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

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 3, Pocket Paladin

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 3: Mister Peeper’s Tours

Put another log on the fire and let me sing for you The Ballad Of Nella Amberleaf, The Pocket Paladin.

I know there’s a lot to get to this episode – the ACTUAL champion’s use of a cloth caster as a human shield, Peepers going wandering (again), the general frustration of monsters in Level 1 adventures that have a disturbingly large hit point pool. But I’m going to start with what’s near and dear to my heart this episode – the fact that druids turn out to be stealth undead killers. (At least at low levels. Don’t know if it scales.) I didn’t really factor this in when building the character, but that is…. Good. To. Know.

Now, the channeled burst heal isn’t unique to druids – any divine or primal caster can get that one. Heck, there’s probably even a way to pick up a heal spell with some sort of ancestry feat letting just about ANYONE pull that little trick. But let’s hear it for everyone’s favorite druid spell that can’t possibly be pronounced THAT way… Shillelagh. Originally, I just wanted it for the fact that it’s basically a potency crystal with a one-minute duration: at the time I took it, I hadn’t even seen that it gets an EXTRA damage die against undead. So at least when using it two-handed, that’s a 3d8 attack as a Level 1 character. Hey battahbattahbattah… SWIIIIIIING battah!

If that seems overpowered… well, it’s worth remembering that the undead thing is fairly situational. And as I mentioned, you can only cast it on your own weapon, and only a staff, which imposes a few fairly onerous restrictions. Now, if you were somehow able to cast it on a heavy-armor fighter and have them wade in and smash things and do attacks of opportunity on anything that tried to get past – OK, that would be kinda O.P., as the Young People™ say.

(I can neither confirm nor deny there was about a 10-minute pause here while I researched what it would take to spec up a fighter-druid hybrid that had access to both Shillelagh and Attack of Opportunity. Yeah, the “no metal armor” restriction would get in the way, but it looks like the Cliff’s Notes answer to that question is “4th level” – if you start fighter and multi-class druid, that’s when you can get real spells and not just cantrips; if you start druid and go fighter, that’s when you can get Attack of Opportunity).

OK, let’s set aside the hypotheticals and get back to the action. As usual, the zombie brutes follow the general Pathfinder/Starfinder Big And Tall Rules: lots of hit points, hit pretty hard, but not all that hard to hit either. It’s not clear whether or not they have reach, but it’s probably pretty safe to assume the answer is yes. So it’s basically going to be a race to see if more small attacks can chop these guys down before they get too many big hits in.

The bad guys get out to an early lead, knocking Peepers out and putting a hefty amount of damage on Millicent, since they were the ones that ended up in the front when the fight broke out. Initially, I thought we’d actually be fighting a rolling retreat, chucking Produce Flames at them while we moved back toward the water. But then things start to turn things around fairly quickly. For starters, it turns out slashing damage actually does extra to the big guys. And then Nella and Nixnox roll out the big guns – the three-action group heal not only does extra radiant damage to undead, but also heals Peepers and Millicent. Nixnox even scores a crit, so his heal is – much like a Pokemon attack – super-effective! All of a sudden, a fight that looked like it could get pretty dire seems mostly manageable.

We even have time for a brief moment of levity, courtesy of Mister Chris Beemer. If this podcast goes another 10 years, our armor-clad fighter saying “I’ve got your back” and then hiding BEHIND the person he just said he’d protect will be an all-time classic. Chris has always had a… ahem… self-protective streak, but this was one for the vaults. On the other hand, maybe he meant it literally – maybe Nixnox had some lint on the back of his cloak and Thorgrim was attempting to brush it off.

On the other hand, Thorgrim gets the last laugh – figuratively and literally – by getting the kill shot on the final brute after everyone else did all the hard work, almost prompting a full-group mutiny. OF COURSE HE DOES. Come on, Dice Gods. Don’t reward that behavior!

With all the creatures disposed of, we begin a search of the temple. First, we land a bit of treasure from the main “shrine” area, but nothing earth-shattering – the potion of water breathing actually would’ve been useful for the earlier puzzle of the lockbox at the bottom of the well; not sure the occult medallion does much for anyone. Then… we finish the session with a bit of exploring. I think there’s a general sense the other adventuring party might appear, but so far… just empty, maze-like hallways.

And then at the end, we hear… something. Scratching.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and give us your thoughts on the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see it next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 2, Peepers on Parade

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 2: Goonies Never Say Die

Welcome to a brand new episode of “Mister Peepers’ Death Wish”. I’m your host, Jason McDonald.

Seriously though… John warned us this was coming, but I didn’t really believe it at first. John has always had an issue with (we’ll call it) impatience and wanting to get on with the action. It even predates the podcast, if we’re being honest. John likes things to HAPPEN. But with Mister Peepers, he’s taken things to a new level and basically built it into the whole character concept. Jump in deep sewer water? Sure. Run down a dark hallway heedless of what might be at the other end? Let’s go. Red wine with fish? Absolutely.

We pick up the action at the close of the crocodile fight. I suppose we could go back up top and collect our reward, and after that crit Chris took, I’m sure most of us at least considered it briefly. But come on… there’s a whole sewer-dungeon here to explore. We’re supposed to be brave adventurers, so let’s be brave and explore.

For the first few minutes, wandering the sewers is proving to be a bit of a dud, and I was even thinking we were SUPPOSED to just go back and get our reward from the goblins. But then… finally… we start finding some new mysteries to get into. The mechanical room ends up being more of a sidebar, but then we find the smuggler’s cove with the sunken boat. I get the feeling Seth (at least) thought the boat was current and the smugglers were in the sewers NOW – personally, I got the sense that the boat was a bit older, but I did get a feeling that taking the boat (or swimming) to the other side of the cove was going to be a necessary next step.  Or just that there would be a second big monster to fight out in the water.

Next, we have the near-miss with the other adventuring party, aided and abetted by what I’m now referring to as “Peepers Mode”. I’m still trying to figure out what’s going to happen there. I agree with Seth’s assessment that if it was just about killing the beastie, they would’ve turned back. They’re down here for a reason. Are they down in the sewers to find anything specific, or are they just down here looking for treasure? (OK, The Plot Gods are telling me a sewer under the current poorest part of town would be an odd place to look for treasure, but let’s let that pass for the moment.) And OK, at some point, are we going to have to fight them? Buuuut… by the time we come back in force, they’re nowhere to be seen, so table that for another time.

While looking for the other group, we find the next side puzzle, the “well” with the lockbox at the bottom. And here’s where we get a little “oh no, there’s two of them”, as Chris joins John in the Impulse Control Olympics and swims down to the bottom of a 15-foot pool. I’m worried that this is going to be a recurring danger – John is going to “Peepers Being Peepers”, but then Chris is going to match him in outrageous behavior and then we have two loose cannons on our hands. And then I’m going to develop stomach ulcers and start losing my hair prematurely.

So Chris goes down to the bottom and we have some momentary drama as he briefly gets caught down there. But the drama is short-lived as he immediately rolls a crit and breaks free. And thus returns to the surface with our some legit treasure, and a hint of plot in the form of a note. (How a note survived at the bottom of a tidal pool inside a sewer… you tell me.)

As a random aside: I’m actually SCUBA certified in real life (my daughter needed the cert for a class trip, and I decided to take the classes along with her), and the bends would be really unlikely to be an issue at that depth. You certainly do notice the pressure, and it’d be hard to hold your breath for long at that depth, but the risk of the bends is generally pretty remote until you go down 30 or 40 feet. Roll For Combat: entertaining AND educational!

Lacking any more map to explore and having lost track of the other adventuring party, it finally becomes time to take the boat and investigate the other side of the lagoon. Where we find… wait for it… an Evil Temple! It always seemed like there was going to be more than one croc to deal with; I thought it was going to be the other adventurers, but this will certainly do. (Unless, as Seth is suggesting, the two concepts merge and the other party are cultists of this particular religion. Is “Dagonites” the proper usage?)

And as the episode ends, we explore the temple a little. At first, there’s not much here except creepy unsettling artwork and a general foreboding atmosphere, but we eventually come across something to fight. And it’s NOT the other adventuring party. (Kinda wish it was, in retrospect). Instead, it’s two BIG undead types that almost certainly have reach and look to be at least as formidable as the croc that nearly killed Thorgrim in the first fight. So I guess we have our work cut out for us next week.

So next week, we get to see if we can fight our way out of this. While you’re waiting for the next episode, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think about the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|03: Rats on the Run

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e03: Plants Are Evil.

We start this week with an unfortunate “show note” as the news of PaizoCon’s cancellation is flying around as I’m writing this. Obviously, everyone’s gotta do what they can to stay safe and healthy, and it wasn’t totally unexpected, but still… disappointing. I hadn’t decided on whether to attend yet, but still… it’s a fun time and I know a lot of you were looking forward to it. Pour one out. Maybe we’ll see if we can do something cool Memorial Day weekend to make up for it – dig the original blue-box D&D out of mothballs and run a session of that or something. Dibs on “FIGHTING MAN”.

The other small show note is that it looks like the two new shows (and therefore the two Talkings) are going to settle into the timeslots occupied by their predecessors. So Three-Ring will run Tuesday with Talking Circus on Thursday, and Black Lodge will run Friday, with Talking on Monday.

So let’s get to it. I wanted to start this week with a brief follow-up on something I wrote last week. Last week I noticed that all three of our “main” adventures started with the investigation of a murder as the inciting event that got things rolling. It’s not meant as a criticism; more marveling at the coincidence that we happened to pick three adventures that all had that same plot hook.

Well, it turns out – as one of our listeners pointed out via email – the coincidence runs even deeper, as all three murder victims were dwarves! So first, a tip of the cap for connecting those dots. But also… OK, Paizo, what do you have against dwarves? It’s almost pathological. Paizo’s dwarven NPCs clearly need to unionize and demand a safer workplace.

Back to our story. We rejoin the action in the aftermath of the circus’ first performance. First, we have a quick pit stop to get paid and interact with the circus folk, and each party member gets 5g for their trouble. On one hand, 5g for one night’s work is pretty good money (especially at Level 1), but it’s important to keep in mind some portion of that is based on getting a perfect performance, so a “normal” payday might not be that high. (We also don’t know if any of that money is going to have to go back into the circus, or if that’s what the rest of the money is for.) I also enjoyed the interaction where Darius gave the rousing speech to make everyone feel better, and then Ateran almost immediately kills the mood Darius was building by suggesting they’re all going to get eaten by rats while they sleep. Well played.

Once the circus troupe is sufficiently scared, it’s time to start investigating. I was a little surprised they didn’t talk more with the snake lady since Myron was bitten by snakes, but instead, it’s time to follow the rat tracks. (Aside: you just KNOW this is going to lead to a swarm fight at some point.) Hap is playing the Nancy Drew role, Darius and Alhara engage in some fun sibling banter, and we learn Ateran has a deep but not fully explained suspicion of all things druidic. Make a note to come back to that – I sense there’s a weird story there. Unfortunately, the rat tracks don’t really provide much clarity, as the tracks lead to Myron’s own trailer. They certainly don’t lead to a neon sign that says “MURDERER LIVES HERE”.

Although… (breaks out the murder-board and a brand-new ball of string)… unless we have TWO plots running simultaneously. We’ve been assuming one druid is controlling all the animal-related shenanigans. But what if?… the ringmaster was controlling the rats and trying to sabotage his own circus, but then someone found out and offed him with the snakes? (Remember, I’m the one who spent half of Plaguestone thinking Noala was a plant working for the other team.)

Well, put a pin in that. They get to the trailer and Alhara gets to break out her Rogue-Lite skills and pick the lock, but that just sets the stage for Darius to eat a face full of pollen attacks. Oops. It’s a short fight because the plants aren’t very tough and have a long recharge before they can attack again, but Darius takes an annoying amount of damage in the process. Poor guy can’t catch a break. The fight is an easy win and reinforces the idea that a druid is involved in the shenanigans since the plants can be grown in a couple of hours. (And in the process we also get a thinly-veiled allegory about the dangers of vaping.)

As an aside, when it comes to the debate about Mountain Stance, put me down for voting that ground should be interpreted as “as opposed to flying or swimming”. Two main reasons. First, stances are not explicitly “elemental” – they’re supposed to be evocative of things. Crane stance emphasizes sweeping defensive moves, dragon style emphasizes kicks, mountain emphasizes standing your ground in one place. But also, it feels like the stance imposes enough other restrictions – you can only make falling stone unarmed strikes, you lose movement speed, and you lose your DEX bonus to armor class – that “you can only do this on natural earth” would make it so situational it’s almost not worth the trouble.

Once the fight is over, Darius gets his second batch of heals of the session, we have a brief search of the trailer and some history of the circus, and that’s basically where we end for the week. It turns out there DOES seem to be a path forward, as it’s implied the rat tracks continue elsewhere – I misunderstood and thought Myron’s trailer was the final destination those – so I guess next week we’ll do “Rat Tracks, The Sequel”. Until then, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show so far. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 1, What a Croc!

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 1: We Be Goblins!

Finally, we can take the wraps off our new podcast, with a bit of combined Episode Zero/Episode One recap for “Tales From The Black Lodge”. This one might be a little longer than usual, so you may want to refresh your beverage of choice before reading this.

This came about from a couple of different forces surrounding the “what do we do next?” conversation when wrapping up Dead Suns. The initial impulse was that we wanted to do something with Society play – it’s something not a lot of other podcasts are doing, but also, it seems like it’s something you the listeners seemed interested in. We only ended up doing two or three Starfinder Society shows because it got overtaken by Pathfinder Second Edition, but people really liked those shows and clamored for more – “when are you guys doing another Society game?” was one of our most-asked questions for a while there. We also thought it would make for a GREAT platform to bring special guests on, since making it easier for strangers to sit down and play together is a large part of what Society is all about. And OK, it would be easier for new listeners to jump in and out if you don’t feel like you have to jump on a train that’s been moving for months or even years.

Lastly, it’s not a big thing, but it’s also a format where we PLAYERS could take a break if we wanted – if life intrudes on an adventure path, the whole operation has to shut down. If someone has to step away from this for a week or two, their character can be off on “another mission” for a few episodes and jump back in later.

But the problem with Society play (at least in a podcast format) is the relative lack of “connective tissue” between stories: watching the team grow and develop and solve the Overarching Mystery is part of the journey, and a bunch of disconnected one-shots might be lacking in that department. Yes, each “season” of Society has an overarching story, but it’s not always evident in any individual adventure, and we wanted something a little more explicit.

So the Black Lodge is our attempt to create a little bit of that “connective tissue”. We’ll still be playing the individual adventures straight up per Society rules, but Steve is filling in the gaps with some story and lore of his own devising. The hope is that creates a happy medium where we’re playing Society the way it was intended, but there’s also a sense of building toward something larger.

Having said all that, there are two things about the show itself that came as news to me when listening to the first episode. First, it seems from the theme music and artwork like there’s a little bit of a suspense/horror vibe to what Steve’s creating. I didn’t realize that, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of that. More interesting was the revelation that we might cross back and forth between the Pathfinder and Starfinder universes. I’m not opposed… just surprised… and curious to understand the nuts and bolts of how all that will work. Do we somehow use the same characters (will there be a Starfinder-compatible Mystic named Nella?) or are we going to play different people? Is it a “parallel stories” thing where the two paths converge later and the Starfinder team working for a future iteration of the Black Lodge will find clues left by the exploits of the Pathfinder team? Or is it more of a straightforward “we find a time portal and can go back and forth between the two”? And most importantly, is Rick Sanchez involved in any way?

So that’s the background of the show. Next up… the cast of characters. As Steve mentioned, the core group is going to be me, Seth, Chris, and John, and we’ll usually have one or more “special guests” in each episode. This time out, it’s Vanessa Hoskins from Know Direction, who has been part of the core cast in our Plaguestone and Three-Ring Adventure shows. Bob is taking a little break, but we’re hoping to induce him to return at some point. So make sure to stroke his ego by saying nice things about Rusty Carter on our Discord channel.

I’ll look at the other characters more as we get into the gameplay, but for now, I’ll start with myself. I’m playing Nella Amberleaf, a half-elf druid of the Wild Order (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one). As far as her character/roleplay notes, she’s kind of a less pretentious version of Brixley – she’s got some of that same naïve trusting nature, but less flashy and ostentatious. Raised on the edge of civilization, so she’s not going to navigate high society and big cities well. Rural, but more “practical ranch-hand who speaks in analogies about birthing animals” than “what’re you lookin’ at, city slicker?”.

I ended up on druid by the process of elimination, to be honest. I knew I didn’t want to play a pet class since Tuttle (intentionally) and Brixley (as a product of circumstance) ended up as pet people. Also… not a class thing, but for the same reason, I didn’t want to be short. I had already rolled a monk for a previous Society game, but I was also playing a monk in my home 5E game so I didn’t really want to double up on monk-y business (groan). I wanted to play around with spells, but not necessarily as a cloth caster. So it kind of came down to bard or druid, and druid won out as a bit of a throwback to my druid from the Carrion Crown adventure path in First Edition. (The one who was nicknamed “Windy” because he spent most of his time in air elemental form). I recognize that at Level 1, it’s going to be a little rough – I’ll mostly have to lay back and chuck Produce Flame at people, and my Wild Shape is limited to Pest Form, which is basically the sorts of animals you can get at pet shops – cats, lizards, rats, and such. But we’ll see how it goes.

(One observation: I clearly need to work on my character names a little. Now I’ve got a “Nella”, and my Starfinder Society character was “Nala”. Which could get even more confusing if THAT’s the character we use for the Starfinder portion of the program.)

With the podcast and my character introduced, let the adventure begin!

We start with a plot setup via exploding Black Lodge raven, a with a little tip of the cap to Mission Impossible. Our mission is to help the goblins and investigate the sewers below the playhouse they’re using as a base of operations. After a bit of social-encounter wrangling, we have our first challenge… to put on a play for the theater-enamored goblins. Thanks mostly to Seth figuring out where the writers were going there and getting there first.

Look, I like Seth. And I think he’s doing some great roleplay as Nix Nox (and as Hirogi back in Dead Suns). But he does have a tendency to try to analyze and deconstruct the action that borders on metagaming. I don’t always know where that line is – we all let our “outside” knowledge of the game system color our actions within the game a little. But sometimes Seth just gets out the big yellow highlighter and says “yeah, we’re going to do this because the writer probably wanted us to do XYZ”. Which… OK, I like my metagaming a little more IMPLIED.

It’s not like he was wrong. Society games are written with conventions and other public play sessions in mind, so they assume the players may be strangers to each other in real life. Which means they often include a little bit of a low-stakes “icebreaker” activity early in the game to give people a chance to interact with the training wheels on before doing it under combat conditions. But still…

So we do our play-within-a-play, and I have to agree with the sentiment that the star here was Vanessa as Millicent. Playing the human, but clearly annoyed and embarrassed the entire time – either at the representation of humans as stupid and cowardly or at the bad writing in general. (Millicent’s got NOTES, y’all.) It also wasn’t lost on me that “We Be Heroes” is also still the story of organizing a retreat, so I guess goblins set the bar a little lower for heroism than the rest of us. But whatever… we all do our best goblin voices and win the right to go down to the monster-infested basement.

Where after a little bit of snooping around… croc fight!

The first thing that jumped out at me about this fight was how, at least at Level 1, Nixnox and I are playing functionally similar characters. We both lean on Produce Flame and have access to heals (I think Nixnox is a primal sorcerer, so… makes sense). I suppose the difference is that I can risk melee in certain situations since I can use a shield and have Shillelagh, but I still don’t really want to be going toe-to-toe with stuff for multiple rounds. At least for this fight, I was willing to let other people stand in front and take the beating.

And oh what a beating it was, at least fairly early in the fight. After a messy first round where pretty much no one hit, poor Thorgrim gets one-shotted on a crit for 30 points of damage. It even got within hailing distance of invoking the “massive damage” instant-death rules. These first few levels can get pretty deadly, as we learned all about in Plaguestone. But hey, at least getting killed by a giant crocodile is manly; try being beaten to death by shrubbery.

The debate about the croc’s death roll and the Grab ability spawned a little bit of conversation over on our Discord channel, some of which was captured in the game, some of which we found later. To re-summarize: Grab normally costs one action, but the text of Grab is ambiguous and makes it sound like the grab was part of the attack action (“the monster automatically grabs the target”). We eventually found out that the thing that “fills in the blanks” and makes it all make sense is Improved Grab. Grab still takes one action; Improved Grab makes it a free action as part of the attack. So the “automatically” more likely refers to the target not getting a saving throw.

Now that does mean that theoretically, the croc shouldn’t have been able to move, attack, AND grab in a single turn, but I’m willing to accept Steve’s retcon of “well if I would’ve known that the croc would’ve just skipped on the grab entirely”. No real harm done. Beyond the 30 points of damage, of course.

The good news about big nasty “brute” creatures like this is they tend to be pretty easy to hit, which also means we’ll get our fair share of crits too. So messy start aside, we soon begin to take the fight in hand, and it’s a race to get the beast down before it crits again. Luckily we do so, and our first combat ends in victory!

Which is where we’ll pick it up next week. The Beast is dead, but we’ve still got some splorin’ to do. First episode in the can – you know what to do. Drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think so far: Okay, one episode isn’t a LOT to go on, but all feedback is welcome. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|02: CSI: Pyromaniac Teenager

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e02: Punch Drunk.

I don’t know if it was just first-episode unfamiliarity, the transition from player to spectator was disorienting, or if I was distracted by all the stuff happening in real life – maybe a little bit of all three. Or maybe it’s overload from The Week We Have Four Shows Running Simultaneously. But I have to admit the first episode of Three-Ring Adventure was a bit of a blur. Yes, I listened to it, but I’m not sure more than about 30 percent of it fully permeated into my brain. This episode, I feel like I’ve got my legs under me a little more. Things are starting to slow down a little and make more sense, and I’m feeling like I’m starting to understand the circus mechanic a little better now. Though maybe it took a little bit of combat (even of the non-lethal variety) to kind of re-orient me.

We start this week with Darius and Alhara (place your bets on how long it’ll be until I start calling them the “Wonder Twins”) squaring off against a couple of drunks in the crowd. The first thing that stood out was “how the hell do these guys have so many hit points?” YOU’RE TOWNSPEOPLE! GO UNCONSCIOUS ALREADY. Then again, you hear these stories about people who get all sorts of Liquor Strength and the cops have to taze them like 20 times, so I guess we’ll allow it.

More importantly, I enjoyed the effort Rob and Vanessa made to make their combat “theatrical” and entertaining – the moves, the witty banter, even Rob spanking the one dude after he was unconscious. It’s a nice fit with the idea of a group of adventurers who are also performers at heart. I just thought it was a really nice touch.

Once crowd control has been taken care of, we get back to Rob P. and Loren performing the circus acts (though with Rob performing as one of the NPC acts, rather than as Ateran). I guess we have our answer to how the circus rules work – anything that counts as “flavor” for the act just kinda… happens… as part of your act. If you want your fire spell to turn into a flock of birds, then it turns into a flock of birds. (As an aside, I like to imagine a class at the local magic academy where you’ve got 29 mages dutifully measuring quantities of material components while Hap is sitting at a desk in the back doing fire origami). On the other hand, you can’t make your abilities do anything game-altering, like an extra 10d6 of damage. Again, I thought both players did a great job of coming up with neat tricks for their act, though I’m going to give Rob some extra credit here for devising an act for a character that a) wasn’t his and b) was also a fire-based act.

Luckily the group gets lucky with their rolls – well, lucky enough, even with Hap missing a roll twice – and the team manages to get a perfect show their first time out! Meaning an increase in prestige AND a crap-ton of gold. To be fair, though, that crap-ton isn’t going to go so far once we get to the business side of the circus. I assume the other acts will have to get paid, there may be costs for renting the location, standard room and board costs, upgrades and repairs, and so on. On the other hand, I assume higher prestige means you can charge more for tickets, get bigger crowds, and make more money (hopefully) on future shows. Like I said in the Episode Zero review, I’m actually a sucker for the occasional management sim, so I’m kinda curious how that plays out.

(Also, it’s probably a byproduct of playing fantasy baseball 30 years ago before they had websites to do the math for you, but I LOVE a good spreadsheet. Making a note to check out Vanessa’s work later).

Once the show ends, it’s time to dig deeper into the murder. As the investigation unfolds it looks like the ringmaster was chomped by venomous snakes (probably the same ones the team cleared out from under the bleachers), and there are also signs the rats (the same ones that chewed the net?) may have been under some sort of supernatural control. One might even say “druidic”.

Now I have to admit to a mild pet peeve on reusing unsolved murder as the Call To Action. Plaguestone started with Bort The Travelling Merchant getting whacked, if you remember, so this is our second time doing this dance. (And now that I think about it, Dead Suns started with our spaceport contact getting shot too.) I will grant it’s a little more compelling here because the circus is meant to be comprised of people with pre-existing history and not some rando you met the same day, but still… can we get back to wizards dropping by with a band of dwarves looking to fill holes in their party?

Second, I know it just happened to flow out of which skill checks were needed at the moment, but the idea that Hap ended up leading the investigation was an equal mix of horrifying (by all means, let’s have the teenage girl examine the corpse because that won’t require years of therapy to untangle later) and amusing (Hap is now shaping up as a pyromaniac with oddly specific knowledge of snakes and rats… cool).

So we end the week at a crossroads. “Follow up on the murder” seems like the obvious choice, but we might also take a detour into managing the circus first. Which one will we do? I guess we’ll have to come back next week and see for ourselves. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 128: The Doctor is Out

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 128: All Hail The Conquering Heroes!

So this is it… the end of the Dead Suns podcast.

I don’t know how many of you will get this reference, but there’s a scene in HBO’s John Adams, right after the vote to issue the Declaration of Independence, where the delegates just sit there in silence… “What did we just do? What happens next?”.

That’s a little bit how ending this Dead Suns campaign felt – both at the time we played this final session, and now as I’m writing the last episode blog entry. Happy? Of course. We saved the universe from undead conquerors! Can’t argue with that. Sad? Yeah, a little. But the prevailing mood was more like “quiet reflection” on the last two and a half years and What It All Means.

On one hand, it’s just another pit stop in over a decade playing with this gaming group. We end this one, we get going with the next one, and the world keeps spinning around the sun. But at the same time, this was special. In addition to being our first real exposure to Starfinder, it was the game that begat a podcast… the only game where I have a T-shirt of my character… the only game where my NPC companion has a fan club. It feels like the end of something bigger.

Tuttle as a character is one of those characters I’m going to remember many games down the road. I could barely tell you the name of the rogue I ran Emerald Spire with… just some fairly random bird guy. I know my Carrion Crown druid was named Jerryx because that’s one of my go-to character names, but he was kind of an empty suit without any real personality or distinctive features – I basically roleplayed him as “me, but I can cast spells”. But Tuttle is one of those characters that worked: I had a good sense of who he was, and he had the sort of moments that stick in your memory. Goblification of CHDRR. Saving the party with the teleportation puck. Aeon Tuttle. It’s been a fun ride for a character concept I mostly picked because it was different than what I’d been playing.

I’ll also say this: I’m fairly pleased with Tuttle’s epilogue, though I didn’t mean for it to come across as sounding quite so greedy.

When thinking it up in my head, I was approaching it more from the “For Science!” angle than the “Gotta Get Paid” one. Tuttle has always been about the quest for knowledge, and this ancient society had technology that was superior to contemporary Pact Worlds (see also: multi-planet demi-planes, superweapons that can stop fusion in a star, that teleporter booth that zapped Hirogi Mk 1). That “Foundry” was a manufacturing facility and the room of the final boss fight was some sort of library, so I’m thinking there’s a treasure trove of scientific discovery to be found there. And ALL the way back at Level 1, that’s why Tuttle left his lab in the first place… to pursue scientific discovery. But in my mind’s eye, that was actually part of his growth – Level 1 Tuttle probably would’ve been content to grind out some patents and get rich, but Level 13 Tuttle genuinely wants to do good in the world. Being an adventurer changed him for the better.

The only reason I brought money into it is that Tuttle would need some amount of seed money to put a team together to get back to Istamak, and it’s not the sort of thing he’d want to go fully public with by going to banks for loans. He’d have to get a spaceship, hire some research assistants, provide food and shelter (though the locals might be able to help there), setup a basic lab on Istamak. So the initial idea was “make just enough money to enable his life of science and then spend several years sifting through data on Istamak”. Somewhere in there, between explaining things poorly and Steve egging it on, it took on a life of its own and morphed into “Tuttle is going to turn into Jeff Bezos and rule the world from his billionaire castle”.

Of course, it didn’t help that John managed to pick the most diametrically opposed (and wholesome) epilogue story, making me look like a devious backstabber in comparison. Which… I guess on some level I am, but still… don’t like having my nose rubbed in it. John’s going to open a soup kitchen and give all the Kish kids piggy-back rides while I’m robbing them of all their tech and kicking puppies. Lovely.

I liked everyone’s plans, really. Mo’s plan works for him – he’s the world-weary soldier that finally gets to lay down his pike and live the simple life. Bob’s plans to have Rusty become a media mogul seem pretty inspired, though I figured he’d eventually turn to politics and get himself elected Supreme Sovereign of the Pact Worlds. Doesn’t matter if such a position doesn’t exist yet – Rusty will get it created. I like the idea that Hirogi is off to the Roll For Combat multiverse, destined to serve the same role in the Roll For Combat universe that Wit plays in Brandon Sanderson’s books. I do think Steve should lean into it and have a different person play Hirogi every time, though. (Eventually culminating in Gary Oldman, because that dude can play ANYONE). Chris’ epilogue is played a little more laughs, but it was still pretty funny (for a demon). And OK, it’s kind of fitting that Chris would dedicate his post-campaign life to nursing an in-game grievance.

Will Tuttle and CHDRR ever return to the airwaves? I’m certainly not opposed to the idea; I just don’t know exactly when we’ll get around to it. Like Steve, swords-and-sorcery are really my bread and butter, so I want to scratch the Pathfinder Second Edition itch for a bit. But someday, when the Pact Worlds really need them, Tuttle and CHDRR may yet ride again.

Lastly, I know this isn’t really good-bye – we’re still here and playing – but I still wanted to take a pause to tip my cap to you listeners who have come on this journey with us. Yeah, we made it to the end, but so did you… 128 episodes, however many hours of recorded show… that’s a lot of 80’s sci-fi references, occasional rules mistakes, and squirrely microphone issues to endure. We’d still be playing even if no one was listening, but it’s still nice to see the comments and kind words and know that people have been enjoying what we’ve been doing all this time. So thanks for coming on this journey with us, and hope you’re gonna stick around to hear where we go next.

DOCTOR Tuttle Blacktail, signing off.

Talking Plaguestone 34: So Long And Thanks For All The Turnips

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 34: The Final Countdown.

And so here we are, saying farewell to our Plaguestone podcast. The town is saved, the party lived… all is well in Plaguestone, which will hopefully have a more optimistic nickname if we ever visit again. “Brixleyville”, maybe? And on a gaming level, we survived our first experience with Second Edition, though there were moments where pretty much all of us ended up right on death’s door.

For all the surrounding drama, the final fight ended up being a bit of a squash match, as the final opponent ends up being a single alchemical drudge. The drama here is not that we’re in any great danger of “losing” in conventional terms – we’ve fought groups of three or four of these at a time; one doesn’t seem like that much of a challenge. The danger here is that it didn’t necessarily have to beat us to win, it (theoretically) just had to make it to the stone at the center of town and activate the doomsday device. There’s a version of this fight where, if we had rolled poorly and it just used all of its action on moves, we might have only had 2 or 3 rounds to get it down before things got bad.

That was part of why I figured it was safe to burn my Lay On Hands on Pari. (Aside from the fact that it felt like the noble, heroic thing to do.) This fight was all about burning the bad guy down. If any of us were to drop, we’d just have to fend for ourselves because the other three are going to have to keep damaging the enemy. So healing wasn’t going to be a big priority except as a means of keeping our damage output going. Speaking of which, I was even thinking that if we could get Pari back in the fight, that’s a fifth blade on our side.

Fortunately, the dice were very much in our favor, with a little Hero Point assist on Prue’s grapple and a timely crit. Problem solved, town saved… cue the ticker-tape parade. We even managed to save Pari in the process; Sir Kent… not so lucky. Sorry, man.

In the leadup to this, I wouldn’t say I was mad at Vanessa for getting impatient and storming off, but I feel like she was maybe misunderstanding the rest of the group a little. I don’t think anyone really wanted to take a long rest or search every room for treasure; I think we mostly wanted to top off with my reusable heals (3 or 4 Lay On Hands) and search one or two key locations to see if we could get any sort of hint about what we might be facing when we got back to Plaguestone. One the other hand, it totally works as a story/roleplay moment – over the course of this journey, Celes probably developed the deepest connection to the town by virtue of finding (distant) family there, so it actually makes sense that she’s willing to charge head-first into the final battle. Even if we were destined to be overmatched. So if it was a roleplay thing… bravo. Even if it wasn’t… no big deal, it worked out in the end.

Then again, to be fair to Vanessa (the player) I’ll also admit the pre-fight dallying lasted a lot longer than I remember. I had been thinking we basically ran back to Plaguestone the minute Vilree’s body hit the floor. Going back and listening again, even I wanted us to get a move on.

Another thing that jumped out at me was the ending after the fight was done. Calm Rational Me two months later thinks the ending got a little too huggy and started to feel like an “ABC After-School Special” (that’s one of those references that’s going to lose half of you, isn’t it?). Maybe it was that we stayed late to finish and it was coming up on midnight, maybe everyone was just a little emotional about finishing six months of adventuring, maybe we felt like we needed to “put a bow” on it all… but there were a LOT of sentimental speeches about the value of courage and friendship… I thought I’d wandered into an episode of My Little Pony. Then again Calm Rational Me is a grouchy asshole, so feel free to disregard him if you liked it.

One thing I’ve been doing for the other shows, and I guess I’m going to do for this one as well is the “RFC Casting Call” – who would I cast in the party roles if we were making an RFC movie or TV show? The easiest (or maybe a little bit laziest) one is Prue: I’m stealing Gina Carano from The Mandalorian and throwing some orc tusks on her. We need Prue to be an imposing ass-kicker. The idea that Celes is dignified and descended from royalty put me in mind of Claire Foy of The Crown – I feel like she could capture Celes pretty well. Cade and Brixley initially gave me a little bit of trouble just because of the CGI shrinkage – which actor is still gonna be plausible when you reduce them to about 2/3rds size? For Cade, we want someone with a little bit of a shifty look like you can’t totally trust him, so I actually settled on Rami Malek based on his work in Mr. Robot. For Brixley, other than the fact that he’s short and gnomish, he’s supposed to have a good charisma so he should be a fairly good-looking dude – after kicking a few different ideas around, the wheel settled on Chris Pine (though I briefly thought about going more of a comic take and using Seth Rogen).

So where do things go from here? Well, as Steve says, the characters go on a shelf for a bit, but the shows continue. (According to the favorite saying of a former boss, “the dogs bark, but the caravan rolls on”). I do plan to whip up a Level 4 sheet for Brixley at some point just for the exercise of doing so, but there are no immediate plans for using him. He and Ember will just be off spreading their unique brand of cheer and goodwill. Though what I said two months ago is actually fairly prescient – a foppishly-dressed gnome with a fire cat would actually fit well in a circus environment. JUST SAYIN’. As for me the player, I’m moving on to our Black Lodge show, which you’ll hear more about… well, you can listen to it already, but I’ll pound out a few paragraphs as soon as I get caught up on everything else. Four podcasts in one week is a LOT of writing.

In closing, I wanted to thank you all for listening to our show these past few months, and giving your comments, even when it was to point out when we were being potato-heads and doing rules wrong. I don’t want to get too dramatic about it because at the end of the day we’re still here doing different shows, but it’s nice to have taken this little journey through Pathfinder Second Edition with you. Rather than the usual admonition to see you back here next week, I guess we’ll see you in one of our other shows. But “thanks for listening” still applies, so… thanks for listening!

Talking Circus S1|01: A Death-Defying Debut

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e01: The Show Must Go On.

I mentioned this in my Plaguestone column as well, but I wanted to apologize for the delay getting this out – real-life intruded in the form of coronavirus planning at work, and this column ended up being one of the first things to end up on the back burner. So… sorry about that.

Which is a shame, because it’s pretty exciting to be debuting the third “feature-length” Roll For Combat podcast (we also dabbled a little with Starfinder Society and the Second Edition playtest, but those were closer to one-shots). Trying to fold “Pathfinder: Circus Simulator” in on top of the Pathfinder we all know and love seems like an interesting premise for an adventure path, and for me, yes, it’s exciting to set aside the foreknowledge of events unfold and just react to one of our shows from a listener perspective for once.

I’m pretty excited about the character concepts that Vanessa, Loren, and the Robs have given us. I think out of the gates, my knee-jerk early favorite is Hap – there’s something about teenage pyromania that stirs the soul. Ateran is a little hard to get a read on, but that’s partly because Rob is playing them as hard to get a read on. And I’m REALLY interested to see how Rob T. and Vanessa will explore the dynamic of playing as brother and sister. And doesn’t even scratch getting to see the Witch (Ateran) and Swashbuckler (Alhara) for the first time in the Second Edition setting.

I did want to take a brief detour based on a comment I made in the Dead Suns Discord channel. One of our listeners joked on Discord that they wanted a Netflix series based on the show. I said that I wouldn’t sign unless Paul Giamatti was going to do the voice of Tuttle. So now I have to cast the movie version of… well, probably all three of our shows eventually, but I guess this one now gets to go first. Consider it my treat for making you wait for this column.

Darius turns out to be the easiest casting call because the artwork almost immediately gives me big Jason Momoa vibes. Big strong gregarious guy, flowing locks, looks like a guy who would close a bar singlehandedly? Yeah, that’s Aquaman.  With Alhara, I feel like Trace Lysette is probably the call here – I thought about Jamie Clayton from Sense8, but she’s older than Momoa, and we need a younger sister. (Also: transgender character, transgender actress. There are plenty of other roles for Scarlett Johanssen to play.)  Ateran is giving me a little trouble – I got an initial Johnny Depp vibe off the artwork (I suppose it was the Burton-esque streak of white hair), but I need someone both younger and taller. Ateran is supposed to be tall and Jason Momoa is going to make a short person look even shorter. Alexander Skarsgard is a pretty good actor who checks in at 6’4” and I think his angular features could look pretty mysterious with the right costuming and makeup, so let’s sign him up. Hap gives me problems just because I’m not as familiar with actual teenage actors, so I’m just going to be somewhat uninventive and say Dafne Keen because I thought she was great in Logan. Or if we need to bow to the reality that Hollywood always casts young-looking 20-somethings as teenagers, there’s always Maisie Williams.

As a completely separate digression-within-a-digression (DIGRESSION INCEPTION!), I’ll also note that if any of you are playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Ateran is giving me Hubert vibes and Hap feels like a mirror-universe version of Lysithea. I am far too old to actually yell “where my Three Houses people at?” but consider yourselves acknowledged if you’re out there.

OK, “RFC Goes Hollywood” digression over. Back to our story…

We begin our first episode with a bang, as there’s a murder mystery unfolding on top of the group’s first show together as a circus. There’s not a lot of time to get into the murder itself beyond establishing that yes the ringmaster is dead, and making it apparent foul play is involved. This leaves our intrepid adventurers in the task of having to put together a show on the fly, since the guy who would normally do it is indisposed. Permanently. And as the show unfolds, it turns out the murder of the ringmaster may not be the only malfeasance as there’s evidence of sabotage directed at some of the acts.

I have to admit it’s going to take me an episode or two to really “get” the workings of the circus. I followed the broad strokes, but there were times I got a little lost in how it all fit together. But the three main levers of success are anticipation, excitement, and prestige.

Prestige feels like it’s a measure of overall success – almost like the circus is a character and prestige are the experience points for the circus as a whole. You have a good show, the circus gets more famous; you have a bad show, and it doesn’t go up as much (or even goes down). It doesn’t seem like you do much to manage prestige while the show is going on; just don’t roll a bunch of 1’s and suck.

Excitement is generated by doing the individual tricks successfully – though it turns out there are circumstances where even an unsuccessful trick could still be exciting. (Ask my teenage son and his friends, who treat “epic fail” videos as a form of currency.) For example, the aerial act partially failed, but in a way that still generated excitement. Same with the snakes getting loose in the tent and having to collect them up – even though it represents a negative outcome, the fans thought it was part of the show and found it interesting. Go figure.

“Anticipation” is the hardest one to get a handle on initially, since it seems to play off managing the flow between the acts. If you do all boring stuff, no anticipation (obviously). If you do all EXCITING stuff, it limits your anticipation because you eventually overload your fans and they’re numb to it. So it’s a balancing act of giving the fans some pauses to breathe to make the exciting moments pop even more… unless the tricks start to fail, in which case you may have to go all-out just to get their interest back.

My other question coming in was how the characters’ “circus powers” would interact with the things that a low-level Second Edition character can actually do. It seems the route the adventure path designers took is two-fold. The first is that the characters can do their act regardless of whether it’s technically on the list of things an adventurer can do – the DC roll might just be higher if the skills aren’t a proper match. The second thing they did was fill out the circus with a roster of NPC acts, so it’s not all on the players to generate the show content – you may not want a Level 1 druid or ranger to be able to control an army of birds in the adventure setting, but giving that ability to an NPC doesn’t unbalance anything.

This time out, we got to see three of our four characters’ acts in action. Darius and Alhara stage a somewhat Medieval Times-y mock battle between an adventurer (Alhara) and a monster (Darius) protecting its treasure, while Hap… well… makes stuff blow up. This time around, Ateran ended up working behind the scenes so we didn’t really get to see their act in action. Maybe next time.

We also didn’t get to see anything about the overall management of the circus. Understandable given where we enter the story, but it’ll be interesting to get further into that aspect in future episodes. Confession time: one of my other free-time pursuits is sports games that have a management/front-office simulator. I don’t really play the actual on-field games that much, but I love playing around building rosters, making trades, deciding which coaches should improve which players and such. It’s kind of neat playing around with those little alternate universes.

There’s something about this circus concept that’s similarly appealing – aside from actually executing the individual shows, there’s this idea of managing acts, playing around with the business side of the show, and such that’s going to be neat to watch unfold. I do worry it could get a little TOO crunchy – I swear if we have to refer to an Excel spreadsheet to understand what’s happening… I’ll lead the riot myself.

Overall though… a very interesting first episode. We meet our cast of characters, get to see the circus in action, and we’ve got a mystery for the players to sink their collective teeth into when the performance ends. It’ll be fun to see where things go next week in Episode Two. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord server or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 127: Roll For Combat: The Movie

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 127: Dancing On The Ceiling

Welcome to the penultimate episode of the journey we’ve been on for the past two-and-a-half years. I’m not going to dwell on that too much this week, because I’ll have nothing left for next week if I do, but it’s still pretty crazy.

Instead, I’m going to start by indulging something that arose in the Discord chat… the RFC Casting Call. Someone in the spoilers channel said they actually wanted to see our Dead Suns game turned into a Netflix series. At the time, I responded with a fairly throwaway joke about not being willing to sign unless Paul Giamatti is the voice of Tuttle, but that short interaction got the old mental hamster wheel turning. So at the risk of going off in the weeds for a few moments, let’s look at the casting for Roll For Combat Dead Suns: The Movie.

First, we’ve established that Paul Giamatti would have to be the voice of Tuttle. I realize Discord isn’t “etched in stone” but I’m gonna follow my initial instincts on that one. In chess terms, I took my hand off the piece. CHDRR? Well, we’ve established that most cinematic robots are British, so it’s really just what flavor of soothingly British voice we want to go with. In which case… screw it: Idris Elba it shall be. I thought about Cumberbatch but he’s already got enough voice work for one lifetime, let’s spread it around some.

Next up is Rusty Carter. Bradley Cooper has that same kind of rakish charm that Rusty has, so that’s been my internal picture of him pretty much since we started. It also opens up the option to gimmick-cast Lady Gaga as some sort of space alien to tap into some A Star Is Born nostalgia. And she can supply her own wardrobe, so that’s a plus.

With Mo, maybe I’m being easily influenced by recently rewatching Sons of Anarchy, but I’m getting a Ron Perlman vibe for him. It seems like he could do “world-weary soldier running from his past” pretty well. Perlman might be a little old, but CGI can clean most of that up. Clancy Brown also crossed my mind for similar reasons.

With Hirogi, my first silly thought was to gimmick cast the Hemsworth brothers, so it would be one Hemsworth before he vanishes on Istamak and one when he returns. That’s a long way to go for a joke, though. My second impulse was to make Hirogi more of a martial artist, just to give the combat more different flavors than just pew-pew-pew. (Operatives are theoretically good at melee; Hirogi has just never really done so.) If Donnie Yen was 5 or 10 years younger, he’d be my first choice, but now I’m feeling like Mark Dacascos (most recently the villain from the third John Wick movie, but perhaps more importantly, the Chairman from the American version of Iron Chef) is the way to go here.

That leaves Akiro. I had a little trouble with this one at first. I was looking for someone who was good at “morally ambiguous” since Akiro himself has a little bit of that. Also, someone who might fit the character art. Finally, on the bus home from work, it hit me – James Callis. Who did “morally ambiguous” better than Gaius Baltar? He could even make the beard work, as the later seasons of Galactica proved.

I know it’s a bit of an odd mix: you’ve got some Hollywood A-list at the top end, down to people who haven’t even been on TV in a few years. I thought about going a little more granular and having two versions — the summer blockbuster movie version and the TV version – but I kinda ran out of steam, so you just get one combined version.

Meanwhile… back in the game, the main thrust of this week’s adventure is getting off the ship, while dealing with the continuing weird gravity effects. We’re on the ceiling, we’re on the floor, then we’re floating in zero-G – it almost started to seem like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Meanwhile, Akiro’s gradual robotification (giving the casting choice above, is he revealing himself to be a Cylon?) finally ends, but he’s still hanging on at death’s door.

We do run into a few last-minute surprises, though. First, Hirogi decides to stay behind and finish the job, which… I mean… it seems unnecessary once we’re caught in the gravity well, but OK? I guess he’s got a plan to get out of there at the last minute, but I’m kinda confused about how he’s going to get back out of the demi-plane without a spaceship. Whatever. His character. If he’s got a death wish, I guess that’s his business.

Then we arrive at the escape pods, and we seem to be short one. I thought Steve was going to actually make us choose who to leave behind, but then he bailed us out by letting us double up. Part of me wonders if that was originally going to be the case, but Steve decided not to double up on the noble sacrifice once Hirogi decided to stay behind. I do wonder how long it takes for escape pods to make it back to Pact Worlds space, and if things might get a little ripe in that pod, but still… better than staying here.

Lastly, I have to admit I genuinely forgot about this, but Serovox didn’t actually leave! As we leave this episode, Hirogi gets hit with one final fireball. It’s probably too late to stop the collision, but it might make Hirogi’s escape plan a little dicey.

So… next week is it. We say goodbye to almost two-and-a-half years of this campaign. If you’ve lasted this long, I assume you’ve got one more in you, so we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 33: The Villainous Vilree

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 33: Kill It With Fire!

I’m gonna start with a brief “show note” of my own. I recognize I still owe you guys an Episode 1 recap for the new podcast and a review of the Game Master’s Guide. They’re still coming. Unfortunately, it became a busy week in real life – I do IT work at a university that decided to move to distance learning because of COVID-19, so the relative quiet of spring break became a pretty hectic week and some of my writing slipped. I’ll try to get caught up shortly.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Plaguestone, it’s finally here: the final fight against Vilree. No more long rests, no more dungeon crawling… time to do battle for all the marbles. It may not make any difference if she’s REALLY put her plan in motion already – that’s what she CLAIMS, anyway – but that’s not gonna get her out of a butt-whuppin’.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a boss fight without a surprise… or two. The first was actually revealed at the tail end of the previous episode, in the form of another alchemical monstrosity: more of a Drudge On Steroids than the guy we fought the previous episode. But we also get a third rematch with Greytusk the Orc, the same archer who harassed us when we first stormed the gates, and then set off the fight with the water-sharks by shooting the statue. She’s been a thorn in our side for a while now. We’ve never formally been introduced, but Steve’s said her name enough, she feels like family.

The first thing that’s leaping out at me as I re-listen to this battle is that we FINALLY got all my powers right. I suppose that’s cheating a bit: since we didn’t take a rest, I didn’t actually have a Lay On Hands. But at this point, I knew the rule correctly, so I WOULD have done it correctly if I had. And I did get my champion ability correct and not take an extra attack. So hey… next-to-last episode and I finally know how to play my character correctly. Yay me!

The other thing that stands out to me is how little role I played in actually winning the fight. Other than the initial alchemical salvo we fired off in Round 1, my rolls were basically terrible the entire fight, and I also burned a lot of actions just on movement, between myself and controlling the cat. Ember made herself a bit of a nuisance in the Greytusk portion of the battle, but other people seemed to do most of the heavy lifting of killing Vilree and her creation. I guess the important thing is we won, but it’s always a bit of a hollow feeling when you beat the Big Bad and didn’t get a chance to contribute much.

I have to admit I had forgotten that crit Vilree landed from across the room. I get that the dice say what the dice say, but there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about that. First, there’s the distance aspect – maybe crits ought to be harder outside the range increment or something. But also, I suppose if I had to put my finger on it, it’s feeling like if you’re gonna get a ranged crit, there ought to be some sort of precision component to it. A sniper shooting a bow from yards away and getting a shot to a vital organ makes intuitive sense; chucking a bomb doesn’t immediately leap out as something where you could get extra damage by placing it just right. (Unless there’s either a tank of flammable materials where you land it or unless it’s a Michael Bay movie.)

It’s not the end of the world – the rules are the rules and I think that ended up being the only damage I took in the fight – but it’s just a little… “off” in my brain. I suppose it’s of a kindred spirit with “Alchemical flasks are martial weapons? Really?”

Another thing I don’t really want to obsess about but still felt kind of off was Greytusk using Orcish Ferocity to run away. Maybe I’m just imposing my own “fight ‘til you drop” value system on the situation, but I kinda figured it was like an out-of-control berserker rage thing and Greytusk would use the extra round to keep attacking. “Orcish Tactical Retreat” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Still though, there’s a little piece of me that likes the idea that she got away… unless of course, that means we have to fight Round 4 with her back at Plaguestone.

For extra credit, if she’s left as an unresolved thread, I now kinda want Steve to work Greytusk into Three-Ring Adventure. “You’re flying through the air on a trapeze, and arrows go whistling past your head. Roll for initiative!”

I suppose if there’s a high point to the fight, it was actually getting to use Ember as an honest-to-goodness mount for at least a few rounds. That was kind of exciting. Mounted combat is kinda frustrating at low levels – among other things if you’re mounted you share the same multi-attack penalty with your pet – but as a taxi service, giving up one move for two really can’t be beat. There’s probably some Ember/Uber joke dying to be made, but I’m not seeing it right now, so… consider it one of those things I’ll forget about for three weeks and then drop it in as a complete non-sequitur in a column about one of the other shows.

So we dispense with the golem fairly easily, we get Greytusk to run away… and we finally have Vilree cornered. Personally I felt like it might have been good to see if we could hold up and get more information out of her, and it seemed like Steve even dropped a little hint in that direction by giving her a last moment of monologue, but nope… not only did we finish the job, but Prue half-kidding/half-not dumps her body in the river. Which was funny, but not necessarily the wisest move if we’ve still got a town to save.

So next week is it. Without giving away too much, it seems like our clear course here is to hoof it back to Plaguestone and see what’s what. It seems like there are three main possible outcomes here. Option One is that Vilree was telling the truth, we’re too late to stop her plans, and we get to do a final “walk of shame” through the ruins of our fan club while we contemplate all those long rests we took. Option Two is that Vilree was TOTALLY lying, the last danger to the town is eliminated, and we get to go back for a big Turnip Party. Option Three is she was telling the truth that plans were in progress but was lying insofar as there’s still time to stop them. In which case, there’s going to be a FINAL encounter with whoever or whatever Vilree sent to destroy the town. (And Greytusk of course, because THAT’S not getting old at all.) So join us back here next week when we find out which page of the Choose Your Own Adventure book we flip to. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you’ve thought of the show, listen to the new Three-Ring Adventure podcast, and generally join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you… for the last time on this particular show… next week.