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

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Talking Combat 084: Mo’s Seen Fire, Mo’s Seen Pain

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 084: Severe Weather Advisory.

It’s Throwback Thursday on Roll For Combat, as we conduct with a fight that could’ve easily appeared in a Pathfinder session – elementals!

First, let me say I’m pissed. With the ability crystal raising my intelligence, I think I added 3 or 4 new languages last level, and I was VERY close to making one of them an elemental tongue. But I didn’t because I figured at best, I’d have a 1-in-4 crapshoot chance of picking the right one, and it would be MORE annoying to have the “wrong” elemental language than to not have it at all. Oops.

As a general complaint, elementals don’t exactly fit with the theme developed in the rest of the adventure. Up until now, it’s mostly been Kish or “nature run amok” life forms. So it doesn’t exactly make sense why they’re here… or maybe we get that explanation later… but despite Steve’s protests that they’re really just here to make friends, they seem pretty intent on killing us. So… game on, I guess.

The first challenge of this encounter is just getting everyone into the room. I don’t know if you were able to visualize it well, but you basically have a long staircase leading up, leading into a sharp left turn into the room at the top. The fire elemental was directly in the door going flame-to-toe with Mo, and a second – the air elemental, I believe – was close enough that it would have reach (and therefore attacks of opportunity) on anyone who tried to just dash into the room and find a corner to occupy. So for the first few rounds, we were clogged up on the steps while Mo created some space for the rest of us. Think of it like those Drano commercials where they show the transparent U-trap… Mo was the giant clump of hair.

I suppose it did give me an opportunity to push THE BUTTON in the first round. I’d like to state for the record that we have seen THE BUTTON’s healing function before; it’s just a) it’s been a while, and b) just like this episode, when we landed on that one, CHDRR was already at full health so it didn’t really make a difference. But I do remember one of the numbers healed CHDRR, so it was not the first time we had that outcome.

It’s looking like a rout early on… Akiro does his big blast damage, Mo is doing solid damage with his pike (not sure how you stab fire, but we’ll table that for now), and the fire elemental drops fairly quickly. One down, three to go, and we can start moving into the room. Even Tuttle is doing OK because sonic seems to be one of the few damage types they don’t have any sort of mitigation against. In fact, a couple of the elementals actually appear to fall back.

But then things get a little interesting with the air elemental’s Swirling Vortex of Terror. (I know, Finding Nemo… water-based… poor analogy for the air elemental.). And the two that had feigned retreat turn around and start to attack. Maybe not out of the woods yet.

My first reaction was a brief chuckle of familiarity because back in our Pathfinder days (specifically Carrion Crown), I actually played a Wild Shape druid who spent most of his time in air elemental form (hence the nickname “Windy”). But I have to admit I didn’t use the vortex power much. First of all, there was a size restriction on who you could pick up, so I had to reach a certain level before my elemental form was big enough actually pick up humanoids. More importantly, it just didn’t do that much damage compared to the rest of my spells. It had nice flair, but compared to blasting people with lightning… ehhh.

Then we have the digression into how the rule works, and here we’ll get into a bit of cross-talk between the game and Steve’s GM-PC tip. I think as a general position, my interest in stopping the game to figure out how the rule works is based on two major criteria:

  • Are we likely to keep running into this situation in the future? If so, we might as well stop and get it right now, so we don’t re-litigate the same thing the next 2 or 3 times we run into this.
  • What is the likelihood that this is going to swing the ultimate outcome of the battle or get someone killed? I feel like if it could result in rolling a new character, it’s worth taking 5 or 10 minutes to crack the rulebook and make sure.

Full disclosure: this situation seems like it fails both tests. It’s an enemy power and an enemy that we’re not likely to run into again. If we were up against Cult of the Devourer minions that had some weird power or weapon, let’s take the 10. Air elementals? Not likely to be an ongoing problem. And as far as the outcome of the battle, this fight seemed like a tune-up and we weren’t in that much trouble. I’m not sure anyone was even out of stamina at the point this came up. Even the whirlwind power itself was more an inconvenience than anything else. If it was doing big damage? Problem. Rolling saves to take actions? Moving along.

So I think Steve’s handling of this was fair. He got it wrong for a round, fixed it mostly on the fly, and moved on. Didn’t go back and replay the previous rounds or whatever. Honestly, I think he probably slowed down to get it right for you the listeners, rather than for us as players. Which, if behind the scenes he had to go to Paizo forums to figure it out, is probably worth the trouble.

One thing I’d add to the GM-PC side of the discussion is that to be fair, the GM or the player ought to be able to call for a rule check. I don’t want to play at a table where the GM is too… in love with the power of being the final arbiter, unwilling to admit they made a mistake, whatever… that they’re not willing to let a player “go over their head” by consulting the rules. Now if it’s happening all the time for stupid stuff, that’s a rules-lawyer issue and that’s a different thing. But if making sure we get a rule right is the difference between Tuttle living and Tuttle dying… damn right I want the ability to press PAUSE for a minute or two.

The one risk you run in all of this – Law of Unexpected Outcomes – is that by only doing lookups at critical times, it can sometimes create bad optics, as if you’re trying to get a particular outcome. I don’t remember the situation exactly (it was a pre-podcast Pathfinder game), but we had a game session collapse into an argument because it WAS a critical moment in the combat, Steve looked up the rule and it was different than he’d been doing, and Chris (I think) got really upset that he was changing how the rule had been enforced for weeks if not months. I don’t think Steve did it to be malicious – he was trying to get the rule right since it might make the difference of a TPK – but it came across to Chris as arbitrary enforcement. Though this too can cut both ways… it’s equally possible the player comes across looking like they’re trying to come up with a new enforcement of a rule to get an outcome they want too.

On a more lighthearted note, Steve can do what he wants on rules lookups, but sometimes I wish he’d not try to make us feel bad for winning fights. That’s one of his go-to moves (along with saying “are you ready for this?” right before a crit). If a fight ends up being easier than it looked on paper, Steve sometimes tries to guilt-trip us, like we should’ve let them hit us for a few rounds before starting to take it seriously. I AM PRETTY SURE THE ELEMENTALS WERE NOT TRYING TO BE OUR FRIENDS.

Perhaps we’ll find out for sure next week, or maybe it’ll just be one of life’s little unsolved mysteries. Either way, we’ll be back to continue our exploration of the temple-nee-armory, and hopefully, get a little closer to saving the universe. In the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and other social media and give us your thoughts on this week’s episode and the show in general. Until then, happy gaming and roll well.

Talking Combat 083: Tuttle Makes New Friends … Literally

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 083: He Slimed Me.

Alright, back to work this week. No more movie reviews, we have actual gameplay to dissect.

And brand new cheese puns!

We start with leveling, and the exciting thing this time around is that Level 8 unlocks a brand new tier of mechanic tricks. There are a lot of decent choices here, but I’ll look at the ones that were highest on my list. Engineer’s Eye is basically a passive trap detection – you get a roll whether you’re looking or not. Given that we’re always forgetting to check for traps, that’s automatically in consideration. Drone Meld has cool flavor – CHDRR turns into a suit that Tuttle wears, which serves as reductive plating – but it doesn’t feel that useful compared to having CHDRR as a separate combatant. There’s an improved shield, but I would have to go back and get the base-level shield first. There’s also an ability to see invisible creatures (Invisibility Bypass Protection) or I could go the Hirogi/Akiro route and get the Holographic Projector which works the same way as the spell.

But no… not when there are cheese puns to be had. Enter the Base-Unit Reconnaissance Interface Extension, known more generally as the Scoutbot mechanic trick. Basically, I can use a resolve point to make a short-duration flying recon robot. It only has as many hit points as my level, and only lasts for that same number of minutes, so there’s no real combat application, but it could be useful for doing a quick scout of an area. Especially if there’s an area that’s not easily reachable on foot.

I also picked up multiple languages and a ton of skill bumps by equipping the Mk 2 ability crystal, taking Tuttle’s intelligence from 19 to 23. I remember taking Azlanti as one of the languages in case we ever run into them again; for some inexplicable reason, I did not take Kish, which seems like an obvious choice in hindsight. I don’t think it’s going to harm us since we’re about to fight the Big Bad and wrap up this section of the story, but that didn’t enter into my thinking at the time – I simply didn’t think of it.

For once, I’ll pause to mention one of the other guys’ build choices. I actually… equal parts “like” and “am horrified by”… Rusty’s new ability. So now when he bluffs, he rolls twice and takes the higher; the victim rolls twice and takes the lower. That’s insane. For dealing with opponents? Cool! But then again, we’ve seen that Rusty doesn’t have a huge problem lying to us, and now he basically succeeds unless we roll back-to-back 20s. Methinks it’s time to start investing ranks in Sense Motive.

So we’re off to the temple-slash-armory where we’ll be fighting the leader of the rival clan, who is also (meta-gaming a little) shaping up as the Big Bad for this section of the story. For starters: he shall henceforth be known as SuperKish. Does he have Devourer cultists helping him or is he a badass in his own right? Does the fact that he’s holed up in an armory mean he’ll have access to something more like modern weapons? Most of the Kish have been pushovers but somehow I think our luck is about to change.

And sure enough, it does – we plunge right into combat as we’re exploring what seems to be the living quarters. But it’s not SuperKish or his buddies; this time, we start with a rootin’-tootin’-shootin’-ooze. Now THERE’S something you don’t see every day. NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN. SQUISH-SQUISH-SQUISH.

The fight isn’t hard exactly – more of a warm-up – but it’s tough enough to serve as the official notification that the gloves are off. Feels like maybe we got a little lucky on dice rolls – more than our fair share of misses and low damage rolls. Also, it had a line attack which could have been trouble, but we unintentionally did a good job of spreading out so it couldn’t really hit more than one or two of us at a time.

Especially Akiro, hiding in the bathroom. Good to see Chris’ instincts for self-preservation carry over from character to character. On one hand… he’s a squishy Technomancer, so I suppose it’s acceptable to (ahem) “work from range” (yes, I’m rolling my eyes as I type that). On the other, he did to go all the trouble to take heavy armor as a feat; you’d think that would make him a little bolder. At the end of the day, Chris is Chris. Some days he’ll be ridiculously brave; other days, he’ll be hiding in the bathroom, and you never know which version is going to show up from session to session.

At the end of the fight, we have a little loot to divvy up, but none of it seems particularly Tuttle-friendly. Not a big deal, since I just got that ability crystal, but it does serve as a reminder that I’ve been thinking of having Tuttle take Longarms or some second weapon type; the fact that the ooze dropped three different guns reinforced that it might be a good idea. (I also just find the idea of a ysoki armed with an assault rifle inherently amusing.) But since I don’t have that feat at the moment, I mostly tuned the loot out this time around.

Whenever we have these spare longarms, I also go back and forth on whether to upgrade CHDRR’s weaponry. On one hand, Steve was charitable and gave him a damage upgrade back at… Level 5 or 6, maybe?… so his damage is still tolerable. But sometimes I still feel like I should be on the lookout for something better.

What I really want is a better melee weapon. It’s completely impractical since I’m almost never in melee range. But I am LITERALLY still holding my Level 1 starter knife, and we’re at a point where I doubt I’d even be able to overcome DR on most of them. So mark it down: this is how Tuttle will die. Separated from his gun and stabbing impotently for zero damage over and over.

On that somewhat grim and pessimistic note, that’s our column for this week. Next week we continue our exploration of the complex and see what other sorts of trouble we can get into. “SuperKish? Where ARRRRRRE you?” Until next time, thanks for listening, feel free to drop by and visit us on Discord and hope the dice roll well for you.

Talking Combat 082: RFC … Assemble!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 082: Stop, Level, and Listen.

The elephant in the room this week is that the editing of this week’s episode doesn’t leave me much to work with. No fighting. We hinted at leveling to come but didn’t actually reveal our Level 8 characters. And OK, we talked about the Teleportation Puck a little bit, but I pretty much covered that in last week’s Talking.

So this week, I’m going off script. Let’s talk Endgame, aka The Defining Film Event Of My Nerdy Adult Life.

Don’t worry… I’ll try to do it in a non-spoilery way since it’s possible (however unlikely) that some of you haven’t seen it yet.

Team RFC is split on the final chapter of Robert Downey Jr.’s career resurrection. We have two “loves” (one of which… full disclosure… is me), two “it was OK but nothing special’s”, and one “actively disliked it”. I’ll leave it to your imagination who is who.

Personally, I loved it, but I will start by offering this olive branch to the naysayers. If someone’s criticism of the movie is that it works better as a bunch of fan-service set-pieces than as a standalone movie… I’m willing to concede that. Someone walking into the theater having seen none of the Marvel movies would be REALLY confused, wouldn’t get why 60-70 percent of the movie was entertaining, and on some Serious Film-Maker measure, that probably ought to matter. On the other hand, let’s be real that 99.999(add-a-few-more-nines)% of the people who bought tickets were going for the fan service moments anyway, so we knew what we were getting. Your specific moments might be different from mine, but most of us got something we wanted. And we all got Grandpa Stan’s last cameo.

In these days of internet saturation, I think one of the marks of a successful movie – and I thought the same thing about Infinity War – is that it’s a success if you KNOW the broad strokes of what’s going to happen, and it still makes you care anyway. With the Internet churning out content, it’s almost impossible to go into a movie totally cold anymore, and depending on how much gets out, you can usually piece a fair amount of the plot together before you set foot in a theater. The premise itself is rarely a surprise; it’s the execution of the premise that really matters.

Go back to the original Thanos Snap from Infinity War. The Marvel smarks know they had a Spider-Man sequel in the can, and Black Panther 2 and Guardians 3 were in production. So you KNOW on some level it’s all going to be undone eventually. But damn if Tom Holland and RDJr didn’t sell the crap out of Peter’s snap scene.

Similar thing with Endgame: from the trailers, you can kinda put together a rough skeletal plot that Ant-Man’s quantum tunnel is the MacGuffin that’s going to enable some sort of time-travel/multiverse hand-wavery, which will create some sort of do-over. They’re not exactly hiding that. Also, there were certain things that were obvious telegraphs as the movie unfolded, which I won’t reveal because that would be revealing spoilers. But then we also know that it’s the last movie for most of the Original Six cast, so there’s probably going to be a few stories coming to an end in the new final conflict. Even knowing all that, I still jumped out of my seat a few times, and there was at least one scene that made me a little misty around the edges. (Though probably not the one you think.)

Compare that to the new round of Star Wars movies. You could put together a rough plot for Force Awakens or Last Jedi just based on publicly available stuff, but aside from a few moments, I was largely indifferent to the final results on the screen. The real-life death of Carrie Fisher lent the whole thing some poignancy, and there was a little twinge at the end of Luke Skywalker’s journey, but a lot of that was rooted more in my own passage through life and Star Wars’ place in it – Star Wars was pretty much the first movie I remember seeing in a theater. The story? Hyperdrives run out of gas now. Who knew?

And don’t even get me started on nu-Trek. I liked the first one (Karl Urban’s McCoy was a pleasant surprise), but after the year of pointless bait-and-switch, I think I actually gave Benedict Cumberbatch the finger in the theater when he said MY NAME… IS… KHAAAAN.

So… yeah. To bring it back full-circle, I thought Endgame was great. 11 years, 22 movies, and they somehow managed to stick the landing in a satisfying way. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a movie project that ambitious ever again… and the more I think about it maybe we shouldn’t. As good as it was, when you look at the success of movies like Logan, Deadpool, Into The Spider-Verse… maybe there’s something to be said for NOT trying to make everything fit in the same box. Maybe we just accept that Disney caught lightning in a bottle and not try to recapture the magic that might be impossible to replicate. (And remember that even the MCU forced us to sit through Thor 2.)

Sorry if you came here to read my thoughts on this week’s episode. Instead, you get Siskel and Ebert At The Movies. I’ll be back to normal next week. Promise.

P.S. – While I’m expounding on pop culture references… put me down for “Season 8 Episode 3 of Game of Thrones was too dark”. Yes, I think it was an artistic decision, but I also think yes they screwed it up and made it too dark. (Or they did it on purpose to stretch out the CGI budget.) You shouldn’t need to calibrate your TV just to watch a single episode of a show…. that’s bullshit. There’s “capturing the chaos of battle” and there’s pausing the action for 20 seconds while you try to figure out who the hell that even is who just got stabbed.

Talking Combat 081: Get The Puck Out of Here

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 081: Roll For Retreat.

I don’t know how you listeners felt about that episode, but that was one of my favorite episodes of the show in a long time. (Probably Vanessa Hoskins’ favorite episode too, for completely different reasons. Congratulations, Esteemed Contest Winner!)

Not solely for the vindication of Tuttle having the perfect object to save the day, though yeah, that’s part of it. It’s fun to have the hero moment… not gonna lie. As Steve alluded to, Tuttle isn’t really built for big hero moments during action settings – it’s like when a football game comes down to a field goal and the kicker gets to be the hero.

More generally, it’s an episode that manages to be an action episode without relying heavily on traditional combat. That can be a delicate needle to thread, but this worked well. Going back as a listener (yes, I listen to each show to refresh my memory to write these posts), it had excitement and drama and it still flowed pretty well even though there were only one or two traditional attack roles. And most of those were against masonry.

I’m not trying to be defensive, but since Steve threw it out there, let me say it loud for the people in the back – I had no advance knowledge of the encounter. Though as an aside, there’s an incriminating picture I now have to delete from my phone: last year, I was at a local game store and sent Steve a picture of me holding the Dead Suns adventure path books with the caption NOW I KNOW EVERYTHING! just to mess with him.

The real, but comparatively boring answer is that I’ve just been a fan of the Teleportation Puck as a device ever since I did my review of the Armory last year. At 1500 credits, it’s a little pricy for a single-shot item (that’s like three Mk2 grenades, and I’m too cheap to buy those!), but I’ve been on record that it could be situationally VERY useful. So one of our shopping trips – don’t remember if it was after Castrovel or the Diaspora, but around then – I went ahead and bought one. Just in case.

(Truth told, I think my nightmare scenario was the bottomless chasm – that Tuttle would be in a place where he’d have to rely heavily on Acrobatics or Athletics to traverse an otherwise unreachable location, in which case a one-time free pass would be really useful.)

Well, welcome to “just in case”. Just not the case I imagined.

I will confess maybe I got caught up on using the puck and maybe missed some other opportunities. First, perhaps if I’d just done assists on the strength checks, maybe Mo might have succeeded. Then again… Steve says in the post-game that the DC was 25… so Mo’s got a +4, even if Chris and I both hit our assist rolls, that’s another +4… +8 leaves us with a 17 or higher, which is still only a 20% chance. So still a pretty tough roll to make. Another thought I had after the fact is that when the distance between us was at its furthest, maybe we should’ve shot the ceiling over the swarm and tried to manufacture some area damage that way. Not sure if that was a viable solution or not but I’m feeling like it was at least worth a try and a bit of a missed opportunity.

But let’s get back to Puck Shenanigans 101.

When the encounter started, I was thinking it would be harder to even get out of the room, and the puck was going to be our ticket out of the dead-end we were trapped in. Turn the tables, get closer to the exit, maybe take some shot at closing the door and locking it in or something. But then it turned out we could just run through the swarm, and that put it on the back burner a little. So I spent the first few rounds thinking “well, that’s anticlimactic” and preparing to put it back in my bag. (And as it turns out, Steve said later it can go through walls, so sounds like that wouldn’t have worked anyway.)

Next, we had the brief interlude of Mouse Parkour where I got caught on the wrong side of the pit that opened up when Mo went through… that was an interesting dilemma. It essentially amounted to “traverse the pit slowly and possibly end up in the swarm for a round or two”, or “try the skill I’m the absolute worst at with pretty serious consequences for failure”. I felt like the nightmare scenario was going to be falling into the pit (so there’s 30’ of fall damage) followed by trying to get out WITH the swarm on top of me, so I was content to maybe eat one attack to avoid that outcome. But then, maybe it’s a little meta-gamey and overly reliant on “squares” but I found the best of both worlds: by catching the lip of the pit for a round, I was able to put myself one square short of the swarm’s movement, and then next round I was able to switch walls and use the rest of my move to get back out of range. MOUSE PARKOUR! (Ironically, I’m currently rewatching The Office on Netflix, and just reached the parkour episode last night.)

So then the chase resumes and my mindset shifted on the puck. I started thinking that if I could find some way to get it outside the building, that would be ideal, particularly once Mo started repeatedly failing on the door checks. I was initially thinking of a window or air vent, or maybe I’d see if there was a natural crack that already existed. Trying to shoot my own hole in the wall? That was more just general desperation and seeing if Steve would let me get away with it.

And that’s a key point. I give Steve a lot of credit as a GM here. An overly-competitive “me against the players” GM might have taken it as an affront that I’d come up with a way to circumvent their death trap. They could’ve ruled that I couldn’t do enough damage to put a hole in the wall, or could’ve had chunks of ceiling come down when I started shooting or could’ve made the roll to get the puck through the hole unnecessarily hard. Heck, a GM who was not competitive but simply unimaginative might have thrown up their hands, said “well, this isn’t really on the page, so you can’t do it”. I think it’s to Steve’s credit that he recognized that letting me try made for an interesting story moment, even if it wasn’t how the encounter was “supposed” to go.

While we’re at it, I also give Steve credit for finding a way to keep Bob involved. I’ve been that guy who sat on the couch for 45 minutes because the party was split and “my” part of the story was easier to resolve than the other group’s – it’s not a lot of fun. Steve’s solution didn’t have to be anything fancy… engine malfunction, ship taking damage, what are you gonna do? (For those of us old enough to remember the first Speed movie… POP QUIZ!)… but it kept us all involved and made us feel like we’re still all doing this as a team.

So I don’t want to break my own arm patting ourselves on the back, but I really thought this episode was what this hobby is all about. Players coming up with unconventional solutions to problems, and a GM who is willing to collaborate and run with it, rather than shunting it back into one of the paths it was “supposed” to follow. It was engaging, dynamic… good god, I’m spouting buzzwords. SYNERGY. PARADIGM. What I’m trying to say is I feel like this episode took a tricky situation we managed to guide it to a satisfying conclusion.

And we split the party and didn’t die. So there’s that.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week, folks. I’m about to descend into my Endgame-spoiler-free bunker for the next 24-48 hours (seeing it Friday morning) but hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, and hope you’ll continue to visit us on Discord and partake of the ongoing tomfoolery. Until next week, have a good weekend and good gaming to you all.

Talking Combat 080: Seems Like Mold Times

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 080: Never Split the Party.

Another short episode this week. Shorter even than the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff run. (Too soon, man… too soon.) Not sure how we’re going to handle the fact that the last 30 seconds of cliff-hanger is basically the highlight of the episode, but let’s give it a whirl.

I suppose we did achieve a bit of Roll For Combat landmark history by safely detonating a trap without poor Mo having to bumble into it. That’s exciting. I mean, not totally safely – Akiro’s poor unseen servant bought the farm, but if CHDRR is occasionally expendable, I refuse to shed any tears over Chris’ spell buddy. But given that Mo’s been a human piñata up to this point in the campaign, I’m glad we were able to spare him for once.

Speaking of spells… I don’t know that we’ve full-on broken the rules, but I’ve noticed we’ve been playing a little fast and loose with Tuttle’s Comprehend Languages. I think I got confused and decided it’s a cantrip and can cast it as often as I want; in actuality, it’s a Level 1 spell, and the Technomantic Dabbler feat only allows me to cast it once for every three levels, so… twice. It’s got a duration of 10 minutes per level, so between that and Akiro sometimes handling translation duties, I don’t think we’ve totally screwed up yet, but we do have to be more careful going forward.

(cough assuming we survive cough)

This was a bit of a crazy episode for dice rolls. I think I heard two different natural 20s and at least one natural 1 (as well as a 3 or 4). Granted, some of those rolls were for fairly stupid things like assisting on doors, but still. Can’t we save those for combat? “First Bank Of Crits, established 2019”.

I also got my first chance to use my mechanic trick that kicks in when we hit a countermeasure – that’s kind of exciting. You might remember that I took this one after Chris (still as Hirogi at that point) almost erased the cultists’ data stream when we raided their base in the Diaspora. And somehow, I had not hit that circumstance since taking it. Either we didn’t hit countermeasures at all, or I rolled well enough to avoid them anyway. Annnnnd, of course, the first time I use it, I fail the roll, but it turns out the actual penalty on this particular failure wasn’t all that bad. If you HAVE to fail, I guess that’s how you do it.

So, we do some computational wizardry, and get the MacGuffin – the key codes to enter the temple that sounds like the final destination of this part of the adventure. Annnnnnnd it’s swarm time. It’s funny, as I’m going back and listening… we probably missed a few clues and REALLY should’ve been a little more diligent about testing those filaments – you know… the ones that were moving? – before we boxed ourselves into a dead-end room. But here we are. Swarm between us and the door. Yay us!

I’ll grant – if we’re looking at this as a straight-up fight, we’re pretty screwed. I have a few grenades but most of them are Mk 1. Don’t think we’re taking this down 1d6 at a time. Presumably, Akiro has some spells, but how many do burst/area damage, and that’s even before we get into resistances and such. As much as Mo loves his precious pike, that’s not doing much good. And yeah, the one weapon we had that would’ve done damage – CHDRR – is back on the ship. In the words of Charlie Brown, “good grief”.

That said, all of the above mental math requires thinking of this as a stand-up fight. I don’t think things are QUITE as dire as Steve makes it out, I think it’s going to be a matter of getting creative. Depending on how fast it moves, we might be able to just run for it. Even if it’s fast, maybe we can split up and make sure it only gets one of us at a time. It’s unclear what state the doors are in – can we lock it in, or did opening the doors roughly prevent them from being securely closed again. (Or can it use air vents or something?)

There’s also ship-based shenanigans. Rusty not being here doesn’t mean he’s totally out of the fight. I don’t know how the logistics of Rusty piloting and shooting at the same time would work, but could Rusty nuke the site from orbit? The structure is supposedly unstable – maybe there’s a way to do that. Could Rusty at least air-drop CHDRR in to give us some firepower? I mean, there’s no GREAT solution here, and I’m worried even some of the “good” ones come with a body count, but the gears are turning.

I will say this. On an emotional level, if this DOES turn out to be our Kobayashi Maru moment, this isn’t how I want to go out. I want a death worthy of the “Brave Sir Robin” song – rip some limbs off, incinerate me, drop me into a black hole. “Nibbled to death by space critters”…. It’s just such a lame way to go. So guess we’d better not go out that way, I guess.

Buuuuuut I guess we’ll get to that next week. In the meantime, get those contest entries in and drop by the Discord channel and check out the ongoing merriment. We’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 079: Thank You For Flying Rusty Airlines

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 079: Move it Rusty, We’re Rolling.

It’s gonna be kind of a short one this week. It’s a short episode, to begin with, and the Pens went to overtime last night, so I’m operating on less sleep than usual.

It’s also difficult because the large majority of the episode is spent debating the logistics of something we end up deciding not to do, so there’s this big Monty Python-esque “START AGAIN” two-thirds of the way through the episode. In case it was unclear, the general setting is there’s a big floating island a couple of hundred yards from the mainland that are broken off and floating loose, with a field of smaller debris surrounding it.

The original plan (and probably how Keeley drew it up when he was writing it), if we were better equipped or had magic, would’ve been to hop from small rock to small rock to get to the big one. But… we aren’t that well-equipped, especially once Hirogi went poof with some of our rope and maybe a grappling gun. (Put me down in the column of thinking he had one, but I could be wrong.) And our lack of magic is legendary, even with Akiro now on the team. But hey, Tuttle can Comprehend Languages!

So we give it Ye Olde College Trye to figure out the rope thing, but it seems pretty unlikely to work, and even our best effort probably means we have to leave someone behind. So at that point, why not fly there and just lose whoever is piloting the ship because that SEEMS a little safer? As Tuttle is the bookish nerd most likely to die doing Interstellar Parkour, I am totally down with Plan B.

However, this does mean formally splitting the party. We lose Rusty, as the pilot, and I ultimately decide to leave CHDRR behind. I’ve been second-guessing that a little bit. At the time, I think I was worried he might be hard to extract at the end, and we might be left with the uncomfortable prospect of leaving him behind or doing a destroy-rebuild cycle, which would cost us a day. Meanwhile, there’s a meta-gamey sense that if it’s the Kish trash mobs we’ve been fighting up to this point, the three of us can handle it, and if it’s a boss battle we’re pretty screwed without Rusty anyway. (Please don’t tell him I admitted that. I’ll never hear the end of it.) In retrospect, I started feeling that might have been a mistake: the drone rules are written such that CHDRR is meant to be a LITTLE disposable (don’t tell HIM I said that either), so why not bring him?

So we get in the ship and… OK, the ride is a little bumpier than expected. Rocks… ship… NOT FRIENDS. And damage goes directly against the hull instead of the shields… yeah, that’s not good. The thing I don’t get a sense of is whether 15 damage was a small, average, or max amount, but it does put us on a bit of a clock getting on and off the rock. And it could ultimately mean Bob has to bail and we might have to do the hopscotch method anyway. But getting back out of here is 15 steps down the road; for now, we come through OK (only one nasty collision) and deposit the away team at the destination.

Speaking of which, I need a ruling: is the science guy or the security guy more of the redshirt in the case like this? I kinda want to say Mo is the redshirt, but not sure. There are quite a few Trek episodes where it’s the junior exo-botanist who wanders away and gets eaten. Then again, the scientists who go on Star Trek away missions rival the guys from Prometheus in their disregard for safety protocols. Sure, Ensign Giles… put your whole unprotected face right up next to where every other plant in the universe emits pollen. That’s a FINE idea.

But I digress. We arrive with a few bumps and bruises. Time to find our objective and get the security codes. And, the whole place is covered with some hybrid of mold and webbing. That might also be propping up a structurally unsound building. THAT’S NOT ALARMING AT ALL. Giant spider? Mold/ooze type creature? Mold Spider? Does such a thing exist? It’s hard to judge what’s just ambiance – this is an ancient civilization that’s thousands of years old, and this building, in particular, is isolated and untouched – and what’s a sign of danger. Oh, who am I kidding… definitely a Mold Spider, and we’re all gonna die.

(If the Mold Spider wasn’t a thing before, I’m proclaiming it to be one now. And here I was thinking I was going to ignore Steve’s GM tip because I don’t create monsters!)

Though in the short term, my concerns are more rubber-meets-the-road – CHDRR’s junk cannon might have been useful just to burn off some of these mold filaments to make the doors easier to open. (“Fire! The Biblical Cleanser!”) Mo’s getting it done, but the rolls he’s been having to make are kinda high. A few shots of plasma weapon might make things a little easier. On the other hand, maybe it brings the whole building down on top of us. Steve did say the filaments were helping to keep the building standing.

And a few doors in, that’s where we leave things for the week. Join us next time when we continue exploring the Office Park of Impending Doom. In the meantime, drop on by Discord and join the ongoing merriment, and don’t forget to enter the PaizoCon contest. (Though the people who already entered probably wish I wouldn’t say that because I’m lowering their odds of winning). See you next week!

Talking Combat 078: Bowl For Combat

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 078: The Slime of Our Lives.

Here is my dilemma.

As a player and going back as a listener, a bottle episode like this is a welcome break. Doing one main storyline week after week can be a bit of a grind if we’re being honest. Cultists. Doomsday weapon. End of the world. I wouldn’t call it “repetitive” because the overall story is still developing and moving forward, but it is a little one-note. It’s nice to take a break from that and wing it for an episode or two.

On the other hand, blogging about it after the fact becomes a little tougher because an episode like this doesn’t leave as much in its wake beyond a restatement of what happened. “Keeley and Trimarco are great. Monsters ‘sploded.” If you’re not in the main story, you don’t have unanswered questions. You don’t have that “where do we go from here?” speculation. Or you have it, but it’s the same unanswered questions and speculation you had X weeks ago when you entered the diversionary side-street. So it makes for a little more challenging blogging experience.

I will say that these breaks are welcome, but it’s hard to ask for them as the player – or at least it is within the constraints of a tightly-plotted adventure path. As a role-play thing, it feels self-indulgent to break immersion by being the one to say “I know the evil cult could be firing up the doomsday weapon any day now, but let’s go to the space casino tonight”. That doesn’t seem realistic. It’d be like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli trying to rescue Merry and Pippin but just deciding to take a detour to go get some more lembas or something. So it’s kind of incumbent upon the GM to decide that yes, you have time to take a two-hour detour to see the World’s Second Largest Ball of Twine.

Keep in mind, some of this is just the “downside” – such as it is – of adventure path play. You’re trading a tightly-focused plot for a little less freedom to screw around because it wouldn’t make sense in the context of that story. If you’re running a homebrew campaign, you just run off into the weeds, your GM sighs and rubs his or her temples in exasperation (or cackles in murderous glee – it takes all sorts in this hobby), and pulls something out of an ever-thickening binder of ad-lib material.

So yeah. Keeley and Trimarco are great. Monsters ‘sploded. What else?

Well, there’s the plague ooze, Steve’s contribution to the ever-expanding field of TPK-ology. I will join the chorus of people who wouldn’t have minded seeing that encounter turned up to full nastiness, but Steve pointed out the logistics we were operating under: we were pushing up against our end time and it might have been tough to bring Jason and Rob back the following week just to finish out one fight, so Steve kinda had to water it down to make it fit the schedule.

The general vibe I did get is that it’s built to be a heavy hitter – nothing special defensively beyond the aura and the usual benefits of oozery. The real ass-kicker is the “bowling-ball” effect – so basically, a multi-target line effect, you’re getting some damage and some disease no matter what you do, and your choices are DEFINITELY take the extra damage, but at least you might get a hit in, or do a reflex roll to maybe take less. And I don’t know if Steve chose the battle map on purpose to accentuate this, but the ooze was in a large room at the end of a hallway with no real alcoves or doors, so it really was set up like we were bowling pins at one end.

We also didn’t really get to see the disease in action, but given that one of our most memorable encounters with disease turned Rusty undead, maybe that’s for the best.

The firefly thing was neat, though I have to admit I had forgotten the specifics of that encounter. I knew there was “something” between the moonflower and the ooze, but I couldn’t really remember what it was. I think I got it confused with the healing temple and thought Mo just set off yet another more conventional trap. Which… take out “conventional” and I suppose that’s pretty much what happened. It does still scratch at that whole meta-game itch of “how environmentally secure are space suits and/or armor supposed to be?” that we’ve been kicking around since Castrovel but at some point you just accept that the plot requires the bugs to be inside the suit and move along.

And then there’s the squox. Officially, you’ll find those in the Alien Archive 2, if you want more info. I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to be looking into this, but if we decide to train it as a pet, how does that work? Well… one problem I can immediately see is that initial training is supposed to take 3 months if you start from scratch. Perhaps it’s already fully trained, but then we go down the different rabbit hole of how did a fully-trained squox end up on a planet this far from the Pact Worlds, and that’s far more mental effort than I wanted to expend on this. Also, you also have to use a feat to officially use it as a companion, and if it’s a squox or longarm proficiency… I choose longarms.

So let’s set aside formally training it. Even if we just assume it to be a bit of added campaign flavor, who should get the squox? Which member of Team RFC is going to be sneaking it food from the table and wearing it as a hat when he thinks the other guys aren’t looking. Who’s going to be the one getting yelled at by the other three when the squox eats an important clue?

If I didn’t already have CHDRR, I’d say Tuttle would be the first choice, but that may be too many companions for one character. Also, we might end up in some ethical gray area where Tuttle would want to start using it as a test subject for experiments, and then we’ve got Space PETA all up in our business. Even though there’s a logical progression for Akiro (technomancer = Pathfinder mage, which puts you adjacent to the concept of familiars), Chris does NOT do “cute”, so that’s a non-starter unless he finds some loophole that allows the squox to steal party loot for him. That leaves Rusty and Mo, and I think Mo hiding a cute critter under his fedora is much more wholesome than Rusty integrating the local wildlife into his pickup lines. “Come up and see my squox?” So mentally, I’m going with Mo until further notice.

Lastly, we got a Null Spa… a bag of holding, OK? In fairness, we haven’t been having too much trouble with encumbrance. I think at one point Hirogi had too many guns, but overall, between Steve being fairly lenient about dropping stuff off at the Sunrise Maiden and the rules being kind in general (NINE HEALING SERUMS WEIGH NOTHING! NOTHING, I TELL YOU!), I don’t think it’s been an issue. Still, more carrying capacity is always welcome.

That’s about it for this week. Next week, we get back to the business at hand – tracking down the security keys to the Temple of the MacGuffin. Good seeing Meats and Lasko again, but we’ve got a universe to save and squoxes to house-break. (Is it a litter box thing? Do you just zap the poop with a laser pistol? Does the Sunrise Maiden have sophisticated pet refuse algorithms? So many questions…). Feel free to drop by the Discord channel, and check out all the ongoing merriment – discussion about the show itself, our online games, the general reindeer games that erupt when you put a bunch of RPG fans in a confined space. And don’t forget to enter the PaizoCon contest. We’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 077: Salad Shooters

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 077: Feed Me, Akiro!.

This week, we break new ground with Roll For Combat’s first-ever bottle episode!

I would think this is a pretty entertainment-savvy crowd overall, but for those of you not “hep to the lingo” of the TV world, “bottle episodes” are episodes of a TV series that tend to be driven by cost or scheduling issues – they tend to be isolated from the main plot, generally take place on one or two sets, sometimes only feature a subset of the actors. (And they tend to happen in the later parts of the season because that’s when the budget and schedule crunch hits hardest.) Obviously we had the full team (and then some), so the last of those doesn’t apply, but this two-parter kind of fits the rest of the description – it doesn’t really have anything to do with the larger Dead Suns storyline and it takes place in a facility not originally in the adventure path that Steve threw together on the spot.

I didn’t think about it at the time but, yeah, injecting the writer of the adventure path into the main flow of the game… at best it would’ve been kind of boring for him; at worst, it might have put Keeley in a spot where he had to choose between doing the right thing or the spoiler-y thing. So I guess it made sense to shunt the action down a side path for a few shows.

I was a little surprised that Steve chose to bring back Meats and Lasko as characters, but on the other hand, they were well-received on their first visit, and it’s a little bit of an Easter egg for the long-time listeners. I suppose if Thomson and Thompson can keep bumping into Tintin halfway around the world, it’s equally possible that Meats and Lasko decided to infiltrate the same cult we were investigating. Though yes, I’m a little bitter they managed to avoid most of Books 2 and 3 in the process. Lucky bastards probably didn’t have to do any starship combat, either.

The coincidental synergy with Akiro’s origin story is also kind of amusing, though let’s be honest… there aren’t a lot of options when you’re dealing with a section of unexplored space that Pact Worlds people supposedly never go to. By default, they pretty much either had to hitch a ride with the cultists or the Corpse Fleet, and it’d probably even be harder to justify a ship of undead-only separatists hanging out with a couple living sidekicks. Though the whole thing did kind of remind me of one of those Internet clickbait stories where the cops posing as drug dealers and the cops posing as drug buyers managed to arrest each other. Or the 60s Spider-Men pointing at each other. “I’m not a cultist. YOU’RE a cultist.”

I suppose Steve could’ve come up with some other story hook – unexpected drift engine malfunction would also have worked – but whatever. At some point, “They’re Here Because That’s Where The Plot Needs Them To Be” works just fine. Meats… Lasko… welcome to Istamak. Moving along.

So Meats and Lasko have an emergency evac coming, but they have to recover their homing beacon device, which means investigating a creepy lab facility. NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH THIS PLAN. I’m immediately on edge at the use of the phrase “xenomorph” – the Alien series pretty much ruined that one for me. So we explore a little and find a science lab and a mysterious button and Mo pushes it because of course he does.

On the broadcast, I sound a little more testy than I probably was. I agree with Bob and John’s general sentiment that pushing the button was going to have to happen to move the adventure forward. Defense will stipulate. But I thought we could spare a few skill rolls to at least prepare for what might happen when the button was pushed. Or even just in terms of self-preservation and tactics, I was hoping to move Tuttle to the back and get CHDRR up front, where we both belong. But nope – let’s do this!

Going in, I was actually thinking a trap – it’s some sort of decontamination system that releases poison gas or something. Instead, it’s Audrey II from Little Shop Of Horrors! And now, I’m up front with the heavy hitters, and it’s hard to even move out of the way because the thing has reach. (Some of it may have also been difficult terrain, too.) I’m not too worried in the grand scheme – we’ve got numbers, and (turn on the meta-gaming sign) I doubt Steve would make an improvised encounter life-threatening. But in the short term, Tuttle is in about as wrong a place as a lightly-armored rodent could be. Yikes!

Fortunately, sheer numbers do win out. I luck out in the early rounds and Steve chooses different targets, leaving Tuttle alone for the most part. That lets me get out of immediate danger and lets me get CHDRR into position to join the fray. And wouldn’t you know it… after a few rounds of combat, the Yellow One gets the Glory of the Kill™! We don’t keep spreadsheets or anything, but tends to be some low-key bragging rights about who gets the formal kill-shot, even preceding the days of the podcast. But it’s even more of a cause for celebration now because Tuttle’s not built for combat, so it happens less frequently in this campaign. ALL HAIL CHDRR THE CONQUEROR!

So from there, the hunt will continue next week, but I’m actually going to echo Steve and make this a short post this week. Similar to Steve, I have stuff going on in real life: nothing bad (actually mostly good stuff) but it’s been a little hectic. Next week, we’ll finish up our Meats-and-Lasko hijinks, and I promise to be more long and rambling for you guys. In the meantime, feel free to drop by the Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment happening over there. See you next week.

Talking Combat 076: Akiro The Just, You’re My Hero

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 076: The Slug Defense.

The theme of this week’s episode is “Let’s get to know Akiro”, followed shortly by “This Akiro’s pretty good, isn’t he?”

Last week we got to meet Akiro and get his backstory, but the great unanswered question was – what does he bring to the table in a fight? Spiky armor is cool and all, but does that mean he’s a front-line fighter who can absorb some of the beatings Mo has been taking? The lack of a melee weapon would argue otherwise. As would the fact that, at a player level, Chris rarely plays characters like that – Chris is fond of his hit-and-run attackers.

The first thing we learn is that Akiro is a caster but a Technomancer rather than a Mystic (which had been my first thought). Upon further review, that pendant that popped out last week was probably just his focus item, not a holy symbol. We the players pick it up as the combat unfolds when he casts his trusty holographic image and magic missile. You guys accidentally pick it up earlier thanks to a mild spoiler from our trusty voiceover dude. Oops. But yeah… he’s a spell-slinger. At a meta-level, it’s nice to finally have some magic in the party – only took 75 episodes. No, I’m not really counting Tuttle’s Technomantic Dabbler feat. Comparatively speaking, that’s a party trick.

Even with that revelation, there’s still the gear to account for. Neither longarms nor heavy armor are standard kit for a caster, so is that how he used his feats or is it a dip into Soldier? I will say in Pathfinder, Chris was pretty fond of the one-level dip. I think in one of our campaigns he actually dipped TWO different classes along with his main. He’s into weird unorthodox builds – not even necessarily min-maxing; I think he just likes very particularly tailored characters that can do exactly what he wants them to do.

Me, I pretty much prefer pristine single-class builds. I think I have this sense that if you don’t do it early, it becomes less appealing as you level because then it’s “do I want Level X abilities for this class or Level 1 abilities for the other?” Around the same time, I took that Technomantic Dabbling, I was actually considering just dipping a level of Technomancer, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it for exactly that reason – “do I want this pretty decent Mechanic trick, or do I want to cast Magic Missile once?” I also get seduced by the high-end abilities, which doesn’t make a lot of logical sense since I think the highest campaign we’ve run in recent memory only got out to the mid-teens.

But I digress. Back to Not Hirogi, and our fight with the snake. Akiro’s gun is pretty interesting – 1d20 for damage. Never seen anything like that in Pathfinder. Not saying it doesn’t exist – in fact, given all the material that’s been released, I suspect it’s out there in the back pages of some supplement somewhere – but that’s my first time seeing something with big damage swings like that. Personally, I would find that sort of weapon infuriating, but it’s probably the perfect weapon for Chris. Again, a reflection of our styles as players – Chris likes big risk and big reward, I’d rather dish out the same reliable damage every round. I’m feeling like the Rounders analogies are writing themselves here – I’m Johnny Knish, and he’s… Mike McD? Worm? Teddy KGB? All I can say for sure is that in the game of Starfinder, healing serums are the fucking rake.

So other than Rusty getting somewhat aggressively hugged by the snake, we sail through the first encounter relatively unharmed. A fight where no one went past stamina points! That’s crazy! And then we go into the “Maze of Ghosts” which turns out to be some sort of weird holographic museum. I got vibes of Hersheypark or Epcot (or the Hall of the off of it). Only Mo decides to be a goof and walk through the holograms, and… time to fight again.

On one hand, very little we’ve fought since landing on this planet has been that threatening. On the other hand, incorporeal. (groan) But as the battle unfolds – and I don’t know if you can really tell this without the battle-map – but it seemed like the holographic guy was tethered to within a certain range of his projector, so it seemed like we could get to a point where we could avoid it or just grind it down from range if we had to. Mo, in particular, was being stubborn about staying within range and slugging it out, but the rest of us were not really in any danger. So again, once we got a sense for its limitations, it wasn’t really that tough of a fight.

So we take care of business – two relatively easy fights in one episode! – and arrive at the alien equivalent of Disney’s Hall of the Presidents, where we get another audio recording that sheds a little light on the puzzle of the security codes. It sounds like we need two codes, which we then take to the central security office to get the actual code we need to get into the temple. Got it? Good. That’s where we’ll pick it up next week.

As far as Steve and Perram’s tip, I don’t GM a lot, but I can agree with most of what they said from the player perspective. I definitely co-sign on using a small starter adventure (Society or otherwise) to test your character before you take it out into the wild. Or heck, even just whip up a mock combat and run it yourself and see how it goes. Sometimes that character idea you love on paper just doesn’t work in the real world, and it’s much better to find that out when the stakes are low.

Alternatively, on those rare occasions when I do GM, I tend to allow free re-rolls until Level 2. Sure, it breaks immersion a little bit, but I’d rather have players enjoying the game and playing something they like than stuck with a character that doesn’t work for them.

The thing from the player perspective I wanted to dig in on just a little bit is how much to coordinate character builds within the group. On one hand, if you don’t coordinate a little bit, you could end up with a group composition that’s going to have a lot of trouble performing. Imagine a party of four cloth casters running out of spells after one battle. On the other hand, I do think you can overplan, and strict adherence to “we need a tank, a healer, a caster, and a rogue” can suck all the fun out of things on a couple of different levels. First, strict adherence to an “ideal” composition almost always leaves at least one player playing something they didn’t really want to play. Second, up to a certain point, sub-optimal groups can actually be fun. It can be a neat puzzle to figure out what you’ve got to work with and how to make it work with the situations at hand. You know… like running a Starfinder campaign with no healer and no magic.

Also, in a dynamic particular to our group, Bob tends to be a little more secretive in his character builds. He usually has some roleplay wrinkle to his characters, so he doesn’t WANT to just lay his character sheet on the table and say “here’s what I can do”. The gradual “reveal” of the character over the course of the campaign is part of what he enjoys.

Personally – and perhaps this speaks to my nature as an altaholic – I’ll whip up two or three characters I wouldn’t mind playing and then choose one based on what the rest of the group is doing, rather than locking in on a single concept. For this game, I actually had both a Solarian and a Mechanic ready to go, but I decided to go Mechanic because the drone dynamic interested me, and because I hadn’t played a skills monkey character in a while. That was also a byproduct of my Dads-n-Kids game, where we’d let the kids pick their builds first and then fill in gaps in the party around them.

I think that’s all we have for this week. Next week, we resume our search for the keycode that will get us into the Temple of the Big Bad. I will pre-warn you that there is a small possibility next week’s Talking will be late – I have friends and family coming into town, and that’s going to make for some weird scheduling. Or perhaps I’ll pre-write it, and it could be really early, but have nothing to do with the week’s episode (“Page 93, and now he’s in an extended digression about Charo’s guest appearances on The Love Boat”). Think of it as the literary equivalent of Akiro’s new gun – big risk, big reward. In the meantime, feel free to drop by the Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment, and good luck to those of you entering the PaizoCon contest. See you next week!

Talking Combat 075: New Crew Revue

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 075: Into the Hirogi-Verse.

And now we know what happened to Hirogi. Well, at least the broad strokes of it.

As a player, the big question for me was how much of this was pre-planned. Neither Chris nor Steve told us this change would be coming, so it really was a genuine surprise to Bob, John, and myself. Obviously though, if Chris had a new character rolled up and ready to go, it was pretty clear some sort of coordination had to be involved.

That still leaves some moving parts. Did Chris specifically know the chamber would do something to Hirogi (which would explain his eagerness to jump in), did Steve leave it open-ended and say “make a new character and we’ll fit him in somewhere”, or was it one of Bob Ross’ “Happy Little Accidents” that Chris was ready for a change right after jumping into the healing chamber? From Steve’s post-episode game notes, it sounds more like the second or third: maybe Chris expected that the chamber would change Hirogi SOMEHOW, and in discussing what that change would be, a totally new character became the gameplan.

I also don’t know if at a meta-level, patching some additional skills into the party was part of the equation. I notice Akiro conveniently speaks and reads Kish, so some of that push-and-pull where three different people hold different aspects of communication in their hands goes away. (Or just flat-out replacing the fact that Hirogi is the only one with the pidgin language skill because the remainder of the adventure would be unworkable without it.) As far as class, I’m assuming he’s some sort of caster since Chris has admired magic-users from afar for a while now – the holy symbol would argue Mystic – but maybe he took a dip in Soldier to get better weapon and armor feats. (That’s totally a Chris move… be eligible for as much loot as possible.). I guess we’ll just figure it out together over the course of the next few episodes.

I will admit that Steve’s wrap-up admission that Hirogi is eventually going to return counts as new information. We’ve never discussed Hirogi’s ultimate fate; it was just kind of assumed he’s gone. So for Steve to admit Hirogi will likely be coming back later… that’s actually news to us. SPOILER!

(That doesn’t rule out that Hirogi will come back as an enemy boss that we have to kill. Just Sayin’.)

Why did Chris want to take a break from Hirogi? Just from my impressions sitting at the table with him, I think Chris felt Hirogi was kinda one-trick pony, and even though his trick went from “too hard” to “too easy” once he could take-20 on Trick Attack, it still didn’t make him a more dynamic character. Even on the skills side, Rusty has the social interactions covered; Tuttle has the technical stuff… there wasn’t really a niche that Hirogi clearly delivered better than anyone else. Mayyyybe culture checks? Oh, and Piloting, I guess, though Chris doesn’t seem to enjoy space combat much.

I will say that as a roleplaying thing, Steve’s point about how easily we accepted Akiro was valid; maybe it was a little meta-gamey on our parts. If you think about it if we find a guy with all the external trappings of a cultist, would we really so easily accept him so quickly as part of the group just because he can produce a Starfinder signal and knows who Chiskisk is? Heck, even if he’s superficially legit, we’ve seen Wrath of Khan… somebody ought to at least look in Akiro’s ear for Ceti Alpha V bugs. But I think we collectively just rolled right into “well, Chris is playing him, so he’s a good guy” mode. For that matter, we probably didn’t really “mourn” or otherwise do enough to try to recover Hirogi. Tuttle did the equivalent of a half-hearted press of CTRL-Z, and then it was basically “ok, he’s not here anymore… moving on”. Probably a missed roleplay opportunity.

Speaking of roleplay… how about a round of applause for Steve’s sound effects? During the initial session, that was just Steve talking in his normal voice. He added that in post-production, so when I went to listen to the final podcast to write this week’s column, I heard that for the first time, just like you did. Pretty cool.

As an aside, my mind is now racing with possibilities. Now that he’s done it once, Steve could replace ANY NPC with guest voice talent! Jason Keeley! Random listeners plucked from the Discord channel! MORGAN FREEMAN! (He’s right, you know…)

The other major development of this episode was the discovery of the ability crystal. I still haven’t decided yet – I had Tuttle put it in his backpack to sleep on it – but I am strongly leaning toward keeping it.

The Argument For: First and foremost, I was thinking of buying one on our last shopping trip anyway, but it would’ve taken up almost all my credits. Also, I feel like Tuttle takes a back seat on most loot anyway. Most of the time – particularly for weapons and armor – I let the other guys go first. But this is skill monkey stuff, where Tuttle earns his keep. Lastly, Mo and Rusty already have Mk2 crystals, so it’s a 50-50 between me and Hir… Akiro… and Chris just got a whole new character. If you want to go there, it’s also a roleplaying thing that we wouldn’t immediately give the new guy first dibs.

The Argument Against: new character or not, Chris doesn’t have a lot of gear; maybe he deserves this one. And/or where did Hirogi fall in the (informal) loot rotation – would it have been his turn if not for the character switch? Also, 23 INT starts to feel like overkill… do I really need THAT much? Gotta give those computers a fighting chance!

Before closing, I’d like to spare a few moments to discuss Steve and Perram’s Roll To Assist.

Steve’s point and Perram’s point – though phrased differently – talked about the same basic concept. “Stealing” control of the story. For the players, it’s doing things outside the box of the GM’s expectations; for the GM, it’s fudging rolls to keep the story in the lane you’ve created for it. And I think those go hand-in-hand – the goodwill you build by allowing one pays for the occasional use of the other.

I do subscribe to the general Nixonian belief that “if the GM does it, it’s not cheating”. The GM knows the game, they know what the story needs, and if they sometimes need to tweak to bring things in for a satisfying conclusion… OK. That to me is benevolent cheating. It’s like lying to your kids to set up a better surprise on their birthday.

But here’s the thing. If you’re going to exert that control occasionally, the collaborative nature of this hobby we all love suggests that you should occasionally let the players do it too. If they try something that’s a little outside the box and it’s not quite what you envisioned but still a basically reasonable request given the nature of their characters and the tools they have… as Perram said, let them have the win. You can always move things around to accommodate it. If they bypass the cool boss you wanted them to fight? Put him somewhere else in the dungeon. If they don’t meet NPC A, give that knowledge to NPC B. And so on.

I think where games fall apart, is at the extremes, where GMs either exert total control and give the players no agency… or where they just let the players do whatever they want and everything becomes arbitrary. I think a gaming group has to have both to survive and thrive.

Well, that’s about it for this week. Next week, we get to see Akiro in action (I think), as our pursuit of the cultists continues. While you’re waiting for that, feel free to stop by Discord and join the ongoing merriment – join the PaizoCon contest, take a guess at Akiro’s class, and generally check out the scene, man. We’ll see you next week.