Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

Talking Combat 120: Does It Come With A Gift Receipt?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 120: The Five Stooges.

It’s a bit of a short episode this week as this is basically the last fight before the Big Bad, and it made for better storytelling to let that unfold at its own pace next week. So instead, we finish off what turns out to be a fairly straightforward fight against the monks, and we break down a bunch of pretty cool loot, a lot of which goes unused anyway.

The fight… well, for ONE glorious round you see the potential of the monks, as they corner Rusty and land four attacks on him. So there’s a multiverse world where they catch a party unawares and put a good thumpin’ on them: imagine the party that doesn’t do advance recon and just starts walking right down the middle and lets the monks descend on them from both sides, possibly with surprise. So I’m going to give Seth another round of attaboys for phasing into the room and tipping us off to their presence.

On the other hand: that alarm Seth set off. Still not sure what the full ramifications are there. No new reinforcements joined the fight, but that doesn’t mean SOMETHING didn’t happen. Does it mean more reinforcements are on their way, or is it more just “we lose any chance at a surprise round because the bridge knows someone’s outside”? It’s one of those things I’ll probably ask Steve in the post-game, once we know how it all turns out. In other words, if we TPK, I’ll want to know how angry we should be at Seth. (Kidding… but kinda not.)

Speaking of angry: RULEBOOK WARS!

On a rules level, Steve was correct about the doshkos. The basic unpowered doshkos are indeed unwieldy, but of the advanced ones – basically, anything that’s battery-powered and has typed damage – does not have that keyword. And Paizo is pretty careful about keywords, so that’s pretty much got to be intentional.

More generally, there are two more general principles that pretty much put me on Steve’s “side” on this one.

First, Keep the Game Moving. The amount of time you spend on a rules decision ought to be inversely proportional to the importance of the situation. If the death of someone’s character hinges on a rule interpretation… by all means, stop the game and make sure you get it right. But a between-battles ruling about whether you can take a full attack with a weapon… decide something and let it go. Or… figure it out while you keep playing, which is ultimately what happened. (Perhaps without getting all chippy about it.)

Second, maybe it’s a little self-serving and cynical, but If The GM Gives You Something Good, Take It. I suppose you have a responsibility to be fair and speak up if you know the GM’s making a mistake and you’re getting an advantage you don’t deserve, but if you’ve spoken up and the GM rules in your favor, you don t have to keep arguing. Applying to this situation, John wasn’t wrong to initially call it out, but at some point… take the doshko and enjoy.

As an aside, I use the same principle when it comes to paying for drinks – ask once, if someone else is buying, don’t ask again. Saved me a lot of money over the years.

The rest of the loot… well, first I’m glad it’s not animating and attacking us. That’s certainly a plus. I was still kind of concerned the mist was some sort of creature that was going to attack us. At least it’s not that. As loot? It’s interesting stuff, it’s got cool undead flavor, but it turns out to not be all that useful to me personally.

The eyes, in particular, are possibly my favorite thing we’ve run across in terms of flavor, except that but they happen to confer two benefits I already have access – darkvision is a ysoki racial ability, and the scouting function basically works the same way as the mechanic’s Scoutbot ability (minus spending a Resolve point).

The worm and the warlock stone are basically Mark 3 ability crystals, which… that’s pretty nice, but I don’t think you waste something like that on a secondary ability, and I’m not sure bumping Intelligence up really does me much good at this point. My primary skills are in the +25-27 range, I already know pretty much every language spoken in the Pact Worlds and then some… It’s something I would probably consider if we were to play another adventure path beyond this one, but for a final battle for this one… might as well give it to Mo for more damage.

Besides, one of the two had the same problem as the Flux Fig – it took an hour to apply and I’m pretty sure we don’t have an hour to work with. Much like the ability crystal, the Flux Fig is something I might consider to freshen up the character if we were to keep playing, but even if it didn’t come with a cooldown, I’m not sure I would want to muck with my character right before the final fight. I mean, I’m barely making some of these Computers checks as it is; imagine if I change to a dumb race and lose points in Intelligence. To say nothing of the fact that “Blacktail” would be a silly last name for someone who no longer has a tail.

Of course, there’s also a rules-lawyer issue I thought of while re-listening: Steve said constructs and outsiders are immune to the effects. Since Tuttle is now part aeon, that probably means it wouldn’t work on me anyway. So I eagerly await Mo taking it and becoming a fellow ysoki… if for no other reason than to visualize a ysoki trying to wield a doshko twice his height.

So this is it. As Steve mentions in the show notes, we’re basically at the threshold of the final fight. For Realz, as the Young People say. I’m glad Steve slowed John down a touch on throwing open the door because this does seem like one of those fights we might want to make sure we’re ready for. I don’t PERSONALLY have a lot of buffs, but I could at least use one of my uses of Miracle Worker to give my weapon a bonus for 10 rounds, maybe pre-push CHDRR’s button once or twice since he has a few buffs in his arsenal.

As far Steve’s description of the Big Bad being an A+ boss… I’m not going to go there yet. Steve can share what he wants to share; I’ll leave my reactions until we’re actually in the fight, and that’ll be for next time. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think about the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 26: Better Living Through Pacifism

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 26: U Can’t Touch This.

OK, first things first, I’m going to indulge in a ridiculously small and nerdy show note. This is one of those rare times where all four of our voiceover intros came one right after the other. Usually, there’s a gap where Steve will say something in the middle, or half the people will come in early and the others will trickle in over the first couple minutes of the show, but this time it was all four of us one after the other no interruptions. Silly thing to get excited about, but I’m weird that way.

So… that was an interesting fight, wasn’t it?

Nine grunts, a barbarian boss, and an unseen archer chucking arrows at us… we should’ve been dead, right?

But no… SANCTUARY TO THE RESCUE! Thanks to some remarkably effective magic from Celes, Brixley does his best impression of a cork in a bottle and manages to control the flow of the fight long enough for the others to thin their numbers and turn the tide of the battle. This is meant as an “aren’t I great?” thing; it was absolutely a team effort. But I’m being realistic that if they had been able to get through the archway and into our backline and start hitting Celes in particular, that fight might have gotten ugly.

I have to admit, I’ve always kinda turned my nose up at Sanctuary in the past. Maybe it’s as simple as I’m a brute force kinda guy, and I like being on offense. Sanctuary seemed like it could be a good spell for a dedicated healer/buffer who never attacks, or situationally as an emergency shield for someone who was about to die until they could pop a potion, but the trade-off of not being able to take any sort of hostile action always left me a little underwhelmed. Consequently, I don’t think I’ve ever taken it as a spell when building characters.

After this? I may have to start because that was pretty close to amazing. Yeah, eventually the boss orc got a critical save and dispelled it, but that pretty much let me hold half the choke point for a good 2-3 rounds taking almost no damage. I kinda lost count, but I think we were up to three orcs that critically failed and couldn’t attack me at all. And though it’s not the spell’s fault, I noticed that even on the few occasions when attacks went through, I had pretty good luck on the hit rolls too.

I don’t know if it’s a strategy that will easily replicate to future games though, so caveat emptor.

First, let’s be honest that we lucked out a little bit that we were facing (mostly) stupid enemies with low Will saves. If they had a few Wisdom-based casters (orc shamans or something), they might have been able to make more saves and put more damage on me and I might have had to retreat. Eyeballing it, it looked like the grunts only had a +2 bonus to the save, and it was DC 19. So their spread of outcomes was 30% critical fail and can never attack me (1-6), 50% regular fail (7-16), 15% regular success (17-19) and a critical success only possible on a Nat-20 (5%).

The other thing is, even with the ability to give actions to Ember, Human Roadblock Duty was still a pretty inefficient way to use one entire party member. It’s not a complaint, exactly… I knew what I was doing was providing value to the party… but it was a little frustrating to give Ember a command than then pretty much have nothing productive to do for the rest of my turn. I think what I’m going for here is an observation that if you ARE going to dabble in the dark arts of the Human Roadblock, maybe use someone who has more defensive/passive actions built into their character, so they’ll have things they can be doing while they clog up the works.

Speaking of Ember, it was nice to finally put my new pet to work. She’s not overpowering – her attack only does 1d8 and I think she’s got fewer hit points than Celes – but it’s an extra source of offense, and being able to set up flanking (especially for Cade’s Sneak Attack) could be useful. If there’s any complaint, it’s a certain sameness that I’ve somehow arrived at playing a pet class in this game AND Dead Suns. But… whatever. Fire Cat Is Good. Fire Cat Is Our Friend. I regret nothing!

The other thing about this fight that gave me a mild chuckle was when the boss orc ran out of reactions and couldn’t use his orc ferocity. You may assume a Nelson Muntz “ha ha” on my part when that happened. After having to deal with all the grunts getting an extra action, I was glad the boss lost his. Fortuitous.

Coincidentally, this is PART of why I haven’t used my champion’s Liberating Step ability more. Fact is, I have three different reaction abilities (block with a shield, Divine Grace to get +2 on a save, or Liberating Step) so there have been times where blocking 3 or 4 damage vs. keeping those other options available didn’t seem like a good trade-off. But now that it’s 5 damage and now that my shield is broken anyway, we’ll probably start to see Liberating Step some more. Some of these future fights, I pretty much use it every round.

Lastly, I’ll re-acknowledge the mistake we’ve been making regarding Lay On Hands. Since the spell level is half the character level (but rounded up), it should only be healing for 12 points at Level 3, not 18. I did use LoH after the boss hit me twice, so it was in play this fight. That said, I was mentally tracking the damage re-listening to the episode, and I don’t think it got close enough to make the difference between dropping or not. It’s more relevant for after-heals, but that just adds time – 10 minutes per cast, times however many extra casts would be required to make the math correct.

So, orc battle survived, we pause to catch our breath, and we’re going to assault the keep next. Unfortunately, as far as we know, the remaining archer probably survived and had time to raise the alarm, so whoever is left in there (Vilree? More orcs?) is going to be ready for us. Will Steve have more orc rhymes left – Spork? Bjork? Peter Tork? I guess you’ll just have to find out next week. In the meantime, 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.

Talking Combat 119: Me, My Seth, And I

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 119: Interview with the Undead.

Welcome to another edition of “The End, But Kinda Sorta Not The End, But You Know What We Mean”. We’re certainly in the final sprint, and it’s heavily implied at a metagame level that whatever’s left is the amount of combat that can be fit into one long rest (3 or 4 fights, maybe?). But if we’ve got a minion fight and more doors to open and the guy who’s been talking to us on the comms isn’t visibly evident, that probably means this isn’t THE final fight. So hang in there. We’re getting there.

Of course, when we talk about The End, I’m probably the person least affected by resource management – with one huge exception. Ammo isn’t an issue; if we run into something that we have to shoot 50 or 60 times to kill it, we’re gonna lose. I have plenty of resolve points (something like 14). Presses of CHDRR’s button work off my INT modifier (it’s something like 3+INT or 4+INT) so I’m close to double digits on that. The only truly limited-use ability I have is my Miracle Worker (+2 to hit and damage for a weapon), of which I only get two uses. The one big exception is CHDRR himself – if CHDRR “dies”, it takes 24 hours to rebuild him, which would put him on the bench for the rest of the adventure.

Stepping back a little, I was a little caught off guard that I ended up being the one to chat with the Big Bad – Rusty tends to do all the talking for the party, so it’s an unusual position for Tuttle to be in. I suppose I was trying to convince the Big Bad that we were more of a diversion and were distracting him from a bigger problem so he’d keep reinforcements away from the command center, but he didn’t seem to be buying it. On the other hand, I don’t really know that there was anything to be “bought” – we get so locked into thinking every interaction is an active plot point and a chance to roll some dice that we forget that some interactions are just about storytelling. I think that’s what was going on here: I don’t think there was anything here that would influence the outcome (unless we did something REALLY stupid); I mostly think Steve was setting the table and ratcheting up the suspense by letting us know that the Big Bad is both Big and Bad enough that he doesn’t consider us much of a threat even as we’re marching into his inner sanctum. “Sure, come on to my bridge, take control of my ship. Let me know how that works out for you!

Also, somewhere in this bit of pre-game, Chris drops a Mandalorian reference – that’s how you can tell we’re catching up to current. Our cultural references finally have a foot in the 21st century. Now I feel like I’ve got to throw in a current events Easter Egg every time we record so the astute listener can figure out when we were taping. It’ll be the podcast equivalent of taking a picture holding today’s newspaper. “Tuttle takes out a tactical baton and bangs on a trash can to let his teammates know the computer is online”.

We weave our way through ship security – it’s just like Star Wars, only instead of trying to get to the hangar and get OFF the ship, we’re headed for the heart of it. When we reach the command deck, we even start out with some semi-impressive tactics, as Seth phases through the wall while stealthed (I didn’t know he could do that!) and gets us the lay of the land – it’s kind of an antechamber with some glass display cases, and bad guys hiding behind the display cases. So far so good. Though that probably means we have another warm-up fight and then the real final fight in one of the rooms beyond.

Aside: I wonder if the items in the display cases represent a last dose of general-purpose loot, or are actually items that would be specifically helpful against the Big Bad. I feel like they’re almost certainly treasure; I just don’t know if they’re going to turn out to be specific treasure or general treasure. OK… there’s also a 2% chance they Voltron together to form some sort of monster – you’ve got a skull and spine, a severed hand, a spear, and a mist-filled helmet. I mean… there’s also a chance that mist is like… ghost ectoplasm that will join together with the other stuff to form an incorporeal centurion. This isn’t Ghostbusters; it doesn’t have to be green. So, OK… PROBABLY loot, but be wary if the grunts try to open any of the display cases during the fight.

As combat starts, all indications are that these guys are melee dominant – they’re described as both “undead monks” and solarians, both of whom are more effective in close than at range. So for once, Chris has the right idea: I fire up my jetpack and get airborne. I don’t know that I’m going to spend the whole fight in the air – might want to conserve some for the boss – but at least until we get a better sense of how hard they hit and how hard they are to kill, might as well stay comparatively safe.

We get off to a strong start – Mo lands both halves of a full attack, one for a crit, and puts up 100 damage right out of the gate. So it’s a bit of a good news/bad news situation – they have a decent amount of hit points, but they also don’t seem to have anything special in the way of resistances. We tend to thrive in fights like that. Ask the dead ellicoths.

But then Seth… oh Seth. Sweet summer child. Seth puts himself in early running for the “What The <expletive> Were You Thinking?” award by trying to open one of the side doors. I mean… that’s LITERALLY one of the first thing we tried to teach the kids in my Dads-N-Kids game – don’t split the party, don’t bleed encounters. Annnnd, of course, he sets off an alarm. Now look… I don’t mind people acting on their own, as long as they’re able to articulate how what they’re doing helps the party achieve some larger goal. This? Maybe I’m just not a very smart person, but I just don’t see how this possibly helps us. Or even how it WOULD have helped us even if it had worked perfectly. We’ll see what happens, but if THAT’s how we end up losing, I’m gonna be a little pissed.

The remainder of this episode unfolds mostly in our favor. The good news is that we get one of the four monks down – establishing them at around 130-140 hit points. And at least so far, there’s no evidence Seth’s gaffe has brought reinforcements down on us. The bad news is the bad guys do have a ranged attack option, though we made our saves and avoided the effects… this time. (They can also see Akiro while invisible, but that’s mostly his problem.) If they can hit at range, staying in the air may not be the I WIN button I thought it was. Don’t feel like having something go wrong and take a bunch of falling damage, so I’m probably going to conserve battery, land, and try to use CHDRR or the display cases to shield myself from melee.

And that’s where we pick it up next week. We have a numerical advantage, we know roughly how much damage they can take, and it feels like we should be OK as long as Seth hasn’t brought the entirety of the Corpse Fleet chain-of-command down on our heads. Join us next week as we continue our push toward the command center and see how it all turns out. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Plaguestone 25: Enough Talk!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 25: Have Fun Storming the Castle!

I feel like since Steve addressed the “where we go next” question in his pre-show commentary, I figured I’d start this week with a little more of an explanation why I decided not to do Extinction Curse. Full disclosure: Steve offered me a slot to keep the merry Plaguestone band together, but I wanted to chime in on why I passed.

The first and simplest answer is time. Between Plaguestone (soon to be Extinction Curse), Dead Suns (soon to be Whatever Follows That), and my home game, I’m playing three times a week, and I’ve come to the realization that’s my saturation point. I absolutely wanted to do Plaguestone and get in on Second Edition as soon as possible, so I didn’t mind burning the candle at both ends for a few months. But now that some of that new gaming system smell has worn off, I think two games is more my comfort zone.

As to why Plaguestone is the one to go, I think that gets into the style of game Extinction Curse is going to be. I mean, it sounds like a GREAT concept for an adventure. Don’t get me wrong. But Steve is hoping that Extinction Curse will take the roleplaying tone that started with Plaguestone to the next level, and… I’m not going to say that’s not me, but it takes a great deal of effort for that to be me for a full three-hour session. Perhaps more than I’m willing to commit. I’m the guy that breaks out in song when someone says a phrase that fits a lyric, or gets lost in Dad Jokes for five minutes, or stops to philosophize about which Hollywood actor would best fit the NPC we’re talking to. Plaguestone eventually reached a happy medium where we let some of that slide, but if the intent is to take that to the next level in Extinction Curse, I’m not sure my Benevolent Assclown persona fits there. So… “this above all, to thine own self be true”. Granted, Hamlet’s “own self” was a deranged murderhobo, but it’s still good advice.

This is not to say I’ll have zero involvement in the new show. As Steve said, I’m currently planning to write a… Talking Circus?… which will be interesting because I’ll be writing completely from the listener’s perspective for the first time. (I listened to the Pathfinder one-shot where everyone died, but never got around to doing a write-up because that’s around the same time all the hardcovers came out.) I also wouldn’t rule out showing up as an NPC at some point. Heck, if life circumstances change, maybe I’ll pull a Seth and jump in halfway. But for now, I’ll be watching from the sidelines.

OK, enough about the game we haven’t started yet. We still have this one to finish. And this week, we do the initial planning for the assault on Spite’s Cradle.

First thing: I didn’t do all the math, so this might be wishful thinking, but I find myself wishing Prue had taken a stab at reverse-engineering potency crystals so we could make more. If you remember, you can figure out how to make a magic item by breaking it down into its components. I didn’t run the math to determine how hard it would be; I don’t know if we have access to the proper ingredients to make more, but a few more One-Round Superhero Crystals would rock right about now.

We also split up all the bombs and potions. The only real footnote here is that bombs are considered martial weapons, so Brixley is actually the most effective bomb-thrower in the party. But that also goes against the idea that he’s supposed to be up front being a meat shield. So I don’t want to just take ALL the bombs, in case I’m stuck in melee and can’t use them, but I do grab a few, just in case. If the battlefield unfolds in such a way that it’s effective for me to be artillery, I’m totally willing to not get punched repeatedly.

When we reach Spite’s Cradle, we start with reconnaissance. I’m smiling internally because this is something our Dead Suns group is absolutely not known for, unless you think John getting impatient and throwing a door open counts as “reconnaissance”. I have to admit as I was re-listening to this, I didn’t really appreciate the full gravity of the situation – there was a scenario where Cade might’ve gotten caught, and been stuck fighting multiple orcs behind a barred gate the rest of us couldn’t get through. (And then once they’d filled Cade up with stabby-holes, could’ve climbed up on the palisade and started shooting arrows at the rest of us from relative safety.) So this could’ve been the shortest ride to the finish ever if Cade had screwed up a roll or two. Somehow I didn’t really appreciate that in the moment and was mostly just impatient to get on with the fight.

Fortunately Cade did not screw up his rolls (at least not the most important ones), and we got a decent picture of the enemy complex. Only two visible orcs in the courtyard, but there are two structures flanking the valley behind the wall – a true building on the northwest side, more of a thrown-together hut to the southeast. At this point, I’m feeling like the hut may just be a guard shack (maybe just for the two in the courtyard, or maybe there are more guards inside) and the structure is the actual villain lair.

Though this is Paizo we’re talking about… definitely more than two orcs.

So now we have to figure out how to get in. Very generally, we’re going to go with “Forest Moon of Endor” gambit – hide our true numbers, do something to get the guards to open the gates, and then rush it. Minus the AT-ST, of course. (Could Prue reverse engineer one of THOSE?)

At first, I was a little disappointed the group didn’t go with my plan of using Ember as bait, but thinking back on it, it was actually kind of a weak plan. If the orcs were under strict orders to hold their posts, a random fire-kitty prancing around outside their perimeter might not have been enough to get them to investigate. Especially not when Vilree’s been parading weird beasties past them for months, if not years. They’d probably be like “Yeah, yeah… fire cat. Third one this week. Hey Gorth, remember the one that ate your favorite boots?”

So I guess we’re going with that old standby: “I Have A Prisoner”. If it was good enough for Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, it’s good enough for us. The classics never truly go out of style. On the plus side, we do have a partially maimed, menacing-looking half-orc, so we’ve got a natural advantage in the guard department. I’m just not thrilled that Brixley has to be the prisoner. Even faking it, my pride is wounded by the idea of being fake-captured. But I can’t stealth into position like Cade, we don’t want a plan that puts our squishy caster (Celes) up front, so… A Prisoner Is You. Deal with it.

I don’t know if it worked exactly. They didn’t exactly seem to be buying what she was selling, but it got them to open the door open enough for Prue to rush it the rest of the way. It felt kind of like the scene from the second (lesser) Conan movie where the bad guy is doing his little speech and Conan yells “ENOUGH TALK” and just throws a dagger into the belly of a dude wearing some of the most improbable minion armor in movie villain history. Vision obscuring mask, skirts that could tangle my lower-body movement without providing any protection, absolutely no center mass protection? WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

(Then again, Conan is basically nekkid, so maybe I should just leave such complaints at the door.)

Sorry… I digress. (See, this is why I can’t be in Extinction Curse. I’m telling you…) The doors are open, we have a foothold, and now we have to fight our way in… and that’s where we’re going to leave it for the week. Come back next time and find out how many secret orc reinforcements were hiding in wait for us, and see if we survive. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media, and join the ongoing festivities. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 118: Hack The Planet!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 118: Undead of Unusual Size.

This week’s column is going to be a bit of a rush job, as I had an unexpected childhood friend come to town and lost more of my weekend to frivolity than I planned. Also, I may or may not be in self-imposed shame exile because “Undead of Unusual Size” was originally my joke (from last week’s Talking) and I forgot that ellicoths aren’t actually undead, thus nullifying the entire premise. SHAME! SHAME! (rings bell)

The battle itself turns out to not be that big of a deal… and that’s kind of been a recurring theme for Starfinder. Things that JUST have a lot of hit points and nothing else going for them have not traditionally been that hard for us. Mo lands a crit or two, Bob’s Get ‘Em usually means we can do full attacks against them and still stand a chance of hitting both attacks, and we can usually chop ‘em down fairly quickly. The fact that they had reach was a little bit of a nuisance at first, but once the first one dropped we pretty much had enough room to move safely. Either that or Mo could afford to eat the first attack of opportunity and let the rest of us move freely.

The radiation could have been a problem in a different setting. If we’d run across an ellicoth on Castrovel, when we were sometimes not wearing our armor to save on the total days of cooling, that could’ve gotten messy fast. (Or if someone had gotten behind the upgrade curve and still had level 5 or 6 armor.) But in a scenario where you’re already wearing a de facto Hazmat suit… it’s kind of shrugworthy. I don’t know if this was bad creature design, or just pairing them with an encounter where people are already going to be geared for it is the issue.

I kinda retroactively liked Steve’s idea of having a couple of support troops with them. Not only might have that been a way to spice up the encounter a little and mix in some different dynamics, but it does seem kind of odd you’d leave (essentially) farm animals to guard a train station with no humanoid supervision. But whatever… big beasties it is. I guess I leave my dogs to guard the house when I go to the grocery store; maybe this is the same concept. Except I apparently need to make stilts for my dogs to get the full ellicoth effect.

I’ll have to admit I got a little frustrated toward the end when Seth was trying to lawyer Steve into a roll on re-routing the guards once they had already been called. I have some sympathy that on a storytelling/improv level you want to say yes to players rather than just shutting them down cold – it’s that whole “spirit of cooperation” vibe. But at the same time, there are limits to that. Some things in life are just flat “no”s, and I’m not sure the GM is required to give out a roll on an impossibility just to humor the party. I mean, where does that logic end… if I proclaim that Tuttle learned how to breathe fire, how many Nat-20s do I have to roll before Steve has to let me do that? Or is it on us as players to SOMETIMES accept that X, Y, and Z are just impossible in this story and work with that?

I’m gonna stick with this for a second and go a little more granular. I’m an IT guy, and this scenario is mostly a computer problem, so it’s kind of in my wheelhouse. I would say there are probably five broad classifications of things I run across in my day job. I would call it easy, easy with dependencies, hard, long-term projects, and impossible.

The first three are a kind of classic problem resolution with increasing levels of difficulty. You know what you have to do, you might even have all the knowledge and tools you need to fix it, but it will take some non-zero amount of time to accomplish. And in the middle case, it’s a conceptually easy fix, but there are binary failure conditions where if you don’t have the right password/cable/tool, it becomes a harder or impossible problem. The long-term project stuff is something where articulating the problem on a theoretical level is easy, you might even have a sense of what you have to do to fix it, but there’s no realistic way you could do that quickly – it’s an hours/days/weeks effort. And then there’s impossible, like getting an air-gapped computer to talk on the Internet or retrieving usable data from a single disk pulled out of a RAID array. You can want to solve those problems all you want, but you’re not going to succeed.

OK, so how does all of this tie back to Seth’s request? Well, going back in time a few episodes, installing and using TombRobber was probably an “easy with dependencies” situation. Once Tuttle got access to the right computer system, running TombRobber was just like running any other program. The idea Seth had in the previous episode with re-routing the trains or crashing them on purpose was more like a long-term project – if Tuttle could’ve studied the system for a few hours or days, he might have been able to re-write the system, but it hardly seems like the sort of thing he could’ve done in five minutes. But the fact that the captain or the admiral (I presume) saw their ellicoths dying and had already called troops to come back… I mean, that’s not really even a computer problem anymore. The message already went out. That’s a “the captain of the ship has ordered guys to Hangar Bay 23, we’re in Hangar Bay 23, we need to not be here when they get here” problem. I’m no military expert, but I don’t even think recalling the order would work as a matter of protocol: if your captain orders you to return to the bridge and then some computer says “never mind”, you probably still come to the bridge.

At any rate, we win the battle, we’ve got a foothold on the command level, but the clock is running. Whoever is on the bridge is at least generally aware we’re on our way even if they can’t see us on the security scans, and reinforcements are on the way. The sprint to the finish begins now.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up. Feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the action and join in the ongoing merry-making. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Plaguestone 24: The GM Giveth, The GM Taketh Away

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 24: Medieval Regression Search.

I have to start with an admission – I didn’t actually remember big chunks of this episode as I was listening to it. I remembered the broad strokes that Celes had to go scrounging through Uncle Targie’s basement. I remember spending a surprisingly large amount of handwringing about the ethics of stealing the everburning torch. But the chest with the scroll with the evil writing (abyssal, I’m guessing?)… I remembered none of that. I’d ask if the rest of the group reconvened at a later date and recorded more material without me, but I can even hear my voice in there a few times, so… nope… I was there. Chalk it up to some combination of “we recorded this a month or two ago” and “I’m in three different games at the moment”.

I have to admit, Celes’ side quest is shaping up as my favorite of the four, and here’s why I think that is. Unless Vanessa and Steve got together and wrote this on the side, she gets to learn something she didn’t know about her own character and done right, that’s a pretty awesome idea. If I’ve got one pet peeve about these games in general, it’s that the path is pretty much laid out for you from 1-20; there are never truly any surprises. (So much so that you can literally map out what your character will look like at every level along the way if you want to.) Yeah, you might take some feats in different orders or the rebels amongst us might multiclass, but even those choices operate within the guard rails of the what the rulebook dictates – you just bolt a few new pieces on the chassis and move on. You’ve always been the wood elf ranger at the Overlook, Mister Torrance.

But consider this quest Celes is on. It manages to provide rich material for storytelling – every spell Celes casts commits her to more servitude after death – while mostly staying out of the way of the gameplay in the here-and-now. The curse isn’t so drastic as to stop her from tossing out a heal if one of us is going to drop, but it certainly tweaks her motivations and make her choices more interesting – both in combat and in the sorts of things she wants to investigate and what she chooses to do with her time between adventures. Contrast that with something like arbitrarily making her blind or severing her connection to magic, which would just make the character unworkable without necessarily creating a better story.

That actually dovetails with something Steve talked about in the intro – this idea of “taking toys away” from players if they unbalance the game. And I’d place that in contrast to GIVING players “freebies” to reward out-of-the-box thinking (Brixley basically getting free fire resistance for his mount). And I think to see the whole picture, you have to pull out and widen the focus on the storytelling rather than just the combat game.

One thing that’s important to remember is that when it comes to the rules, they aren’t just rules, they also represent part of the world-building of the environment the story takes place in. Take the idea that casters can’t wear heavy armor. OK, at a simple level, that creates a game mechanic that explains why you can’t just roll a party of TankMages, but it also creates some of the understanding of how magic interacts with the world, so OK… it’s hard to access the arcane forces while wearing heavy armor. So it follows that allowing things that undermine or break the rules (or are even just too powerful) also have the potential to undermine the world-building and damage the integrity of the story itself.

(You know… like the Force going from an energy field that exists to all things to some virus you catch on Spring Break at Panama City. Freakin’ midichlorians, man…)

That’s not to say you can’t reward creative thinking. If people think of a way to use something you thought was harmless in an unorthodox way that’s genuinely clever and makes for a good storytelling moment, go for it. One of the sneaky things about the Harry Potter series is how much use he gets out of what would be his Level 1 and Level 2 spells. If someone does something genuinely clever in the moment, reward away! But if your characters find a way to use something that becomes an I WIN button and makes the story boring? Yank it, and feel no shame or guilt in doing so. At some point, the story comes first. (Be particularly heavy-handed if they come prepared with enough rules citations to argue before the Supreme Court; at that point, even THEY know they’re trying some shady shit.)

If it’s the scenario Steve described where you already gave them something and have to roll it back, I would suggest you try to do it during downtime to avoid creating ill will – pulling tools away from a party in the middle of a dungeon slog when they’ve already committed some of their resources based on having something available would be frustrating as a player. As a player, I probably know that nuclear bomb I crafted from a potato isn’t REALLY gonna fly, but if you let me burn through all my Level 3-5 spells and THEN tell me, I’m still gonna be a little annoyed. If you tell me at the tavern between dungeon slogs, I can adjust to the new normal.

At the end of the day, the key thing to remember is that the worst thing for any table is an adversarial relationship between a GM and his or her players. I know the mechanics of the combat system sometimes drive things that way – we players are killing their monsters, so we’re “against” each other – but the important thing to remember is, as an act of collaborative storytelling, we really are in this together. As it pertains to this concept of “taking toys away”, that does sometimes mean putting a muzzle on the internal rules-lawyer and remembering a GM has reasons for things they do. They are the ones that see the whole picture, and if they think something’s going to unbalance and ruin weeks or months of gaming, they have an obligation to do something about it.

Of course, the caveat is that the GM should have a good reason for doing it, and not just “I’m pissed because they’re winning too easily”. And you build that trust by using the other side of the coin – if your players come up with something genuinely good, reward them even if it’s not quite rules as written. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come to trust Steve over the years – yes, he’ll occasionally overrule (cough-Chris-cough) people when they try to do something unbalancing, but he’ll also give out the occasional freebie as he did with the fire resistance. I was prepared to exist for a level or two with a firecat I couldn’t ride, but I think Steve appreciated that was a better story development than a boring old magic sword, so he gave me a freebie to help out with it. See? It all evens out.

Well, that’s all I’ve got this week. I realize I didn’t write about the episode itself very much, but such are the winds of inspiration. Especially when it’s a Celes episode and I’m still trying to get back into the routine after the new year. Next week, I believe we begin the final (or so we think) assault on Vilree’s hideout at Spite’s Cradle. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by 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 next week.

Talking Combat 117: Jumping Someone Else’s Train

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 117: The Taking of Blackwind 123.

Welcome to a new year of the Dead Suns podcast, and we’re rolling toward the finish line of the adventure path. This week is mostly a transitional week, as we spend most of it riding the train to what we hope is the final destination. Oh, and we pause to level up, so that’s nice if a little anti-climactic.

First, turning to the world of pop culture, I have to confess, as the non-New Yorker, I don’t have the same affinity for The Taking Of Pelham 123 that the others do. Actually, I don’t even think I’ve seen it, so I guess I’ll have to join the rest of you in renting it. On the other hand, as a Pittsburgh native, the mall in the original 1978 Dawn Of The Dead was the one I used to go to all the time, so that’s pretty cool… (For the record, it still exists, but the skating rink is long gone.)

I’ve never played an extended session with Seth, so I’m on the dividing line between “crazy like a fox” and “needlessly overcomplicating things”. Maybe a little of both. I do kind of get where he’s coming from – if we only get one use of the Tomb Robber computer virus, maybe we could create ourselves a second distraction with the train car itself. So I get why he was pushing the Pelham 123 plan. On the other hand, this is one of those times where you could see the rails just a little – after a certain point, it really felt like the Tomb Robber was the MacGuffin to get to the train station on the command deck, at which point we’d have to fight it out the rest of the way. At least that’s the way it seemed to me.

As a brief aside, it’s always been a little fuzzy to me how much these trains are truly independent vehicles, and how much they’re point-to-point, like a glorified elevator, but on a massive scale. Sometimes it seems like we should have fairly granular control; other times, it seems like you just push a button and end up somewhere. At the end of the day… whatever gets us where the plot needs us to be.

Steve does have a point about players needlessly complicating situations sometimes. Over the holiday break, we had just such an occasion in my home game. One of our characters… OK, fine, me; low-level monks are squishy… died and the party didn’t have enough money for the raise dead ritual. The church offered the remaining party a reduced rate if they’d steal a rival evil cult’s holy symbol from their temple. The cult HQ had an alleyway with a window and a locked door… so, have the stealthiest character sneak in and steal the symbol. Easy enough, right? Instead, we had the most morally ambiguous party member (my son) decide to use Charisma, tell the evil cult the plan and suggest they make us a fake holy symbol to let us use instead. (This was after our supposedly good-aligned characters floated the idea of paying town drunks a few silver to have a bum fight in front of the cult’s hideout to serve as a distraction.) My son’s plan got surprisingly further than I thought it would because he rolled a nat 20 on his initial persuasion check, but UN-surprisingly, the plan unraveled and ended in combat, and just short of a TPK.

Luckily, we have no such problems with our computer and engineering checks, and it’s fairly smooth sailing. Though, to be fair, part of that smooth sailing was Steve taking out a fight that was supposed to happen on the moving trains. Which… not gonna lie, as a spectacle, it sounds GREAT – particularly if there would be jumping back and forth between the trains – but I’m just as happy to not do it because of the resource crunch we’re up against. It feels like we have either zero or MAYBE one long rest left (depends how much command deck there is), so burning a bunch of resources before we even reach the command deck would’ve been a little frustrating.

In between, we level up to 12, and I think this is one of those places where it’s underwhelming because the metagame tends to restrict choices. The thing is: we know we’re getting toward the end and that a final battle is coming, so optimizing for combat tends to dominate the conversation at this point. It’s hard to imagine a non-combat ability that would be much of a game-changer, but a lot of the combat options are underwhelming. Energy Shield, which was my selection, is basically worth about one hit, and that was probably the best choice I could make. Now, if the campaign was continuing, Energy Shield would lead to Improved Energy Shield, and that would at least be something, but I don’t see there being another two levels of progression either. So… one free hit it shall be, I suppose.

So we reach the destination station. The good news is that Tomb Robber did its work and most of the enemy forces have left. The bad news is they didn’t leave the place totally undefended. Which… OK, doing so would be pretty stupid, if we’re being honest. Instead, it’s not one but four of… well… something. Larger than humanoid, that’s all I’ll say for now.

I’m going to wrap things up for now – it’s been a little bit of a hectic week, getting back into the post-holiday routine. Hopefully, you’ll join us next week when we begin our assault on the command deck and fight the Undead of Unusual Size… after all, if you’ve been with us for two years, might as well stick around and see how it all turns out. In the meantime, feel free to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show; we’ve been a little absent over the holidays, but we’re starting to find our collective way back. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Plaguestone 23: Technicolor Drizzt

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 23: The Legend of Ol’ Woody.

With Steve on vacation, I get to be the first to welcome you to… “RFC2020” (assuming I’m doing jazz hands). I hope you rang in the new year well, whether that’s partying up or… say… binge-watching the entire first season of The Witcher. You know… as I’ve heard people do.

This is one of those episodes I’ve been waiting for. This is my Dead Poets Society moment where Ethan Hawke has to freeform the “sweaty-toothed madman” poem about Walt Whitman. I knew where I wanted it to go, but didn’t know how I’d get there, and it was a little bit of an unnerving whirlwind of roleplay. But I think it turned out well in the end.

Let’s pull back the curtain a little bit. I’ll admit that Steve and I coordinated the broadest of strokes – that I would take Divine Steed if we could work out a way that Fire Kitty could be my steed. I’ll admit I briefly considered just surprising Steve at the table to see how he handled it, but realistically, it had to be that way because I had rules questions I needed him to answer before committing. If I misunderstood the rules and saddled myself with a steed I couldn’t use (or if Fire Kitty couldn’t work and I just ended up with a boring old horse), that would suck. So it couldn’t be a surprise to EVERYONE. Beyond that, everything else was ad-libbed, and I specifically didn’t let the rest of the group know because I wanted somebody to be surprised.

As an aside, this was also why I trained in Nature – figured it would be useful in handling the pet. At the time I chose to play it off as story-telling… “Brixley immersed himself in nature, it was helpful for the campaign, blahblahblah”… but it was All Part Of The Plan. For similar reasons, I thought about taking Ride as my general feat, but that would’ve given the game away, and I can always take it later.

The first question I had for Steve was a fairly specific rules-lawyer: do ALL the rules for animal companions apply to mounts or is it just a mount? The dirty little secret is that mounted combat – at least at low levels – doesn’t really get you that much. You don’t get extra actions, the mount shares your penalty for multiple attacks… other than the fact that your mount gives your attacks a special property (for cats, I think it’s a trip effect or something), there’s really not much point. Again, this is at low levels: at higher levels, there are feats that can make it more efficient. But at low levels, it’s tactically underwhelming.

But here’s where it gets interesting… a champion’s steed is also described as an “animal companion”, and Paizo is usually pretty intentional when it comes to using keywords. An animal companion can be given commands that serve as a 2-for-1 action trade – you use one action to give your animal companion two. (If you’re listening to our Dead Suns Starfinder show, it’s not dissimilar to the Tuttle-CHDRR dynamic.) If you can use a divine steed THAT way, it starts to become more useful. Though also a little ranger-y. Like Technicolor Drizzt.

The second question as more obvious and high-level: how would I be allowed to ride a cat that’s on fire all the time? I had been thinking that maybe Steve could arrange to put a ring of fire resistance in a future treasure haul, or perhaps that Metamon could help craft a saddle that has fire resistance or something. But that was one of those things where if Steve agreed we’d at least solve it at SOME point, I was willing to play the long game and defer to Steve as to how, and even WHEN, we’d deal with it. If I could use it as a non-rideable pet in the short term, I was willing to let the fire issue be something we’d solve over a longer timeframe. It turns out Steve decided to hand-wave it and just give it to me, so… yay me, I guess!

So figuring out those rules questions was the extent of the coordination. Everything else was whipped up in the moment. From my standpoint, my thinking on using the church was twofold. First, it would just generally preserve the element of surprise until the last possible minute rather than just saying “oh, by the way, Fire Kitty is my pet now” when we leveled up. Second, I was thinking that conducting my Divine Ally ritual at the church would be a way to give Steve a window to maybe fold the reward from that side quest into this or include Metamon in the logistical side of things. The specifics of the ritual, including dragging Old Woody into it, having to make a toast, throwing open the doors, going on the victory ride… that was all just me and Steve figuring out where to take it in the moment.

I have to admit there was one moment I laughed out loud at while re-listening: when I describe drinking Old Woody as being a “good role model”, and Rob deadpans “yes, gather the children”. I don’t know if I was too locked in on how I was going to roleplay the ritual to appreciate that the first time, but something about the way he delivered that line killed me.

In moments of calm, I do wonder if I’m making the right call here. The elephant in the room is that the Divine Weapon boon would’ve probably still been the tactically wiser choice. A pet might give you an extra attack and set up some flanking if you use it right, but it’s still a little situational and you have to give up one of your own actions to use it. Magic weapon? That’s handy every time you swing it, especially if you apply the right effect (ghost touch alone is SO worth it). But storytelling won the day — it just seemed like such a good way to weave the Plaguestone story and my character’s arc together… it felt too good to pass up.

You will probably notice I pretty much disappear for the rest of the episode. It’s kind of a three-fold thing. First, I’m not a natural roleplayer, so that took a surprising amount of “effort” (yeah, I know it’s not busting rocks or anything) and once it was over, I needed to mentally recharge. Second, I felt just a twinge of guilt for hogging the spotlight and I wanted to step back and let other people have the floor for a while. But also, if I’m being honest, part of it was as basic as coming up with a suitable name. I hope you guys find “Ember” fitting. At some point, all those “FireSomething” names started sounding like discount-rack members of the X-Men, while Ember sounded more simple and elegant.

Sorry we couldn’t make a contest work, but then again, I’m not sure I relish the idea of having my beautiful new pet saddled with the name “Firecat McFirecatface” if you guys had wanted to be troublemakers. So Ember it is.

So the rest of the episode passes uneventfully. Cade helps set Pari up with an internship with the caravan, more turnips are consumed, and we’ll probably be hitting the road again next week. Once you’re done enjoying your remaining holidays (me, I’m back at work today), feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you thought of the show. Heck, you can still vote on what you WOULD have named the cat if we’d actually subjected it to the democratic process. Thanks for listening, happy new year, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Talking Combat 116: Ghast In Translation

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 116: Whip It Good.

Welcome to the last Talking Combat of the decade! I have nothing special planned to mark the occasion, I just want to milk the phrase “of the decade” while I can. You only get to do this once every 10 years, might as well make it count.

This week at least, it’s mostly Talking Coup de Grace, though, as Rusty getting paralyzed and critted to the brink of oblivion is probably the main moment of today’s episode.

But first, French 101. I’d like to point out a) I went all the way to French V in high school, b) I realize that public-school French V probably still sounds like French Forrest Gump to an actual native speaker and c) I’ve forgotten most of it, and mostly say nonsense things like je mange le bibliotheque. Full disclosure. But I AM at least qualified to Photoshop a beret, black turtleneck, and cigarette onto that Willem Dafoe meme and proclaim that “I’m something of a Frenchman myself”.

So with that understood, this turns out to be unintentionally interesting as I’ve been saying it wrong for years according to the dictionary. The “p” on “coup” is definitely silent and I got that part right – if you pronounce it like (chicken) “coop” I’m honor-bound to drive to your location and beat you with a baguette. But the “grace” is the tricky part – I have to admit I’ve been pronouncing it like “graw”, when the dictionary has the soft-c/”s” sound at the end. And I have to admit I’ve heard it (and said it) the incorrect way a lot over the years – I don’t know if maybe people confused it with “coup d’etat” and let the “s” sound drop over time or what, but now you know. Zut alors!

OK, French lesson over. Now that we’ve cleared up the pronunciation, let’s talk about the ability itself. Especially since Steve mis-explained it the first time and had to re-explain it on the fly. It’s on page 248 of the Core Rulebook, if you want to follow along.

As I hinted at last week, it is performed on “an adjacent creature” so while it doesn’t specify whether it’s a ranged or melee attack (see also: the Hollywood trope of shooting someone in the forehead to finish them off), you do have to be in melee range to perform it. So the first time we got paralyzed, it wasn’t as much of an emergency because the bad guys weren’t close enough to capitalize. From there, it’s an automatic hit and crit, and then a Fort save to not die. Which means in certain circumstances, it could be a two-fer because it could kill you on the massive damage rules OR the coup-de-grace rules. If Mo critted someone, the free crit could do it alone. Rusty’s crit? Not so much. Rusty luckily made his save, but that’s pretty nasty stuff.

I was selfishly comforted to learn (more for future reference, since we won this fight) that creatures that are immune to crits (hello, Aeon Tuttle) are also immune to the effects of coup de grace. So if I had been the one paralyzed and targeted, I would’ve actually shrugged the death save and the critical damage off, though I still would’ve taken the damage of a normal attack.

I’m still just a little bit grouchy about the prior boss fight(s) where we asked Steve if it was possible to coup de grace an enemy and he said no. This definitely happened with the final fight on Istamak because that’s when we finally caught this and addressed it, but maybe the Castrovel boss too. But to be fair to Steve, I should say a) it was a new system overall and there was going to be some learning curve, and b) we players have copies of the rules and we didn’t find it at the time, either. It’s not ALL on Steve to know the rules and dispense his wisdom on us. Still… being an entitled whiner and complaining to the GM because of your own lack of rules knowledge is a time-honored tradition. This is the way.

The other continuing dynamic of this episode is Chris watching Seth get to enjoy “his” character in a way he was never able to. I know it sounds like I’m enjoying Chris’ frustration, and… yeah a little, but it’s also more complicated than that.

I can’t lie that Chris is very competitive about getting the most out of his characters and talks a lot of shit when his character outshines everyone else and has the big hero moments. So he does invite a certain level of schadenfreude when he comes up short. I’d never actually root for his character to die, but a little low-grade comeuppance every now and then serves to bring balance to the Force.

But I do honestly sympathize with the fact that he wasn’t enjoying the Hirogi character… at the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun, and a two-year slog where you’re not enjoying the character you’re playing for WHATEVER reason is a tough thing to ask of someone. For all Chris’ attitude and trash-talk, he’s no less deserving of a fun, satisfying game experience.

And he’s not wrong on the math – to get the most out of an Operative, you basically have to hit your attack twice. If you land the Trick Attack, you hit like Mo; if you don’t, you hit like Rusty. And the basic probability isn’t too kind to that model – if you have to hit two 35% chances, your real chance of success is actually only about 12%. Having said that, I also think Chris had some craptastic luck on his dice rolls and you can make an argument he gave up too quickly and Seth just got to reap the benefits of the RNG Gods finally coming around.

The other thing is that switching to Akiro WORKED. OK, we mock him a little bit for always casting Mirror Image or teleporting out of trouble, but that’s just us doing what we do. As friends hoping to have a good gaming experience together, Chris does seem like he’s re-energized and having a lot of fun playing Akiro and that’s what’s important.

And on that group-hug moment, I’m going to call it a week, a year, and a decade. Next week we’ll hopefully be allowed to get on the train and get ourselves to the bridge. Though I’m doubting it’s going to be THAT easy – that’d be like the DC Metro putting a stop outside the Situation Room of the White House. There’s almost certainly more plot twists yet to come. Thanks for listening, have a safe and happy New Year’s, and we’ll see you back here next… time.

Talking Plaguestone 22: Orcs Must Die!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 22: Prince of the Forest.

I’d like to start this week by registering a protest – this is NOT a proper holiday episode. There are no lessons about the value of friendship, we’re not retiring from the fast-paced adventurer’s life to live in a small town and wear flannel (Brixley should definitely consider it, given his fashion choices), nor does Bea Arthur show up for a musical number. Releasing it on Life Day… err… Christmas… doesn’t change that.

I don’t know how far we got with it, but the idea of doing a holiday episode was at least briefly kicked around at one point. It might have been neat to whip up a one-shot with members of the RFC cast(s), a few special guests, Santa as a lich or some such thing. But it almost certainly fell apart in the scheduling – we already shut down our games for the holidays as it is because folks have stuff going on, so trying to wrangle a bunch of schedules at the busiest time of the year wasn’t happening. And that doesn’t even get into the lifting on Steve’s end, who would have to write the scenario, load it into D20Pro, run it, and edit the show on an even shorter timeline than usual. So… ‘twas not to be.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the actual game, it’s a cleanup episode, and not just because of the nefarious Poop Dagger. Loot, level, and lore dump! We get some questions answered but other new ones open up. It sounds like Vilree’s original plan was to create an army of beast minions, but it also sounds like they were too hard to control and she moved on to something else while these goblins continued down that alley. We know she definitely didn’t have a wholesale change of heart, since she still had Bort murdered, but what might have changed? Something to ask the townsfolk, I guess. On the positive side, we got our next breadcrumb, with directions to a place called Spite’s Cradle, where Vilree set up her headquarters.

There were a couple odd MacGuffins in this episode where I thought they were going to be important, but they ended up not really mattering much. The first was the big acid lake in the outer courtyard – I thought there would be a creature living in it, or we’d have to do something to purify it, but… nope, pretty much just there for atmosphere. The second was that boiling cauldron that Prue put out with Ray of Frost. Was that a hazard that we happened to pick the right way of neutralizing? Was that potential loot we could’ve received if we had stopped and investigated it earlier instead of just moving on to the next room? It did seem like there was meant to be some significance to “The Only Piece Of Alchemical Debris To Survive Combat”, but I guess we’ll never know since it overcooked and burned to a crisp.

Speaking of loot, this adventure continues to be a cornucopia for alchemists and kinda meh for everyone else. Lots of potions and bombs, goggles for crafting, and of course, the aforementioned Poop Dagger. Having said that, the Poop Dagger has been a treasure for us all on a conversational level: I kinda love that we’re now having a spirited debate over whether Prestidigitation has an anti-bacterial component to it. (Maybe that’s an added effect at Level 2 – hand sanitizer, plus a hint of aloe.)

So let’s talk about Brixley’s level-up. First… yeah, I continue to get Lay On Hands wrong. Covered that extensively last week. It does go up from 6 to 12 this level, so the delta of the mistake stays at 6, but I’m still going to be making the mistake for a while longer. I took Nature as a skill because it seemed to fit with the theme of the campaign; I thought about taking Crafting for the sole purpose of repairing my shield, but I figured Prue could handle most of those duties for me for now. As far as general feats, nothing was leaping out at me, but then I saw that I could take an ancestry feat, and being able to cast a cantrip seemed to be a sensible way to go. (It was something I considered back at Level 1, but went with darkvision instead.) With magic weapons being rarer in this game, having a source of magic and/or ranged damage would be very useful. Might not scale well, but let’s survive this adventure before we worry what Brixley might look like at Level 20, OK?

As far as Divine Ally, I wanted to think about that a little more. I will say that in general, Blade Ally seems like the most obviously useful one: it makes your weapon magical by default, you can give it one property per day (given my general paranoia about incorporeal creatures, it would almost always be set to ghost touch), and you gain the critical specialization for your weapon. The Shield Ally basically gives you a more powerful shield that’s harder to destroy (+2 Hardness and 50% additional hitpoints for the shield) – it’s certainly not useless, but if I’m being honest? For a class-defining ability, it lacks flair and it still feels like it only extends the life of the shield by one or two more hits. Steed Ally seems like a mixed bag. Mounted combat is kinda clunky at low levels, and I’m not sure how realistic it is to be riding a horse around inside a dungeon, but it does seem like it gets more powerful at higher levels if you’re willing to pump feats into it. But is it better than an always-on semi-customizable magical sword? Ehhhhhhh… let me think about that one.

Finally at the end of the episode we reunite with Noala, who’s still been off “setting traps on the perimeter” again. Could you BE a little more useless, lady? I’m still not ruling out the 2% possibility she’s working with Vilree and trying to get us killed, especially now that we know the orcs and Vilree don’t REALLY work together anymore. To add a few more strings to my mental murder-board, maybe this was tying up loose ends – either we kill the orcs or the orcs kill us, but either way, it keeps us busy with something else and SOMEONE ends up removed from the picture.

(Deep down, I don’t quite cross the threshold of believing this, but it’s nagging at my brain JUST enough that I’m gonna crack up if it turns out to be true.)

Well, that’s it for this week (and at least for this show, for calendar year 2019). We’ll see you back here next week, when we return to Plaguestone and do another round of tying up loose ends before heading to Spite’s Cradle. Hope you’re having a good holiday, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week AND next year!