Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: A Starfinder Actual Play Podcast

Talking Combat 022: Fear The Walking Rusty

Starfinder Landscape

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 022: Boots On The Ground.

This week’s Talking is going to run a little long, and there’s a story behind that. So if you’ll indulge a brief “how the sausage gets made” interlude, I’ll explain. (Feel free to read this in the spirit of “isn’t that funny?” rather than groveling in apology.)

The discerning fan of the podcast might have noticed a glitch in the Matrix this week, as some of the write-up stuff has been… off.

Steve usually gives me the rough cut of the podcast to use to write a first draft of Talking. That’s also when I come up with episode titles and text blurbs for the postings on social media. Then I go back and listen to the final cut and clean up Talking – sometimes I listen to the whole thing again, sometimes I just skim the pre or post-session commentary Steve adds to the final. But with last week and this week, we had a bit of a foul-up:

1) Steve originally gave me last week’s episode as two separate episodes. Let’s call them 21A (the bulk of Driftdead fight and start of zombie fight) and 21B (end of zombie fight, a lot of complaining about healing, finding the alien complex, and meeting the security robot). He then later made those into a single episode and made a new 22 (robot fight, Rusty’s transformation, the Sunrise Maiden stuff), but I somehow didn’t get the memo.

2) I also happened to get crunched for time this week and didn’t listen to the final cut of 21/thought 21B was 22 and didn’t catch the changes.

3) Not to air Steve’s business in the public square, but he’s been out of town, so he didn’t catch my mistake because he had other stuff to do. Basically, he noticed it when I sent this week’s Talking and he texted me back to ask why it didn’t have any current content in it.

So the gist of all of this? Last week’s Talking and the accompanying text blurbs for “Screw You, Isaac Newton!” pretty much ignore about half of the episode. And this week’s text blurb for “Boots On The Ground” mostly talks about the stuff that happens in the recap/first five minutes – no robot fight, no commentary on Rusty’s transformation, none of the Sunrise Maiden stuff. It passed a sniff test because we DID talk about those things in the first few minutes, but it would be like presenting the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy as the story of Bilbo’s birthday party.

We’ve since caught it, so this week’s Talking will be correct, though it’s going to be a little long since I wanted to dip back into a few points from 21 that I missed last week. Deep down, I’m just disappointed I didn’t get to use the title “THAT’S NO DRIFT ROCK, THAT’S A SPACE STATION”, which fit a lot better when initially entering the alien complex was the highlight of 21B.

OK, interlude over. Robot fight in 3… 2… 1…

FINALLY. We finally get a combat where things go mostly the way they’re supposed to, we don’t take a ton of damage, and Mo and Hirogi have nothing to complain about.

Up until now, you may have noticed two basic themes:

    • Healing potions suck.
    • Bad guys pretty much never miss.

I think the secret of this week’s fight was not so much that the sentry hit less, but its weapon spread the damage out a little more, so no one person took too much damage. The last few fights were “Mo gets punched repeatedly and almost dies”; this one was “everyone gets a little paint scraped off the fender” which only eats into stamina. But more generally, let’s talk about those two points a little.

Looking at healing, I don’t think potions themselves are any worse than in Pathfinder – if you compare a Healing Serum I and a potion of Cure Light Wounds, you’re really just losing that +1… so your disappointing 1’s stay 1’s instead of becoming disappointing 2’s. I think the real problem is one of economics, and specifically, that we’re lacking the Starfinder equivalent of the healing wand as the source of cheap after-combat heals. In Pathfinder, it’s pretty much become standard operating procedure to buy a wand of cure light wounds out of party loot as soon as you can afford it – you get 50 heals for a couple hundred gold. Meanwhile, I don’t immediately see an analog in Pathfinder, and we don’t really have the money or inventory capacity to just throw 100 potions at the problem. (If I’m missing something obvious in the Gear section of the rulebook, feel free to correct me.)

As far as “creatures never miss”… it hasn’t bothered me personally because I’m supposed to be kind of squishy and have crap armor, but I can understand the frustration of the guys who have to get up on the front line and take the hits. Though I will say that even if the math checks out and you win the fights, it’s a little off on a “feel” level. It’s a little weird to be the hero of the story and you whiff three times in a row while the Level 1 Space Sloths that should represent an “easy” fight keep punching you in the face.

On the other hand…

The first thing to consider is that between HP and Stamina, we simply have a larger pool of points, and the first half of them represent temporary damage that only kinda-sorta counts. I assume if Mechanic were a Pathfinder class it might have a d8 for hit dice. So I’d have 8 HP at 1st level, 5 at 2nd, plus 1 per level for CON = 15 hit points, whereas I have 27 in Starfinder. So we’re built to take an extra hit or two. (If you think about it, CHDRR’s flat 10 HP per level follows a more Pathfinder-y progression.) I didn’t bother running the numbers for the other guys, but I assume it’s a similar story.

There’s also some truth to the fact that we might be lagging a bit equipment-wise since we’ve never really upgraded our starter gear. (Certainly not our armor – we did find a few guns along the way.) It feels like at a similar point in a Pathfinder campaign, we might have gotten some upgrades, maybe a few magic items by now. I looked ahead and started looking at upgrades for my base armor, and even a jump from an Estex Suit I to an Estex Suit II would be +4 to both EAC and KAC… that’s an extra 20% miss chance as soon as we can make it back to civilization and cash out.

Once the fighting was done, our attention turned to Rusty, and his transformation. Steve and Bob have both been dropping hints, but yep… Rusty’s turning undead. Let’s be honest: ever since I listened to that interview with Erik Mona, I knew Steve would find a way to work this in – there are certain things, particularly when it comes to gaming, where Steve doesn’t have much of a poker face. I have to admit I thought Chris would be the guinea pig since he seemed to be the one who was most excited about the idea when we first kicked it around back in one of those earliest episodes. (Didn’t he threaten to kill off his character specifically so he could re-roll?)

I suppose the real questions are A) is this a done deal or can it be reversed? and B) would Bob even WANT to undo it, because he seemed like he was enjoying the idea as well. Maybe not as much as Steve, but he definitely didn’t seem all that alarmed at the prospect. On a personal level, I’m still wrapping my brain around the idea that undead aren’t kill-on-sight, now we’re going to potentially have one as a party member? (shudder)

Plot-wise, we get our next big chunk of information, even if it’s 80 years old. We learn that an explorer and her ship arrived here and were attacked by some creature and that she had to hole up in this room. When her defenses ran out, she decided to kill herself rather than get eaten and became the Driftdead we fought a few episodes back. It would’ve made a hell of a video game cut-scene.

The main takeaways:

1) There’s a ship out here somewhere so we now have a potential way out of here, even if Nor doesn’t send the Hippocampus back. On the other hand, it’s an 80-year-old ship, so will it be in working condition, or will we have to do some repairs? (In the back of my brain, I’d been wondering if maybe the Drift Rock itself was a ship hidden inside the rock and that we’d find a bridge. This works too.)

2) That ship now belongs to us because of Interstellar Maritime Law or Pirates’ Code or whatnot. So that’s the big prize of this adventure – a real ship to call our own! Well, that’s assuming Steve was joking about the Starfinder Society deciding they own it. If they try to claim it as theirs and lend it out to us ala The Three Detectives, I’m going to hit the roof.

3) Let’s just assume it’s going to be guarded by something nastier than a Driftdead. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s Big Nasty Alien Critters surviving 80 years because That’s How They Do.

4) Extra credit: at first glance, this feels unrelated to the akatas. There’s not really any evidence the crew of the Arceon made it this far into the facility, and there’s the 80-year timegap to consider. I’m thinking the akatas are just something else the Drift Rock picked up in its journey over the last century – an added layer of defenses if you will. On the other hand, I could be totally wrong and it could be like the end of Aliens where the ship is guarded by an Akata Queen and hundreds of akata eggs that all start hatching as we try to tiptoe on board. WON’T THAT BE FUN?

So anyhow, I’m already running long, but I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about Steve’s postgame chat about playstyles.

I think Steve’s got a fair point that I’m not as “hard rules” as the rest of the group, but it’s a little more nuanced than that. I think I’m “hard rules, with concessions to patience”. We generally only get 3 hours a week to play, so I want to make the most of that time. So if someone’s about to live or die based on a rules decision, by all means, take time to crack the books and get it right. If it’s Round 3 of a fight that’s going to take all session anyway, let’s cap the discussion about whether poison gas flows around a hard corner at 5 minutes, let Steve make a call, and just play. If it turns out he’s wrong, he can always make it up to us later by fudging something in our favor. In short, the rest of the team is the NHL regular season; I’m the NHL playoffs – I put the whistle in the pocket on the little stuff, but still call the big things.

May dads-n-kids game is firmly in Style 2 because the kids are still learning the game – we make a few things like encumbrance and spell management a little easier for the sake of keeping them interested. They won’t ever become players if they get bored with the bookkeeping – we’ll ease into that as they get older. However, we do point out when we’re changing a rule so that they’ll know “this is a house rule and it might not be this way if you play at someone else’s table”.

I’ll just say it right now… other than as an experiment, I would never play the “Auteur GM” style. If your story is so important that you can’t have those pesky players actually controlling their own actions, just write a damn novel and be done with it.

So next time, we probably have a ship… if we have the firepower and healing potions to reach it. Can we pull it off? Come back next week and see what happens. I promise the space-time continuum between the podcasts and the write-ups will be fully realigned by then.

Talking Combat 021: Gob-Stopper

death-head

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 021: Screw You, Isaac Newton!.

Zerky Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…

Well, we lost the first member of our extended entourage early in this combat as the Driftdead unloaded a crit on poor Zerk. One-hit kill, nothing to be done about it. I have to admit to a bit of mixed emotions, but on the whole, yeah I’m a little down about that.

OK, Zerk and Torsa tend to be a little stupid and got underfoot a lot. You know… as goblins do. On the other hand, they were responsible for the CHDRR rebuild, and they seemed to generally hold Tuttle in high regard. I actually had my own NPC fan club, even if their loyalties were a little fluid. And credit due, the few fights they got in, they were pretty brave, jumping right into the thick of the action.

(coughmorethanRustycough)

Sorry… did you hear something? Must’ve been the wind.

Other than Zerk dying (how’d you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?), I have to admit the Driftdead fight wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When the battle first started, I actually thought we were in Big Bad territory, especially when he phased through the wall. But then, that “next level” of nasty never really came together; we started putting some damage on it, and it dropped faster than I would’ve thought. Even that void ability it used on Rusty sounded far more dramatic than the 3 points of damage it ended up doing.

And OK, fine. Looks like Hirogi made the right call giving Clara’s guns back to her. (Please don’t tell him I said that.) She did some substantial damage, and I shudder to think what it might have been like throwing guns across the cavern while that fight was happening. I suppose Hirogi could’ve used his telekinesis to deal with that, though I don’t know how that works in combat.

So the exploration continues. And then we get some good news… a door. This has to be the payoff, doesn’t it? I assume the ultimate mystery of this place lies behind that door. Is it something the miners built or something they found? Could there be survivors in there? Further explanation of what happened here? Good questions, but before we find out we have to fight off a few more of the dead akata-zombiefied crew, including the captain.

I have to admit: my initial reaction was indifference. The previous one of these we fought died in… was it two rounds… maybe three, max? I remember it being pretty quick. OK, so there’s two of them this time. Big deal.

And then… one of the two just cannonballs right into us, and we realize the downside of packing everyone in close together. Welcome to Dr. Julius Sumner Miller’s Dramatic Demonstrations In Physics! Bowling pins. Shooting pool. Lottery balls. We’re one Brownian motion reference away from exhausting our arsenal of metaphors.

Now, from a game mechanics standpoint, it looks worse than it is, which is why we could afford to laugh about it at first. Off-kilter is still only a -2 – not a game-changing penalty – and not everyone was affected. So maybe this fight goes a round or two longer than it was going to.

But then Mo gets hit and takes strength damage, and OK… that’s bad. Especially if it’s a long-term/permanent effect. Now, as you can hear me theorizing, if this is like Pathfinder, the fact that there wasn’t a save probably means it’s a short-duration effect – they usually give you a save for the really heinous stuff – but we don’t know for sure. If it’s like the akata fever and lingers, I don’t know what tools we have to deal with that. Even if we manage to get through this battle, I don’t think we want Mo in a degraded state in a real fight.

And that’s kind of where we leave it. The battle still feels like it’s in our control, but with just a shadow of a question mark hanging over things. So what happens next week? Is Mo doomed to the same fate Rusty faced a few weeks ago? What do you think is behind the door? If that Driftdead wasn’t the big bad guy, who’s still waiting for us? And eventually… how the heck do we get out of here with no ship? Feel free to stop by on social media and let us know what you think.

Talking Combat 020: Major Uncool, Babe

space-fishing

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 020: Mo Dupinsky: Fishin’ Reptilian.

Full disclosure, this is going to be a short one this week. Real life intrudes. Nothing bad, no links to a GoFundMe to buy me a new pancreas, just generally busy. (If you want to assume I’m secretly Elon Musk and “busy” is code-speak for “launching my car into space”… well, I won’t discourage that sort of thinking.)

We start this week with the tail end of last week’s dysfunction. I don’t want to write an entire “second verse, same as the first” piece about it, but the new development is that Chris went behind our back and used his various operative tricks (telepathy, slight-of-hand, weasel-y nature) to give Clara-247’s guns back to her.

To quote a particularly bad episode of Miami Vice, “Major uncool, babe”. DON JOHNSON, MASTER THESPIAN!

The decision itself isn’t what bothered me – as the podcast starts, you can actually hear both John and me coming around to Chris’ point of view anyway. (For me, the episode where she threw her gun away to spite us made me think trying to toss weapons back and forth in zero-G while in combat could get stupid real quick.) It’s the whole “I’m going to do whatever I want” attitude, particularly combined with the “you don’t respect me”, like his decision to buck the party is somehow our fault.

I can handle adversarial (evil, contrarian, uncooperative… pick your adjective) play if it’s part of a character concept or if it serves the story. Siding with an NPC over the party to get better loot, or to indulge some sort of alpha-dog contest about who’s in charge of the group? If I want that sort of thing, I can get it in abundance in WoW. But rather than sit here and vomit out another 500 words of Hirogi-Shaming, let me give you a couple examples of adversarial play that were done well.

The first was from this group’s Iron Gods campaign, that we were playing before we started into Starfinder. Bob created a sorcerer who was an entity generated by some sort of alien technology; basically, he was “born” as the campaign started. As such, Bob decided to play him with a learning curve for human interaction and tactical decision-making. Not quite as bad as Data at the end of Star Trek Nemesis, but kind of like that. Early on, he cast a sicken spell on ME just to see what would happen. At one point, even though he had a healing wand, he didn’t heal us because he interpreted Chris’ instruction of “heal us when we tell you to” literally and didn’t use the wand unless we explicitly said, “heal me”. Despite having high charisma, he was also fond of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in interactions with NPCs. So on the surface, he was “screwing with the party” but it was so well integrated into the character concept that you didn’t mind.

Similarly, in my dads-and-kids group, one of the dads (Dave) created a wizard who had a dysfunctional relationship with his not-totally-good familiar. So the continuing challenge was that the familiar would do low-level stuff to mess with the party – steal items, lie about one party member to another, at one point it turned invisible and started pulling the druid pet’s tail just to freak it out, etc. To his credit, Dave set some boundaries and played combat straight-up, so the familiar’s actions never got us killed, but it was a way to sprinkle in some adversarial roleplay without making things completely break down.

So in short, my ability to tolerate shenanigans is inversely proportional to how clever said shenanigans are, and “extra credits for ME” is pretty low on the list.

The other major thing this week was the “fishing expedition” involving using Tuttle as live bait to explore the rooms. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t play Tuttle as willing to put himself at risk, but he’s also not stupid – as the only person with darkvision (except the goblins… and we don’t want to be relying on them for intel) he was the logical choice for what amounted to a mapping expedition. And up to that point, we’d only run into a space zombie that was a fairly easy kill – I figured Tuttle could take a hit if I ran into another room with one of those. Was it Murphy’s Law that OF COURSE, he ran right into a more powerful creature than we’d encountered before? A bit. But those are the breaks – sending Hirogi into it blind and advertising his presence with a light source probably wouldn’t have gone any better.

The hit was painful, the confusion is annoying, but the thing I’m really dreading is that the captain has turned on the INCORPOREAL sign. Pathfinder has left me with an almost-pathological hatred of incorporeal creatures because Paizo seems to love throwing incorporeal creatures at low-level parties when they don’t have the tools to deal with them. The melee guys don’t have magic weapons yet, the casters only have a couple spells, so it tends to become a shitshow of whittling away 2 or 3 points at a time. It feels like it won’t be quite as bad in Starfinder because SF leans less on melee and more on energy weapons as a trope of science-fiction, but it’s probably still not going to be easy. We may see THE BUTTON before it’s all over.

Like I said, kind of quick one this week, which I apologize for. Feel free to join us on social media and let us know what you think.

Talking Combat 019: Dysfunction Junction

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 019: The Darkness Strikes Back.

I have to start this session with a bit of a confession, coupled with a shout-out to our listener community. We got an email from a listener named “Kaleb,” pointing out that as part of the “Moxie” racial ability, ysoki don’t suffer the -2 penalty and flat-footed conditions that come with being off-kilter. “I am wondering if the good doctor or Jason will remember that fact in the coming combat.”

Yeaaaaah…. About that….

I would love to sit here and say “I knew that,” but I have to admit I forgot. To my (partial) credit, I remembered the part about being able to stand up from prone as a swift action, but the off-kilter thing didn’t quite stick in my brain the same way.

The first takeaway is a tip of the cap to Kaleb for pointing it out. We do read your emails, and we appreciate the feedback, even if it’s to point out when we’re doing things wrong.

The second takeaway: since there’s a lag between when we record episodes and when you hear them, my ignorance of that particular rule is going to continue for a couple more sessions. What can you do? Welcome to the linear nature of time. (Though Tuttle has some interesting theories on that topic.)

Third takeaway: now that I’ve been set straight, you can fully expect some “Tuttle The Ysoki Pinball” hijinks once we burn off the episodes that are already in the can.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about this episode.

I’m going to be honest and talk a little bit about the elephant in the room. I have to admit this episode was frustrating to play because of all the chippiness within the group. You’ve got John getting frustrated at taking damage and feeling like no one was helping him (and I get it that the enemy doing an attack of opportunity and then immediately surrendering on her turn was a particular kick in the jimmies – kind of like a boxer punching after the bell). We had another instance of Chris doing his own thing, in this case going against the party to side with his new operative “friend.” You can hear Bob getting frustrated at the general indecisiveness and lack of forward motion, as well as people going back and asking questions already answered and re-litigating decisions we thought we’d already made. Me, I don’t know that I was mad at anyone or anything in particular, I just got kinda quiet and withdrawn – though I did clearly throw a little shade at John with the (paraphrasing) “if he’s busy drinking a potion, he won’t be complaining” line. It wasn’t our best night regarding group cohesion.

I think it was just one of those “perfect storm” things. We’ve certainly had combats that have gone worse – I would argue that the akata fights back on the Arceon were more of a cluster(fluff) than this one ended up being. Chris has always had a penchant for cutting free of the group and doing his own thing; it’s part of what he brings to the table, and there are times when it’s a lot of fun. Bob always tends to be the most organized one of us, and it’s not unusual for him to drag us back on task when we start to meander. In isolation, they were all normal behaviors and nothing out of the ordinary. But I think the key is it’s usually one or the other, not all three at once. I feel like it was the combination of all three in the same session that really made us struggle.

Please don’t read those previous paragraphs as “I’m beyond reproach, and they screwed up the session.” I’m sure I wasn’t at my best either, and if you ask them, they might have some valid frustrations with my play as well. I’m just not self-aware enough to pinpoint my own flaws, nor would I want to put words in their mouths.

I do think some of John’s frustration comes back to group composition and our lack of a traditional healer. Sure, it also hasn’t helped that his healing serum rolls have been terrible, but I think maybe when he built Mo, he was expecting more of a Pathfinder tank experience where someone else would be dedicated to keeping him upright. Or maybe this is a low-level thing and becomes less of an issue as we get access to more powerful technology – better armor and upgrading to the next tier of healing potions might help a lot. I do have to agree it’s a little frustrating how rarely enemies seem to miss in this game.

Chris being Chris… it’s just how it is. Sometimes I think he just enjoys being contrary for the sake of seeing where it leads. Though I will say, going back and listening to the episode later, it did seem like Steve was trying to gently steer us toward accepting her help, so maybe Chris was on the right track wanting to let her keep her weapons. I was trying to take a middle path on that one – I saw value to reaching some sort of truce with her and not treating her completely as a prisoner, but I also wasn’t crazy about giving a weapon to someone who already tried to kill us twice unless it was absolutely necessary.

As an aside: going back and thinking about the timeline, it’s a little goofy. Since she was the pilot of the ship we fought on our original trip out here, and we spent several DAYS dealing with Rusty’s space rabies, that implies she was hanging out on the Drift Rock all that time? I realize androids can survive in a vacuum but still, that seems like kind of a long time to just hang out. No wonder she was cranky.

Bob’s the one I fault the least – over the years our dynamic has just kind of settled into a place where Bob does the Adulting for the group, taking notes, keeping an eye on the clock, etc. It’s a thankless job, and we sometimes don’t make it easy for him. I’ll admit even I got annoyed when… Chris, I think… asked the same question that Steve had LITERALLY just answered two minutes earlier.

One listener on our Discord channel called it a “fight,” I admit things got a little testy, but I wouldn’t go that far. I’ve been in gaming groups where the game literally came crashing to a halt, and people stopped talking to each other for a few days. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where punches were thrown, but I had a lifelong friend swearing a blue streak at me for like five solid minutes because he felt it was my fault his character died in one of our campaigns. This was just a little bit of releasing the ol’ pressure valve to blow off steam. At the risk of giving away spoilers, we’re all still on speaking terms.

The Unintentional Comedy moment of the evening went to my attempt to chuck the Downside Kings membership card into the middle of the battle. There was a method to my madness – since the ship itself was owned by the Hardscrabble Collective, I was thinking that perhaps she was a survivor of the original crew or an agent sent by that faction to see what happened, and that showing our alliance with the Kings might get her to stop shooting at us. (And if she was an Astral Extractions agent? Well, it’s not like she could shoot at us any more than she already was.) So it seemed like a good idea, but in execution, it turned into the scene in The Fifth Element where Bruce Willis tries to get the deaf guy to push the gun over to him, and he rolls over the completely useless billiard ball instead.  Go ahead and assume I waved and gave Mo a cheerful thumbs-up after doing it.

Of course, not sure how we got this far without talking about it, but this was also our first real exposure to zero-G combat, and… yeah, it’s pretty much going to suck. Well, Hirogi will probably be fine, but I’m hating life right about now. Basically, if you don’t have Acrobatics or Athletics as a trained skill, your choices seem to be “move so slow that you get shot to pieces before you ever get into melee range” or “bounce around like an idiot, turning your character’s likely death into a slapstick routine.” Is there a third choice? Neither CHDRR nor Tuttle is good at either one of those skills. Zero-G still doesn’t top incorporeal enemies as my Least Favorite Thing Ever, but when we get back to civilization, I’m clearly going to have to burn some credits on gravity boots or a jetpack or something.

Looking ahead, the merry band grows larger – we now have two goblins AND an android following us around – but we still haven’t really fully cracked the mystery of what happened to the remainder of the crew. Given the state of the guy we did find, it can’t be good, but hopefully, we’ll soon have some news to report. Also kinda hoping Nor offloads his goods and sends the damn ship back for us – I don’t relish the prospect of driving up to the gates in a ship that’s supposed to be in quarantine.

Anyhow, that’s it for this week. Feel free to drop us a line and let us know what you think. Maybe you have some thoughts on zero-G combat now that you’ve seen it in action, maybe you have an out-of-the-box idea for dealing with our new frenemy that we didn’t think of, or you’re welcome to share your own horror stories of that “nightmare” gaming session where everyone was ready to drop the gloves. We’d love to hear from you!

Talking Combat 018: Dude, Where’s My Starship?

Starfinder-The-Drift

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 018: Nuthin’ But a ‘Zero-G’ Thang.

As Paul Harvey says (and boy, I’m dating myself with that reference), “now you know the rest of the story” on CHDRR’s rebuild.

I talked an awful lot about CHDRR last week, so I want to be careful about not just regurgitating last week’s column. After all, we do have other things to discuss and I don’t want to get obsessive about it. But now that we’ve had the reveal of his character sheet (well, part of it, anyway), we’ve got actual details, and… he’s awesome, right? I mean, he’s not game-breakingly powerful, but he’s got some fun new stuff to play with. The tactical razor-bat and junk cannon feel more like incremental upgrades – same basic damage, they just have a cooler crit now – but the chainsaw wings definitely seem useful, and darkvision will probably be handy at some point. Though if you’re going to ask me how CHDRR gets a vision upgrade from goblin ears… you’ve got me stumped on that one.

And then there’s THE BUTTON. Obviously Steve didn’t give me/us much new information in order to preserve the surprise but there’s one thing that can be meta-gamed out of the details we did get: if it can be used multiple times per day (up to INT modifier), that PROBABLY means the effects are smaller in scale – I would think something with BIG swings in outcomes would be a once-per-day thing. So I don’t feel like THE BUTTON is going to be some 10d6 portable supernova or anything. Glass half full, that probably also means a lower chance of wiping the party. I still think I want to be cautious with it, though. Given my luck with grenades, I’m sure that if there’s one disastrous outcome, I’ll find a way to roll it.

At any rate, back to game action, and we’re leaving the ship and heading to the Drift Rock, and our biggest challenges of this episode are environmental.

First, darkness. For once, in a refreshing change of pace, it’s not actually a problem for me since I have darkvision. To give a little bit of history, I tend to run humans or half-elves (Announcer: “Half-Elf – for when you want to be generically exotic, but don’t want to put a lot of effort into your character concept.”) so I’ve traditionally been the one bumbling around blind. It’s kind of nice to be the one that can actually see this time. Well, me and the goblins, anyway.

Zero-G on the other hand… yeah, that’s going to be a pain. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the idea from the standpoint of embracing what’s different about a sci-fi setting. Yes, there are environmental combat rules in Pathfinder/old-school D&D/etc. but they tend to not get used very often. Last time I remember doing anything like that was an underwater combat session, like…. 2, 3 years ago?

In terms of actually gaming in this environment? Ugh. This is gonna suuuuuuuuck. No guarded steps. Movement is pretty much “go in a straight line until you hit something”. And if you do hit something, straightening yourself out is based on a skill Tuttle isn’t particularly good at. And we‘re too low-level (cough-and-poor-cough) to have any sort of equipment solution, though maybe we might find something as loot. Maybe the remaining Arceon crew out on the Drift Rock have grav-boots or something like that. Just as long as they don’t have feet smaller than my sister. (Never a wrong time for a Die Hard reference.)

And ohbytheway, at least for the moment, we don’t have a ship anymore. Bye-bye Hippocampus! I’d been fixating so much on the goblins, I didn’t stop to consider the far more likely possibility that Gevalarsk Nor had some sort of auto-pilot that would return the ship to Absalom once he got his stuff. (At least I assume that’s what happened.) Should’ve done a computers check, I guess. I suppose there’s a small chance that the crate itself contained a stowaway (any chance it’s a young Famke Janssen?) and that person stole our ship, but even that would still just be a variation on the “Nor screwed us over” theme.

I’m annoyed we got caught with our pants down, and a little worried I might have to eat a little bit of “we were right” crow from Rusty and Mo about not opening the crate. Losing the ship itself doesn’t bother me that much… yet. For one thing, even if it is Nor, maybe he’s going to send the ship back after offloading the crate. I’m willing to hold out hope that he’s a net-positive guy but REALLY wants/needs the contents of the crate. There’s also the option of calling the Starfinder Society and seeing if they could arrange extraction — like… a space Uber or something. And if push really comes to shove, we have the Arceon itself – we’d have to break quarantine, we might have to cut it loose from the Drift Rock… but at some point, if it’s a choice between starving to death in space or racking up a few fines, I’ll take the fines. For the moment, I’m actually more worried that all our loot was on that ship – I had most of my gear on me, but we’ll be out an awful lot of Dog Metal Nuggets if we don’t get it back.

So no ship, no gravity, no light, dead Arceon crew members… and we end the episode with the ever-popular sound of combat. I guess next week we see how this zero-G stuff works when the bullets start flying. In the meantime, feel free to visit us on social media and let us know what you think about the adventure so far.

Talking Combat 017: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Your Weirder

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Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 017: He’s Only Mostly Dead.

So… CHDRR got his upgrades, and this is shaping up to be well worth breaking character.

In particular… THE BUTTON. (Yes, I’m going to use all-caps every time I say it.)

Color me intrigued, but with some hesitation. It sounds like it could do some really cool things (our goblin friends specifically mentioned explosions and acid breath), but I have to believe that it’s also meant as a device of last resort. Not to be too meta-gamey, but I assume if it JUST did good things, it would be too overpowered, so it probably does some bad things too. Also… these goblins don’t seem like the sharpest knives in the drawer, so even from a roleplay standpoint, it wouldn’t be surprising if there are a few bugs in the system.

So as much curiosity is gnawing at me to hit THE BUTTON the first time we enter combat, I don’t want to either kill CHDRR and force a 24-hour rebuild or accidentally wipe the party. You know what they say – “curiosity kills the party”. So it’s killing me to say it, but I’ll have to save THE BUTTON for the rainiest of rainy days. Just know that I want to see what it does just as badly as you do, and I’ll be looking for the right moment.

And yes, I was actually half-serious about keeping it in my cheek pouch and using it like a cyanide capsule.

But hey, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, even without THE BUTTON, we’ve also got chainsaw wings and an extra-spikey bat for a melee weapon! (Does this mean CHDRR now has a Negan Subroutine and is going to start swearing a lot more? Even if not, I might have to roleplay it that way.) I don’t know yet what those translate to damage-wise, but they certainly sound impressive. Some of the other stuff is a little more ambiguous — not sure if the “Murgle parts” or the “laser eye” are going to have any real effect, or if that’s just John adding flavor/aesthetics to his roleplay.

The other major plotline of this particular episode was Rusty’s ongoing battle with Space Rabies. I’m not going to belabor the point about disease… it sucks. I’m more interested in the broader gaming questions raised by the situation.

Being candid, the Eoxian healing packs felt a little bit like Steve throwing us a bit of a life-line, so Rusty didn’t die. I somehow doubt the adventure was written that way, and it felt pretty ad-libbed. (If that WAS in the adventure, that’s some pretty impressive contingency planning on Paizo’s part.)

The first question is a more philosophical “should he have done that, or should he have potentially let Rusty die?” and I think I’m OK with Steve’s choice. Here’s my attitude both as a player and occasional GM. I don’t like giving or accepting outright freebies – it robs the players of achievement and cheapens the experience. On the other hand, it’s an interactive story, and sometimes the GM’s job is to serve the story, not the dice. Hand-in-hand with that, I don’t think the GM is responsible for bailing the players out of their own stupidity, but I sometimes think when the players are making the right calls, and the rolls just go wrong, the GM can serve the greater good by offering at least a CHANCE at Door #2… if he can do it in a way that serves the story well.

But that brings up the second question – “what’s it going to cost us?” Knowing Steve, I know that if he DID throw us a life-line, there’s going to be a price to pay. As with CHDRR’s mods, when you get any sort of special boon, there’s going to be some sort of negative to balance the ledger. Reward and risk go hand in hand. Gotta pay the iron price. So I find myself thinking that either the “cost” of the packs will be some sort of additional questing, or that there might be some side effects and Rusty might end up not-fully-human after all is said and done. (Given Steve’s obvious enthusiasm for turning someone undead in his interview with Erik Mona a few weeks back, I think we all know what the answer is going to be. Cue RustyZombie in 3… 2… 1…)

Those were the big themes about the episode, but I also had a couple of smaller things to touch on.

First, I was surprised just how paranoid Hirogi was about the goblins. I mean, they’re goblins. They’re just about the definition of cannon fodder, to begin with, we disarmed them… how much trouble could they really be? I suppose some of that is reflective of how beat up we were, and maybe there are some “goblins are bad guys in Pathfinder” mental residue in his thinking, but I thought he was being unreasonably cautious. I DO think we want to make sure they don’t steal our ship or Gevalarsk’s crate or anything like that (which is why I suggested locking out access to the bridge), but locking them in a room like prisoners seemed excessive. Then again, maybe I’m biased. Because “chainsaw wings”.

The debate about opening Nor’s package continues, and we’re still without resolution. I’m sticking with my guns on this one – while, yes, there’s a chance we’re getting played, we’re supposed to be representing ourselves as professionals, and how would professional couriers in the real world handle it? FedEx might take reasonable precautions (X-ray your package), but they wouldn’t actually open it and examine the contents. It just feels like we should do the same unless there was compelling evidence that the package had been tampered with. A side data point is that we’ve generally been siding with the Hardscrabble Collective, and if the HC guys were OK having this cargo on their ship, we probably ought to be OK with it too.

My last point is not even a gaming observation, but a life observation. Ever say something that sounded completely logical to you, right up until the point when someone says it back to you, at which point it sounds like the stupidest idea in the world? Yeeeeeah…. that was my conversation with Gevarlarsk Nor. “So, we’re on a ship under quarantine where most of the crew probably died, two of our people contracted the same illness that probably killed the crew, and we’d like to bring them back to home-base – KNOWING THEY’RE INFECTED – for treatment.” Yeah, I’m an idiot sometimes.

So this episode was a bit transitional – getting Rusty, CHDRR, and Mo (to a lesser extent) back in fighting shape; checking in with the homefront. Next week, we begin actually to lay out our next steps, and – at the risk of throwing you a spoiler – we actually get to see the full extent of John Compton’s madness with the reveal of CHDRR’s new character sheet. If you’re a CHDRR fan, you’re gonna want to catch that one.

Talking Combat 016: Say Yes To The Stress

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Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 016: Straight Outta (John) Compton.

I want to spend most of my time talking about John Compton’s brief-but-memorable stint playing the Goblin-Twins, Zan and Jayna… oh wait, Lursk and Torsa. But I did want to pull out one brief section from the “interview” portion of the show – the thread about evil characters.

I absolutely agree with John’s take – I think evil can be done well in the hands of experienced, capable players. I had a Top Secret game in my non-Steve gaming life where one of our guys played a double agent with a completely different agenda from the rest of the team, and it was really cool. But in the hands of novices, it reminds me a lot of the Monty Python “Argument Sketch” – you’re not being evil, you’re just contradicting. (Chorus: NO I’M NOT!)

“I’m going to steal all the loot.”

“I insult the duke who’s supposed to be giving us the quest.”

“The whole party says they want to open the door on the left, I’ll open the one on the right.”

There’s no compelling reason or character motivation for it. The evil character isn’t doing it to advance any sort of plan or agenda. They’re basically just peeing in the punchbowl because… “I’m EEEEEEEEVIL!” (feel free to imaging shining a flashlight under your chin to appear more ominous when saying it). At that point, it becomes one player putting his or her fun in front of everyone else’s, and it can end up wasting everyone’s time. Full disclosure: this was my too-cool-for-it daughter, the one time she agreed to sit down and play with us, so I know this pain all too well.

But let’s get to Dr. Compton’s Roleplaying 101. That was unexpected. Fun, certainly. But unexpected.

Steve had mentioned before the episode that we’d be having a special guest – he doesn’t necessarily tell us who it is or what they’ll be doing, but he wants us to put pants on and use our inside voices when we have guests. And based on the fact that there weren’t really any other NPCs around, the fact that John Compton would be playing the goblins wasn’t too hard to piece together.

But dammmmn John dialed it up to 11 with the roleplaying, didn’t he? I don’t know if you can tell from the podcast, but on a couple of occasions, I was legitimately flustered and at a loss for words. That did NOT go as expected. In a good way.

I will concede that part of it is I’m just not that heavy of a roleplayer. I come up with a general backstory and an idea of how my character will think and react to situations, and I try to color inside the lines when making decisions, but I have to admit I don’t really get deep into “being” Tuttle. In short – no voices. But after “watching” John’s performance, I’m kind of inspired to up my roleplaying game.

What was really impressive to me is that that he squeezed so much out of what ought to have been two fairly minor characters. You hear “goblins”, and you figure they’re fairly cannon-fodder-y and aren’t going to have any real weight to them – they’re basically something there to fight or negotiate with and move on to the next thing. Somehow John managed to bring them to life in a way I would never have expected.

The other reason I was a little flustered was the central dilemma of the session: whether to let the goblins “operate” on CHDRR or not.

You see, from a fully logical roleplaying standpoint, I recognized it was the “wrong” roleplaying choice to let the goblins help reassemble CHDRR. I’ve been portraying Tuttle as both protective of his technology and aloof toward people he holds as lesser than himself. If Tuttle is going to “collaborate” with someone, it’s going to be other dudes in lab coats, not these guys. The idea that Tuttle would say “sure, go ahead, muck around in there” – in general, much less to a pair of goblins he never met before – strains credibility. “Defense will stipulate”, as the courtroom dramas are fond of saying.

So why did I say yes?

First, let me explain the inside joke about chainsaws. In our Iron Gods campaign, I play a warpriest (Ezrik) who worships Gorum – if you think “Klingon warrior”, you’re not too far off the mark. Qapla’! Since Iron Gods is a tech-flavored campaign (in some ways, it’s almost Starfinder’s father or sibling or disreputable uncle who spends all his time at the dog track), Ezrik picked up a chainsaw as his primary weapon somewhere in his travels. So when Steve mentions that I love chainsaws… he knows me, man!

But back to this campaign.

The first reason I said yes is purely selfish – it was a little bit gratifying to the ego to have one of the bigwigs at Paizo personally give my character a facelift. The idea that CHDRR gets to become to be this custom creation, unique within the Starfinder multiverse, and I get the keys? That’s pretty freakin’ cool. It may not be “Tuttle Blacktail Funko Pop!” levels of cool (someday…), but it’s definitely somewhere on the Continuum of Coolness. I’ll grant those bragging rights are totally useless in a gaming sense – to steal one of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, “bragging rights and an empty sack is worth the sack” – but I’m pretty intrigued to see where this goes.

The one gameplay reason I agreed to do it is that they said the magic word… literally and figuratively. Magic. The goblins did drop a few mentions of having magic powers – is one of them a mystic, maybe?  – and our team has NO access to magic at this time. So I thought maybe if their tinkerings gave us access to some magic abilities, maybe it was worth the risk to add something new to the toolbox.

But I think the most compelling reason is that sometimes you just have to say “yes” to the thing that’s going to create interesting story moments. Because at the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun, and even if it breaks character just a little bit, maybe the entertainment value is worth it.

Are the goblins going to make CHDRR turn on us? Will he blow up the first time Tuttle tries to issue commands? Will they make him extra-awesome and CHDRR will become the most valuable member of the party? (Some would say he already is.) These are much more interesting questions and may create more enduring story moments than just fighting the goblins or keeping them locked in the room they were in for the rest of the trip. If the price of admission to that particular carnival ride is that Tuttle has to break character and lean into implausible ideas about “exchanging knowledge” with goblins? So be it.

Also, there’s also the cowardly-but-true answer: if they REALLY screw CHDRR up, I assume I can probably go back and rebuild him to factory specs. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking that even as the word “sure” was leaving my mouth.

So join us next week when we find out what sort of Frankenstein creation the Goblin-Twins come up with, and we further unravel the mysteries of the Driftrock. Any items on your wishlist for CHDRR 3.0? Have any experiences with roleplaying “evil” players in your personal games? Want Lursk and Torsa to have their own show? (Not sure we can arrange that, but I understand the sentiment…) Feel free to give us a holler on social media and join the conversation.

Talking Combat 015: Natural 1 is the Loneliest Number

starfinder explosion

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 015: Take It To The Bridge.

What, oh what, should we talk about this week?

Oh, right. That. I guess we finally identified the space equivalent of being unable to hit water falling out of a boat.

I still think the general idea was a good one. The space dogs had taken a lot of damage, so it seemed like one lucky damage roll could’ve taken multiple enemies out. Meanwhile, Tuttle had only taken a few points of stamina damage, so even if the grenade hit for 5 or 6 damage, it wasn’t going to be a huge problem. And in one of life’s little ironies, I didn’t want to risk throwing the grenade and missing some of them. So I figured I’d take one for the team, but possibly have a little hero moment in the process.

(Aside: for the record, Tuttle is proficient in grenades. I’ve just been rolling like crap – a 1, a 2, a 5, and something like an 11 or 12 – and the fact that it’s STR rather than DEX-based doesn’t help matters.)

I did think about just holding the grenade in my hand, but I have to admit I was worried Steve might tack on extra damage – I was worried the difference between “near the blast” and “literally holding the thing in your hand” might have been an extra d6 of damage. Maybe I should’ve explicitly asked, but the flip side is that I didn’t want to put the idea in his head if it wasn’t already there.

So I figured I could just drop it, and… yeah, natural 1.

And that’s where we get into the theology portion of the discussion. Should I really have had to roll to literally drop something at my feet?

I have to admit that my initial reaction was that Steve was being a little unfair. I mean… come on. It’s literally opening your hand and dropping something. How hard is that? If you drop a weapon in the middle of a fight to switch weapons, you don’t have to roll to see if the gun goes off.

And let me be honest – I wasn’t totally sold by the “risk/reward” argument Steve was offering. I know the argument – if there’s a chance of a critical hit, there should be a chance of a critical fail… and OK, that makes some logical sense. But the flip side is: I associate combat rolls with something that requires extraordinary effort, and the possibility of a crit doesn’t make the action inherently difficult. And the “risk” Tuttle was assuming was that if the grenade DID score a crit, Tuttle would be caught in it too.

On the other hand (mentally, I always say this as Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof), the more compelling argument is to break down what a round of combat actually represents. It’s six seconds, and even though it’s taken in turns to make the game flow smoothly, the actual actions are happening semi-contemporaneously. So yeah, I can drop something… but that’s the first half-second. What happens in the other 5.5 seconds, while the the akatas and the other players are taking their turns and moving around? It’s not that hard to “what-if” something that fits – Tuttle drops the grenade, but one of the dogs makes an aggressive move that startles Tuttle; he tries to move out of the way and accidentally kicks the grenade back down the hall.

Also? Weird, fluky stuff happens in real life. If there can be YouTube videos of people flipping water bottles and landing them perfectly on tables, I guess you can drop a grenade and kick it backwards into your own team. I grant it doesn’t happen often – maybe 5%  is too high, and I should’ve lobbied for a roll to confirm the critical fail – but it does happen.

Besides, at the end of the day, we survived, and it was a fun story moment. If someone had died, I might have been singing a different tune.

Speaking of dying, the other major event was saying farewell to CHDRR 2.0. I have to admit losing CHDRR is easier the second time around. The first time, I was legitimately bummed out; this time, I’m starting to reach a comfort level with the idea that drones sometimes have to eat it for the greater good. That doesn’t mean I want to be careless with CHDRR 3 and beyond – I’ve become attached to the little guy. But if you look at the situation, there really wasn’t any other call – Mo was starting to take a lot of damage, CHDRR was the one party member who couldn’t get space rabies, so it was in all of our best interests to let CHDRR hang in there and take as many hits as possible. What are you gonna do? I just hope we’ll get an opportunity to rebuild him soon – I don’t relish the idea of tackling too many fights without him.

On the other hand, once we reach the bridge, we seem to be at a lull in the story anyway, so maybe it won’t be a problem. Yeah, we’ve got the goblins to deal with, but unless there have been remarkable advancements in goblin physiology since the Starfinder days, I have to think we can handle them even without CHDRR. Now that the ship is clear, do we go back to Absalom? Go somewhere else? I suspect the computer holds the clues, but it’ll take some better rolls to figure it out.

There’s already a lively discussion afoot on Discord about Tuttle’s defeat at the hands of… well… gravity, but if you’d like to talk about that or anything else in the episode, feel free to drop us a line. Next week, hopefully, we can crack the ship’s computer and figure out what to do about our uninvited guests.

Talking Christmas

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Santa Jason presents a very special edition of Talking Combat…

‘Twas the night before Christmas, on board the Hippocampus
The team had just returned from fighting a Space Krampus.
The stockings were hung by the airlock with care,
Hirogi’s was heavier… wait, that’s not fair!

The RFC team were nestled all snug in their beds,
Wondering why GM Steve so badly wanted them dead;
Tuttle in his lab coat, and CHDRR in the charger,
With some irradiated fungus, waiting to grow larger,

When suddenly the proximity alarm started to screech,
But Mo merely mumbled, “I’m trying to sleep.”
Tuttle went to the sensors to see what was up,
Grabbed the “space coffee” and poured a new cup.

The moon cast a fantastic glow on the bridge
So Tuttle adjusted the IR filters just a smidge,
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But a tiny space cruiser, pulled by eight… reindeer?

Tuttle thought to himself “that seems out of place,”
“Reindeer can’t survive the vacuum of space.”
But the driver’s next trick would really astound,
As he called to his reindeer, despite there being no sound.

‘Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!”
“On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONNER and BLITZEN!”
Tuttle thought: “one of humanity’s most puzzling features,
Was to give unique names to clearly identical creatures.”

Tuttle thought for a second about switching to guns.
Nine distinct targets? That might be kind of fun.
But then the sensors showed the presence of loot,
So Tuttle decided to wait and not shoot.

Then Tuttle heard an ominous CLANK on the hull,
And he briefly regretted not sending a distress call.
Transporters engaged with their tell-tale sound,
And some fat dude materialized… at least 300 pounds!

He was dressed in red, from his head to his foot,
But thanks to transporter malfunction, was covered in soot.
Tuttle switched off the safety with an audible click,
Pointed his pistol, and said, “let’s see those hands and no tricks.”

Santa paused for a moment, pipe clenched in his teeth,
He wasn’t used to being treated like a common thief.
He said, “Hold on, you’ve got the wrong idea, kid,
I’ve got some stuff for you, and I’ll overlook what you just did.”

Tuttle said: “Overlook what? CHDRR’s ready to pound,
For such a big drone, his speed will astound.
If you’ve got presents, I’m happy to take them,
If you’ve got some for the team, I’ll go and wake them.”

Santa thought for a sec, and said, “Let’s stay nice and silent,
That Mo’s got a temper, he’ll probably turn violent.
I’ve got treasure for you and I’m happy to give it,
But there’s no time to chat; there’s an armada to visit.”

So he put down his sack, and started his tasks;
Grenades, and guns, and healing serums, in flasks!
Lab gear for Tuttle, and what’s even better,
Several large crates, with new mods for CHDRR.

As soon as he finished, he gave quite a shout,
And used the ensuing confusion to beam back out.
Leaving one final gift standing in his place,
An EMP pulse, so the Hippo couldn’t give chase.

Santa’s ship unlatched; just like that, he was gone,
Except for the scrambled message that came over the comms;
“Merry Christmas, RFC, your antics were droll,
But next year, I think I’m giving you coal!”

Talking Combat 013: Live, Dogs, Repeat

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Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 013: Hair of the Dog.

This week, let’s talk about cannon fodder and The Slog.

I have to admit I struggled a little with what to write this week because if you look at the broad strokes of this week’s episode – explore the ship, fight space puppies, struggle with grenade-throwing… it’s pretty similar to last week’s episode. (Cue the Itchy and Scratchy theme music: “they fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight…”)

At first, I figured the obvious choice was to dive into the differences, figure out what was new about this week and focus on that. But the more I thought about it, sometimes the sameness is part of the game too, right? Sometimes you’ve got these stretches where you have to fight what feels like the same battle over and over. To be fair – I don’t think TWO battles against the space puppies puts us into that territory yet, but it does make me think of other campaigns where it’s happened and of the topic in general.

The days of the Keep On the Borderlands “grab-bag” style dungeon where you meet a different creature in each room are mostly gone; most adventures have a story and a theme tying them together. And let’s be clear that that’s mostly a good thing – I’d much rather play an adventure with a cohesive story than, “you open the door, and there’s a… (closes eyes, flips to random page of Bestiary)… rust monster”.

However, the “downside” of a cohesive story and an overarching theme is that it imposes a bit of uniformity on encounters. Whether it’s orcs, lizardmen, fire elementals – or in this case space puppies – the story makes more sense if the lesser critters fit the theme and aren’t picked at random off a Shoney’s buffet.

The first time you fight that new creature? Everything’s new; you’re learning what they can do as you go, you feel the risk of a new challenge. Cool as hell.

The second time? You’re probably still working on refining your technique, seeing what you can improve on from the first time, and you still have to stay on guard because maybe the bad guy still has a trick or two it didn’t show during the first fight. Still pretty cool.

Battle six or seven? It’s like when you were playing with your Star Wars figures and “spiced things up” by putting Lando Calrissian’s cape on Greedo. IT’S A WHOLE NEW CHARACTER, DAMNIT!

So let’s acknowledge there’s the potential that you can end up in this groove where it starts getting pretty mechanical: your characters have the same basic tools, facing the same basic foes; it starts to feel like the only difference from encounter to encounter is resource management and the randomness of how the dice fall. Sometimes it’s a challenge to spice that up and keep it fresh.

Obviously, the one thing a GM can do to mix things up is vary the monsters, but that only goes so far. One ogre gets loose in the orc dungeon? Sure, I can believe that. After the third “chance” encounter, it starts to break immersion, and you start to wonder what sort of half-assed operation the Big Bad is running here. Is he operating some sort of Evil Petting Zoo on the side?

The other thing I’ve seen work from the GM side is to mix in a soft skill challenge to keep the encounters from getting too repetitive. If you’ve got to take a break from the fights to traverse a cavern, or find a secret door, or read some runes in an obscure language… even that little break can help. Probably helps if it’s not so difficult it becomes a show-stopper and becomes its own source of frustration.

The players don’t always have a lot they can do to mitigate such circumstances, but there are a few things.

In a bigger, sprawling dungeon, I suppose you can go looking for a different sort of fight. I doubt that applies here – the Arceon just isn’t that big, and there seems to be one main path to the bridge. But in other games, you get bored fighting what’s to the east, go fight what’s to the west for a while.

I suppose you can play around with roles and tactics in the party up to a point, but that has limits. I am NOT volunteering to have Tuttle tank these dogs with his knife. Change is good. Dying because you’re playing like an idiot is not.

The other thing our group has historically done in other games is pick up the pace and push our resources by fighting out at the end of our rope. You can’t change WHAT you’re fighting, but you can make the challenge more intense by running your spells and healing serums right up to the red line. I’m not sure we’re quite ready to do that here because we’re still learning these characters and the system, but you may yet see us do it down the road.

(Best recent example of this: if any of you have ever played the Emerald Spire, there’s a “thieves’ den” level, and we basically turned that entire level into one running fight. Sure, I think there were a couple moments where people dropped and had to be revived mid-fight, but it left us no time to get bored with the mostly-anonymous archer dudes we were fighting.)

The good news is that in this campaign, we’re not into the Slog yet. We’re still in that phase where the space dogs are relatively new, and we’re refining our techniques.

In particular, from my standpoint, Tuttle got to use his new Overcharge ability (add 1d6 of damage, but each shot takes 3 charges) that he got at Level 2. In the first battle, I had originally dismissed using the laser pistol entirely since the akatas were immune to fire; however, I thought about it between sessions, and if I pump my shots up, a good roll might clear the DR and do similar damage as the knife (1d4) anyway. Plus? ZERO chance of space rabies. And as far as battery charges, I have two on me, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason we couldn’t retreat to the Hungry Hungry Hippocampus to recharge if we had to. So it seems like it’s worth doing even if I occasionally roll low and do no damage.

Especially since I seem to suck at grenades. I mean, yeah, the corridor was so narrow my miss turned into a hit anyway, but still… I only needed a 5 to hit and still missed. Seriously?

Toward the end of the session, we find Gevalarsk Nor’s cargo, and… well, that gets interesting, but we’ll have to save it for next time. In the meantime, feel free to drop us a line and let us know what you think. Care to hazard a guess what’s in the crate? Feel like letting us know what you do to keep your games interesting when the cannon fodder fights start getting a little too paint-by-numbers? Drop us a line and let us know.

And ohbytheway, since Hanukkah just ended and Christmas is right around the corner, I just wanted to say thanks again for listening these past few months, and I hope whatever holiday(s) you’re celebrating are happy ones.

Or… that you at least get good presents. Lucrative is good too.