February 2020 - Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

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Dead Suns 125: Does Akiro Dream of Electric Sheep?

If a PC dies by being turned into a robot and then comes back to life, are they ever truly the same again?

Also, GM Steve decides to take two gaming systems, mix them together, and see what comes out!

And don’t forget to join our Discord channel, where you can play games, talk with the cast, and hang out with other fans of the show!

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Talking Plaguestone 31: Come Up to the Lab and See What’s on the Slab

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 31: Firecat vs. Firerat.

We start this week with a new rules dispute, but one that – for once – I’m not the center of. Whew.

This time it’s Cade’s Nimble Dodge, which in addition to getting a callout in the show notes, is also sparking a lively discussion on Discord. If you read the rules (page 183) the trigger for Nimble Dodge is “a creature targets you with an attack and you can see the attacker”. So it’s when you’re attacked, not when you get hit. So basically it’s a +2 to AC once per round – and if the enemy rolls an easy miss or an easy hit, you “wasted” your ability.

One thing that’s complicating the issue, per the Discord conversation, is that it’s a little inconsistent when it comes to monsters and NPCs – there are some monsters that have the same Nimble Dodge the rogue has, but you have other enemies (one of our listeners mentioned the Drow Rogue) that can use the Nimble Dodge after they’ve been hit.

Maybe it’s because I’m less personally vested, but I always felt like the ability to auto-negate an attack if it’s on the borderline of hitting seemed a bit overpowered anyway. If it’s something you can do once per round; it’s probably not meant to be hugely game-changing. Also – this isn’t necessarily a criticism of Rob, but there’s probably ways to mitigate it with tactics; fight so that your party’s rogue doesn’t end up taking shots from 2 or 3 enemies.

I’m also going to give you a mild spoiler – since we’re just discovering this now, we never really “fix” this. I don’t remember how many times, or even if, Cade uses it again, but we’re probably going to be stuck with the wrong interpretation because we’ve already wrapped.

On the bright side, we FINALLY get my champion ability correct this week. See? Not trying to be smug, but a few weeks back I grumbled that I remembered a conversation where I was getting it right, and people tried to talk me out of it… turns out that was THIS week. I’m not going to regurgitate the previous discussion that it feels like we’ve already had four or five times, but I’m going to take a second and talk about the unsung hero of that ability – the immediate Step action. First, in the case of these alchemical drudges, it’s an automatic rescue from standing in the acid pools. But more importantly, was something Prue hinted but we didn’t do – you can use that Step action to disrupt an enemy from performing multiple attacks. If an enemy used Action #1 to close and Action #2 to attack, that Step lets you steal that follow-up attack, as long as the enemy doesn’t have reach. Instead, they’d have to use Action #3 to re-close the distance. Honestly, I’ve been so focused on the damage mitigation that THIS is something I wish I’d been paying closer attention to. How much damage could I have stolen by moving my teammates out of range?

I have to admit I had kind of forgotten about the weirdness with the map dimensions. It did seem odd that all of the major features of the room – the fire-rat, the dwarf in the tank, the alchemical benches – were described as if they were normal size, but the supposed scale of the map implied that all the furniture would have to be huge. I’m not going to complain as a game mechanic because if it was a mistake, it impacted both sides equally. If we had to use extra moves to reach them, they had to use extra moves to reach us. But it was a little… disorienting, I guess?

The fight itself was shaping up mostly as business as usual – we had fairly good luck hitting the fire-rat through its smokescreen and alchemical drudges are a known commodity after we fought the ones upstairs. I do wonder how calculated it was that the encounter led with the fire creature; it does start to feel like maybe Buhlman was trying to lure someone into popping the fire resistance potion before throwing a bunch of other damage types at them. But if that was the case, it feels like the rat should’ve been more formidable.

But then… the amalgam. Yikes! That’s going to be a bit of a challenge. Big means it probably hits harder than any of us do. Big means it probably has reach. Gut says it’s going to have some resistances – I have nothing to back that up, but we’re at the level where bad guys start to have those. And it’s got that howl that adds status effects to the mix. If there’s a glimmer of hope here, it’s that its first move wasn’t very fast… it only advanced about 10 or 15 feet. So there might be a possibility that it’s slow and maybe we can kite it a little bit. Having said that, this isn’t EverQuest: I suspect at some point we’re gonna have to go toe-to-toe and trade shots with it.

Beyond that…. Not gonna lie, I’m also still worried about those dwarves (and presumably poison gas of some sort) in the tanks. Releasing those seems like that little added extra “Oh you think you have this under control? Well, what about THIS?” moves Paizo likes to pull. And, one can assume someone opened the cage for the creature – Vilree? The orc archer? There’s another possible add. So maybe the Big Boy is the centerpiece of this fight, but maybe there’s even more hijinx.

But we’ll have to find that out next week, won’t we? While you’re waiting for next week’s episode to drop, feel free to pay a visit to our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Darius Varus

Darius Varus was a strong child and a powerful boy, so his father got him involved in training as early as he could. During his training, he learned multiple styles and fighting techniques from local pit fighters and local gladiators who all did side-stints in the circus for extra coin. His main teacher was a dwarven Monk named Durgann Bloodhammer, who taught him the ways of the Unrelenting Avalanche and honed his body into a powerful force of offense and defense.

But it wasn’t all fighting all the time. Darius was also taught how to heal broken bodies and volunteered his help to the local Hospitallers to hone his craft. Of course, there was no shortage of accidents, falls, equipment failures, and misjudged acrobatics while in the circus, so he had the chance to utilize his medical skills quite often.

In his adult life, he is an extremely friendly person, very protective of his sister, and those he calls friends. He always goes the extra mile to help, even if it means taking on burdens that are not really his to bare. Darius is usually the instigator for revelries and nights of raucous post-performance drinking parties and always tries to be the peacemaker among disputes. Many times, he has turned a dour mood into levity with his wit and positivity, which has often changed the course of a show for the better following a failed act or mishap. He’s a mountain of a man, and a mountain of happiness!

Darius is played by Rob Trimarco.

Alhara Varus

Alhara is a child of the circus. Her earliest memories were swinging from a training trapeze with her father, Marcel, standing by to make sure she was safe and her brother, Darius, cheering her on. She even recalls one particularly bad tumble when the rope she was swinging on broke and Alhara went flying twenty feet before hitting the ground and rolling to a stop. As her father and brother rushed over to check on her, Alhara lept to her feet and shouted, “AGAIN!”

On her 6th birthday, she announced to her family that her birthday wish was to “be a girl.” Her father helped her pick out a new name; she choose the elven name, Alhara, meaning light on her feet. Some of the other girls in the circus gave her gifts of clothes, shoes, and ribbons for her hair.

Growing up in the circus was great for Alhara; she got to meet interesting people with a wide variety of talents and she wanted to try them all. Being naturally athletic, she excelled at feats of strength and agility. Over time she would try and duplicate the tricks of other performers, trying to learn them all so that she could be the best. Alhara believes there’s nothing she cannot accomplish if she puts her mind to it.

As a half-elf, she knows that since her father is human, her mother must be elven or half-elven. However, asking Marcel about it is heartbreaking as he always gets that far away look and says he doesn’t want to talk about her. Unsure how her mother died, Alhara decided to choose Gozran 27th, 10 days after her own birthday, to grieve annually for her mother’s passing.

She enjoys risky activities that challenge her abilities; the more danger the more adrenaline! Her circus career started working as a clown doing physical comedy, then doing side-shows to show off her acrobatic talents. Now she has a shot at the big time in the main tent, and she’s not going to let her family down!

Alhara is played by Vanessa Hoskins.

Ateran

Ateran didn’t grow up in the circus. No, they weren’t even part of the previous company that fled Mistress Dusklight’s Celestial Menagerie. However, it’s been long enough since they joined the Circus of Wayward Wonders for this new company to learn Ateran shares only shrewd words and sharp glances. It was months ago that Ateran was at a coastal hamlet selling minor alchemical poultices and quick repairs, whatever you might need. Tall and dark-haired, the mysterious tone they used was terse if not polite.

They’d traveled the ocean for some time, heralding from some town or country Ateran would not say. Though the affectation of Ateran’s voice betrays a distance — as does the oddity of their attitude and curious magic — there is little they say of where it was they learned of such things. Even the oily midnight plumage of their raven Csillagos is foreign with a curious intelligence behind its eyes. The rest of the circus says they’ve heard Ateran whispering dark promises to the raven in the night as they worked over frothing flasks, glowing vials, and a bubbling cauldron. Whatever they’re planning it at least serves to keep the circus in alchemist’s fire for its pyrotechnics and sturdy clothing, no matter what rip may come of a performance.

But as avoidant as Ateran may be, come dinner time ‘round the fire or at taverns as the circus passes through towns, they’re always watching and listening, clearly vigilant in their work for the new company. Those violet eyes are bright in the darkness. One thing is certain: their focus has you and you won’t escape it.

Ateran is played by Rob Pontious.

Hap

As a baby, Hap was abandoned by her parents and left as an orphan at Mistress Dusklight’s Celestial Menagerie. She was discovered by Professor Zarlian Kyosophus, the juggler and fire-eater, who reared her as his own daughter. When she was old enough, Hap earned her keep in the circus by feeding the circus animals and cleaning their cages, and her favorites were always the birds.

As Hap neared the date that was approximated to be her 10th birthday, The Professor began to notice that her brown eyes were beginning to turn a bright and fiery orange. Fearing the worst, he sought medical attention for the girl who called him “dad,” and when no answers were found among the curative arts, he sought the help of a more arcane nature at the Arcanamirium in Absalom. It was there he learned that while Hap’s biological parents were likely of human descent, her blood also bore the taint of an Efreeti.

Fortunately, Zarlian was a well-traveled and worldly man; he earned his title, The Professor, by always being able to know a little something about almost anything. He helped Hap learn to draw out the raw elemental power of her blood and taught her how to use it for entertainment rather than destruction. And when the cruelty of the Celestial Menagerie grew too much to bear any longer, The Professor and Hap departed with a slew of other performers to start a new circus — a kinder circus.

Hap has always had a deep love of animals and of people, and she adored being a part of the circus because it brought laughter, wonder, and joy. She always dreamed of being allowed to have her own act and has been practicing her craft for just such an occasion, but Mistress Dusklight never decided to give her a chance. Zarlian promised that in the newly formed Circus of Wayward Wonders, Hap, now at the age of 15, would finally have a shot in front of the audience.

Hap is played by Loren Sieg.

Plaguestone 31: Firecat vs. Firerat

It’s the fight of the century! Firecat vs. Firerat! The cat is strong and large, but the rat is small and nimble! Who will win? It’s The Bludgeon in the Dungeon!

And don’t forget to join our Discord channel, where you can play games, talk with the cast, and hang out with other fans of the show!

Become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 124: Head Like A HAL9000

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 124: More Machine Than Man

As promised for a few weeks, this is the episode where things start to get a little shaky. And while John may be totally cool with a party-wipe to end this thing, I want Tuttle to live. I’m stubborn that way.

The very mild good news of this episode is that we finally beat down the remaining adds, and I got the other door locked so either no more adds will show up at ALL, or they at least have to take the long way around to get to the bridge. So now it’s just us and the Big Bad.

Unfortunately, that’s going wrong in just about every way imaginable. And the hidden reason is the boss doesn’t have to beat the whole party to put us in an unwinnable situation, he just has to beat our top two guys. It’s like losing the queen in chess – the game’s not OVER if the other side takes your queen, but it gets a lot tougher to win.

Right now Akiro is the only one who can see the boss, and he just got hit with that Rewire Flesh spell, which is proving to be NASTY, for reasons I mostly went into last week (Cliff’s Notes: no action needed to sustain + save only does half rather than removes it). As this episode ends, I think he’s out of stamina and into meat. And also running low on spells. Mo, who is our best overall damage-dealer, is chugging potions to stay up because he took the brunt of the damage from tanking the adds. He’s also flat-footed and mute, adding an extra layer of difficulty. And now we find out the boss has some sort of fast-heal. Lovely.

To return to that chess analogy, Mo and Akiro are the queen and a rook. If they go down, we gotta find a way to win with a knight (Hirogi – can do big damage situationally, but the boss is likely to save against his trick attack) and a couple of pawns (Tuttle and Rusty). So THAT’S the urgency – in a few rounds, we might “still” have three guys up, but it’s likely to be the wrong three guys.

I wanted to address some of Steve’s commentary about retreating and waiting for the spells to run out. I can only speak for myself, but I felt like we were doing a lesser version of that. Maybe not a full run-and-hide, but if we could get the adds down and just make it us vs. the boss, we could maybe spread out around the room, try to get some people healed up, and wait until the invisibility broke. If there’s one saving grace about fighting this boss, it feels like it’s not wired for big bursty damage. It’s not some melee who’s going to run in and full-attack for 50 points; it’s just going to bounce around the room lobbing fireballs (several of us have DR vs. fire) and chip away at us, and wait for that DoT to take Akiro down. The DoT doesn’t seem to be going anywhere whether we flee or not. And those corrosive hazes move slowly, so they should be easy to avoid. So the real trick is to not bunch together and give up 2-3 characters’ worth of explosive blast damage at a time. Admittedly, that’s a little more difficult when we’re trying to pass potions between us, but it’s not unworkable.

So it’s not a full tactical retreat, exactly. But it is a strategy of trying to minimize the boss’ strengths long enough for the battlefield to equalize a little. To metagame a little, we’re on round 9 or 10, and a boss is going to be at or above the level of the party, so 13-15th level, maybe? Maybe with all of these adds, the boss might be a little lower? Optimistically, we only have to wait it out a couple more rounds.

The thing we don’t know is whether it has a second cast of greater invisibility… if that happens, I don’t know WHAT we do. Die gruesome deaths, probably.

While we’re talking about invisibility, I did want to offer a mild rules-lawyer on that invisibility, in particular how it interacts with the corrosive haze. Even if you’re invisible, your interactions with objects in the world are not. If you open a door while invisible, people see the door opening. If you threw a sheet on top of yourself while invisible, people would see the sheet just fine. So I feel like there ought to have at least been a CHANCE to see the outline of a person in the corrosive haze – even if it was a really high-DC Perception roll or something. Think the Predator effect from the movie. Then again, to give Steve’s interpretation a fair hearing, a fine mist isn’t walking through a waterfall or even rain; it’s microscopic. If it’s a foggy day, can you really see individual droplets of fog displace when someone moves through them? We’re not living in the Matrix here…

So that’s where we end this. I feel like there are still possibilities for pulling this out, but we gotta come up with something that at least changes the nature of the fight. And for me personally, I should be trying to make Tuttle as inviting a target as possible. I don’t have a taunt ability, but honestly, for these next few rounds… I’m wracking my brain for a way to get the boss to focus its attention on me. I’m probably the least useful offensive character, I haven’t taken much (any?) damage, and I even have DR10 to fire if I have to eat a fireball. I don’t want to die exactly, but if it helps the team regroup, I should be wearing a sign that says “HIT THIS MOUSE, WIN A STEAK DINNER!” or something.

And guess what. I have an “or something”. But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear what I come up with. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media, let us know what you think of the show, and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Dead Suns 124: More Machine Than Man

The RFC Crew is starting to run out of ammo, special abilities, and buff spells and things are starting to look dire against the unkillable, invisible, flying Space Lich. Parley?

Also, GM Steve explores some of his favorite boss monsters from prior published adventures.

And don’t forget to join our Discord channel, where you can play games, talk with the cast, and hang out with other fans of the show!

Become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/rollforcombat where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Plaguestone 30: Averting Cat-astrophe

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 30: Baby Shark.

This week’s episode features a battle against an old nemesis…

(record scratch)

(pushes glasses up on nose)

At the risk of being tedious and pedantic, that’s actually a mild spoiler. We never actually SAW the person shooting at us from the tower in the initial courtyard battle, so we probably shouldn’t really know it’s the same person. Though, how many elite orc archer types can one castle have? Whatever… we’ll pretend we recognize her by her fancy bow and move on I guess.

On the other hand, I guess that finally puts my long-running “Noala is an enemy plant” theory to bed. I very briefly thought that “enemy archer” was “Noala is actually Vilree’s lieutenant and snuck into the enemy camp while we were preparing”. But now we’ve got an orc archer on our hands, so consider that idea formally retired.

The single biggest development this time was the almost-death of Ember.

First, I’d like to point out that if you’re listening to both of our shows, this happened within a few episodes of losing CHDRR in the Dead Suns game, so… amusing coincidence, but it’s been a rough month for my poor pets. This does mean I’ve already mentally decided that whatever we play next, no pet for me. No animal companion, no familiar… just me.

Second, I’d like to point out that I was specifically holding Ember out of the battle because I remembered her being vulnerable to either water or ice (couldn’t remember which one, and couldn’t find the stat sheet for her as we were playing). So I swear I was TRYING to keep her safe. But then the shark retreated toward her and it presented a prime opportunity to flank, which was just too good to pass up. And frankly, if the brine shark hadn’t critted, it would’ve been fine and we’d have been in fine shape.

As far as the ruling, it actually looks like it’s NOT GM discretion; It looks like companions are subject to the same rules as the characters. Quoth the rulebook (page 459):

Player characters, their companions, and other significant characters and creatures don’t automatically die when they reach 0 Hit Points. Instead, they are knocked out and are at risk of death. At the GM’s discretion, villains, powerful monsters, special NPCs, and enemies with special abilities that are likely to bring them back to the fight (like ferocity, regeneration, or healing magic) can use these rules as well.

So it’s not even GM discretion… Ember lives! Which is a relief on multiple levels. Tactically, I’m already down a shield, I’d hate to also lose my fire-cat too. Having my character functionality slowly whittled away on the way to the final battle is kind of a drag. But also, I’d hate to have gone through all that trouble to get this cool, fairly unique mount, and then have to trade it in for a boring old horse. No offense to horses in the abstract, but… come on.

While we’re talking rules… I agree with the consensus that it still feels a little silly that alchemical flasks are a martial weapon. I mean… if someone broke into my house right this minute, I could PROBABLY figure out the mechanics of picking something up and throwing it at the intruder. Having said that, allow me to make the other side of the argument. First, on a game mechanic level, it’s an easy way to make alchemical bombs something that alchemists do well – make it a preferred weapon and a class feature, easy-peasy, they’re the designated bomb-tossers. But if you want something that works more in-game, one could argue that the skill is not the throwing, but judging of distances and blast radiuses (radii?) on the fly to be able to accurately put a bomb in the right place in the middle of a firefight. (Also allowing for movement, as everyone’s turns within a round are supposed to be happening semi-simultaneously.) Going back to that previous example, yes I could pick something up and throw it at an intruder. Could I pick up a grenade, figure out where to throw it to hit the intruder but not hit my dogs, while the intruder is coming at me? Maybe that IS a martial skill.

Of course, it’s no skin off my nose. I’m trained in martial weapons, so more fun for me.

As we reach the end of the session, we head to the bottom of the stairs and are presented with the classic RPG dilemma – we’re mostly out of resources, and what we were all hoping was a final room is really an entire additional section of the complex. (Even without Steve zooming the blank map out, we could see two corridors and two or three doors just from where the stairs let out.) So what do we do? We’ve got to assume both Vilree and the orc archer are down there somewhere – so that’s at least two formidable opponents – and maybe even some additional minions too. We simply don’t have the resources for that, but there are ALL sorts of hints that waiting too much longer would be bad for the town.

At the end of the day, you can’t help the town if you’re dead, so I guess we’re stopping to rest. It just doesn’t feel very heroic. You don’t see Superman popping off to the Fortress of Solitude for a nap halfway through the story. (Except for Superman 2, where he kinda does. Maybe not the best example.) But it’s just one of those unsolvable “problems” of any RPG system – as a game mechanic, you have to set the refresh on resources to SOMETHING. If you make it too easy to recover resources, the game becomes trivial and you lose a sense of accomplishment. If you make it too hard to recover resources, you end up with a lot of stories that end in unsatisfying character deaths. So you gotta pick something and just hope that it matches up pretty well with the story beats the majority of the time.

So… long rest it is. Next week we tackle the basement level, hopefully, find Vilree, and also hopefully aren’t too late to save the town. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.