Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

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Talking Circus S1|18: Run Through The Finish Line

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|18: Knowing Is Half The Battle.

I’d like to start this week with a totally personal note of congratulations. Two of the members of my childhood gaming group both turn 50 this week – Chris, the member of our party had a knack for getting killed, rolled the odometer today, and our long-standing GM Dmitri hits the big 5-0 tomorrow. A big part of the reason I’m here writing this column and doing this podcast today is because I lived on the same two-street area with those two guys who were wired for the same sort of weirdness over 40 years ago. (Including a willingness to go on the 2-3 mile walks or bike rides to our local gaming store.) So… congrats, boys!

Back under the big top, we’re getting ready for the second official show of the circus, which means we have to wrestle with the elephant in the room – a slightly suboptimal situation that encourages metagaming. As Steve mentions in the pre-game and the players discuss at a few points, the true optimal outcome of a circus performance is that the anticipation and excitement match EXACTLY, in which case you get double the revenue – I guess the crowd starts tipping or buys more souvenirs or something. In the first performance, I think this happened because both numbers maxed out and stopped there, but this time, since they were both below the cap, there was some question of how much to optimize for hitting the number. This even led to a “joking but not joking” speculation about forcing an act to tank to keep the numbers in line. It felt like the last scene in The Incredibles, where Bob and Helen were cheering Dash on to victory, but wait, not by so much… slow down a little… there you go!

I don’t want to be overly critical of Paizo’s decisions here – I’m not a game designer, and I’m sure coming up with these mini-game systems to fit within the existing structure isn’t easy and has a lot of moving parts. I feel like it’s more “unintended consequences” than outright bad design. And I do actually think there’s a valid “showmanship” case to be made against just getting excitement as high as you possibly can. If you think about a music show or a play or something, they don’t just go the same tempo the whole time, they dial it back for a few slow numbers here and there for the audience to catch their breath. The ebb and flow of a performance is a real thing.

But at the same time… when the rubber meets the road, and you’ve got the party coming up on their big finale and they’re thinking of how they can ease off on the performance to keep the needle where they want it… that feels like it might be in need of a house-rule tweak. I think you want a system that encourages the party to “run through the finish line”.

So how might you do that? Maybe the sweet spot can be a little wider and the party can be off by one or two and still get the payday. Or, maybe being over on excitement can be better than being lower, but not double – “you get more money, but the fans got too excited and broke some stuff, so some of the gate goes to repairs” or something. Maybe if they go over by one or two, they can cash that in for some other reward other than money – maybe experience for the NPC acts or bonus prestige or something. Or maybe once the excitement hits the same mark as the anticipation, it doesn’t keep going up… it just stays there unless you fail or unless the anticipation goes up again.

Or, as Loren suggests, maybe they can just use the system as it is, and Steve can just find other ways to make it even out. He has traditionally been pretty good at that over the years. So… keep the rules the way they are, but as long as the party plays the performance straight-up, they get more opportunities to earn hero points or they receive better/more appropriate treasure drops or something.

The performance itself was pretty great. This is another one of those places where I really appreciate the amount of detail they’ve put into scripting their performances. We finally get to see Ateran and their cauldron do their thing! Darius has an action figure! Even the NPC performances were fun and flavorful… after doing all that work on one’s own performance, I’m not sure I would’ve faulted them from punting and just saying the NPCs “do dwarf stuff”.

Though I have one little nitpick… my suspension of disbelief took a little bit of a hit at the idea that the bear would be totally cool with having Hap chuck fire inches from its face. Don’t get me wrong… it made for a great act and Loren described it wonderfully, but still. I kept thinking “yeah, that bear would be gnawing her face off by now”. Does she secretly have a level in Druid and didn’t tell us? If so, nobody tell Ateran.

Afterward, we get a brief discussion of where the circus might go from here. First, the fact that the take diminishes each show suggests that eventually, they’ll have to move on to a new town to keep the money coming in. Not sure if it’ll be a flat 25% per performance, but it’ll definitely be less. We also get a little discussion about how to improve the acts – both their own and the NPC acts. The upshot of both conversations seems to be that they’ll need new blood at some point, between the fact that a) the players can’t grow new traits in a vacuum; they have to learn from someone, and b) the NPC acts won’t level, so eventually, they won’t be effective enough to provide any benefit as the crowds get bigger and more demanding. The good news is it sounds like there will be quite a few chances to add new acts, and we’ll know them when we see them. Now I find myself wondering if the members of the rival circus will eventually be recruitable. (Though if they hire the clown, I am D-O-N-E, DONE with this show.)

I do wonder what happens to the old acts, though. Do they just hang around the circus, getting paid to do nothing, hoping they get one more shot? Do they get to cut loose into the unforgiving world? Can we have a third podcast where the cast-off acts start their own adventuring party? It could be the Clone Wars of the Roll For Combat Extended Universe!

Finally, at the end of the episode, it looks like we’re going to return to adventuring mode for the next few episodes. Turns out the mayor hasn’t returned from his visit to the Hermitage, and the Hermitage’s regular resupply wagon also hasn’t shown up. So clearly something fishy is going on in DruidLand – either the druids have gone bad, or something there’s worse than druids causing trouble. Either way, sounds the Hermitage will be next week’s destination, much to Ateran’s considerable dismay.

As always, while you’re waiting for next week’s episode, 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 Tales: Tale 4, Chapter 1, The Old Man And The Sea

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 4, Chapter 1: Call Me Old Man.

We’re breaking new ground on Black Lodge this week!

First and foremost, the core group finally makes it to Level 2. To be fair, you generally don’t get a lot of big changes at Level 2 – a class feat, a skill feat, an extra spell slot if you’re a caster – but the extra hit points alone make you a little less squishy and it feels a little safer out there.

In Nella’s case, I was not kidding when I said I took Poison Resistance largely because of the Three-Ring Adventure show. One thing we’re learning about Second Edition, in general, is that status effects have the potential to be MUCH more painful than they were in First Edition, so I’ll take that over… going back and getting a leshy familiar or something like that. (The other choices were nothing special.) Specifically, Poison Resistance gives +1 to my save against all poison effects, and DR equal to half my level against poisons. For the skill feat, I went with Battle Medicine… all the cool kids are doing it, but in particular, I wanted to beef up my healing skills since that seems to be the role I’m headed toward. And for my spell slot, I went with Feather Fall just because I wanted to grab some utility spells and not just be all damage, all the time. I would like to eventually add a second damage TYPE because some things are immune to fire, or maybe some AoE damage, but I’m willing to wait on that until next Level when Level 2 spells open up.

(The full endgame plan? Turn into an elemental. ALL THE TIME. My First Edition druid was nicknamed “Windy” because he spent just about EVERY fight in Air Elemental form.)

The other new ground is that this is this group’s first exposure to Quests. (John did a Quest with Mister Peepers WAAAAAAAY back when 2E first released, and I think Chris MAY have played that one as a different character.) If you think of a normal Society scenario as a 3-4 hour session, a quest should be able to be knocked out in an hour or so. Which… because we’re a living embodiment of the Mattress Salesman sketch from Monty Python… means we take 9-10 hours to do a full Scenario and 3-4 hours to do a Quest. Can we at least get credit for being predictable in our slowness?

Again, I think I’ve said this before, but it’s not like we TRY to drag things out. At least not entirely. I will plead guilty (on the group’s behalf) to a tendency to over-analyze things, particularly in the planning stage. But I also think the online format slows things down a little over playing in person, and I’ve felt this since even before we started doing the podcast. I can’t say I’ve studied it in any formal way, but I think the tools impose a level of forced queuing that diminishes or disappears entirely when you have live people sitting at a table. It’s like… you take those pauses where Steve has to process the die roll and maybe make an adjustment, where in person, it would all be happening on the fly and the next player would already have the dice in their hand. That’s my theory anyway.

We also have a new special guest… Erik Mona… who we’ve never had at our table before! I’m excited, but it’s less about the fact that he’s a Paizo Bigwig™ (though it’s also nice when people from Paizo share their time with us), but more about having a fresh face in the mix. If you count the pre-podcast days, we’ve been playing together for over a decade; you start to know each other’s mannerisms a little too well and dynamics can become a little set in their ways. Though… OK, I’m at least a LITTLE impressed that his Society number is “2”. Mine’s somewhere north of 30,000.

We don’t really get too far into the adventure in this first session, so there’s not much plot to discuss. It’s more about meeting Vortaris and getting to the destination, with a little treasure hunting on the sandbar to pass the time in between. Vortaris’ backstory is pretty intriguing… someone who’s clearly had some trouble in life, and is just now deciding to become an adventurer in his 80s? It’s actually a bit of a shame we’re (probably) only going to have this one adventure to get to know him better. Also… I’m totally digging Erik’s Old Man Voice.

In getting out to the island, the one rules question I wanted to dig into a little is the Wild Shape rules. I think the thing that’s been confusing me a little bit is that aerial forms are explicitly called out as a separate skill that has to be unlocked separately, but swimming forms are not. But then again, at least for Pest Form, the example animals listed were all land creatures – “cat, insect, lizard, or rat”. I tend to be a “when in doubt, go by the text” person, so I interpreted that to mean aquatic forms weren’t allowed. But then again when you get to the regular Wild Shape, turning into a shark IS an option. So was I assuming too much and swim forms are cool or do you not get those until Level 3? I guess Steve’s interpretation is that they’re OK, so that’s what we’ll go with. But… I’d rather be a duck than a fish… mostly so I can ruin the mood with quacking noises.

I suppose the one brief development that popped up is when the dwarf operating our boat jumped overboard. At first, I very briefly thought this was part of a double-cross where they were going to have pirates attack us at sea or something. But then it turns out she’s just Manic Pixie Dream Dwarf and likes randomly jumping out of the boat to catch fish. Crisis averted!

So we cruise into Port Peril unscathed, and it’s time to get serious about our mission… Clearly, if the words “Pub Crawl” are right in the title, that probably means some drinking’s happening, which means that poison resistance will come in handy. But that’s basically where we’ll have to pick it up next week. 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 Circus S1|17: Beer and Circuses

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|17: Hapniss Everdeen.

“Yay! We’re going back to the circus!” That’s something you’ll NEVER catch me saying in real life – animal smells, clowns, animal cruelty, overpriced concessions… that’s a hard pass. But for the purposes of this game, I’m excited because the circus mechanic sounds interesting, and we haven’t really explored it since the first episode. (I guess they did send the sideshow people out once, but that didn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes.)

One kind of “meta” thing I noticed this week was the general sense of being at ease listening to this episode, knowing with a fair amount of certainty nothing was going to leap out and attack our party. Even in some of the low-combat episodes of the last few weeks, it was still always a possibility that danger was lurking behind the next corner. But since Steve said in the pre-game that this is basically going to be two episodes of circus… it was the first time in a while where we could legitimately just relax and enjoy ourselves.

I’ll admit to a little bit of surprise that it took SO long to get back to the circus. For a show called “Three-Ring Adventure,” there’s been a whole lot more Adventure than… Three-Ring-ery. Going in, I knew there would be some weaving back and forth between the circus plotline and a more conventional adventure path, but I thought the circus would feature more prominently, especially early in the game. I actually figured they’d want to dig into the circus mechanics and get those down a little more before getting into the conventional dungeoneering part of the adventure.

I just didn’t expect the circus to recede into the background for as long as it did. I suppose some of that is player choice – there were a few forks in the road where they had a choice to do circus activities or pursue the mystery and they pretty much always followed the mystery. Still, a longer “detour” than I expected going in. I’m not disappointed exactly… “surprised” is probably the better word.  That said, here we are… it’s back in the spotlight, so let’s enjoy it.

Though, based on one of Steve’s comments, I would love to see an adventure path someday where the final boss fight is skipped entirely in favor of a crafting challenge or something. That would be sort of hilarious. Perhaps it could be cooking, which would make Loren’s one character very happy… the final boss could be Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef. The secret ingredient… UNICORN MEAT!

As the team’s initial attempts to promote the circus unfolded, I was a little surprised that the rolls to promote the show were SO high. Or, more accurately: “high roll + fairly narrow list of available skills”. Personally, if you’re going to have something that’s more of an open-ended problem, I’d prefer either “limited skills, but fairly makeable rolls” or “fairly open-ended how you apply your skills, but the DCs are a little higher”. This seemed like the worst of both worlds – they needed high rolls, but they also really only had one or two skill options; skills that most of the party weren’t very good at.

I do give Steve credit as a GM here. He is usually willing to indulge in creative problem-solving to keep players involved in the game. Without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, we were doing a Black Lodge adventure where there was a skills portion that was heavy on social skills and crafting, leaving almost nothing for my Nature/Survival/Religion druid to do. To his credit, Steve was willing to work with me on ways I could use my skills to help with the challenges, but he did make the DCs higher than they would be for using the “right” skills. So letting Hap do a performance seems like it’s cut from similar cloth.

Having said that, watching Hap screw up both her rolls and have her orchestrated show go for naught was kind of amusing. Sorry, Loren… schadenfreude… I’m an awful person. I wouldn’t be rooting for this in a combat situation; I think the lower stakes are part of what allowed it to be amusing. Though for some reason, I mentally inserted a completely anachronistic Hollywood type coming up to Hap when she’s finished: “Um… Hap… the guys upstairs have a few notes on your performance.”

Fortunately, when failed skill checks fail to accomplish the desired effect, BEER sweeps in to save the day. Saviors of the village? “Ehhh.” Impressive pyro display in the town square? “I’ll check my calendar.” Ateran kinda half-mumbling about the circus to random passers-by? “I think I’m washing my hair.” But BEER? “Oh hell yeah!” So now the troupe will be playing to a pretty pre-excited crowd, and the hard part of their job is done.

Or is it? After all, beer does have a downside – it generates a lot of excitement, but it also introduces the presence of potential rowdies disrupting the show. And if you remember, a fight broke out at the first show, so is there going to be more of the same? Also, we still have the Random Event… in this case, it’s that too many people show up, raising the cap on how much excitement can be generated. Now… this isn’t bad, exactly, but it does create some interesting risk-reward questions – do you go for bigger tricks and try to get more of a reaction, but with a greater chance of failing, or do you still play it relatively safe?

There’s also the question of choosing the acts, and it sounds as if as the game goes along, the players are going to have to shoulder more of the load on that front since it seems their tricks will advance at a faster rate than the NPC members of the circus. But at least Hap gets to perform with the bear, so that’ll be something to look forward to. And we’ll finally get to see Ateran in action; if you’ll remember, he drew the short straw and sat out the first show, running the backstage and doing a little mild pyrotechnics in support of the other acts.

And the real question is WHEN DO DARIUS AND THE SNAKE GET MATCHING TOP HATS? And more importantly, when will the T-shirt be on the website?

So there you have it. Next week, we’re finally going to have another show of the Circus Of Wayward Wonders. Will the show go well? Do the druids have any surprises in store? Will the rival circus put in an appearance? I guess we’ll find out next week. In the meantime, 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 Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 6, The Floor is Lava

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 6: Deal With The Devil.

We win!

Heck with that… we survive! And we’re finally gonna be Level 2!

I honestly thought our collective goose was cooked in this fight, especially when the devil basically obliterated Thorgrim on his first attack. I don’t think the Three-Ring crew had reached their devil encounter yet, so I didn’t KNOW-know, but I strongly suspected it would get ugly. It’s always unnerving when you’re fighting something that you KNOW could end your day with one crit. At the same time, I didn’t want to back down before we at least got a chance to test our offensive capabilities – sometimes these brute types that do big attacks are also fairly easy to hit and damage, so… five of us, one of him… let’s at least see how it goes, maybe he’ll miss and we’ll get lucky.

Speaking of Three-Ring, I did find it mildly amusing that Vanessa kinda-sorta played Millicent like Alhara there for a second, doing a bunch of nimble leaps to get into position to fight. NO, YOU DON’T GET PANACHE, MILLICENT. And OK… for all that hype, the fire spout from the floor doing one point of damage was pretty hilarious.

I was a little surprised that John tried to re-open negotiations once the fight started. I guess I can sort of see the argument that Thorgrim getting one-shotted changed the tone of the fight and created a window for a new round of negotiation. On the other hand, it seemed pretty unlikely to work, and then Mama Millicent decided to pull the plug on it by attacking.

I suppose the next thing I have to comment on is Seth starting to go into Analyze Mode and deciding that the best course of action was for me to heal Chris instead of casting Shillelagh. Set aside I had already cast the spell – to use chess terminology, I took my hand off the piece. But more to the point… I have to admit I don’t like being flat-out TOLD what to do during battle. A helpful reminder, if there’s something obvious I’m missing? Sure. A suggestion if I’m sitting there “hmmm”-ing for 20 seconds because I don’t know what to do? Bring it. But combat is My Time. It’s the part of the game I enjoy most, I know what my character does, just let me do my thing.

And OK, maybe a touch of my frustration was pride about the default assumption that Chris would deal more damage than I would. Honestly, the extra damage dice on Shillelagh make me a fairly effective fighter in this particular scenario… at least for as many rounds as I remain standing. I think Thorgrim’s advantage in this situation would have been the higher armor class and larger hit point pool.

It’s also kind of immersion-breaking because we’re supposed to be in combat; stuff is supposed to be happening in quasi-real-time. I don’t mind going deep on the strategizing when we’re in downtime, but when combat is happening… you oughta respect that and keep things moving. You shouldn’t have to LITERALLY take your turn in six seconds, but I think you should respect that and make your move FAIRLY quickly, and with minimal input from other party members. Fog of war, and all that. Sure, you can still measure a distance or double-check what a spell does because it’s still a game at heart, but holding a 10-minute Zoom conference to script out what is supposed to be less than 20 seconds of game reality seems like it goes against the spirit of the thing.

The other small logistical thing is I was thinking of healing Thorgrim the following round anyway if no one else got around to it. So really we agreed on the actions and were just hung up on the sequence; I just wanted to have the magic stick ready to go if the opportunity to use it came early.

I notice this was a rough fight for status effects. The scythe had a bleed effect, the Wriggling Beard (great power name, BTW) dispensed poison, and the floor created fire damage pretty much anywhere you would want to stand in order to melee. So not only did this guy hit hard on his own, but there was a lot of “extra” damage piling up around the edges. Personally, I lucked out on saving throws and didn’t have to face too much of it, but there was ugliness in abundance.

The other thing that struck me as amusing was our first instance of a player being saved by the vox populi… literally… as live listener “ActionJackson” caught a rule clarification that saved Peepers from death. Just in case you were having trouble following that exchange (because EVERYONE was talking at the same time), let me break it down for you. As background, Chris had applied Glimpse of Redemption to the Big Bad, which applies Enfeebled 2… Steve had assumed it ticked down each round (most statuses do) and changed it to Enfeebled 1, but it’s supposed to stay at Enfeebled 2 until the end of the NEXT round. So Steve rolled a critical with Enfeebled 1 applied, and the full crit damage would’ve been enough to kill Peepers on the massive damage (twice your max HP) rule. But ActionJackson caught the Enfeebled error, and the difference between Enfeebled 2 and Enfeebled 1 was the difference between a crit and a normal hit – still enough to take Peepers to zero HP and Dying 1, but not an instakill.

So, hey… donate to the Patreon, and you might just get a chance to save a life!

The battle continues, and fortunately, Millicent proves once again to be the advantage we need, and we dispatch the Big Bad. Probably JUST before things got really bad. Peepers down, Thorgrim back up but still working on stopping his bleeding; Millicent and I were both in single-digit hit points… I guess Nixnox was still fairly fresh, but could he have finished the devil off himself? Probably depends on what its fire resistance was. But Millicent came through and we live to fight another day.

So in the aftermath, we use Diggen Thrune to banish the devil, and there’s a little bit of “did we do the right thing” second-guessing as he departs with an ominous laugh. I know the story drops a few hints that Thrune isn’t the stand-up guy the official history books say he is, but a) we made a deal and at some point, it’s more about honoring your own word, and b) that devil really does represent the Greater Evil in the situation. So… OK, maybe we didn’t min-max the treasure bundles or whatever we would’ve got for keeping him trapped, but I still feel like honoring the bargain and letting him go was the right call.

Lastly, we have the aftermath. (In a bit of clever editing, this actually took place a different day – the fight went right to 11 pm, so we did Vanessa’s downtime and then called it a day and did the rest of the party later.) I suppose the big thing here was Nella running her losing streak to 3 on earning income. Sigh. At least this time I “just” missed instead of whiffing in the single digits… progress I guess?

And since that’s the end of the third adventure, that means next time, we’ll be introducing the Level 2 party. Obviously, I’ll leave those details for that episode, but I’m glad to get that little bit of survivability bump. Level 2 isn’t a huge leap in class powers, but the extra hit points alone make it something to look forward to.

And we’ll look at that next week with a new adventure and a new special guest. 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 Circus S1|16: Roleplay Roulette

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|16: Broken Homes and Gardens.

My dilemma this week revolves around the mystery of Hap’s unknown origin.

Part of me wants to play Sherlock Holmes and really dig in on this. Break out all the sourcebooks and figure out exactly what combination of feats we’re looking at here. I know elemental humanoids in First Edition – Ifrits were the fire-friendly ones – but unless got access to some super-secret Paizo stuff that’s not released yet, I don’t recall there being an Ifrit for Second Edition yet. Maybe stealing some sort of draconic bloodline or something?

This week, I even started to wonder if it’s a mechanism specific to the Extinction Curse AP. I had been assuming it was a character development thing that Steve and Loren worked out between them, but now we’ve also got Darius waking up with a weird mark on his arm too. So maybe there’s some mechanism Paizo whipped up specifically for this AP that causes ch-ch-changes in people, above and beyond normal character development. Could that be? Or am I just being silly? Or do ALL the characters have little surprises in store for us as they level?

But then there’s another side of me that says “you’re thinking WAY too hard about this; just roll with it and enjoy the story”. Not everything has to be analyzed until it’s a joyless math exercise. So, OK… Hap is turning into Spicy Hot Cheetos Hap, and we’ll eventually learn more about what’s going on there – it’s not like it will NEVER be explained.

So this week was a fun episode. Not only did it go deep on roleplay, but it went broad as well – I noticed almost EVERY one-to-one interaction available within the team got some “camera” time. Really the only one missing was Alhara and Hap – I don’t recall the two of them getting more than a couple passing comments to each other. It was almost the “Tales Of Ba Sing Se” episode of Three-Ring Adventure. (Guess who just finished re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender?)

First, the groups broke into Varus siblings in one corner and Hap and Ateran in the other. Rob T. and Vanessa didn’t break a lot of new ground or have any big dramatic revelations, but they’re really building a nice warm familiarity between their two characters that I’m enjoying a lot. They did plant some seeds that might bear fruit in future episodes, though, sending the letter to try and find the whereabouts of their father. Loren and Rob P.’s chemistry works in more of an “odd couple” way where the differences between the characters make their interactions interesting. You have Ateran, fairly buttoned-up and cautious, trying to focus on the mission at hand, but you can see them TRYING in their own way to open up, but not really having a feel for how to do it. On the other hand, you have Hap, who’s far more interested in playing matchmaker and life in general… very much the teenage girl; you’d barely know there’s an adventure going on listening to her side of the conversation. And in this interaction, we get tension between those two viewpoints when Ateran tries to get Hap to discuss the changes she’s starting to experience.

Then we had a re-shuffle and had Ateran and Alhara spend time together while Hap and Darius did the same. These interactions both blew me away in different ways.

I’m going to go out of order and talk about Darius’ interaction with Hap, because Rob T. managed to channel an almost parental role in a way that was really warm and felt real. A few shows back, Steve mentioned one of the scenes he did with Hap as being like talking to his own daughter, and this felt similarly authentic. As a parent, I really felt this moment: you have these times where your kid is hurt, confused, whatever, and you want to know what’s up but you also don’t want to be part of the problem by being too pushy, so you just kinda… be there for them and hope they’ll talk about it when they’re ready to. I just thought Rob really nailed that feeling.

Ateran and Alhara… I have thoughts on this, but they can all be summarized under the positive umbrella of “I’m impressed how well they’re developing this”.

I feel like romantic interactions between characters are probably some of the hardest things to do in a game setting like this. I’m not talking about “we’re a couple in real life so we’re going to be a couple in-game and mine our existing relationship for the details”. I’m talking about building a new relationship between two fictional characters when the people playing them are also still figuring out who those characters are as individuals… that’s such a delicate thing to figure out. Especially when it takes a level of trust in the other person to go to what’s kind of a vulnerable place, even for fictional characters.

First and foremost, I’m impressed they’re doing this all on the fly. I found myself in disbelief that they didn’t have some sort of “script” in mind for this, so I actually broke the fourth wall and asked Vanessa if they have any pre-planning or any of this is scripted. Her answer was that they have a little bit of a sense where the relationship might go, but everything that happens in an individual session is completely spontaneous in the moment. That’s crazy… in a good way. And maybe that’s what makes it feel so authentic.

The other thing I appreciate is they’re not rushing it and even allowing the relationship to step backwards as well as forwards. I feel like there might be a tendency to rush to “get to the good part”, but they’re willing to let it be a little awkward and maybe even have moments where they misunderstand each other, to let it develop a little more organically, and that also makes it feel more real.

And here’s the thing. I don’t know whether I’m ultimately rooting for Ateran and Alhara to get together or not. In real life, I’m NOT an “opposites attract” person; I’m more of an “opposites mostly annoy the shit out of each other” person. Alhara may be a bit too carefree and Ateran may be a little too reserved for it to work. But I AM vested in seeing where it goes, and I AM convinced that wherever Vanessa and Rob take it will be the right place. For now, that’ll work.

The last interaction isn’t the biggest, but we haven’t really seen Darius and Ateran interact outside of battle much, so it was nice to get them some time together. Smoothing over the ruffled feathers from the last battle and acknowledging their different approaches to fighting maybe isn’t as weighty as some of the other interactions in this episode, but it’s still good to see the Robs working off each other a little since we haven’t had much of it yet. Between this and the Hap interaction, I do see some development creeping in at the edges with regards to Darius embracing a real leadership role instead of just being a guy who fills a room by talking loud and punching stuff. He’s slowly turning from a fun-loving doofus into a fun-loving doofus with a sense of responsibility to his fellow show people.

And OK… honorable mention for Loren and Steve roleplaying Hap’s magic show for the little girl. We get so used to thinking of Pathfinder adventurers as grizzled veterans that it’s fun to have an interlude where Hap The Teenager shines through, just showing off her magic dog to a little kid who had a rough day.

The only “downside” of this episode is that because of all the character development, not a lot actually happened. We got a quick fight against the air mephit trapped in the armoire (NITPICK: maybe it’s because I’m stuck on A:TLA’s definition of the elements, but why does an air mephit blow sand, again?) and then released what’s left of the Hawfton Mill to its rightful owners. And then it’s mostly downtime. On the horizon, it FEELS like it’ll be time to get back to the circus for a while, so that’ll be fun – I want to see what a few characters and more familiarity with the system do for their act the second time around.

But I guess we’ll see that next time. While you’re waiting for next week’s show, feel free to stop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show so far. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 5, Friend Of The Devil

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 5: Last Kobold Standing.

It’s funny. Steve goes and gives me all this credit for remembering the show better than him, and now I gotta walk that back and admit that I thought we went right from Diggen Thrune directly to the final encounter with the devil. I totally forgot about this group of goblins. Or kobolds. Or maybe both? Steve says “goblins” the first couple times, but then says “kobolds” the rest of the battle.

In my defense, there’s a real-life gap here – since the Black Lodge game is dependent on special guests and anyone remotely connected to Paizo-Land was busy getting ready for PaizoCon, we had a 2-3 week stretch where we simply couldn’t play at all. So if my memory is fuzzy… that’s at least part of why.

Logistically, something weird happened to me at the start of this fight where I was distracted when the fight started and ended up WAY out of position, all the way back at the stairs down to the third level. (Think I was talking with one of my kids or something.) I could’ve argued I should’ve at least been up with the rest of the party, but whatever… it’s only one lost round.

So… OK. Unexpected cannon-fodder fight. We can adapt. Tactically, we’ve got two guys in front of the barricade and an unknown number (at first) on the other side. Now, we’ve established in multiple fights that these guys aren’t THAT tough… and when they start out with a bunch of ineffective sling attacks, there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about.

But then the field changes a little. First, we have a caster, which is a bit of a wrinkle. Haven’t seen that before. Still… if only one of them are special, there’s five of us… we should be OK. Millicent’s initial charge even wipes out the guys in front of the barrier, so this is looking like another walk in the park. But then Millicent charges to get up in the caster’s face and the kobolds get some help from the great equalizer – environmental damage! – as the barricade collapses when Millicent tries to pass through the too-convenient-in-retrospect gap in the wall. Even the mightiest Level 2 character can be felled by a bunch of junk falling on them.

(Aside: I’m glad Steve made the Les Mis reference… saved me the trouble.)

So that leaves poor Millicent out on an island by herself – yeah, she survives the initial trap, but it leaves her alone on the wrong side of the barrier, making herself the obvious target for the mage. Meanwhile, our choices are to try and climb over the barrier while taking fire, or engaging in a ranged battle against them, which both hands them cover and also doesn’t play to our team’s strengths, as Thorgrim and Peepers are both better at melee.

So the battle continues, and it’s really three fights in one. We’ve got Chris doing his personal Battle Of the Trident against the one kobold. Mama looks like she’s going to get a reprieve when she gets an attack of opportunity against the mage, but it doesn’t finish him, and the kobold does almost max damage on its magic missile, putting her at death’s door. Meanwhile, John, Seth, and I are having the Generic “This Isn’t That Hard, What Are You All Complaining About?” Kobold Fight where we’re taking out the trash fairly efficiently.

And then… damn! One of the kobolds actually has the round of his life with two nat-20s in three attacks. The first drops Mama because it’s also close to max damage and she was already pretty worn down. The second gets converted to a regular hit because of the way Second Edition does crits – a nat-20 just raises the outcome by one rank, so if the roll would have been a miss, it just becomes a regular hit, not a crit. Luckily though, that’s pretty much the last round of combat, and we can quickly pass Millicent up before we have to get too deep into the dying rules and burning Hero Points.

So after the fight, we do a little bit of cleanup. The big takeaway here is the very druid-y but low-key humiliating magic item in the loot – a pair of goggles that aid in Nature checks. We don’t get to keep them in the here and now because of how Society play works, but they might be worth buying at a later date. For now, they merely serve as an ongoing mockery of my poor downtime rolls. Oh, a +1 on nature rolls? Ha ha. Very funny.

Up the stairs we go, and we reach the final chamber, and at first assessment, I’m getting uneasy about all of this. First and foremost… devil. Pretty sure those are tough to kill. (Though… counterpoint: Shillelagh will be extra-effective.) On top of that, it’s a bad physical environment for a fight – the room is generally hot and there are also specific squares on the floor that represent some sort of fire. There’s a flame-free boundary area around the sides of the room, but if anyone wants to get up in the devil’s face near the throne, they’re probably going to be fighting the environment AND the bad guy. It’s also a little alarming that the devil already seems to know what Diggen Thrune was planning. It’s never a good sign when the Big Bad sees your plan coming from a mile away.

But then Peepers throws one of his best curveballs ever… and starts negotiating with the devil. I did NOT see that coming. And I have to admit, I’m momentarily swayed to at least hear the devil’s counter. Two reasons: yes, part of it is low-grade cowardice in the face of what’s shaping up as a tough fight, but I’m also not sure I totally trust Diggen Thrune either. I mean, he’s the one that made the initial contract with this devil, and then there was that letter talking about how the history books are bullshitting us about the real Diggen Thrune. So there was a second where I caught myself thinking this could be “they’re actually both evil, you have to pick which evil you want to side with”.

But then negotiations break down as Thorgrim remembers he’s Lawful Good and doesn’t make deals with devils, and the inevitable final fight is on. And next week we’ll find out if the team survives to make it to Level 2. While you’re waiting for next week, 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 Circus S1|15: What A Difference A Day Makes

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|15: Sting Operation.

This week’s episode is somewhat of an achievement for Roll For Combat – a two-hour episode, that’s BASICALLY the resolution a single fight (but not a boss fight – we’ve had 2-hour boss fights before). And mixed in, we had a mid-episode leveling break.

And it all starts with a swarm, the nemesis of many a player over the years. Personally I still hate incorporeal creatures worse than swarms, but the gap is definitely narrowing.

Let’s start with the differences between First Edition and Second Edition swarms. The truth is it’s a bit of a mixed bag – in some ways, they’re better; in others, they’re far worse. And in both editions, they’re a struggle for low-level players to deal with because low-level characters don’t tend to have a lot of area-effect tools unless they SPECIFICALLY prepare for one. Melees don’t usually have ANY area damage, and casters MIGHT have one 1st-level cone or burst spell if they chose their spells wisely.

On the good side, swarms are generally easier to hit and damage in Second Edition – they removed the immunity to single-target spells and modeled a lot of the damage reduction as flat resistances instead of “half damage” or “no damage”. (For the wasps, it was bludgeoning 7, piercing 7, and slashing 3). So you can use more of your toolkit against a swarm and still stand a chance of doing some damage. Area damage is still the ideal, but you can whittle away with other tools.

But here’s where they’re much MUCH worse. Swarms in First Edition did automatic damage, but it was a small amount – even up to 5 hit dice, a First Edition swarm only does 1d6 damage, once a round. Meanwhile, those wasps were doing 2d8, AND inflicting poison. So yeah, you can hit them more often, but they can hit the players more – and harder – as well. The net effect is that offensively, it’s closer to a full monster, but with a bunch of swarm resistances.

So our team of adventurers makes a valiant first try at beating the wasps, and boy it just… does not go well, does it? Both Varus siblings in serious distress, Hap blows her most effective spell (Burning Hands) and does almost minimum damage, the poor dog gets summoned only to serve as a sacrifice… honestly, it’s a miracle this didn’t end in a TPK. Tactically it also didn’t help that they bunched up and made the swarm’s job easy, but I don’t think spreading out would’ve changed the central dynamic of the fight.

On the bright side, we learned a lot about door-hinge technology in the process. Screw putting an icon into Roll20 – we need a “Door of Many Hinges” T-shirt on the website. Perhaps the artwork can be a door where one entire side is a single, massive hinge. Or many hinges made of different metals with different gemstones. Though the door itself should be as ordinary as possible, just to stick a further finger in Rob T’s eye.

Brief digression: Steve didn’t explain this fully, but Rob T. has a history of bad luck with doors. In one of our Starfinder Society games, he was playing an Operative and spent four or five rounds unsuccessfully trying to open a door while we were in combat against space zombies. Never did get it open. Then in our Black Lodge game, his dwarven fighter tried to muscle his way through a door and met with similarly disastrous results. I suppose Darius critting the hinges this time redeemed him a little, but doors still hold a 2-1 lead over Rob in the grand scheme of things.

So the team has to limp back to camp in semi-humiliating fashion (the Minister of Dad Jokes would ask if they had “Bee-TSD” after that fight?), but it’s always darkest before the dawn, as the team levels up overnight! Level 3! At first glance, Level 3 tends to be a boring level for melees, but casters get their first Level 2 spells, and more hitpoints are an across-the-board good thing.

Though on a personal level, I feel like I have to mock Vanessa a little bit next time I see her. After making much fun of me for taking Quick Jump with Brixley (eliminates the run-up action for jumping), she goes and takes Powerful Leaper? That doesn’t seem fair. Then again: Alhara is a swashbuckler and leaping around is an inherent part of her character whereas Brixley is a stubby little gnome in heavy armor – leaping isn’t really much of a priority for him.

I have to admit I’m intrigued by Hap’s unknown ancestry. Obviously there’s not much to say about it yet, because it’s… well… you know… a mystery, but if she’s feeling cold, does that imply she’s got latent fire elemental DNA that’s starting to come to the surface? Is Hap eventually going to ignite and become The Human Torch? If so, I am absolutely down for that.

For the immediate situation, leveling isn’t half as important as the fact that the team can gear up properly for the rematch with the wasps. That means antidotes for the wasp poison, alchemical fires so there’s splash damage available to the melees, and Hap can overload her spell list with extra casts of Burning Hands. It’s kind of rare to go into a situation where you know EXACTLY what you’re gonna fight, so when it does happen, you might as well make the most of it. This is one of those few cases where even if you’re more of a roleplay group… yeah, min-max the crap out of it.

And guess what: armed with better knowledge what they’re up against and better tools for dealing with it, the rematch is actually a fairly easy win for the Wayward Wonders crew. WASPS BEGONE! The mill has been (mostly) reclaimed… after a quick recon of the premises to make sure there’s no more trouble. At first things look calm – even calm enough to allow Ateran and Darius to get into a grumbling match about whether to use the mending oil on the door or not – but then right at the end, moving the furniture around sets off the combat alarm, and we’ve got at least one more fight on deck for next week.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media, let us know what you think of the show, and join in the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 4, The Not-So-Great Divide

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 4: Klaatu Barada Nikto.

I thought I’d start this week with Steve’s open question about the nature of the show and what people like or don’t like about it. Among other things, I thought it was interesting because I’m in the rare position of having two different perspectives – both as a player and as a listener (at least for the Three-Ring Adventure show). I do listen to this show as well to refresh my memory, but it’s a different experience when you know 90 percent of what’s coming.

I will start with one observation Steve didn’t directly mention, and that’s the consideration that breaking in a brand-new system was part of our whole raison d’etre: first Starfinder, then Pathfinder Second Edition. So when we laid the foundations of this whole thing, teaching a brand new game to people who might be thinking of kicking the tires was explicitly part of our mission. So if sometimes we get a little lost in the rules, part of that is a reflection of the notion that the instinct to teach the system is baked into what we do at this point.

The other general caveat I’ll make is that part of the reason combat is so detailed on this show is that we KNOW you guys don’t have access to the battle map* and things can be hard to follow in your head, so we try and fill in some of those details by being extra descriptive. Theater Of The Mind, you know? “I move 10 feet to the west, put myself between the pillar and the staircase, and attack”. “I am moving up close enough that I can cast a touch Heal on Millicent”. Pre-podcast when were just playing for ourselves, we’d probably just bang through these things without a lot of the explanation because everyone was looking at the same screen; now we gotta make sure we give you enough detail to understand what’s happening and why.

*=Until recently. Now our Patreon subscribers have the option to listen live and watch the game-board, so they can see for themselves what’s happening. But that’s obviously not all of you, so we still gotta fill in the details. For contrast, I suspect the virtual PaizoCon game didn’t have that same level of detail because we pretty much played to a live audience that could see the board. (Which may also explain why we finished on time.)

But with all of that disclaimer aside, which one do I prefer?

As a player, I’m probably more in tune with the combat-oriented shows. I’m not great at roleplaying – I can do it in short bursts (see also: Brixley bonding with Ember in the Plaguestone game, where I ad-libbed an entire toast to Cayden Cailean for the ceremony on the fly), but I don’t really sustain it well over multiple sessions. I tend to have JUST enough story to understand my character and how they would react to situations, but anything outside my immediate bubble tends to come across as MacGuffin-y to me: “Why do we have gods? To give clerics a mechanism for their spells, of course.” And then beyond all of that, it’s in my nature to be the loveable goofball – I like making Dad Jokes and pop-culture references, and I always feel like I’m peeing in the punchbowl if I do it in an RP-heavy setting. I PROMISE YOU WILL ALWAYS KNOW WHICH EPISODE OF MAGNUM P.I. THIS STORY BEAT FEELS REMINISCENT OF.

As a listener, though, I have to admit I enjoy the heavier roleplay style better. Maybe it’s an appreciation of something I don’t consider myself very good at, maybe part of it is just that I’m hearing the Three-Ring show with fresh ears and things are a surprise in a way they aren’t with the other shows, but I really like the way those folks are building their stories and the relationships between the characters. I still want SOME combat – I’ve heard some shows where combat is abstracted away to one or two key rolls with storytelling filling in the blanks, and I don’t dig that either. But as a listener, I’m going to admit that higher roleplay floats my boat a little more. To be fair, it’s not an ironclad distinction: Seth, in particular, has some pretty great roleplay moments in Black Lodge, and the Three-Ring show has had some combat-heavy episodes where you’d be hard-pressed to find much roleplay. But Steve asked, so I’m answering.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get onto the week’s game action. The majority of this episode is a straight-up fight, but with an annoying twist – runes that summon reinforcements AND enemies who are smart enough to use that to their advantage by deliberately stepping on them. And our old friend… some bloodseekers to add the bleeding status to the mix! Oh, joy!

(I mention this in the show, but if you’ve been listening to our other shows, we had a bloodseeker encounter very early in Plaguestone, but they mostly whiffed and we dispatched them fairly quickly. I think ONE attached to Celes for a round, but that’s about it. Compared to this, completely unmemorable.)

Even going back and listening to a second time, the workings of the runes were a little fuzzy to me. OK, I did get that each of the different colored squares summoned a different creature, but other than that, there were a lot of moving parts. Did it summon when someone entered the square or left it? Could a rune only trigger once or could it be triggered multiple times? Shouldn’t the summoned creature attack the person who summoned it, in which case some of them should’ve attacked the kobolds? Or were the kobolds recognized as being allowed to be there by whatever entity controls the runes? But the gist is that a simple fight against what presented as two or three kobolds turned into a free-for-all with eight or nine bad guys.

Nevertheless, we get through the fight mostly unscathed (well… except for Mister Peepers, but as usual, it’s his own damn fault) and move on up the tower. Next up it’s a library, where we come across the ghost of Diggen Thrune himself. Here we get a copious lore dump and get the endgame (and reward) spelled out for us. Diggen made a deal with a devil – LITERALLY – to ensure his military success, but now the devil controls the Pathfinder Lodge and Diggen can’t escape unless we set him free by beating the devil. We also find a bag with the deed to Diggen’s Rest itself, and a letter which serves as (I assume) a lore dump for the larger mystery of the season. (For those who don’t know, when it comes to Society play, most of the adventures are one-offs, but there does tend to be an overarching theme and a few of the adventures tackle that directly. I think the mentions of the keys and the door probably come back to that at some point down the road. But for today, it’s beat the devil to win the rights to own this place.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show… especially now that you’ve got Steve specifically asking for your feedback! Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|14: Whose Initiative Is It Anyway?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|14: Spiders and Wine.

I have to start this week with a mild self-correction – I misunderstood a piece of the action last week. I thought it was clergy from the church that was being held in the barn and not the farmers. Somewhere in there, the action switched from talking to the farmer to talking to the priest, and I missed the change-over. Or maybe I thought “Hawfton” was some sort of obscure religious title. So if I sounded a little confused last week… well, I suppose I was. Don’t worry. Steve slapped me around a little and I’m back on the same page.

On to this week.

As I was listening to this week’s episode, I got a very “letting their hair down” vibe from it. (Except Rob T., who unless he’s really let things go during social distancing, doesn’t have hair at all.) What I mean is that this group commits to the roleplaying so well, that it’s odd (but enjoyable) when they just kinda goof off and act like a more casual party. And I have to admit I kinda liked it.

The most notable instance was everyone coming up with ways to deny Loren/Hap the magic item that would be perfect for her character (the dancing scarf thingy). That’s the sort of razzing that was old hat for our Black Lodge group but we haven’t heard nearly as much of on this side of the house. Particularly the extra twist of the knife of giving it to the bear; that was pretty inspired.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I DISLIKE the roleplay or that I want this show to turn into Open Mic Night at H.P. McChuckles. What they’re doing is great and I’m enjoying it a lot. But it’s still nice to step outside the characters every once in a while and enjoy the people behind them and their senses of humor as well. Even in a more RP-heavy setting, that’s an integral part of what this hobby offers… that camaraderie of the gaming table. Perhaps sometimes on the Black Lodge side, we’re a little TOO much the class clowns, but it’s good to keep that part somewhere in the picture.

I assume Steve’s “GM/PC tip about NPCs not just going along with player requests” was mostly regarding Alhara’s attempt to get the gang of town ruffians to join in her exercise regimen. I don’t GM a lot, but I’ll throw my two cents in on this one anyway. (Blame Steve for giving me a column.) It’s an interesting push-pull at work. On one hand, one wants to encourage player participation, and saying “yes” to their ideas is a good way to do that. On the other hand, one of the ingredients in building an immersive setting is creating NPCs that feel like real people and react in reasonable ways. I suppose it also matters logistically how far “off course” saying yes would take you – indulging someone for 5 or 10 minutes is a different thing than derailing an entire session. Adjacent to that, there’s also inter-party dynamics to consider – is there a way to keep the entire party engaged, or is it one player’s personal joyride?

I know you’ll get people who subscribe to that whole “yes, and…” school of improv thought; that you should basically err on the side of agreeing to requests no matter how “out there”. For the most part, I’m not of that school. YES, sometimes being the GM means sidelining the main story for a few minutes to let the players indulge a little, but sometimes it’s also about knowing when to NOT do that. Sometimes the more satisfying state for the party as a whole is to stay on the main story and get to The Next Thing. The one exception was my Dads-N-Kids game (currently suspended because of social distancing) – when we were teaching the kids the game, we tended to say yes to most of their ideas, even if they would be questionable in a more by-the-book campaign. (But we also said yes to killing off their characters if they did something REALLY stupid, because if not… how will you learn?)

Having said all that, I would’ve said yes to Vanessa’s plan, but combined the obstacle course/exercise and the drinking. Have everyone do shots and then go run Alhara’s obstacle course loaded: make the DC checks get progressively harder… possibly taking some non-lethal damage in the process… A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.

Eventually, we finally get back to the main investigation and head out to the Hawfton Mill where we have a battle with spiders in the garden. Two main things stand out to me. First, was Loren making the interesting roleplaying choice to have Hap friendly-fire Alhara with Burning Hands. Maybe it’s because our other group tends to play things “by the book (Mr. Saavik)” but I always get a kick out of people making suboptimal tactical choices because it would fit their character better. Sometimes I wish we could even take it a step further – have people occasionally misjudge the distance on their spells and not know where to perfectly lay down the burst heal or the cone damage – but that might make the game unplayable if you took it too far. The math is pretty delicately calibrated even before you throw in possible self-sabotage. The other thing that stood out to me was the party FINALLY getting some good luck on a saving throw with regards to the spider venom. Seriously, our band of adventurers has had such craptastic luck with status effects, I was assuming Rob would fail his save and they’d have to burn the antidote, so it was a nice surprise for that not to happen.

After some out-of-character dithering about whether to keep going or rest, the team continues their investigation into the mill building itself. We see some normal size wasps, which… after another bit of soul-searching about whether to retreat, burn them out with fire, or just see what happens… leads to our favorite BEEP-BEEP-BEEP noise and the end of the episode.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always 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 Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 3, Koboldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 3: Sewer Dragons.

It’s going to be a bit of a tough one to write this week because once again, we have an episode that’s basically one battle and a fairly easy one at that. I mean… it’s kobolds, which are pretty much THE definitive cannon-fodder RPG race. Especially now that Paizo went and made goblins into good guys. (grumble grumble)

So much like last week, this is a fight that looked like it might be tough for two seconds based on numbers (there were five or six of them), but once we started swinging weapons in earnest, they could rarely hit us and they didn’t have much in the way of hit points, so it never really felt like we were in much danger. Unless they got lucky with a crit, of course. Arguably Seth and John dragged it out longer with their varying brands of silliness – Seth trying to intimidate rather than trying to kill, and Peepers Being Peepers and almost falling into a pit in the process.

Speaking of which, I was glad we slowed down and got that ruling right on Grab An Edge because it seems like it would be a fairly useless action otherwise. Yeah, it also mitigates 20 feet of a longer fall, but the real value is not falling at all. Of course, you fall 80 or 100 feet before Grabbing an Edge, you’re probably still going to die (see also: Dirk The Daring on the falling platform area in Dragon’s Lair). The thing I found interesting is that you don’t technically have to have a hand free – you can use a weapon or other suitable object to stop your fall. (Also note, on a Critical fail, you take all the normal falling damage you would’ve taken AND also take additional bludgeoning damage – I guess in trying to grab the edge, you get hit by other rocks and outcroppings or something.)

I’ll admit it was also kind of funny that John failed the roll to climb back out and had to hero point it. It’s not exactly that I laugh at his misfortune… more like “it makes the battlefield more interesting when things like that happen”. Though OK, maybe just a little bit of schadenfreude based on the natural consequence of his playing Peepers the way he does – if he had just advanced on the kobolds instead of screwing around in the opposite corner of the room, that wouldn’t have happened in the first place. PEEPERS!

As long as we’re on rules clarifications: somehow we made it all through Plaguestone without explicitly realizing that Detect Magic can exclude magic on the party members, so that’s a good thing to know too. I think we always kinda suspected it, but since we didn’t have a lot of magic items in that campaign (other than potions), it never explicitly came up. Note that this doesn’t change the dynamics of the “Celes Maneuver” – Detect Magic still doesn’t pinpoint the magic item and you still have to search the area, so creeping up on it in 5-foot increments is still a valid way to narrow things down. But the silliness of having to move your party-mates to the other side of the room can go away.

Unless, of course, your party-mates are holding out and carrying magic items on them that they’re not disclosing to the rest of the party. Note to self: for anything-goes paranoid campaigns, use Detect Magic on the rogue periodically – if they stole something you don’t know about, it would set off the spell. Theoretically. (Of course, in Society play, nobody should be doing that anyway because people can’t play evil characters and you don’t get to keep magic loot anyway.)

The other thing that stands out about this episode is the Clerks-reminiscent digression about whether the traditional RPG adventure party can truly call themselves “good guys” when they invade other creatures’ homes, kill them, and steal all their stuff. Now, at least for adventure paths, Paizo usually gets around this by having some prior evil act read into the record to set the stage. (Usually the murder of a dwarf.) So that by investigating the Bad Thing, you are already adopting the role of the Good Guys, and everything else just follows from that. On the other hand, a lot of these Society games tend to be for smaller stakes, so they don’t have that big Call To Action that establishes moral clarity. In this case… the skeletons are fair game because you always kill undead, but there’s no real evidence the kobolds are harming townsfolk – they’re just squatting on a piece of property that doesn’t belong to them. There aren’t that many fantasy blockbusters that revolve around landlord-tenant disputes. (Begins writing first-draft manuscript for Harry Potter And The Malevolent Homeowners’ Association.)

The one combat note here is we finally got our first real taste of the new, more powerful Level 2 Millicent and her Katana of Doom. The first battle went by a little quick, so we didn’t really get to see her shine. This time, we got Attacks of Opportunity, crazy damage – just a buzzsaw of death and destruction. I’m not gonna lie – it’s at least put it in the back of my brain to have Nella dip into fighter so she could also be a katana-wielding badass. Though doing a quick scan of the archetype rules, it looks like I wouldn’t be able to get Attacks of Opportunity until Level 4. And you can’t apply Shillelagh to a katana… so, maybe not.

The exploration continues, we make our way up to the next level of the tower, and we draw to a close facing a bit of a puzzle chamber – magic runes of different colors all over the floor leading up to the next level. I mean… “don’t step on the runes” seems like a fairly obvious plan, doesn’t it? NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS WHEN YOU STEP ON MAGIC RUNES. But we’ll have to wait until next week to see how that all unfolds. While waiting for next week, 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.