I kind of have to take a day. Also, I have CHDRR as a bodyguard, so I’m a little less worried about getting attacked while armorless (though the temporary hit points are still an issue).

I have to admit I’m getting a little mentally tired of the jungle trek and I’m ready to arrive somewhere soon. From a game design point of view, I get that surviving the environment is What The Challenge Is, but I share Chris and John’s frustration on getting nickel-and-dimed to (non-)death on non-lethal damage. Very frustrating.

As the episode ends, I was worried we were gearing up for another ScorBaMonk attack, but it looks like it’s more of an environmental challenge, with some sort of pink dust storm headed right at us. It doesn’t seem like “the dust is poisonous” is going to be the big reveal, because we’ve got environmentals for that. So what is it? Hurricane winds? Falling trees? The storm gets us lost and we have to re-establish a path? I assume there’s a cherry on the top of this sundae yet to be revealed, but I guess we’ll find out what it is next week.

So let’s talk PaizoCon. Full disclosure: I’ve never been to PaizoCon before, though I have attended GenCon and Origins. Obviously, those other conferences are more general gaming and this is more laser-focused on Paizo games, but there will still be similarities. On the other hand, my drinking game of taking a shot every time you see a new variant of Settlers of Catan won’t be of much use this time.

Most of us are getting in Thursday, but between managing the time zone change and decompressing from 8 or 10 hours in the clutches of the airline system, I’ll need some Me Time. There are a couple different versions of the plan (none of which are so pretentious as to involve a hot stone massage), but it will likely be both low-key and unrelated to gaming.

To compensate, Friday is pretty much going to be wall-to-wall dice-throwing.

In the morning, most or all of us are playing SFS 1-12 (Ashes of Discovery) together, including the rare sighting of GM Steve as a player character. It’ll be nice to play with these guys in person, instead of as disembodied voices.

After lunch is the one lottery event I got in – Awesome Mix Vol. 1, which is basically a conversion of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters to the Starfinder system. As a huge fan of the Marvel movies (negotiations with the ex-wife to rename our son T’Challa are still ongoing), if I was going to get into ONE event, I suppose I’m glad it was this one. Having said that, I’m going to lobby hard to play someone other than Rocket, since I’m reaching my Furry Tech Rodent saturation point.

Friday night is my first block of (unintentional) free time. I had a Pathfinder game booked, but then we decided to move that to Sunday morning. In the meantime, the other official games either filled up, or I didn’t have a character of the right level, so that kind of left me without anything. So either I’ll use Friday night to relax, or maybe try to find a pickup game if one’s available.

Saturday is the day of “soft” stuff – mostly panels and other podcasts – though that’s another spot where I could toss stuff overboard if a pickup game emerges. I’ve got both Know Direction and Glass Cannon on the schedule, and I’m on the fence about attending Steve and John’s WoW talk. On one hand, there’s a chance I’ll have already heard some/most/all of the stories they’re going to tell, just by virtue of our friendship. On the other hand, I didn’t see another event that was more compelling, and there’s a little bit of “support the team” vibe as well. My other question mark is whether to attend the Celebrity Gaming session with Jason Keeley – I do want to see him in action, but I might not want to spoil an SFS adventure we might play on the show. And then we’ve got the banquet at night.

Sunday morning, Team RFC is playing again, though this time it’s Pathfinder instead of Starfinder (8-16, House of Harmonious Wisdom). There are a few hours of downtime (I think I could fit the monster design panel in if I didn’t mind rushing a bit), and then we’ve got our “official” appearance with Order of the Amber Die (and now, with Perram from Know Direction moderating the interview portion). I have to admit I’m intrigued how Steve’s going to combine Pathfinder Iconics and the RFC crew, though I keep mentally rooting for an homage to Battle of the Network Stars. “Next up, Mo vs. Seelah in the tug-of-war, with guest referee… Buck Rogers’ Gil Gerard!”.

The last* event will be Sunday night’s 8-99C (Solstice Scar) game, which is the community event where 300 people play the same large-scale game at the same time. This is also the event where we’re specifically trying to be extroverts, break up Team RFC a little and play with our fans, contest winners, and whoever else wants to join the reindeer games. If you’re going to be at PaizoCon and playing in this event, you should try to track us down and game with us.

(I put an asterisk on “last” because I signed up for a playtest of the card game on Monday morning before I go to the airport, but that’s more of a palate cleanser than anything else.)

You will note there are a few things missing from this.

First, I want to track down John Compton and give him a big hug for creating CHDRR Mk 3. It may get awkward, security may even be called. I make no promises.

Second, I have a half-formed notion that I do want to get out and see Seattle a little bit. I mean, yeah, I get my check-box for any “what states have you visited?” games the moment I step off the plane, but it does seem a shame to come all this way and only see the inside of a hotel. If I don’t do this Thursday night, there’s a chance I’ll ditch some of the panels on Saturday and go wander. Screw the Space Needle – I need to go visit Funko and open their eyes to the glorious possibilities of the Tuttle and CHDRR Pop! set.

Third, it feels like a low-key betrayal to admit this in a blog for a Starfinder podcast, but I want to see the Pathfinder Playtest in action. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really enjoying Starfinder, but at my core, I’m still a swords-and-sorcery guy. If Pathfinder 2 is going to be a cleanup of Pathfinder with some of Starfinder’s Greatest Hits grafted onto the frame, I’m absolutely down for that. I didn’t sign up for any of the lottery playtest events, but Steve assures me we’re going to get a look at it.

I’ll close with a few logistical notes. The first is that, as Steve said, we will be doing some sort of coverage from PaizoCon. We absolutely want to share some of the fun of PaizoCon with people who can’t actually be there. Having said that, we’re still sorting out the logistics of HOW to cover it – formal blog posts vs. updates via Discord; single post per day or multiple smaller posts throughout the day, etc. And there’s also the question of folding into our schedules that we can still… you know… enjoy ourselves.

The other thing I wanted to say, even though it’s been fairly heavily implied: if you’re going to be at PaizoCon and you see us wandering around, absolutely feel free to say hello. (Unless it’s within 50 feet of the men’s room, because… you know… boundaries.) We all share this common hobby we all love, it’ll be fun to put faces to the random Discord screen-names, and we’re happy to hear what you like and don’t like about the show. Though Emily Post says if you’re going to criticize a man’s podcast, you have to buy him a beer first. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just believe in a polite society. (Now I know you’re going to say podcasts didn’t even exist when Emily Post did her thing, but she was a very forward-thinking lady. Possibly even a time traveler. Ignore her at your social peril.)

OK, I gotta roll. Next time you hear from me, it’ll be from the convention floor. Whether you’re following our updates or have another holiday weekend (at least in the US) plans up your sleeve, hope you have a fun weekend.

Talking Society #1-10: And Now for Something Completely Different

#1-10 The Half-Alive Streets

Jason recaps the events from the Roll For Combat playthrough of Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-10: The Half-Alive Streets. Episodes of this complete scenario playthough include Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Welcome to the first Talking Society blog post.

At its core, Talking Society is going to be a lot like Talking Combat. I’ll reflect on what you just listened to – sometimes I’ll stay pretty close to the game table and react to the action itself; sometimes I’ll use the action as a springboard to talk about other issues that come up at the gaming table. It’s all going to be pretty free-form. The main difference is that instead of breaking the Society shows up weekly, I’m going to try to just do one (presumably longer) post that covers the entire arc of the Society adventure.

In future installments, I figure I’ll start with a “what’s new?” section where I talk specifically about the new faces at the table and the new characters, but for this episode one, “What’s New?” is… well… just about everything.

First, we have two “new” players, but it’s really two players we’ve seen before as NPCs – Jason Keeley and Rob Trimarco. In fact, their guest spot and the positive reaction to it was one of the reasons we decided to give this format a try in the first place. Keeley (since he was OK calling himself that for clarity, I’ll continue to do so) works for Paizo, and Rob is (among other things) a Kevin Bacon-like figure who is friends with both Keeley and the New York contingent of the RFC group. If you somehow fell directly into this Society game without hearing the original RFC podcast or are latecomers who are catching up, Rob and Keeley originally appear in Episode 28 (“Six Degrees of Investigation”).

(Aside: I’m totally OK with a future where all gamers have a Trimarco Number, measuring how many degrees of separation exist between them and Rob Trimarco. THIS NEEDS TO BECOME A THING.)

MaijaOne thing that’s going to be new is having actual magic in the party, in the form of not one, but two Mystics. You’ll note that the “RFC Classic” group (Soldier, Operative, Mechanic, Envoy) is about as low-magic as it gets; this time around, we mixed things up and both Quinn and Pollux will have some spells to throw. And more importantly… sweet, sweet heals! Lack of healing is a recurring theme in the main game, so it’ll be nice to have that covered a little better. Still no Technomancer, but life is long and weirdness abounds.

What’s new for me personally will be playing a front-line fighter for the first time. Tuttle was very much an “in the rear with the gear” character while playing a Solarian is going to put me up in people’s faces. I mean, yes, you can probably do a ranged Solarian build if you’re clever about it, but it seems like melee is the path of least resistance.

I kind of gave the quick skim of Nala’s influences as Baby Driver and Jubilee from the X-Men, but allow me to expand on that a little more. I already knew I wanted to be a Solarian because that’s the class I passed on to create Tuttle when we started this thing. From a game standpoint, the Ace Pilot theme was what came into focus next – I knew I wanted to be the person driving the spaceship because that seems like where the action is. Baby Driver kicked in the idea of a teenage “getaway driver” character who would steal spaceships to go joyriding, but you know what they say – “one pop-culture reference is theft, two is a mash-up, three’s a character concept”. (Kinda kidding… but kinda not.) I thought making her a girl instead of a guy would create a different roleplaying dynamic with the other party members as well as softening what might otherwise come across as “obnoxious lacrosse bro”. On the other hand, I also knew I didn’t want to do the umpteenth take on Sullen Goth Girl – pair that with Solarian powers and you’re just ripping off Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool instead. That’s where Jubilee gave me the idea of a more upbeat character, though I suppose there was some less overt mental linkage between Jubilee’s sparks and Solarian photon-side powers too. Bruce Lee became the third leg of the stool when I was trying to decide on a weapon – sword seemed kind of cliché, and it was kind of ridiculous to imagine a teenager wielding a big spear or trident, and then the nunchuck scene from Enter The Dragon jumped into my brain and solved that problem. WA-TAH!

VriskenOther influences: maybe a hint of Tracer from Overwatch (plucky, yes; British, not so much), I actually use my daughter as a guide for how to react to roleplaying moments (“What Would <X> Do?”), and of my own accord, I decided Nala would be a little bit of a practical joker when the chance arose. For the record, I didn’t realize until later that “Nala” is also the name of the female lion from The Lion King, so that’s NOT an influence.

The early part of the adventure was all about establishing the story and feeling out the social relationships amongst the party. My initial read was that she’s going to butt heads with Pollux and (to a lesser extent) Big Sexy quite a bit. Lawful good, kind of full of themselves, the sort of adult authority figure who she ran afoul of back in her troublesome phase… yeah, she’s going to get tired of them. I think she’d see Lucan as a potential mentor – “space pirate” is probably on her short list of career aspirations. Quinn was the surprise. I assume things would gravitate toward a somewhat stereotypical “oh great, old guy” attitude toward Quinn. However I don’t know that Bob intended this, but he played it in such a way where Quinn was the one person treating her as an equal and listening to her ideas, so for the moment, she actually kind of likes him. I have to admit I didn’t get enough of a read off Keeley’s Senesal to figure out how they might get along.

The other roleplaying wrinkle here is that Nala could be really good at social skills and leadership roles – she has a high Charisma and she even has a decent Strength for Intimidate checks – but since she’s just a kid, I do want to reflect some reluctance to take center stage. I think as a long-term character development arc, I might put ranks in those skills and make her more comfortable with a leadership role over time, but out of the gate, I see her as more of a follower willing to defer to others (though perhaps with a touch of sarcasm when she thinks someone’s being stupid).

The Vesk barbershop/social club was a good example of this. If you just go by the stat sheet, Nala probably has the scores to go in there and try to charm or even intimidate the vesk. And I thought about it for a second. On the other hand, is that really something a 16, 17-year-old kid would do as the junior member of an adventuring team? Probably not. Though if it had worked, having a room full of vesk cowering before a teenage girl would’ve been pretty hilarious.

So we have the general framework of a plot – someone is selling really high-quality artificial limbs, so good they can’t be easily detected as such. And we have to find out which of the – initially five, but two really stand out – businesses is the one selling them.

TheskellAs the plot moves along, it is an equal mix of hilarious and painful to watch Chris try to play Lawful Good. I think the Lawful part chafes more than the Good with Chris – I think Chris can do the “selfless and brave” parts of the job description, but I think he’s ultimately an agent of chaos: he wants to keep the story moving and to make things happen, so Chris the Player wants to cut corners that Pollux the Character shouldn’t be cutting. I mean, I’m no expert on Iomedaen ethics, but I’m pretty sure “I’m going to stand around the corner so I don’t see you guys commit the crime of breaking and entering” isn’t a Thing.

On the other hand, he made up for it later by promising to put 800 halflings and their families through college. In the words of Aaron Burr processing 30 years of disagreements: “Sweet Jesus”. I didn’t mind doing the right thing and paying for the gear to perform the surgery – that’s cool. Especially in Society: at the risk of meta-gaming, sometimes you do the good deed and hope it will be rewarded in soft “rep” and boons rather than hard coin. On the other hand, enough with the weeping and the hugging. When did this become a Hallmark Original Movie? Ugh.

So now we have the fact that the artificial limbs are making people sick, and we follow the path to… our first combat: fighting the remains of the shady friend to the sick halfings. Which of course led to Nala’s big hero moment – the double crit for the win! (And equally lucky, surviving the explosion with one hit point left). Obviously, a double crit is pretty exciting on its own merits, but I think part of the reason it was so exciting is that thing was hitting HARD and it was feeling like we might lose a few people or even TPK. (There was also a logistical aspect that heightened the reaction: since we were using Roll20 instead of D20Pro, we weren’t as familiar with the tool and there was this moment of not realizing what had happened and then figuring it out en masse.)

This was the moment I truly fell in love with the Solarian class. And yes, I did save that screenshot. “Holy-shit.jpg”. Frame it, put it on a wall.

Among other things, we find some loot, including Falcon Boots that allow you to adjust your personal gravity. The nearest comparison I can think of is the “lashings” from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books. Ummmm… “yes please”? Since I’m building Nala around mobility (already took Fleet to get her up to 40’ movement), being able to manipulate gravity and potentially maneuver on different surfaces could be a huuuuuge benefit. For the moment they’re a) too high level and b) too expensive, but I’m definitely filing them away on whatever the Starfinder equivalent of my Amazon wishlist is. Much like the white guitar in Wayne’s World… “someday, you will be mine”.

Nala gets an additional hero moment working on the dead guy’s computer – between Skill Adept and taking Computers as her racial “Student” skill, she ended up with a +6 in it (50% “wanted to broaden her skills”/50% “what teenager DOESN’T know computers?”), so we find the address where the parts are being manufactured. Annnd it’s surrounded by zombies trying to get into the building. It’s cool. They’re just taking a strong stance on the value of customer service. I can respect that.

So we go around to the back and find what I thought was an alternate way in. Look, I know. Knocking on the door seems like a bad idea with the benefit of hindsight. But I thought maybe the people inside would… you know… want to be rescued, and would actually let us in. Silly me. Instead, we got a zombie flash mob and a fight that ran our resources right down to the bone. Pollux actually dropped; Nala, Big Sexy, and Senesal were pretty close; Quinn hadn’t taken much damage but was out of spells. We were right on the edge of disaster.

But the edge of disaster is often where the most fun moments happen.

First and foremost, there’s the dumb luck of going 5-for-5 on the post-death explosion rolls. For those of you who have never been forced to take a basic stats class in your travels, there was approximately a 3% chance (1/32) of that happening. Given how close this fight was, it’s a little scary to imagine if even one or two of those Michael Bay ‘Splosions had actually gone off.

Second, it was fun to see Chris’ paladin build in action. He didn’t really get into the previous fight much because of the tight spaces involved, so this was his first real chance to engage. I was wondering how he would pull it off, and damn if he didn’t come up with something pretty close to a working paladin. I particularly liked the Reflective Armor spell, though there was a bit of a lively conversation on Discord about how “Reflect Armor” doesn’t really prevent the damage – it actually does it to both parties. As someone on the Paizo boards put it: “if you also take the damage, Reflective Armor is neither reflective nor armor”. (Old-school SNL fans, feel free to add a “Tawk amongst yuhselves”.)

Third, there’s the pure optics of Quinn serving as our tank, beating on stuff with his staff. I’m not sure it gets better than a frail 90-some-year-old dude beating down zombies with a stick while half his teammates are on the red end of their hitpoint bars.

Lastly… Paging Mister Lucan. Mister Lucan, you have a telephone call at the front desk… I don’t want to be too aggressive about backseat driving someone else’s character, but I was a little surprised he stayed at the door as long as he did. I think in the early rounds of the fight, yeah, getting inside made a certain amount of sense. Once our position was being overrun and people’s health bars were dropping. I guess I would’ve given up on the door a few rounds earlier.

But whatever, we survived. And instead of being hailed as rescuers, we get attacked again. (Sigh) What? In the hell? Is Wrong? With You People? You are OFF the Christmas card list.

I found this battle a little bit frustrating because of the classic Melee’s Lament – by the time I got into position to put a-hurtin’ on someone, they got dropped by the ranged folks. But at that point in the adventure, winning and surviving was a higher priority. My general game plan was to set off my Supernova, but either I wasn’t in position, or whenever I was in position, one of my teammates would also run into the blast radius and keep me from detonating.

So in winning the fight we learn the last of the secrets – these guys were using an assembly ooze to make the artificial body parts, which led to an initially high-quality product, but one that made people sick and eventually killed them later. (Folks, this is why those “Initial Quality Surveys” on cars are bullshit. J.D. Power can suck it.) Even with all of that, you’d think being turned over to the authorities would be preferable to being overrun by zombies, but I guess not.

So that’s the end of our first Society mission, and I… LOVED it. The shorter commitment and quicker payoff is nice, I really like that we can get some new faces at the table, and I love love LOVE playing a Solarian. I mean, Tuttle and CHDRR have grown on me in the meantime, so I can’t say I “regret” going that direction, but man it was fun to get in there and mix it up for a change.

If there’s a downside, it’s fairly minor. I still find the loot system to be a little goofy – you have to check your winnings back into the library for now, but you can buy them again later – but I do understand why it has to be that way, and I’ll probably get used to it. My other regret is that that this particular adventure didn’t have any vehicle action, so a big chunk of Nala’s skillset went completely unused. Maybe next time.

I don’t know when the “next time” will be, but I’m pretty sure the enthusiasm is there to give this another go fairly soon. The major moving parts are a) PaizoCon, b) not stretching people’s schedules too thin in general, and c) making sure we have enough episodes of the Dead Suns show in the can that we can record the Society show(s) without running out of Dead Suns material. So hang tight, thanks for listening, and I hope we’ll have a new show for you in the not-to-distant future.

035: Do You Want to Build a Sporeman

After Rusty and Hirogi survive a day in the Ukalam jungle wearing no armor, others decide to go the clothing-optional route as well. Of course, the Ukulam jungle has other ideas in mind and the gang ends up in a bit of a blow.

For this week’s GM tip, Stephen explains why you should be using an online tool such as HeroLab when building your characters.

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 034: An NPC By Any Other Name

Whaloss

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 034: Undressed For Success.

I’m going to start at the tail end of this week’s show with the player perspective on the GM tip. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I think as the player because the GM has to do all the heavy lifting in terms of building the content in the game engine. Unless you’re willing to help the GM implement, there’s a degree to which the player perspective is YOUR GM SLAVED ALL DAY IN THE KITCHEN TO MAKE YOU THIS GAME TABLE, NOW EAT IT AND BE THANKFUL.

Having said that, I assume I’m still allowed to have an opinion and there might be groups that haven’t decided on a tool yet, so I’ll offer my two cents… though at the risk of being anti-climactic, my player-eye view of the tools pretty much lines up with Steve’s.

  • Fantasy Grounds looked beautiful and had some cool features D20Pro didn’t (I mean, they have dragging-and-dropping attacks on enemies, which almost ends the debate right there), but there were a lot of simple things that just weren’t intuitive – you start to think the control scheme was designed by actual kasathas, because only someone with four arms would find this logical. (Especially for me, playing on a laptop. Using a trackpad with FG ought to be explicitly banned by the Geneva Convention.)
  • Roll20 was the opposite for a while – it was too much of a blank slate. The first time we tried it, it was just a game map and a shared space to roll the dice, but you still had to crunch all the numbers and do most of the adjustments in your head. That did get better now that Pathfinder and Starfinder are supported – we actually used Roll20 for the Society game – but for a while, there just wasn’t enough tool there. (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!)
  • That leaves D20Pro as a nice compromise between the extremes – it’s got most of the bells and whistles you want while still being fairly easy to use, though there are a few things (using consumables, for instance) where I just punt and ask Steve to do it for me. I will say one thing about D20Pro I didn’t hear Steve mention – it’s a little squirrely when it comes to updating versions, though some of that may also be that we’ve been playing beta builds (we became accidental guinea pigs for their Starfinder support). If you go the D20Pro route, I’d almost say just get in the habit of uninstalling and reinstalling in a clean directory.

So now we turn back to the game, where Rusty and Hirogi are doing an impromptu production of Hair, shedding their armor and going almost au naturel. (Looks like I was a few weeks early with that song snippet.) I suppose I concede the logic that we need to conserve our cooling resources, and I even sort of agree with Chris’ meta-logic – if a creature is already rolling a +13, I’m not sure 3 or 4 points of armor is really going to be a deal-breaker. If his armor had damage reduction, that might be one thing, but taking a 90% chance to hit down to an 80% or a 75%… that doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice.

Aside: shall we pass the hat to have the artist draw Naked Hirogi, preferably in the Kate Winslet pose from Titanic? When is Chris’ birthday, anyway?… muahahaha….

But even better, John to the rescue with the surprisingly timely Rules Lawyer, finding the rules about putting armor back on quickly in combat! I don’t want to sound too surprised, but it is usually Bob or Chris that come up with this sort of stuff; John and I tend more toward the “show up and play” model of participation. It still doesn’t help with the heat damage already taken, but it’s good to know we can get back into our armor fairly quickly if the situation arises.

And sure enough, arise it does! Our old pal, the ksarik, set up a little trap for us. And I think the thing that stands out about this fight is it was one of the most in-control combats we’ve played through. No weird diseases (though I suppose things could’ve gone sideways if those spores had landed). No difficult terrain. No out-of-the-blue crit putting someone in dire circumstances, though Hirogi did take a few hard hits just because he decided to be out in front. Just an easy, methodical, grind-down-the-bad-guy slugfest. You need one of those every once in a while.

On the other hand, since the big-picture stuff ran smoothly, it gave me an opportunity to focus on the little things. I like to think this blog exists to cover issues both great and small, and today we’re going small and talking about one of my recurring pet peeves.

Let’s talk about proper names, shall we? Specifically, our old pal Wahloss.

Up until now, we’ve mostly been calling him “WAY-loss” (kinda like “weight loss”). I think we’ve also caught a “WALL-os” or two (as in “Sir William” or “… and Gromit”), which actually seems more phonetically correct. But this week we also graduated to “Waylon” (as in “Jennings, the Balladeer from Dukes of Hazzard”) and I think Chris even slipped a “Weyoun” in there (which… OK, I’m not one to turn my nose up at a DS9 reference, but still…).

On some level, I concede it doesn’t really matter. If we all know who we’re talking about – the useless twit who babbles on about laundry and omelets while we’re being pummeled – I’m not sure we need to get so caught up in a Hooked On Phonics pissing match. Steve can name all the NPCs after the roster of the New York Mets for all I care – the real question is whether you can follow the action. Tune in next week when we fight the wild Syndergaard!

And, let’s be honest, that some of this is the newness of the genre. Fantasy has tropes to guide us. Elf names sound like you’re rattling off the Latin genus and species of various plants. Dwarf names sound the noises you make falling down a flight of stairs. Orcs… try to keep it to one syllable; more than two is just showing off. Halflings? First name: rejected cast member of Fraggle Rock; last name: portmanteau of two words, one of which must be a food item. Humans: just take a normal human name and add an extra letter or two to make it exotic and Middle-Agey. Meanwhile, we don’t know the tropes for a lashunta or a kasatha, so we kind of have to ad-lib our way through what we think they should sound like.

(We do know that the guiding principle for Shirren names is to dump a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the table and come up with something that would win the game in a single turn, but that doesn’t get us any closer to pronouncing them.)

At one point a few weeks ago, I actually asked Steve what his position is on this stuff. His attitude – which I’m cool with – is he’s not so concerned about “right” from an Oxford English Dictionary standpoint, but he is concerned about staying consistent from episode to episode. That seems like a fair attitude, and maybe that’s why it caught my eye this particular week – because it was jumping around a bit. But I think the overall vibe of “pick a pronunciation and stick with it” is probably the way to go with it.

Let me amend that. When I have my blogging hat on, it still annoys the shit out of me. Jason The Player just wants to know who’s who. Jason The Blogger has to actually spell this stuff, and occasionally startles his children and household pets by screaming “THERE’S NO ‘R’ IN THAT WORD!” at the screen of his laptop at random intervals.

I don’t know. In the grand scheme of things it’s a small thing to get hung up on, but since combat went smoothly and it was kind of a short episode, I figured I’d vent about it a little bit.

Well, that’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll pick up the chase again, and hopefully, Hirogi will put some damn pants on. In the meantime feel free to join us on social media, where pants are always optional.

SFS01.4: #1-10 The Half-Alive Streets, Part 4

Starfinder Society - Ep. 1.4 | #1-10 The Half-Alive Streets | Roll For Combat

The Roll For Combat Starfinder Society concludes their playthrough of Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-10: The Half-Alive Streets. In the final episode, our heroes attempt to negotiate with the manufacturers of the defective biotech augmentations, but it sounds like they won’t go down without a fight!

For this adventure, we have Stephen Glicker, John Staats, Jason McDonald, Chris Beemer, Bob Markee, Rob Trimarco and Jason Keeley. But this being Starfinder Society, we will have different players for adventures in the future.

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!

034: Undressed For Success

KSARIK

As the team goes deeper into the jungle, Rusty and Hirogi go to clothing-optional lengths to conserve resources. Needless to say, the jungle creatures of Ukulam aren’t big sticklers for modesty, and the team is soon under attack and under-dressed.

Also for those of you who are interested in how you can setup and play your own games online, Stephen goes through how you can setup and play online.

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 033: Fly Me To The Runes

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 033: Rune With A View.

I’m going to start at the back end this week with Steve’s GM note. To homebrew or not to homebrew? I must confess I don’t GM often, and when I do… I haven’t homebrewed anything since high school, and when I did it was a disaster. (There may have been an overly ambitious attempt to fight the gods involved – it’s not my fault Deities and Demigods included stat blocks!) So I’m coming at this entirely from the player standpoint here.

Overall, I agree with Steve’s sentiment. We live in a golden age of content, you might as well make use of it, at least when you’re starting out. However, I felt like maybe he was short-selling the… “artistic impulse”, is that too pretentious?… and I wanted to offer a few ideas on splitting the difference. We players get to design our own characters and give them life; it feels selfish to tell the GM “stick to the script”. So I had a few thoughts on how an enterprising GM could maybe split the difference.

The first is starting with established content and doing some creative re-skinning. Keep the engine – the maps, the locations, the specific encounters – of an established adventure path and re-write as much of the backstory as you need to fit it into your world and your narrative. The things that REALLY need to work to pull off a successful session will remain unchanged, but you can drag the world-building out into the weeds as far as it takes to satisfy your personal muse.

The other thing that I’ve seen be successful is to homebrew, but to build those first few dungeons around social encounters and puzzles and keep the combat to a minimum. More of a “crawl before you walk” approach. Maybe not full-bore Tomb of Horrors with wall-to-wall death traps, but play up the softer stuff that’s (quite frankly) easier to fudge if you get it wrong. Yes, you probably need one or two set-piece battles so the players have some dice to throw, but downplay the really nuts-and-bolts stuff in favor of storytelling and problem-solving. In my Dads-n-Kids game, we had a scenario like this – my friend Dave designed a story where the town’s benevolent wizard had gone missing and we had to work our way into his manor to find out what happened to him. There were really only two battles in the entire thing; most of the action was figuring out all the safeguards the wizard had placed on things and piecing together the clues. I think if you’re dead set on homebrewing, that can be a different way to ease into it.

Back in the wilds of Castrovel, we finally clear our way to the obelisk. On one hand, I kind of hoped there would be more of a payoff – an actual interior to explore or something – but we did get some clues from the runes: something about paying respect at the Temple of the Twelve (or something like that). I also hoped that Hirogi going up and getting the Mirkwood view would be more helpful – either by getting an orientation toward our destination or perhaps see some signs of the party we were chasing.

Well, I guess technically that corpse we found is a sign. One down, 14(ish) to go. I’m kind of curious whether this was our sniper buddy who started the dino-stampede or someone else. I don’t think any of us really had the presence of mind to check for a weapon, or else maybe the weapon was part of whatever was destroyed by the plant-beast chewing on the batteries. Gut says “no” but I admit I have nothing concrete to base it on. For now, I guess we’ll file it under “general signs we’re headed the right direction” and keep moving.

The Stitchspider continues to be a useful bit of technology. Basically, it fills the role a healing wand would play in a Pathfinder game. OK, it’s got some side effects, but so far, the effects have been well worth the extra source of healing. I kinda hope they make it (or something like it) a more permanent addition to the game.

As we get moving the next day, we find our next bit of creepy jungle life is stalking us. Both in looks (big puppy with a tentacle-face) and in effect (implanting spores that explode out of your corpse to create new ones) it feels a little like a palette-swapped version of the akatas we faced on the Drift Rock. And yes, I’m going to think of it as a “Plant Puppy” because it’s less scary that way. Looking at Zan’s notes, I don’t see any particular reference to our new friend – behemoths yes, stingbats sure, but nothing about this guy.

So just to take stock, as we start Day Five, we may or may not still have a sniper to contend with, there’s a ksarik deciding whether we’re enough of a meal to be worth the effort, and Zan’s journal makes it sound like stingbats hold a grudge if you kill their buddies. It feels like by the time we catch up with the group that kidnapped Dr. Solstarni, we’re going to be dragging half the jungle with us. Won’t that be fun? And on top of all of that, we’re starting to hit our first real decision points on rationing our cooling tech. Tuttle may be having some serious second thoughts about the adventurer lifestyle.

I’ll probably save most of my thoughts about PaizoCon until we’re closer to the event, but a couple quick notes.

First, congratulations to our contest winners. I hope you have a great time and I hope I get a chance to meet you and hear all about how Tuttle is your favorite character. If you’re Rusty fans, just expect incoherent screeching noises – think Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

But to address the newest “programming” development, I’m excited that the Order of the Amber Die guys are going to be joining in the merriment. I really enjoyed Steve’s interview with them, and it’ll be excellent to do something in person with them. I do hope it’s more of a cooperative “Scooby Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters” event (I’m either Velma or Meadowlark Lemon in this scenario) and not Thunderdome-style gladiator combat, because let’s be honest… Tuttle isn’t really cut out for that. Though if we have to go that route, I’m going to insist CHDRR gets a riding saddle just for the event so Tuttle can channel his inner Master-Blaster. Or should that be… (wait for it)… Mouster-Blaster?

And on that horrifically bad-pun note, I think I’ll back away from the keyboard and call it a night. As always, we’ve got fun things happening on social media, particularly our Discord channel, and we always love to hear from you guys. Feel free to drop by and join the fun, and as always, thanks for listening.

SFS01.3: #1-10 The Half-Alive Streets, Part 3

Starfinder Society - Ep. 1.3 | #1-10 The Half-Alive Streets | Roll For Combat

The Roll For Combat Starfinder Society continues their adventure through Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-10: The Half-Alive Streets. In part 3 of the adventure, our heroes arrive on a strange scene and somehow manage to make it worse. Much worse.

For this adventure, we have Stephen Glicker, John Staats, Jason McDonald, Chris Beemer, Bob Markee, Rob Trimarco and Jason Keeley. But this being Starfinder Society, we will have different players for adventures in the future.

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!

033: Runes With A View

After facing a dinosaur stampede, scorpion-bat-monkeys, and a 10-ton, mind-controlling, paralysis-inducing plant-creature, the crew attempts to decipher the mysteries of the ancient elvish obelisk. The team then continues their journey deeper into the jungle, with the nagging feeling that someone, or something, may be following them.

Plus, today is the big day! We are giving away another free trip to PaizoCon 2018! Listen to the show to hear if you are the lucky winner!

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 032: Double Painbow

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 032: Shock The Monkey!.

Get ready, I’m going to cross the streams!

I know I said I was going to wait until the end of the Society adventure to comment on it, but we had some serendipity in scheduling in the form of a double-crit in both games – Rusty in the Dead Suns game, Nala in our Society game. At a base level, I just found the coincidence amusing that those both happened to hit in the same week when they would’ve been recorded a month or so apart in real time. Obviously, Nala’s was more exciting both because it was more instrumental to the win (both crits were also for max damage), and to me personally because I got to administer the beating – Tuttle doesn’t get a lot of chances to shine in combat. But I still wanted to give Rusty a tip of the cap for his monkey-slaughtering double-crit in the latter part of this episode.

So, first… it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s been almost two months since the last time we were in straight-up combat. (Episode 24. Last episode of the Drift Rock arc. Yes, I went back and checked.) We had a spaceship combat that got edited for time. Theoretically, we were supposed to mix it up at the diner in Episode 28, but our special guests turned that into a social encounter, which is fine because it led to some fun roleplay. And we had the dino-stampede. But no actual toe-to-toe fighting. So let’s kick off the rust and whup some Stingbat ass.

(Personally, I like “Scorbamonks” better… part scorpion, part bat, part monkey. Halkueem Zan’s dead, so it’s not like he can complain. At the very least, file “Scorbamonks” alongside “Dog Metal Nuggets” in my folder of Hypothetical Band Names.)

The battle started innocently enough. Yes, the fact that the Scorbamonks had poison made them a threat to take seriously, but their base damage wasn’t that bad and they didn’t seem like they had a lot of hit points; the first couple fell in one or two shots. This seemed like it was going to be on its way to being a fairly easy encounter – a good stretch of the legs after a long stretch with no combat.

Then, the captain turned on the “Equalize The Encounter” light. ALL GLORY TO THE OBELISK. Losing half the party to mind control, even temporarily, is certainly one way to level the playing field. (And you get a little medley from Hair for your trouble. You’re welcome.) But oh wait, not just obelisk worship. Carnivorous plant worship! Even better. Now we’ve got a bit of a situation, especially since Tuttle wandered directly into its clutches.

Annnd Tuttle gets both chomped half to death and paralyzed. Sorry. Paralyzed-But-Not-Paralyzed. Either way, ouch. I have to admit I thought my bacon was cooked there for a minute. But then…

THE DICE GODS SMILE UPON YOU.

First, there was a crit from Mo, making Scorbamonk Jelly out of one of them. (Or is it preserves?) Then came my back-to-back 20s (I think only one of them was a natural 20, for the record) to shake off the mind control AND the paralysis in the same round. I don’t count the “extra” Reflex save I took – you don’t get credit for the home runs you hit in batting practice, either. And then Rusty’s dual-crit was a pretty nice finisher, even if it was against a Scorbamonk rather than the Big Bad. (Though I forgot at the time that Mo took a crit in return during all of this.)

So, two takeaways. First, there goes our good luck for the next several sessions. We used up our quota. THE DICE GODS WILL IT SO. Second, I guess I have to stop making fun of Rusty’s fancy-pants Envoy ways since he actually did some big-boy damage. I guess that buys him a few sessions.

Also… man, Wahloss is useless. I never thought I’d actually miss our goblin buddies, but Mr. “I Can’t Take A Single Step Without Asking Someone’s Permission” is going to get real old real fast. I don’t expect every NPC we run across to be Clara-247, but it’d be nice if they were at least as competent as your average kindergartner. Should we get him one of those toddler leashes?

This provides a nice segue into Steve’s GM tip. As I mentioned in a different Talking, I tend to look at active NPC participants as Steve’s way of balancing the encounter. As long as they’re not taking over and making the players look useless, they’re just another tool in the toolkit. To pick a different example, there was a portion of Iron Gods where we were down to three players for some reason, so Steve flat-out lent us a cleric to get through a tough stretch of fights. Similarly, my dad-and-kids game had a few encounters where the party mix just flat-out sucked because everyone chose oddball characters – so I decided to have the quest-giver lend them his lieutenant (made up on the spot – just pulled a spare alt out of my bag) so they had at least one front-line fighter in the mix. Again, just don’t let the NPCs outshine the players, or it starts to turn into an exercise in GM self-gratification, with the players as spectators, and that’s how you lose a table’s interest.

I’m not sure how I feel about non-combat NPCs like Wahloss wandering the battlefield. On one hand, if that’s part of the tradeoff for adding skills you wouldn’t otherwise have access to (like Wahloss’ ability to translate Elvish), then I suppose an element of risk is a fair price. Maybe keeping your valuable resource alive should be a tactical consideration, even in battle. On the other hand, they should have at least some basic self-preservation instincts, shouldn’t they? I mean, I’ve never been in a gunfight in my life, but I’d at least know which end of a gun to point at a bad guy if you handed me one, and I’d at least have the common sense to realize that behind cover is a good place to be. There’s “not much help” and there’s “facepalmingly stupid” and Wahloss seems to border on the latter.

I realize discussing Leadership and running multiple PCs is getting a little farther afield, but I am generally not a huge fan. I’m not against it as an overall philosophical point, I’ve seen it work for other people, but I generally like putting my focus into a single character and getting the most out of that character. The one place I’d consider it is if I had a really compelling two-character concept with some interesting roleplaying hooks, and even then, I’d probably ping the rest of the group first and see if another player wanted to go in on it with me before running two sheets myself.

Also, a historical footnote: years before we ever started playing online, I came up to visit Steve in New York on a game night, and I actually sat in for the evening as someone’s Leadership follower – probably the first time I played with Chris and Bob (though there might have been other people there too). They were fighting a giant spider and I got to sit in the back and pepper it with arrows. Though I recall I got to do a slick John Woo move where there was icy terrain – don’t remember if the creature laid it down or it was already there – so I shot arrows while sliding across the floor on my back. Badass.

Anyway, we found our obelisk, and we cleared it of unexpected guests. Next week, we’ll find out the elves had any reason to build this thing, or if it’s the Elvish equivalent of Clark Griswold’s Second Largest Ball Of Twine. In the meantime, feel free to join in the merriment on social media. Everyone’s got their favorite “Dice Gods” story – consider yourselves invited to share yours.