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

Celebrate the release of Pathfinder 2e! New Podcast! New Review of Pathfinder 2e! New Review of the Bestiary!

Talking Combat 112: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 112: Nice Planet You Got There…

I’m going to go a little off the beaten path this week.

The adventure itself is Part 2 of “Seth Introduces Himself”. It’s fun and all, but there’s not a lot to write about the action itself. We poked a few more rooms with a stick. Huzzah!

What is slightly more interesting is the potential upcoming moral dilemma Tuttle and I find myself in at this point. As I was listening to this week’s show, I was struck by the fact that we’ve now had THREE of the five party members make some sort of joke about keeping the Stellar Degenerator for ourselves. And I’m not totally sure how I should feel about that – both as a player and a character.

Well, that’s not true. Jason the Player thinks that’s a bad idea. When it comes to these games, I like being one of “The Good Guys”. I’m not a big fan of moral ambiguity. I think the most “bad” character I ever played had a mild thievery streak from growing up poor on the streets (particularly with regards to food items). As an aside, I’m equally terrible at this in video games. When I play the “bad” option in games like Mass Effect, I actually feel guilty for being rude to what amounts to a computer-driven story point. DID I HURT YOUR NON-EXISTENT FEELINGS, LINES OF CODE? (pats console on what I imagine to be its head)

So OK… Jason the Player definitely doesn’t want the party to go rogue. I’m a softie at heart. We’ve established that.

But how would Tuttle respond to that? That’s the real question. Alignment-wise he’s Lawful Neutral, so he doesn’t have the +1 Yoke of Goody-Two-Shoes around his neck, but he does subscribe to some general sense of law-based ethics. I do think if he wanted to keep the Stellar Degenerator, it would be to study the science behind it rather than to turn a profit, but the lawful side of him might fall more in the “there are some things man wasn’t meant to know” camp. WHY DOES GOD NEED A STARSHIP?

Also, let’s remember that there are other ways for Tuttle to scratch that itch. The “Foundry” building back on Istamak had TONS of data modules that we didn’t really look at because we were trying to find our specific bread-crumb. But an entire library of artifacts of a civilization arguably more advanced than the Pact Worlds? Even without a working Stellar Degenerator, that’s Tuttle’s wildest dream come true. Tuttle could destroy the Stellar Degenerator, go lead a research team back to Istamak, and STILL flood the academic airwaves with papers for years based on the contents of that building. For that matter, the remnants of the defense systems – depending on how thoroughly the battle with the Corpse Fleet destroyed them – could possibly also be mined for science without having to release a planet-destroying superweapon into the wild.

(And hey, maybe he could get a date with the female ysoki we pretty much forgot about and abandoned in a locked room back on Moon Six. You know… assuming she’s still alive. And also not as crazy as her brother.)

Now we get to the other question… how much should I treat their jokes as in-game vs. out-of-game? We’ve had at least three people (Rusty, Akiro, Hirogi) express SOME sort of interest in keeping the Stellar Degenerator for ourselves.

BUT.

The nature of this episode (and last week’s) walked a little bit of a fuzzy line on whether it was the players or the characters talking. If it was Seth and Chris joking about extracting ransom from planets… then Tuttle may or may not know his teammates are planning on a heel turn. (He may think they’re untrustworthy for other reasons, but those particular statements would be inadmissible in Roleplaying Court.) Also, maybe it really is just joking and they’re going to do the right thing when the time comes. But if it was Akiro and Hirogi saying it… then I have to decide what my plan is going to be in response to that.

And that doesn’t even take Rusty into account. With Rusty, there’s the added dimension of his persuasive powers. How does that play? If Akiro or Hirogi talk about it… they don’t have a lot of guile to them, so Tuttle would know not to trust them. But Rusty is another matter. Is Tuttle even aware enough to know that Rusty can’t be trusted? In which case, maybe I should plan a failsafe that Rusty can’t talk him out of. Or is Rusty just that good and Tuttle doesn’t suspect a thing? We have also seen Rusty lie to OTHER people, so we can’t be so naïve as to think he couldn’t do that to us… could we?

And then, let’s say all of this comes to pass and Tuttle decides his teammates are truly thinking of using the Stellar Degenerator for their own malfeasance? What do I actually do about that? Certainly, I can’t outfight the rest of the party, though maybe if Mo was on my side…. Since I’m good with computers and engineering, could I rig something to destroy the Stellar Degenerator that they couldn’t counter? And then that steps back out of the game and gets into player agency – if I do something like that, am I hogging the story and trying to make the ending all about me? (But if they’re talking about stealing a planet-killer, aren’t they already making the story about them?)

The funny thing is: as I’m reading this, I realize I sound TOTALLY paranoid, and you’re probably imagining me sitting at some murder-board with pictures and strings connecting them. And to an extent that’s true, but it’s in a good roleplaying way. None of this is directed at Bob or Chris or Seth as people. It’s all directed at their characters and “thinking out loud” how my character should respond to their moves. If I can throw on my pretentious scarf and beret… “creative process”. So I think it’s a good thing for the game as a whole. Must be the Plaguestone rubbing off on me.

So that’s basically it for this week. Not much happened in the game itself, and I spent the week whipping myself into a frenzy thinking about how the endgame might play out. Not quite 14,000,003 possibilities, but quite a few. Next week I promise we get introductions out of the way and get back to the adventure at hand. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show and join the merriment in general. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 18: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 18: Country Rogue, Take Me Home.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving here in the US, so I guess I’d better bang out a column before the turkey coma takes me for the day.

Here in Microbrewery Simulator… errr… Talking Plaguestone, we have another week of mostly working on side quests. At first, I was kind of impatient with the side quests and kind of wanted to get on with the main story, but I have to admit they’re growing on me. Especially now that Brixley gets to be a cult leader, AND gets another encounter with my nemesis, Old Woody.

Old Woody was a throwback to our (pre-podcast) Iron Gods campaign, though I don’t know if it’s something written into the adventure or something Steve made up. My recollection of the story is that we needed information from the townspeople and could only gain their trust by winning a drinking contest. In addition to having the best CON of the party, my character (Ezrik – I’ve talked about him before; the guy who became a mutant) had also permanently lost his sense of taste. So either the Fortitude save I was supposed to do was either nullified entirely or was at least made a lot easier. (I think I could still smell it and it looked disgusting, so I believe I still had to roll a save…)

See, that’s the thing. Steve makes it sound like I’m some kind of reckless thrill-seeker who will drink anything put in front of his character, but it’s really not like that. In the case of Ezrik, OK maybe a little, but there was still some roleplay method to my madness. The first time I did it as part of a religious ceremony, and then… OK, I kinda decided to keep doing it as a tribute to Gorum every time I leveled. So that was maybe a little reckless, but still within the confines of “thanking Gorum for my new abilities”. In the case of Tuttle becoming an aeon, that was a boss fight where I was struggling to even hit against the big bad’s armor class, so I decided to pop my Loot Box of Wonder to try to get something that would make me more effective. Here, let the record reflect that I passed when Steve wanted me to just start chugging the cave-water, but drinking Old Woody as a means of consecrating Brixley’s new church seems like a totally in-character and story-relevant thing to do.

So what I’m saying is that Steve needs to come up with flimsy STORY reasons to make me do these things.

Going back to the start of the episode, I thought the mechanic of training with Noala was interesting, but the actual skills she was going to teach us ended up not being worth the trouble for me. I thought I might get trained in Nature or at least get an additional Lore skill; instead, it’s a Ranger ability that I only get IF I multi-class into Ranger, which doesn’t seem like much of a fit with Brixley’s character. Works pretty well for Cade, though, so it’s nice to see him take it. In general, it’s a neat little mechanism to add new abilities to your character.

In Side-Quest Land, Prue’s quest seems to be pretty much done, but the rest of us get some development in.

In Brixley’s case, I actually have the beginnings of a functioning church-bar, and now have a chosen beverage supplier. When I opened up negotiations with Tamil, I just thought I’d be asking for the raw ingredients and we’d have to figure out how to brew ourselves. (Not me personally – I figured the dwarves would take the lead there). Instead, it turns out Tamil secretly dabbles in brewing, so she’s already got multiple drinks we can serve. I figure the main two will be the backbone of the operation, but we’ll save Old Woody for special occasions… ordaining new clerics, baptisms, stuff like that.

A couple of side notes on starting my own brew-pub. I do feel a little guilty in that we’re going into quasi-competition with the Feedmill, but then again, it’s more of a social club rather than a competing business. It’s not like we’re going to be inviting the entire town; just the people who want to join The Cayden Club! Also, the choice of “Betrayer’s Blood” as the brew name was meant to be defiant rather than ghoulish – going for the attitude of “this guy screwed over the town, so we’ll be toasting his defeat every time we hold services” (and soon, hopefully the restoration of the town). After the fact I thought about naming it something more genteel like “Bort’s Brew” – maybe that can be the purple one.

Lastly, we get to Celes’ interaction with the demon, and I have to give Steve credit… I had forgotten how creepy he played that. I didn’t expect to really have a strong reaction to it – especially since we’d already played it live – but I was legitimately impressed at the ambiance he created. The one thing that struck me as interesting is that it’s a side quest that could last for the life of her character if Steve wanted it to. It’s possible it’s a self-contained thing and we might find the way to break the curse in our travels. OR maybe it’s something Celes doesn’t figure out until Level 10 or even Level 20.

Though I suppose ALL of the quests contain a glimmer of such possibilities; Celes’ quest is just a little more self-contained and fundamental to her character. In Cade and Prue’s case, it’s the introduction of NPCs (Pari and Sir Kent) that we could encounter in future adventures. In mine, it’s the church itself – though perhaps one of the dwarves could eventually go out into the world as a new representative of Cayden. Really, any of these could leave lingering effects, now that I think about it. Then again, the rest of us don’t have to do a cost-benefit analysis on whether we can use our spells or not.

Next week, I think there might be a LITTLE more side-quest stuff to take care of, but probably not a full episode’s worth. I’m pretty sure we’re back in the field soon. I hope you’ll be back to join us; in the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing discussion of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 111: Getting The Band Back Together

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 111: Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

So now you know!

I have to admit, I’ve been excited, and even a little relieved, to finally reach the Big Reveal. The relief is that I didn’t slip up and tip off the return of Hirogi in some way – either here or over in Talking Plaguestone. I’m not oblivious enough to mention Seth by name, but a “five” party members instead of “four” or a “Hirogi” instead of “Akiro” could’ve slipped past the copy editors. (Which… when I turn my column in at 11 pm on the night it’s due, basically amounts to “running it through a spell-checker”. Maybe.)

I do feel like I should be honest and admit something: if we’re being totally honest, I got a little bit of accidental advance warning, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. A few nights earlier, we were playing Plaguestone, and I had logged in a little early. While waiting for that game to start, I saw Seth’s user handle (which I happen to recognize from Facebook) and Steve talking in a separate channel. So I actually knew Steve was doing something that was going to involve Seth. BUT… given we were about to play Plaguestone, I assumed he was going to be a Plaguestone NPC. And when he didn’t show up, I just assumed either we didn’t hit that part of the story yet and either filed it away for the following week, or I just forgot about it entirely. Little of both, probably. It never dawned on me that he could be getting Seth ready for a Dead Suns appearance, so in that sense, I was as surprised as everyone else.

But I suppose I should’ve been a little more prepared. In general, Steve has been teasing big things as we finish up the adventure path, so new guests and/or a return of Hirogi (or at least finding out his fate) should’ve both been somewhere in the list of possibilities. I know one of you listeners suggested doing a bottle episode with Hirogi and that always appealed to Steve; it was just a matter of logistics not coming together to write something and play it. And yes, Steve HAD been priming us for a return of Meats and Lasko (the Jay and Silent Bob of our entourage) – seven schedules get hard to coordinate, so he has to pull back the curtain a bit on stuff like that. But this was definitely not on the radar.

As Steve mentioned, I don’t personally know Seth… mostly just through the gaming anecdotes, the other guys have told about him. I used to travel for work, and sometimes when in NYC, I would join these guys for D&D. So while yes, I can technically claim I’d gamed with Seth a non-zero number of times before this, I’d be lying if I said I know him prior to this.

That’s OK though because I know Chris, and Seth’s doing an EXCELLENT job of replicating Chris, isn’t he? Almost a little scary. As Steve is going back and giving you all the history of this, and I’m hearing how little advance prep Seth did… I’m even more amazed that Seth is pretty much playing Hirogi almost exactly as Chris would’ve played him. Greedy… arrogant… self-preservation streak… that’s our boy! I find myself wondering if I could replicate anyone in the party that well. Maybe Mo… just get impatient and start opening doors and running into rooms, and then complain when all the creatures in those rooms attack me and I start taking damage.

(Kidding. Sorta.)

Moving forward, I’ll admit I’m a little curious how this will affect the party dynamic. First, you’ve got Seth playing a character that used to belong to Chris. Is that going to stoke any rivalry between the two? (Oh who are we kidding… of course, it will.) Is Seth going to rub Chris’ nose in his success after Chris grew frustrated with the character? Is Chris going to still try to take credit for anything good Hirogi does? How will that play out?

More generally – as Steve alluded to with his “poor Jason” comment — it’s another layer of pre-existing relationships being thrown into the mix. I want to be careful not to overstate it I don’t feel “left out”, I don’t resent Seth’s presence… none of that clique-y teenage drama. The next five Talkings aren’t going to be me writing bad, pouty poetry. But it is true that I’m already the George (Harrison, not Costanza) of the group, and now we have another extrovert rules-lawyer joining the fray, and one with a bunch of pre-existing history and in-jokes with everyone else but me. It’s all positive and I look forward to it, but I do think I might have to up my game and play my character a little more aggressively to keep up as we bring this adventure path to its conclusion.

I also feel like mentioning that at this point, I REALLY don’t care about sharing loot or anything that mundane. Right now, I want to finish the story. If an extra body gets us to the finish line alive, the more the merrier. I’m a little worried we may have another member of Team “Sell The Stellar Degenerator For A Profit” which may turn the endgame into a Mexican standoff within our own party, but we’ll jump off that cliff when we come to it.

Of course, lost in all of this was a fairly perfunctory combat session before our rescue. Four on one, no particular special abilities; between Bob handing us a surprise round and Mo rolling well on damage rolls, it was an express-aisle butt-whipping. Not much to be said about it except “nice hammer for Mo”. As a flavor thing, I love the idea of the suffocation chamber.

Hirogi’s rescue kind of swallowed up the rest of the episode, so next week we pick it facing roughly the same predicament we were facing last time. I think we’ve established we need to get to the command deck to do whatever it is we’re going to do, but we still need to figure out how to get there and still need to get some better degree of computer access so we can access maps, remove countermeasures, and such. But now we’ve got one more guy to help us do it! Feel free to drop by the Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of all of this, and we’ll see you back here next week. Thanks for listening!

Talking Plaguestone 17: “GM” Stands For Gratuitous Mockery

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 17: The Dragon & The Thief.

After a couple of weeks of tough fights, things slow down… way down… this week.

First, the other rule “mistake” which I put in quotes because I don’t think Prue really had a chance to do it wrong anyway. At least not more than once or twice. I do think one common theme we’re seeing in our mistakes is that we’re sometimes assuming things work the way they did in First Edition, forgetting that the three-action economy necessitates some changes, and I think this is one of those. I have to admit I don’t KNOW because it’s been a long, long while since I’ve played a barbarian, but it does seem to be the recurring theme of our mistakes.

Main plot? Pretty much at a standstill. We find a tainted pool of water, but it’s not THE tainted pool of water, so we’re no closer to resolution. If only we had a modern-day geologist’s understanding of how the water table works. Instead, we’re going to turn the legwork over to Noala for a few days; in the meantime… back to town for a little more R&R.

I had a little bit of a “are we sure we trust Noala?” vibe creep through my brain this episode. On the surface she helps the town, Dalma vouches for her, so I guess she’s a good guy. On the other hand, you could argue she kinda led us right into a trap, and one that didn’t shed a LOT more light on the situation. And conveniently, she was off “searching the perimeter” while we were getting our asses kicked. Also, skipping ahead to later in the episode, Uncle Targy doesn’t trust her, even though Dalma does. I mean, I’m PROBABLY just being paranoid, but something to keep at least one eye on.

I do also still wonder what role – if any – that empty pillar in the town square plays. Was there a rock there that keeps the plague at bay? Is that where the water to the town is getting corrupted? It feels like it might be significant in some way, but we haven’t really found any clues pointing that direction. Ah well, file it away for now.

Side quests? Not much better. I guess some of us make a little progress, but nothing really reaches a final resolution. In Brixley’s case, it means giving an impromptu TED Talk on Cayden Cailean. Now, I’d like to point out that I did try and study up a little between episodes – I went back to the First Edition books and read up on the Cayden Cailean lore, and then… oops, most of it went right out of my head the minute I actually had to do it in-character.

All of this is a little weird to me because I don’t tend to play high-religion characters, so my knowledge of the Pathfinder gods is kinda spotty in general. I know the names and the general themes (alignment, what they’re the gods of, etc.), but that’s usually about it. So having to do a book report mid-game is a bit of a double-whammy. But I got through it I suppose.

After a check-in with Cade and Celes, Prue’s sidequest takes us on a detour into the low-stakes world of game-within-a-game gambling. It’s the Thief and the Dragon! As Steve and I alluded to, our group did play this game back once in the pre-podcast days, but I have to admit I don’t remember it well. It’s basically a 5% chance of a big win, a 20% chance of a loss, and then the rest is situational depending on whether there’s already a coin there or not. I guess it’s fun to have games like that available because they add some flavor, but at some point, I’m compartmentalized in my entertainment. I’m here to play Pathfinder. If I want to gamble, I’ll go drive to the casino or something.

I suppose the highlight of the episode was the out-of-character ribbing – mostly at Steve’s expense – at the end. It’s not so much that the jokes were SO hilarious as much as it represented another step forward in our coming together as a group. The Dead Suns group has been together a while, so there’s always been a fairly easy rapport between us, and we talk smack freely. With this group, we’re getting there (witness the various jokes about Brixley’s fashion sense) but this week took it to a new level, which was kind of fun to listen to after the fact. It’s not like I’m overtly trying to turn that group into this one, but trying to meet in the middle is, to me, a welcome goal.

It’s also weird to consider that in the Dead Suns group, we’re all basically the same age (cough-old-cough), and I am (by a few months) the baby of the group. In this group, we’ve got Vanessa and Loren both representing the Young People. Each has its merits – on one hand, being in a group where everyone has the same cultural shorthand is nice; then again, we sometimes get in a rut where we make the same joke 18 times BECAUSE we’re all on that same page and have been on it for a while. Having some different perspectives in the group can be refreshing too – sometimes familiar can be a little TOO familiar in a long-running group.

Also, it’s good to get in some group abuse of the GM every now and then. The GM gets to hold so much power over the players that sometimes it’s good to take them down a peg or two to remind them of the power of democracy in action. You know… by making a bunch of jokes about how old they are. Tread lightly because they still have the power to throw wandering monsters at the party, but get your shots in when you can.

Anyhow, don’t hold me to it because I never know how Steve edits the episodes, but I think next week we return to the wild to further our investigations and hopefully get a little closer to finding Vilree and solving this mystery of what’s plaguing Plaguestone. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, 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.

Starfinder Character Operations Manual Review: Classing Up The Joint

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path, as well as our Pathfinder Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone Actual Play Podcast.

It’s been over two years since the launch of the Starfinder game system. In that time, Paizo has released a lot of supplemental material – three bestiaries, a world lore book, a loot compendium – but the one thing we haven’t gotten yet are new character classes.

Well, get ready, because the Starfinder Character Operations Manual is here, and it’s bringing three brand new character classes with it. To be fair, that’s not ALL it’s bringing, but by general importance and page count, the new classes do tend to hog the spotlight. Also, since the classes also had a formal playtest, it’s the part of the book players may also have some existing familiarity with. So… we’ll get to the other stuff, but classes are where we start.

At first glance, there’s going to be a tendency to view these new classes through a Pathfinder lens and say we got an alchemist, a paladin, and a sorcerer. And look, that’s a convenient shorthand, especially when talking to people who have played both systems, and the similarities are there. But that also does these classes a disservice because if there’s some common DNA in there, the folks at Paizo have done a lot to make sure these new classes definitely have a sci-fi feel that’s different than their swords-and-sorcery counterparts.

First, there’s the biohacker. If mechanics make the world safer through building things, biohackers make the world safer by injecting people with weird chemicals. The class has the spirit, if not the exact functionality, of the alchemist from Pathfinder – you have the ability to craft chemical compounds on the fly that you can inject into a friend (boosters) or foe (inhibitors). The bad news is that like spells, there’s a daily limit for how big a batch of raw ingredients you can brew up each day; the good news is you don’t have to choose your toys in advance, you can whip up what you need in the heat of the moment. There are both general-purpose buffs and debuffs, but a biohacker also gets access to “fields of study” at 1st, 7th, and 13th level that come with more specialized effects. There are also “theorems”: more general class abilities, such as the ability to do limited healing, a poison skin that sickens enemies that hit you, and so on.

If there’s a caveat to this class, it’s that the inhibitors, at least, are pretty dependent on being good at combat in general. If you miss with a ranged attack, you waste the biohack that you had equipped, and if you don’t do enough damage to overcome any resistances, the biohack fails as well (assume it didn’t break the skin or something). If a melee attack misses, you still have the biohack for your next attack, but I’m not sure how much of a front-line melee class this is supposed to be. Boosters don’t suffer the same problem because there are mechanisms to hit your allies without even having to perform an attack roll.

Here’s the one thing that concerns me. I love the idea of the biohacker. I love the general concept of a guy who runs around and shoots weird chemicals and nanites into friend and foe alike. It’s definitely got a sci-fi feel – arguably it fits a sci-fi setting better than the alchemist fits in Pathfinder. Now here comes the “BUT”. It’s a low-offense support character, and while it’s got great lore and storytelling possibilities I’m not sure I see the “hook” on the gameplay side. Envoys have low offense but you’re a master of social situations. Mechanics have low offense, but you have a drone to play around with. (Or an exocortex… if you missed the point of the whole class.) Biohacker? I’m not sure what the gameplay “thing” is that makes you want to roll one. “Nice robotic sidekick, Mr. Mechanic. You think that’s cool? I can… (checks character sheet) cure the dazzled condition (stares at the camera like Jim Halpert in The Office).”

The next class is the vanguard. At first glance, it feels like Starfinder’s attempt to create a true defensive “tank” class, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s definitely a melee class – a vanguard gets access to both heavy armor and shields; one of its key powers, the Entropic Strike, only operates at melee range; and a lot of the defensive abilities assume you’re upfront taking hits for your team. Many of the class powers operate on “Entropy Points” which are generated largely by giving or RECEIVING damage, so while yes, there are damage mitigation and damage avoidance abilities in the vanguard toolkit, there are times when it will be strategically advantageous to actually take some damage to power your abilities. So this is NOT an “in the rear with the gear class”. I mean, the name “vanguard” gives it away.

It does seem like a class that’s going to require some subtlety to really get the most out of. Yes, one can go the easy route and play it for full offense, just storing up points and then releasing Entropic Strike “lather-rinse-repeat” style. At that point, it starts to feel like a Solarian that’s trying to compromise between the armor and weapon builds at the same time. But the total toolkit does allow for some pretty versatile stuff – you can pump Entropy Points into your movement, use them to reduce the damage, take damage intended for an ally… all sorts of things. I particularly like “Dampen” which lets you spend an entropy point to halve the damage of an area effect if you’re in the blast radius – a one-man grenade disposal unit. It also has “aspects” which teach you bonus combat maneuvers and let you get entropy points from additional sources such as receiving healing or doing damage to multiple foes. My general vibe from this is “easy to learn, hard to master” but definitely something new and unique to the Starfinder setting.

The last of the three classes is the witchwarper. I have to admit I’m rather fond of this one – at first it comes across as kind of randomly thrown together until you realize that’s the point: it has a flavor, and the flavor is harnessing chaos.

At a nuts and bolts level, if you’re looking for a Pathfinder analogy to frame the discussion, the witchwarper is to the technomancer what the sorcerer is to the wizard: the spontaneous caster vs. the book-smart one. Compared to the technomancer, a witchwarper gets fewer total spells, but they don’t have to prepare them beforehand and can cast anything in their arsenal at any time. However, there is more to it than that, which comes with the “warper” part of the name. The witchwarper has the ability to tweak reality itself to create unexpected effects.

There are generally two main mechanisms for this. First, all witchwarpers have the “Infinite Worlds” ability where they can drop a spell slot of a given level to create a bubble of an alternative universe; mechanically, either an environmental or an instant effect for that level (or multiple effects, if they use a higher-level spell to do lower-level effects). For example, dropping a level 1 spell can be used to either create a patch of difficult terrain (environmental) or a flash of light (instant) that can inflict the dazzled condition (or even blinded on a critical failure).

The other main mechanism is through class abilities called “paradigm shifts”. The bad news is these tend to either be limited use or cost a resolve point to use; the good news is you can get some pretty powerful effects from them. The general themes tend to be movement (speed enhancement, teleports, etc.), inflicting or removing mind-altering effects, or messing around with damage types (increasing or decreasing resistances, or even changing the damage type of an attack – “surprise, your acid attack is now fire, which I am immune to… sucks to be you”). I think my personal favorite is Substitute Mind, which lets you free an ally of mind-altering effects by (essentially) copying part of their mind from an alternate reality where they weren’t affected.

So those are the new classes, and I recognize that some portion of you will stop reading here. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Going back to a more “order of the book” view, the book starts with new themes (can we go back and retroactively give Rusty the “Grifter” theme?) and racial abilities. Most of the core Starfinder races now have a few alternate stat setups (vesk that get a bonus to Dexterity from extended time acclimating to low gravity, “mind forward” lashunta who give up Constitution to improve their Intelligence) and there is now a selection of race-based feats to take. The surprise here is that in addition to the Starfinder core races, the Pathfinder core races (elves, dwarves, etc.) get semi-equal billing in a way they hadn’t before. In the Core Rulebook, they were kind of buried in the back in a section about converting Pathfinder characters, right before the glossary. They still don’t get a LOT of real estate compared to Starfinder races, but at least they’re invited to the party. Start rolling that halfling solarian, I guess!

After we hop over the new classes, the book presents some additional options for the existing Core Rulebook classes. I’m not going to be exhaustive, but there were a few that jumped out at me. First, there was a new “Advanced Prototype” mechanic build that lets the mechanic use a weapon or armor as the vehicle for his upgrades (the idea that instead of developing a drone or exocortex, he or she just builds a BFG). Solarians get a little more versatile with options for a ranged weapon or shield as their solar manifestation instead of just weapon or armor; also, higher-level solarians can give up one of their zenith powers to be able to have a second manifestation. Also, I’m not as familiar with the soldier, but it looked like the soldier had an unarmed combat build, almost like a monk.

Next up, we have archetypes, of which there are ten. These represent ways to add a little bit of flavor to your character without a fundamental overhaul, as well as a way to add some roleplay feel. One thing I noticed is that in Pathfinder they tend to be formal well-defined organizations, while in Starfinder they tend to be more generic roles like “medic” or “instructor”: that’s neither good nor bad, just an observation. The level of definition also varies a little bit – something like the Esotericist (casters who reject technology and seek out the purer roots of magic) is a fairly well-defined set of modifications for caster classes, whereas the Free Trader is “well, you get some bonuses to skill checks when it comes to buying and selling things”. I think my personal favorite is the Fixer archetype, which gives you class skills such as cleaning a crime scene of evidence and maintaining a network of contacts in the criminal underworld. Just in case you want to be the Pact Worlds version of Winston Wolfe.

I’m going to gloss over a few sections because they’re fairly “list-y” and I’m not sure what people would find interesting, but I’ll mention their existence. New general feats. Cool. New gear, but a lot of it seems oriented toward injection weapons and shields, to create some biohacker and vanguard loot drops. And spell lists; again, most of the chapter features the new witchwarper spells, though there are also some new mystic and technomancer spells as well.

The part I wanted to get to is the “New Rules” section because there’s a couple of potentially interesting things here.

The first is that they seem to have heard some of the frustrations with starship combat and tried to create a few more ways for players to participate. Primarily, this was through the creation of two new roles, though they’ve also added “open actions”, which we’ll come back to. The first of the new roles is the Chief Mate – think of this is a dedicated generalist that can give bonuses to any other station. So, they can help coax more speed out of the engines to get more speed or help the science officer execute scans to get more information, or they can poke around in an access panel to enhance an engineer’s attempt to divert power to a system. Interestingly, the chief mate’s checks run on Acrobatics or Athletics, which gives a more combat-oriented/low-skill character something to do.

The other role is the Magic Officer, which I like because of the open-ended possibilities. A Magic Officer can do things like performing the Science Officer’s scan activity with magic instead of computers, obscure the enemy’s targeting computers to increase your armor class, add magical damage to weapons, fold space to decrease the turning radius of the ship, and things like that. The Magic Officer abilities run off Mysticism. In addition to liking the flavor of the Magic Officer, I think it’s a smart thing that they’ve given a role to characters and skills that didn’t really fit into the existing Pilot/Captain/Sci-Eng/Gunner framework.

They’ve also added “open actions” which feel like responses to the problem of either having too many people in the party, or circumstance-based inactivity (the battle changed in such a way that manning my current station is unproductive, leaving me nothing meaningful to do). Open actions require a single skill rank to perform and don’t require being at a particular station, but they also have pretty limited benefits – for example, you can perform “Range Finding” which gives a +1 to a single attack roll. They tend to be summarized as “not very exciting, but better than sitting around doing nothing”. They also added a few additional “minor” crew actions, which already existed in the Core Rulebook and solve the opposite problem of too few people to man all the stations.

I’ll say this. I don’t know if these are the right specific changes, I but I respect that they’re listening to the player base on this. One of the persistent complaints about starship combat is that a) all roles aren’t created equal, and b) some character builds get left behind with not much to do. This feels like it TRIES to address that, which I’ll give them credit for.

The final section of the Character Operation Manual provides some fleshed-out rules for downtime activities. We’ve all had games where the party gets a couple of days off, and sometimes it’s unclear what people should be doing. Or even if they do have an idea what to do, there aren’t really any rules for how to do it. Well… now there are. Some of the activities are very rubber-meets-the-road, such as Convalesce: if you do LITERALLY nothing for 24 hours, you regain 2 hit points per level (and reduce two points of ability score damage). Others are more situational and esoteric, such as Work Out, which (if successful) lets you bank a free re-roll on a failed Athletics or Acrobatics for up to a week. It’s not earth-shattering stuff, but it’s nice to have both some suggestions for things to do, and some mechanisms for actually doing them.

So that’s the Starfinder Character Operations Manual in a nutshell. Ultimately, it’s going to sink or swim based on the new character classes, and I’m pretty pleased with what we got. I love the witchwarper and I’m probably rolling one as my next character (though at least one other member of our group feels the same way, so it may be pistols at dawn for the honor of doing so). The vanguard seems like a cool and unique and interesting concept, but I’m a little worried about the learning curve. The biohacker is the only one that leaves me a little less enthused – I love the lore and the general idea of a space alchemist; I’m still stuck on finding the hook that makes me want to roll one. (If you’re wanting to play one, don’t let me stop you.) The rest of the content isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s what you’d expect from a player-oriented volume, and the starship combat in particular shows they’ve been listening to the player base. If you’re playing Starfinder, this one’s a keeper, so off to the local gaming store with you. Or maybe just the Internet; that works too.

Talking Combat 110: They Locked That Door For A Reason

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 110: Tuttle Mnemonic.

Under the heading of “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”, we are now on the enemy flagship. You know, the battle cruiser the size of Manhattan, potentially manned by hundreds, if not thousands of undead troops. Our assets? Tuttle’s brains, Mo’s strength, and Akiro’s steel. With CHDRR as playing the part of a really complicated wheelbarrow. THE DREAD PIRATE RUSTY IS HERE FOR YOUR SOULS! (Except undead don’t really have souls, so… so much for that analogy.)

I fully admit I don’t know where we go from here. I think our only real chance is to do some sort of decapitation strike on the bridge. With capital ships, the guns and engine room are manned by dozens or hundreds of people, so taking over an individual system seems like a losing proposition. But if we can get to the bridge or the captain’s cabin, perhaps we can take control and give fake orders that will be taken seriously because they’re coming from the bridge. Or something. Still figuring it all out. Though even the bridge on the Enterprise (TNG) had a dozen or so crew if you count those stations scattered along the perimeter.

The first part of our plan actually goes better than expected, as Rusty actually uses all those fancy bluff tricks on someone other than his own teammates, and cons that hangar guard into letting us pass. I know Steve said in the show notes that there was supposed to be a vehicle fight in there, but I’m just as content to not do it. Having said that, if we DID have to fight it, I probably would’ve just fired up my jetpack and gone vertical. It is a big hangar, after all, so… high ceilings. I thought my Disguise roll (I think I rolled an 8 and it bumped up into the teens) was going to leave us hung out to dry, but a) maybe Steve used Rusty’s roll or an average of the group and b) if I was playing the role of a prisoner perhaps my disguise didn’t have to be all that good anyway.

Our initial checks provide us with bread crumbs on where to go next (in the form of conveniently unscannable rooms on the area map), but not much else. This led to our first minor strategy quarrel – John and Chris were definitely in sweep-and-clear mode, but I was trying to prioritize our limited resources. Based on things Steve said back on Moon 2 and en route, it sounds like we MAYBE get one or two long rests, so we simply can’t be taking EVERY fight, and rooms like “gravel pit” don’t seem like they get us anywhere productive. (Unless it’s special experience-doubling gravel? Magic gravel? STAR GRAVEL!) Better to prioritize those high-security areas that are more likely to have tools we need to reach the command center, which still feels like the ultimate play for now.

Also – and this gets more into metagaming – sweep-and-clear tends to be good for the parts of the campaign where leveling and loot matter more. At this point, we’re on final approach. We’re pretty much done leveling (MAYBE we get one or two more before the endgame, but I’m not counting on it) and it’s hard to imagine a loot-drop that’s going to be a difference-maker. So how much do we want to put ourselves out and expend resources for… an extra d4 of damage on our guns or a +2 to EAC?

Some of it is as simple as admitting that John gets a little impatient as a player because he wants to keep things moving. John is all about making things happen, and the combat engine is the most interesting part of the game to him; I don’t think I’m giving away any state secret by saying that. In fact, he gushed about that Pathfinder quest one-shot because there was a minimum of screwing around – it got right into the action. That’s where he’s happiest. So some of it was John wanted to open a door because John wanted to open a door, and the door to the slime cell a) was closer and b) didn’t involve any sort of fancy-man computer check to open.

I did see a comment on the Discord boards that we’re not really taking advantage of our X-ray vision resources, and that’s a fair criticism. Tuttle has the Stinkeye, and I think Akiro had an X-ray vision helmet (unless I’m thinking of Hirogi and that item went poof back on Istamak). I can’t speak for Chris, but I’ll break that into equal parts “I kinda forgot about the Stinkeye because it had been a while between sessions” and “I’ve been assuming starship bulkheads are made of thick enough metal or have energy shielding such that it’s gonna get blocked anyway”. So… yeah, guilty as charged. Moving forward, I’ll try to remember to use that a little more, but in the short term, I’m going to miss a few opportunities.

The next bit of fun is the death… errrr… anti-life ray we stumble across as we attempt to leave the hangar and enter the secure area. Ow. If we don’t come up with a solution for detecting or deactivating that, this adventure’s going to come to an end a long time before we reach the bridge. Our best hope is that maybe it’s only for sensitive areas of the ship, and we’ll only have to deal with it one or two more times. Or that there’s a way to turn it off in one of the red rooms on the map.

Though it did send me off on a whole mental digression while re-listening: what do they do if they’re taking on living passengers for some legit diplomatic reason? (Same with the lack of atmosphere, now that I think about it…) Do they have more of a “diplomatic quarters” area the living can stay in that doesn’t have, well, DEATH RAYS? Do they have an entirely different ship? (Yes, now I’m imagining an undead equivalent of a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, with Zo! Providing nightly entertainment.) Then again, it’s worth remembering this is a Corpse Fleet vessel, not the main Eoxian fleet — yes, they’re related, but these guys probably run lean and mean on purpose. Diplomatic missions probably aren’t a high priority to a separatist faction that wants to kill eradicate the living.

OK… end of digression. Moving along.

As we return to action, I finally win the argument about which room to open, but it may not be the “win” I thought it was: what we’re looking at is some sort of execution or interrogation chamber, with a sub-boss guy who is clearly NOT buying our supposed disguise. So… shoulda gone with the gravel pit, right? I guess we’ll find that out next week. While you’re waiting, duck by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 16: Strike That. Reverse It.

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 16: The Killer Bs.

I realize Steve starts this week’s show with further rules discussion of the tremorsense “mistake-but-not-a-mistake” we made last week, but I kind of outkicked the coverage and went over a lot of that last week, so I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to add to that. Now it turns out he SHOULDN’T have given us freebies because he administered it right the first time. This stuff all evens out in the long haul, so… no big deal.

On the other hand, the bleeding issue got glossed over a little. If it really requires a full heal to stop bleeding, that probably meant Prue and I should’ve had to take a few more saves to try and get rid of the bleeding, and should’ve stayed in rounds until that happened. I still could’ve popped a Lay On Hands to give myself some margin for error, but it might not have been as tidy as it turned out to be.

Meanwhile, there’s a brand new rule discussion brewing on the Discord forums, but I’m gonna let that percolate because Steve said he’d probably tackle it next week and I don’t want to steal his thunder. (Also, it relates primarily to someone else’s character abilities, so at this point, it’s not really “my” issue.)

I would note that the recurring theme of all of this is that it’s easy to get overconfident with Second Edition and feel like it’s just First Edition with a new coat of paint. That the action economy is the big difference and most of the rest works the same as it used to. But there ARE differences… sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic… and sometimes we’re guilty of switching on the “it works just like it did in First Edition” autopilot and we get stuff wrong. Years of gaming inertia can be tough to shake off.

After last week’s near-death experience with the bloodbushes, this week’s battle was a definite improvement. I wouldn’t call it easy, exactly…. the dogs still landed a few solid hits, and that trick where they explode at the end was particularly nasty. Also, my personal offense was a little underwhelming – a lot of misses, and my few hits were for fairly low damage. But we all survived without dropping, at least got to handle the battle mostly on our terms and use a little bit of actual tactics.

Yeah, tactics! Remember those? It’s harder to come up with choke points when attacks of opportunity aren’t as common, but nature actually provided us with one, as long as we were able to force the beasties to come to us. Now… I’m not sure how we would’ve been able to light a bush on fire and then roll it into the cave without taking fire damage, but since Steve decided to be charitable on that front, we’ll take it. (For that matter, does a bush really “roll”?). Then again, I suppose the smoke it generated evened things out a little, ultimately costing Prue a crit. So maybe it wasn’t THAT charitable. Still better than fighting in a cave where half our party would have to be hunched over in difficult terrain.

It started out looking like it was going to be another long session when I took that first crit, though. Not gonna lie. Part of the reason that fight with the bloodbushes went so badly is that the first roll was a crit for half my health, and this started to look like “second verse, same as the first”. But then rolls started breaking our way, and I got that nice little bailout from Celes’ armor class boost, turning a hit into a miss. As I said, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t contribute more to the offense, but the team won, and that’s what’s important.

I thought the dogs’ bull rush attack would be more of a problem than it turned out to be. First, I was worried it would also do damage, but the only effect was the positioning, so that’s good. I was more worried the dogs were going to break out and either get flanking on us or attack the squishies in the back line. (Or both.) Fortunately, the breach was only temporary – we were able to polish off the one that broke out and then close the line up again before the second could find a way through the gap.

One thing I need to consider doing more of: my Liberating Step. When one of my teammates gets damaged, I can (as a reaction) give them DR (2 + level, so… 4) against the damage. It’s not a lot, but it’s also not nothing in a game where hit points are scarce. The problem is that it works off a reaction, so it ends up being a choice between that, raising my shield, or holding it in reserve to take a +2 on any save.

If there’s bad news about this week’s episode, it’s on the story front, where nothing really moves. All we had was the downtime after the first fight and the second fight, so we’re basically in the same place with that. Once the smoke clears, we can investigate the cave and see if there’s any usable information, but for this week… the plot is just as thick as it was. Hopefully, next week sheds a little more light on things.

That’s all I have for this week… we got through a fight without me dying or embarrassing myself, so I’m in a pretty good mood. Next week we’ll be back to investigate the cave and see if those two battles bought us any information worth learning. 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 109: Stinker, Traitor, Soldier, Spy

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 109: I’m The Captain Now.

So wait… we have a SPY in our midst?

Or… there’s a 25 percent chance I AM the spy, in which case… MUAHAHAHA!

I’m not going to comment any further about the “spy” itself. My thoughts are more about the general concept of the GM “steering” the campaign. On some level, this happens all the time; it’s more of a question of how heavy a thumb the GM is going to put on the scale. NPC’s will have really specific knowledge about the path they want you to pursue and really vague information about anything else. The door they don’t want you to open will resist all skill checks to open it, while the door they want you going through will have a surprisingly low DC. Sometimes I’ve even been in campaigns where the GM will have an NPC of their own join the party to nudge the game in a certain direction or fill in skills the team needs to get to the next story point. I’ll admit enlisting a fellow player as part of an inside job is a little more heavy-handed than usual, but it’s also not unheard of.

Out at the extreme ends of the spectrum, this method of controlling the game can suck. Too much control, and the players are just glorified NPCs in the GM’s story and you start to wonder why you’re playing. Too little control, and the plot gets lost entirely and the game devolves into the players fighting each other for control of the story.

Also, as we discussed a few episodes back with regards to setting the game up for a guest, the logistics of running a podcast also add a necessary layer of game management. There’s letting the players have the agency to do cool and unexpected things, and there’s letting players wandering aimlessly for five or six episodes – with an audience listening – because they don’t know where to go next. (As someone who would’ve had to write five or six Talking Combats where nothing happens, I can sympathize.) This situation, in particular, feels like it had a high probability of going off into the weeds because it’s a big problem with a lot of unknowns, and some of the failures just could’ve gotten us anti-climactically killed. (Imagine a scenario where we just decided to fight a capital ship in the Sunrise Maiden. SHIP GOES BOOM.) So if Steve wanted to put a light thumb on the scale to make a tighter show… up to a point, that’s not some horrible breach of trust.

Next, we have a bit of a light-hearted moment with Tuttle’s newest mutation – the X-Ray Eye. (Do we go ahead and call it the Stinkeye? Perhaps.) We had a few critical fails on the lesser Stitch Spider, but this might be our first failure with the greater one, and even if it’s not the first, it’s certainly the most memorable one. So now I have Sense Through vision, but I have to keep the eye covered when not using it for that purpose.

The first question that leaps to mind is: is this permanent or not? I know with the lesser Stitch Spider, any negative effects only lasted until the next long rest. I guess there’s a chance this is going to be permanent, but I’m feeling like the answer is no. But… even if it’s a couple of days, that means I’ll at least have it for the duration of the campaign.

The second question is how effective is it really going to be? Reading some of the rules on Sense Through, it seems like it’s more useful for personal gear (seeing what someone has under armor, in safes and briefcases, etc.); a lot of building materials block it anyway. A foot of common metal or six inches of starmetal will block it. So unless the Corpse Fleet made their capital ship of wood, the bulkheads are probably going to be impervious anyway. But you never know.

But to summarize, Tuttle’s list of modifications since Level 1 now includes: climbing suckers, regenerative blood, a datajack that comes out of his head so he can plug himself directly into computers, aeon status (mostly just a soft glow), and now the Stinkeye. Tuttle has really undergone a pretty drastic transformation since we started out on this. And to think I almost went for one of the corpse grafts back on Eox too. (The hand that had the necrotic touch attack piqued my interest.)

As a little bit of a cherry on the sundae, I got to provide the name for our new ship, even though it’s probably just a loaner and I don’t expect us to have it for very long. I don’t want to act like “Midnight Maiden” was some great burst of inspiration; it just seemed like our first ship at the start of the game was “Sunrise” and this is the end and likely to be the last ship we have, so my first thought was “Sunset Maiden”. (Anyone else humming Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler On The Roof, or is that just me?) But then “Midnight Maiden” jumped into my brain because alliteration is always fun, and OK… it sounded a little more gothy, which fit better with an undead ship.

So if we get a new ship when we get back to Absalom, is that the Morning-After Maiden? Ohhhh Myyyyyy! (I’ll be here all week, please tip your waitstaff.)

And then there’s the control system for the ship itself. Obviously our first cultural comparison was from the episode of Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck hotwires a Cylon fighter; the other comparison that was rolling around my brain was the “Johnny Cab” from Total Recall. I have to admit I’m surprised the Computers roll was as high as it was – I mean, I’ve been putting points into Computers EVERY level, and I still needed a 19 or 20, plus an assist from multiple teammates to make the roll. I mean, if this thing IS supposed to be on rails, why make the desired outcome that difficult? It’s… strange.

But whatever… we’re off the ground, we have a ship, and we’re headed for the undead capital ship where we’re going to… OK, still haven’t figured that part out yet. But come back next week and see what we come up with. In the meantime, drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 15: Nature 1, Brixley 0

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 15: Bushwhacked.

I’d been dreading writing this episode because let’s be honest… it was kind of humiliating. It’s “The Episode Where Brixley Gets His Ass Kicked By Shrubbery”. I joked about it a little in the moment because using gallows humor to deflect is kind of a thing for me, but inside I was seething.

Going back and listening, however, I had a much different reaction to it. Maybe it’s the 20-20 hindsight of having survived, maybe it’s just that it stings less with a little distance, but I was much more detached than I expected to be. You know… we caught a bad break or two. The whole fight started off on a tough note with the crit, and we (well, mostly me) never really got a chance to get our legs back under us. Heck… they hit five attacks out of six, and it was the last one that actually dropped me, so if even one of those had missed, I could’ve fired off Lay On Hands, and the whole fight might’ve unfolded differently for me.

I’ve already made this point in the Hallod fight, but I do think some of the… I won’t even say “problem”, but “challenge”… of Second Edition as a system is the fact that high attack bonuses can be lethal in this system. There’s two main dangers – crits and follow-up attacks – both of which we saw reflected in poor Brixley’s fate.

Let’s do some math. Steve mentions that those bloodbushes attack at +11; and my armor class is 18 without my shield, and 20 with the shield. And I’m theoretically the tankiest member of the party (Prue’s AC is 1-2 points lower, I believe). So their chance to crit can be as high as 20% (first attack, shield down would crit on a 17 or better), which happened first attack out of the gate. Granted, shield up, second attack, it’s basically back to “gotta roll a 20”, but still… that’s surprisingly high. What about follow-up attacks? Well, I’ll skip crunchy math and make the simple case – if I’ve got a +6 attack bonus and they’ve got a +11, their hit chance on a second attack is equal to my chance on a first attack. I will say it feels like they equalize this somewhat by giving monsters lower armor classes, but still… those second attacks can add up. Again, as they did for Brixley.

Vanessa has been lamenting that she didn’t cast Sanctuary on Brixley instead of Produce Flame, but I’m not going to fault her for it. It’s one of those things that looks like the right call with 20-20 hindsight. Once you know Brixley’s gonna eat five attacks, yeah, casting a defensive spell makes sense, but at the time… we got an early hint they’re vulnerable to fire, so might as well run with that. For all we knew, they had like 15 or 20 hit points and one good max-damage roll could’ve put one of them down before the fight even got going.

In one of his rare show notes for the Plaguestone show, Steve mentions making a rules mistake. We’re actually having a lively discussion about it on Discord, but I’m going to summarize some of that here. Basically, Steve THOUGHT he made two mistakes, but one of them turned out after further research to be done correctly.

The mistake that wasn’t really a mistake was this: Steve saw after the fight that the plants had imprecise tremorsense – tremorsense allows creatures to detect enemies through their motion and the vibrations they generate in the earth, but the fact that it’s imprecise makes it a 50 percent miss chance. Somewhere in Steve’s brain, he thought maybe the plants ONLY had the imprecise tremorsense (it’s not like plants have eyes), in which case EVERY attack should’ve had a 50% miss chance. That’s the mistake he THOUGHT he had made when he recorded the intro. But it turns out – he talked to Paizo and everything – that you can assume normal humanoid senses as a baseline unless the stat-block explicitly says one of those senses is missing. So the plants had normal senses AND imprecise tremorsense. So at least on that front, Steve actually administered the encounter correctly and all the attacks that were supposed to hit did so. It would’ve come into play if we’d had access to something like darkness or obscuring mist and tried to sneak by under magical cover.

The one he definitely made a mistake on is bleed damage. The crux of the matter can be found in the “Persistent Damage Rules” on Page 621 of the Core Rulebook, where it says that healing all the way to full would automatically cancel the bleeding condition. Now it DOES say this is all GM discretion and those are “guidelines”, but it did seem pretty specific that it has to be a full heal; especially since both Pathfinder First Edition and Starfinder explicitly state the opposite – that ANY healing effect stops bleeding.

I’m not going to bag on Steve too much for missing that. Heck, that’s what I thought the rule was. Like I said… First Edition and Starfinder both do it the opposite way, so that’s a decade’s worth of inertia over two Paizo systems telling us that any healing stops bleeding. And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing mistake — since it’s GM discretion how well attempts to stop persistent damage work, that also implies that a lesser heal such as a potion could still knock the bleeding condition down a few steps even if it didn’t stop it entirely.

This would’ve been most relevant for Brixley, because Brix took damage on three different occasions, but healed on two – taking a potion on one occasion, getting a heal from Celes on the other. (I don’t know that the use of Hero Points counts as a heal since you still end at zero hit points.) At the time, Steve reset my bleed counter to zero both times, but it turns out it should’ve kept ticking upwards. It couldn’t have gone over bleeding 5, but it should’ve gotten up there and stayed there… which, once Brixley was down, would’ve then increased his dying counter each time it ticked.

I did some back-of-the-envelope math and I don’t think it would’ve meant the difference between Brixley living and dying. Basically, I got some sort of healing (or Hero Point use) for most of the rounds, which wouldn’t have fixed the bleed, but would’ve kept the dying from ticking, and then Celes bailed me out in the final round with the group heal.

Still, however it played out… a pretty close a call, but we all survived. And that wasn’t even the final source of the corruption! So next week we come back and do it all again; hopefully this time with better results. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and give us your thoughts on the show so far, or just join the ongoing merriment in the RFC community. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Pathfinder Lost Omens Character Guide Review: Leshy Hellknights Galore!

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Bestiary.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our brand new Pathfinder Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone Actual Play Podcast!

As Pathfinder Second Edition has picked up steam, we’ve covered the release of three hardcover books for the new system so far – the Core Rulebook, the Bestiary, and the Lost Omens World Guide. Now comes Paizo’s newest, release, the Lost Omens Character Guide, which was released just a week-and-change ago. Second Edition’s moved into the neighborhood and unpacked all the boxes; now it’s time to throw a party and invite the weird neighbors down the street!

You can almost think of the World Guide and Character Guide a matched set – the World Guide exists mostly to flesh out the setting and give GMs ideas on how to flesh out their games, while the Character Guide delves deep into options for the players to incorporate into their creations. Not that there’s NO crossover, but it’s an interesting way to break the content up. In some ways, it’s almost like the World Guide and Character Guide exist more as Book 3A and Book 3B.

When looking at character-building, I tend to mentally sort players into one of three broad buckets – you’ve got Min-Maxers, Roleplayers, and Dice-Rollers. The Min-Maxers are all about creating crazy powerful character concepts that have a trick for every fight and are singlehandedly pounding dragons into the ground. They’re the ones who find every little edge in the system, and often (at least in First Edition) had dips into two or three different classes to get EXACTLY the character they want. Roleplayers, obviously, tend to focus on the “story” of their character – sometimes they’ll also be fairly optimized, but other times they’ll be off in the weeds and building weird, quirky characters that may be sub-optimal, but tell exactly the story they want to tell. And then there are the Dice-Rollers – people who approach it primarily from a standpoint of attacking the game goals; it’s usually about having a fairly straightforward character that plays easily, does a few things well, has no glaring weaknesses.

As an aside for those of you who listen to our Dead Suns podcast, Chris is definitely a Min-Maxer (he’s been known to plan his character build out all the way from level 1 to 20 before the adventure begins), Bob is a Roleplayer (he’ll often send Steve entire paragraphs of backstory and character motivations he doesn’t even want the rest of the party to know), and John and I are Dice-Rollers – we’re mostly there to get from point A to point Z without getting anyone killed or dying ourselves.

Using this as my lens, I feel like the Lost Omens Character Guide has a little something for everyone, but it’s really going to be most useful for the roleplaying types who really want to immerse themselves in the world more deeply. Yes, Min-Maxers will be able to find some moderately more effective combinations of feats that will squeeze a bit more out of a character than the tools in the Core Rulebook. Yes, Dice-Rollers may want to try a few of the new ancestries or join one of the organizations to grab a fringe benefit or dabble in the shallow end of the roleplaying pool. But this book is showing its best side when it comes to building colorful characters that fit well into the Inner Sea campaign setting.

The book is unofficially divided, almost equally, into two main parts. The first half focuses on ancestries, both by providing three new (to Second Edition) ancestries, as well as by deepening the options for the existing Core Rulebook choices. The second expands on some of the organizations and societies that exist throughout the world, such as the Hellknights and the Pathfinder Society. Where the rubber meets the road, all of the core ancestries get one or more new heritages and several new ancestry feats, while the organizations tend to be a combination of feats, benefits every member of the organization gets, and magic items that are unique to the organization. The section on organizations also includes some more GM-friendly tools – a gallery of sample NPCs, as well as a template system that would allow GMs to add monster NPCs to these organizations. So if you want your story to have a socially well-adjusted ogre who’s been recruited into the Pathfinder Society, there’s a way to do that.

As a player, my immediate first question is always “what are the NEW ancestries?” I’m a sucker for the new toys; it is what it is. As mentioned, we’ve got three to choose from – hobgoblins, leshies, and lizardfolk. Veteran Pathfinder players will already be familiar with these, but for players arriving new to Pathfinder with Second Edition, allow me to introduce you. Hobgoblins are basically the goblins’ big brother that will beat up your big brother. They’ve got a similar look and characteristics to goblins – but they’re the size of normal humanoids. Leshies are plant-people that are created by druids. I’m sure it wasn’t a Groot Thing when they were originally created, but now the comparisons are inevitable. (Also, as a little factoid, tucked away in one of Steve’s interviews is the fact that leshies were the most requested new ancestry when Paizo was fishing for user feedback.) Lizardfolk are, well, walking talking lizards. No big mystery there. Lizardfolk are strength-based so they feel like they’re geared toward fighter builds; hobgoblins are (surprisingly) INT-based, so they’d make pretty good arcane casters; with leshies, CON and WIS suggest they’d make excellent druids, though the nature theme could also create roleplay synergy with the ranger or even a primal-themed sorcerer.

Lizardfolk are a pretty fundamental race to have in a fantasy RPG, and leshies are interesting and cool, but personally, I could’ve done without hobgoblins. Just being honest. I already wasn’t all that interested in goblins as a core ancestry, and now we have… what… the Goblin S Plus? I realize I might be in the minority here and I’m just having an “Old Man Yells At Cloud” moment, but I would’ve liked a different third ancestry.

Perhaps something DEX-based? Perhaps something that has feathers and squawks? OK… tengu. Should’ve been tengu. (Damnit, I was trying to be subtle here…)

The leshies actually come with a wonderful (in a science-nerd way) racial ability – leshies generally get nourishment through photosynthesis and therefore don’t need conventional food. So if you’re adventuring in the outdoors… you’re good. However, if they spend more than a week in darkness (hint: exploring dungeons), they would actually start to starve. UNLESS… they can buy bottled liquid sunlight at 10 times the price of normal rations. Would that be… wait for it… SPARKLING WATER?

For the Core Rulebook ancestries, the gains tend to be a new heritage and about maybe a dozen ancestry feats scattered over the different tiers. I think what’s interesting here is the choice they made with humans, where they added “ethnicity” feats and “nationality” feats. Ethnicity feats are more classic racial abilities – the Nidalese can gain low-light vision from living in gloomy undead lands; one of the subtypes of Tian Xia, the Tian-Dan, have JUUUUUST enough dragon blood that you can choose to have a pocket-sized breath weapon. “Nationality” feats come from living within a particular area, but you don’t have to be of the home-town ethnicity. An example of this is the Taldan ability “Keep Up Appearances”: since Taldans pride themselves on their bravery, when you’re affected by an emotional effect like fear, you can take a roll to try and trick the caster into thinking you weren’t affected. I think the thing I like about this system is it can cut both ways – you can either lean into your home region or you can use these same feats to make yourself different from the rest of the locals. It feels like it will open up roleplaying possibilities.

Next up, we have the organizations. At first glance, it’s a little confusing to the novice player where the distinctions of class leave off and organization begin, but think of a modern military. You have a package of skills everyone learns (basic training) but there are still specialties within that structure. So putting the Pathfinder class model in modern terms, a sniper might represent a rogue or ranger and a medic might represent a cleric, but they still have SOME of the same skills. (Heck, the Marines have the Marine Corps Band, so… BARDS!) Those “SOME of the same skills” are what the organizations represent.

The Lost Omens Character Guide formally presents five organizations, though scattered through the pages are references to other organizations that might appear in future volumes.

  • The Firebrands are “go big or go home” adventurers – they dress flamboyantly; they strive to do epic deeds; if they’re gonna die, they intend to leave a good-looking corpse. If you dare a Firebrand to punch a dragon in the face, they just might try it. If you’re listening to our Plaguestone podcast, Brixley seems like a Firebrand in the making; he’s already got the foppish fashion sense!
  • The Hellknights are all about law-and-order. And pointy bits on their armor. In some towns, they even serve as local law enforcement. That sounds good until you realize they’re indifferent on the good-evil spectrum.
  • The Knights of Lastwall are a band of warriors who are known for fighting against the undead, so a lot of their perks are dedicated toward that cause.
  • The Magaambya Academy is a school of magic that seeks get in touch with the roots of both arcane and primal magic. They’ve got STEM AND liberal arts programs!
  • The Pathfinder Society are also cut from that “gentlemen adventurer” cloth that the Firebrands are, but unlike the Firebrands, they’re more about either uncovering knowledge or putting that knowledge to use to solve problems in the world. Almost more of an Indiana Jones vibe. (And nothing about a dress code.)

The one thing that stands out at first glance is they’ve made membership in organizations much more flexible and story-driven than it was in First Edition. Organizations tended to be very stat-driven in First Edition: to create a hypothetical society around the Marvel character Daredevil (the Acolytes of Murdoch), you’d have to have a level in Monk or Rogue, Stealth +8, Perception +10, and take the Blind-Fight feat before you could even consider joining. So joining many of these organizations, it was a long drawn-out process spanning multiple levels to even get your character ready, a process that almost overshadowed whatever your other campaign goals might be. Furthermore, by the time you got all the stats up to the necessary level, belonging to the organization was something of an anti-climax because it took so many levels to get there.

If these organizations are a representative sample, organization membership is going to be simpler and more story-driven. Other than a general alignment requirement, most of these (except the Firebrands, which are open to all) tend to have fairly flexible “earn the trust of someone who’s already in the organization” entry requirements that a GM could easily fold into an existing adventure – you run the campaign you were already going to run and impress, say, a Knight of Lastwall in the process. Heck, if you really felt strongly about it and your GM agreed, you could assume the requirements as part of your pre-Level-1 origin story and just start as a member of the organization, though that would spoil the fun of playing through a good origin story. (And in the case of the Hellknights, trial by combat against a devil.)

In addition to a few extra feat selections, some of the organizations have access to interesting magical items that might be fun to play around with. And sometimes non-magical – Hellknight plate is functionally the same as normal plate, but it just looks cool and has lore to it (for example, Hellknights take it VERY seriously when non-members wear their plate). But on the magic item front, there are some neat items. The Magaambya have something called the Scrollstaff, a staff that can basically be inscribed with a spell exactly like a scroll – so it can be used as a normal weapon but can also be used to cast the spell. The Knights of Lastwall offer us the Serrating Rune which creates vibrating shards of metal on the edge of a bladed weapon: yes, it basically turns a bladed weapon into the magical equivalent of a chainsaw. I think my favorite is the Firebrands’ Insistent Door Knocker. This has two main functions. If you put it on an existing locked door, it will give you suggestions on how to pick the lock and give you a bonus on your check to pick the lock. Even cooler, if you put it on a section of wall, it actually attempts to create a door that works as long as the wall isn’t too thick, or as long as the construction materials don’t include metal.

The remaining sections are more for the benefit of the GM. There are a few pages of organization-associated NPC characters, which… I guess they’d be handy if you need to whip up an encounter involving members of that organization. Slightly more interesting, the book also offers templates you can use to add organization affiliation to monsters and other NPCs. Just in case your GM wants the Hellknights to go on a recruiting drive amongst the local kobolds or something. I should mention these templates are for not just the five organizations detailed earlier in the book, but 13 organizations in total that have been mentioned at some point in this book OR the World Guide. Those kobolds can also be Red Mantis Assassins, Aldori Swordlords, or even members of the Whispering Way.

As with all these books, the production values are top-notch. Information is laid out in a way that’s logical and easy to understand and artwork is fantastic. If I have a minor complaint, it would be that the brown color they use for the sidebar text can sometimes be a little hard to read in lower light, which one sometimes encounters in gaming rooms where the GM is trying to set a particular mood. But then again, I also have Old Man Eyes and started having to wear reading glasses about a year ago, so Your Mileage May Vary on that one.

So that’s the skinny on the Lost Worlds Character Guide. Definitely another worthwhile addition to the Second Edition foundation, but one that’s probably a little more tailored to the roleplayers. (Or the surprisingly large number of leshy fans out there, apparently.) It’s not that there’s not something for everyone – there is. There’s just MORE for the people who really sink their teeth into the lore of the world since the options presented here are tailor-made to deepen a character’s connection to that lore. If that sounds like it’s up to your gaming group’s alley, get online or to your local gaming store and we’ll see all you lizardfolk Hellknights out there in the world soon.