Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 10 of 20

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Talking Plaguestone 02: Today’s Specials, Turnips and Knuckle Sandwiches

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 02: Barroom Blitz.

So much for a nice relaxing night at the Turnip-Town Inn, I guess. A bar brawl, a murder mystery… a little bit of everything.

I have to admit I didn’t plan on taking such a… well… boozy, take on Brixley when we started this thing. On one hand, he is a follower of Cayden Cailean, so I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense. The trick is to not turn him into too much of a “drunken dwarf” trope. I’ll have to play around with it a little and find a way to give him some shades of something else; in the meantime, at least for this session, we had someone who was both a heavier drinker and an actual dwarf to make Brixley look normal by comparison. That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

I’m also caught in a little bit of a bind because Champion is somewhat of a Charisma-based class, which lends itself to “face of the party” things, but it’s not my natural role as a player. I’m usually good leaving that to someone else. (In our longer-running gaming group, Bob tends to gravitate toward those types of characters a lot.) In particular, I’m going to feel a little bit silly when 3-foot-tall Brixley will be forced to try and Intimidate someone who’s multiple feet taller than himself.

Which is not to say I wasn’t about to give it a try with Hallod, the bully who was hassling the waiter. Among other things, I think it came down to and highlighted the difference between, the paladin and liberator champion variants. If I was playing a classic lawful good paladin, I probably would’ve gone ahead and called Hallod on his behavior, maybe even fought him. That absolutely seems like the lawful good thing to do. On the other hand, chaotic good feels like it can be a little more lackadaisical about stuff like that – yeah, Hallod was being kind of a jerk, but short of physical abuse, it’s up to the bar to decide what to do about an unruly customer. For all I know, maybe they pay the waiter extra to put up with stuff like that. Hallod’s free to be his authentic self, even if his authentic self is an asshole.

Also, the waiter is a goblin. Both as a mild roleplay thing and as an out-of-character sensibility, I’m not quite ready to get my ass kicked on behalf of a goblin. Still not sold on letting them be good guys.

Shortly thereafter we had the bar brawl break out, and I thought having Brixley try to play peacemaker felt like the right call. My initial knee-jerk reaction was to jump in on the waiter’s side, but somehow it didn’t seem wise to wade in as an outsider and start punching people on our first night in town. You never know who might be the mayor’s son or – at a meta-game level – might be the NPC you need to talk to later when he sobers up. Also, more as a roleplay thing, Brixley was still tired from falling in the mud, so it didn’t seem like he’d really want to be aggressive in his involvement. So I decided to tie up the drunk guy and got a punch in the face for my troubles. Yay!

Overall, the fight was a fun interlude. Since it was non-lethal damage, the stakes were pretty low, and there was some fun stuff going on – Cade trying to pick people’s pockets while they were fighting, Prue trying to flip the table only to find it bolted to the floor… all we were really missing was the stereotypical Hollywood bar-fight “drunk who is mysteriously adept at keeping his drink safe while the bar gets trashed all around him”. OK, the creepy drunk guy was a little uncomfortable for a second, but Prue took care of that pretty handily.

I do wonder if that fight was supposed to run a little longer and was condensed for time, though. Going back and doing the math, the owner (I forget her name) left to get the town constable and they came back, like… two rounds later. So apparently it takes 12 seconds to go halfway across town and get the law. Burying the lede: Plaguestone is clearly a town of people who have mastered teleportation! I think in my personal head-canon, maybe this happens so often he hangs around outside and waits for the sounds of brawling to make his entrance. (Or we can just return to Occam’s Razor and assume Steve trimmed it for time, so we would hit the cliffhanger at the end of the episode. In which case… good for him. GM’ing is ultimately storytelling, and ending on a murder serves the story better than 15 minutes of Punching Drunks For Fun And Profit.)

Speaking of the cliff-hanger… I have to admit Steve sold that death pretty well. Even though I made an unintentionally accurate joke about the porridge being poisoned, I fully admit I was fooled in the moment and the joke was just that. When Steve first started coughing, I really thought he just got some water down the wrong pipe or something. So… good sell there. Going back and listening again, The Right Thing To Do was probably burn my Lay On Hands just to see if it would help, but (putting on the meta-game hat) I don’t think LoH would really work against poison, and at a story level, I’m pretty sure the murder is what’s going to drive action, so it pretty much had to go that way.

I’ll end with two more big-picture notes about the show that stood out for me.

First, the lack of intro and outro is a little… weird. Not bad weird, maybe even good weird. But after almost two years of listening to Steve set the episode up and do his song-and-dance after, it’s a little bit of an adjustment to not hear those things.

The other… I have to admit when I went back and listened, I felt a little self-conscious about the couple times I cracked jokes, particularly the two pop-culture references (both Monty Python, oddly enough). I’m still figuring out the balance between “this is my game too, I’m gonna be me and play how I like to play” and “we’ve got people at this table who want to take roleplaying a little more seriously, so I’ll try to try and rise to meet that standard”. Maybe not all the way – I still don’t do voices – but possibly toning down my usual silliness just a touch. (Which is also not to suggest anyone else LACKS humor – everyone’s pretty funny when we’re BSing before the show; some people are just more locked in once the virtual camera starts rolling.)

That’s all I have for this week. Next week, we’ve got a dead dwarf at our table, and we gotta figure out who or what might have killed him. We’ve got the weapon (porridge) and the location (tavern), we just have to figure who Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet of this town are. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Plaguestone 01: Something Old, Something New, Something Brixley, Something Prue

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 01: Fleas to Meet You.

Out of the shadows, the morning is breaking, and all is new… all is new…

Welcome to the first episode of Roll For Combat’s Pathfinder Second Edition (informally, PF2… less typing) actual play podcast. We’ve got a new game system to try out. We’ve got a mostly-new cast, except for myself and Steve. We’ve got a new adventure, The Fall of Plaguestone, to put to the test. It’s an exciting time here at the RFC Mothership.

Starting with myself and working outwards, let me talk about Brixley a little bit. The initial choice of playing a champion was mostly a result of what I WASN’T doing in my other two games. Over in our Starfinder game, I’m playing a Mechanic – if you’re not familiar with Starfinder, a Mechanic is a skills monkey character who’s not very good in combat (but makes up for it by having a drone that can take up some of the slack). In my Dads-n-Kids game, I play in the outside world, I’m playing a 5E Warlock, so I just sit back and Eldritch Blast things until they stop moving. So I wanted to get up front and hit stuff this time around, but I also wanted to play around with some sort of magic or additional powers as well. I considered playing a Monk, but those tend to be a little squishy at low levels and we’re learning a new system, so I figured sword-and-board would be a safer choice. Hence, Champion.

If there were a family portrait of the Pathfinder classes, Champions now sit in the chair that Paladins used to occupy in First Edition. Paladins still exist as the lawful good variant of Champions, while neutral good Champions are “Redeemers” and chaotic good Champions are “Liberators”. Brixley is a Liberator – more of a roleplaying choice; I didn’t want to play a lawful good square, and I wasn’t getting a good feel for what a Redeemer is all about. It almost felt like the Guilt-Trip Champion – I’m going to make you feel bad for your evil acts. As opposed to a Paladin, who flat-out kills you for your evil acts.

A Liberator is more “I’m going to fight for the downtrodden to live life as they please”. As Messrs. Diamond, Yauch, and Horovitz more succinctly put it: Brixley fights for your right to party.

I don’t have a strong lock on his characterization yet. Some of the ideas that I’m playing around with are that he was formerly of noble birth, but his family had their lands and titles stripped away as part of a treaty between two larger powers. So he takes a dim view on the idea that “law” and “justice” are the same thing. On the other hand, he’s got kind of a romanticized attitude toward going out and doing good deeds, almost a little foppish. Jaded on one front, naïve on the other. Odd needle to thread, but let’s go with it. And as a follower of Cayden Cailean, he’s not one to say no to a drink or three. I’ll figure out the rest as I go.

Now, a word about my cast-mates.

Rob Trimarco (Cade) is the person I’m most familiar with. He’s been an occasional guest-star (usually in a two-man Voltron with Jason Keeley) on the Dead Suns podcast, I also got a chance to game with him in person at PaizoCon last year, and on a couple occasions, he’s just dropped by the Discord channel to B.S. Good people.

Loren Sieg (Prue) was actually a special guest for one of our Starfinder Society one-shots, but I have to admit I don’t remember the episode that well. Not a reflection on Loren… the whole damn episode is a blur. I know it happened, but I can’t tell you much more than that. In fairness, I think this was right around PaizoCon last year and we were starting to get material on the Pathfinder Playtest, so things were a little bit crazy in general.

Vanessa Hoskins (Celes)… first time gaming with her. Having said that, if you’re familiar with the Starfinder side of our house, she comes in with pre-existing approval for naming her Grimmerspace character Harriet A. Mayo and calling her drone the Synthetic Wondrous Intelligent Soldier (SWIS). As a fellow lover of cheese-related puns, I approve.

I will admit that as we get started, I was a little thrown by the depth of Vanessa’s roleplaying in particular. (Loren’s to a lesser extent – she’s in character, but the voice on Prue is only a mild turn of the dial from Loren’s normal voice, so it’s easier to adapt.) I’m not opposed to roleplaying and I’ll try my best, but I’ll also admit it’s not my strong suit. I tend to come up with a good mental sketch of who I think my character is and I try to act consistently with that image, but I’m not great with voices. I can do an OK Sean Connery, a Ross Perot (which hasn’t been useful in 20+ years), and that’s about it. Neither of those will help with Brixley.

Fortunately, though, combat bails me out for now, as we’re immediately set upon by wolves. Rather than go blow-by-blow, I’ll point out a few things that stood out to me about our first combat.

First, as Celes demonstrated, the new three-action system ends up being quite flexible for casters, as we can see when she was able to fire off two spells in the same turn. If you haven’t had a chance to read the PF2 rules yet, some spells can have different effects depending on how many actions you put into them. That means that yes, some spells are usable with a single action and yes, you can sometimes get multiple spells off in a single round.

Speaking of the action economy, in one of my turns, Brixley takes an action to raise his shield. In PF2, a shield is no longer an abstract plus, it’s an active defense measure. The bad news is you don’t even get to count it as part of your armor class unless you raise it. The good news is that if you do, you not only get the AC bonus, but the shield can take the damage even if you DO get hit, so it’s a bit of a two-fer. The flip side of THAT trade-off is that shields do eventually wear out… that’ll be something we’ll have to keep an eye on as we play – how often do they wear out and how easy is it to find replacements.

Another thing I was glad we got to see (when Rob and I saved against acid) was the… we’ll say “refinement”… of the rules for critical rolls. In PF2, rolling a natural 20 is no longer an automatic crit. The automatic crit is exceeding the needed role by 10 or more. If you roll a Nat-20, your success goes up by one step. So it’s true that in a LOT of cases, a 20 will raise you from “success” to “critical success” anyway. But not always; if a Nat-20 would normally be a miss, it raises it from “fail” to “succeed”. I think this will become more important at higher levels when success requires numbers greater than a Nat-20… right now when a Nat-20 is a success anyway, it’s a trivial distinction.

(All of the above also applies in reverse to critical fails, only it’s Nat-1s and missing the result by 10 or more.)

The one interesting “force of habit” thing I noticed was that Rob and I were still moving as if attacks of opportunity were still a more common thing. It may be hard to envision without the map in front of you, but as we were approaching the one wolf, we both kind of took the roundabout diagonal paths you usually associate with avoiding attacks of opportunity. Prue, on the other hand, seemed much more in tune with the new program and charged right in. Old habits die hard… we’ll get there.

So we take care of the wolves and finish our fight, and as a low-key humiliating coda, Brixley Nat-1’s the roll to help move the wagon and takes a tumble in the mud. It’s probably far too early to be taking a Hero Point on that, right? (You get one Hero Point each session – they can be used to re-roll a single roll or stabilize from dying.) But Celes has a cleaning cantrip available, so no harm done, beyond Brixley being a bit tired for the rest of the day. But that shouldn’t matter because we won’t get in any more trouble the rest of the day, right?

OR WILL WE?!?!? (cue arched eyebrow, ominous music)

I guess you’ll just have to come back next week and find out. Though keep in mind, we’re still figuring out which day each show is going to run, so… “true for sufficiently large values of ‘week’” as the mathematicians might say. We’ll see you next week, in the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the new show. Thanks for listening!

Talking Combat 095: Permission to Come Aboard

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 095: Blowin’ Up Is Hard To Do.

Welcome to an eventful week here at Roll For Combat. Some of us are at GenCon, though not me personally. The shroud of secrecy has been lifted from Pathfinder Second Edition, and we’ve got lots of content on that, including my written reviews of the Core Rulebook and Bestiary. Annnnd… we’re also launching a second actual-play show to kick the tires on the new system. (And out-of-channel on all of this, don’t get me started on Fire Emblem Three Houses or we’ll be here all day.)

My only addition to Steve’s “show notes”: for the moment, the plan is to write separate Talking Combats for each show, though I don’t yet know which days of the week they’ll go up Aon the site. For one thing, the shows are distinct in setting (sci-fi vs. fantasy) and tone (loose and informal vs. “serious” and heavier on the roleplaying). So while there may (hopefully) be people who listen to both, they really are separate entities I want to give both equal due. For another, specifically for the Pathfinder show, the fact that the game system is brand new makes it feel like it will need its own platform for a while as we tackle the new and unfamiliar aspects. You know… kinda like we did with Starfinder two-ish years ago.

So for now, that’s all you’ll hear about Pathfinder Second Edition in this column. Put a pin in it for now.

Now… back to deepest space, where the attack on the Sunrise Maiden has been thwarted but we have to board the enemy ship to disable the alarm system that will bring even more cultists down on us. Overall, I thought this was a nice way to extend the encounter and get us some extra loot in a slightly more organic way than having a boarding party bring a bunch of extra stuff with them. (I AM INVADING AN ENEMY SHIP, BUT I WILL BRING ALL MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS WITH ME BECAUSE THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE.) My one minor complaint was that the handling of the countdown was a little fuzzy around the edges – it felt like the countdown was stuck on “however much time you need to Greyhawk the ship” for a while there.

(Insert stock movie trope of tapping a gauge and watching it suddenly drop to a critical level.)

I was also sort of expecting a second fight that never came, but then again… I’m not sure it would’ve worked to have combat AND a timer. If there was a second heavy hitter, there’s the risk it could take too long and the ship could blow up while we’re still fighting; if it’s a couple of grunts… it would feel like just… busywork. Nah… one existential danger is enough for one day.

So we clear the ship of loot and valuable information and move on. We learn from the captain’s log that technical difficulties have served as the great equalizer between us and the Cultists – they arrived before us, but have squandered some portion of that advantage dealing with equipment failures. (As an IT guy, I salute this adventure for its commitment to realism. If only they had to send a ship back to Absalom because someone forgot to bring a compatible video connector.) We also get a hint that the guy we fought at the start of the adventure (the “inevitable”) was at some point a good guy, but seemed to have malfunctioned in the window between encountering the cultists and battling us. It’s good to know we still have a chance to stop them, but it does imply we’re on a clock because repairs to the control system for the super-weapon are underway.

On a personal level, I’m glad to learn there’s brother-and-sister bad guy ysoki mechanics! BIZARRO TUTTLES. I’m torn between “Tuttle can’t wait to meet fellow ysoki scientists”, and “they’re psychopaths who give good ysoki a bad name and we have to kill them”. On the other hand, playing ALL the percentages, Tuttle’s still going to iron his lab coat, groom his fur, and pop a breath mint… because “lady ysoki”.

Interestingly, still no mention of the Corpse Fleet or what role they might play in the endgame. It’s a little surprising that we haven’t heard a peep from them since our visit to Eox. I have two theories here. First is that I’ve been misreading the situation and they were a MacGuffin to move the plot along that has since been discarded. Maybe their involvement was just those two books, and then we never hear from them again. The second is that they’re still out there playing the long game, waiting for the Cultists to take do the heavy lifting, and they’ll sweep in at the last minute to claim the prize. (I guess a third choice could be that they joined forces, which would explain why Cultists have their little Shadow Buddies working for them.) For now, I’m going to assume the worst, that there’s still another shoe waiting to drop.

Back to the action. We arrive at the system, and looking at the layout of the system, they made it pretty clear which of the planetoids we have to go to – 11 dead rocks, one Project Genesis planet with a building that didn’t have a neon sign but might as well have. If there was a surprise to be had, it was the 26 points of hull damage we ate on the flight in (not even hitting the shields first!). Ouch. We have enough hull points to take another hit or two (and/or if we absolutely have to and the adventure gives us the time to do it, we can hole up and do repairs), but that was… unpleasant.

And… that’s basically where we break for this week, and that’s fine because, between two book reviews and a second column, I’ve done a lot of typing this week. Next time, we finally arrive at Planet 6 and see if we can stop the Cultists from activating the weapon and destroying large swaths of life throughout the universe. In the meantime, if you’re at GenCon, have a great weekend of gaming; even if you’re not, drop by the Discord channel or our other social media outlets and check out all the new content we’re putting up. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Pathfinder Second Edition Review: What’s Old Is New Again

Make sure to also listen to our one-hour discussion of the Pathfinder Second Edition Rulebook on the Roll For Combat podcast. Also, make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Bestiary.

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

It feels like it’s been on our radar for a while, but with a formal release scheduled for GenCon 2019, Pathfinder Second Edition is finally being released into the RPG wilderness. Our secret operatives have managed to get our hands on the new Core Rulebook and wanted to share our first impressions on the next chapter in Pathfinder gaming.

If you think about it, Pathfinder First Edition is a decade old and was itself a revision of an existing system (Dungeons and Dragons 3.5), so there are a lot of miles on that odometer. The flip side of 15 years of depth, is 15 years of kludges, conflicts, workarounds, and other annoyances. New Class X is better than Class Y in every way, so much so that no one bothers playing Class Y anymore. Something written in sourcebook A directly conflicts with thing written five years ago in sourcebook B but nobody caught it until it was already in print. A new book comes up with a better mechanic for something that really should’ve been The Way It Was Done all along. Game design as a discipline is more of a formal thing now; we simply understand the inner workings of these games better than we did 15 years ago.

The other elephant in the room that we long-time players have to acknowledge is that we’re at a time when new players are kicking the tires on this hobby, and 15 years of complexity equals 15 years of “holy crap, this is complicated!” when a new player sits down at the table for the first time. Those of us who have been playing all these years may live and breathe and even love that complexity, but at a time when roleplaying games are receiving newfound mainstream acceptance (thanks, Stranger Things!) and people who never threw dice before are giving this hobby a fresh look, rolling a forklift stacked with books up to their doorstep is a bit daunting.

So you can see the needle Paizo has to thread here. Second Edition needs to preserve what was best about First Edition, and deliver something that still feels like the Pathfinder we know and love. It also needs to take advantage of everything they’ve learned about their product over the last 15 years and condense it down to a new “best” version of the game. And while they’re doing all of that, make it simpler and more accessible to new players without making us lifers feel like it’s been dumbed down past the point of recognition.

Oh, is that all?

After sitting down with these rules for a while, I feel like they did a pretty good job of hitting the mark. While it’s still recognizable as Pathfinder, it does some things differently in ways that will hopefully make for more interesting gaming. I’m not going to pretend it’s perfect – there are some things I not that crazy about and would want to see in a live game before I make a final decision. But all in all, it’s a good first step and our gaming group is definitely going to give it a look. I’m going to roughly follow the structure of the book since that seems like a logical way to tackle this.

Getting To Know You (Ancestries and Backgrounds)

The first few chapters deal with character creation, for which Paizo has helpfully supplied us with a mnemonic of “ABC” – Ancestry, Background, Class. If you’ve been following Starfinder at all, it’s very similar to the character creation in Starfinder: you choose these three aspects of your character, and those choices do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of shaping your ability scores, hit points, languages, and so on.

Ancestry is what we longtime players have heretofore been calling race, but “RBC” doesn’t really work. All of your usual fantasy roleplaying classics are here – elf, dwarf, halfling, etc. – with a few minor caveats. First, half-elf and half-orc are no longer considered separate entities but are considered variants (“heritage” is the official terminology) of humans. Second, Paizo’s official mascot – the goblin – is now one of the base playable ancestries. Me, I’m not a goblin guy (sorry… please, no hate mail), but I know a lot of people love the little guys.

Under the umbrella of ancestry, additional flavor is available through the selection of a “heritage” (say, the difference between a wood elf and high elf; half-elf and half-orc are technically human heritages), and ancestry feats. Ancestry feats are talents you can take to customize even further – you might take Nimble Elf and take an extra five feet of movement speed; I might take “Otherworldly Magic” and take a cantrip I can cast whether I’m a caster or not. Furthermore, you get additional ancestry feats as you level, so the customization grows over time. So your elf and mine already have subtle differences before we even get into classes.

Background is a one-time, static choice – what was your character doing before they became an adventurer? Nuts and bolts, background gives you a few ability increases, a Lore skill (like Knowledge skills from Pathfinder 1, but can literally be ANYTHING), and another skill. At a roleplaying level, it can help shape the story of your character. Were you a noble? A prisoner? A merchant? There are a lot of choices, so roleplayers and min-maxer types should be able to find something that makes their character work.

A Touch of Class (Classes)

Of course, class is the meat and potatoes of character creation. As with ancestry, all your old RPG favorites are here (joined by Alchemist as a core class). But within the familiar, there are wrinkles. The bard is no longer a hobo caster and has been upgraded to a full caster class with a full spell list. A sorcerer can choose a bloodline associated with any of the four magical sources – primal, arcane, divine, and occult – so yes, you can have a sorcerer that heals. The position that used to be occupied by the Paladin is now the Champion – the Paladin still exists as the lawful good variant, but Neutral Good and Chaotic Good champions can also exist.

One thing that’s neat is that each class has multiple different specializations available from a fairly early level. With some classes, the choice can be more of a subtle flavor; others look like they could play dramatically differently. For example, if you’re playing an Alchemist, you can play a Bomber (‘splodey direct-damage), a Mutagenist (buffs for yourself, debuffs for enemies), or a Chirurgeon (healing). Champion feels like a class where it’s more flavor – they all play as divine-inspired fighters, but some of their supporting powers are tweaked based on the variant – the lawful paladin gets more powerful when getting revenge for damage already done, the neutral redeemer applies debuffs to enemies (YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!), and the chaotic liberator’s powers focus on freedom of movement and action.

One thing that’s very noticeable across all classes is the “feat-ification” of class abilities. In First Edition, a lot of core class abilities were static – every character of a particular class gets the same tools at the same levels. In Second Edition, there’s still some of that, but a much larger portion of class abilities are distributed in the form of class feats, and you have multiple choices available at any given level. To take one example, a second-level cleric can choose (among other things) Turn Undead, Communal Heal, or grab additional cantrips with Cantrip Expansion. It’s going to take running some characters up to higher levels, but it feels like this could lead to interesting character choices, where your Level 10 ranger and my Level 10 ranger could end up playing a LOT different from each other.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (Feats)

I’m actually going to go out of order in the book and stay with feats for a bit. (Skipping over the chapter on Skills, but we’ll come back). One thing you might have picked up on by now is that Second Edition puts feats in silos quite a bit. In First Edition, pretty much everything was just a feat – as long as you meet the prereqs, you could take anything you liked. Wizard with heavy armor and Cleave? Have at it, if you can make it work. Now, we have Ancestry Feats, Class Feats, Skill Feats (we haven’t discussed them yet, but they exist), and they’re all on separate tracks. There are a few general feats anyone can take, but it’s a much smaller number than before.

I will acknowledge that this might be a mixed bag to some players. The downside is that people who are into creating really niche character concepts might struggle to do that with all the tools walled off in different places. If you just want to steal one or two abilities, there are ways to do that – most notably, there are multiclass feats that let you grab something from another class. But there are probably going to be some builds from PF1 that just aren’t going to be possible in Second Edition.

If there’s an upside, it’s that they’ve basically eliminated the so-called “feat tax”. In PF1, you could tie up three or four feat slots laying the groundwork to get the destination feat you really want. In PF2, character level is the single biggest gatekeeper to taking a feat: if you’re high enough level to take the feat, you’re good to go. The difference is not so much the destination feat itself – in both systems, you might not be able to take the feat you really want until level 12 – but what you’re doing in the meantime. In PF2, you’re taking other feats that make your character more interesting whereas, in PF1, you often ended up checking boxes instead of taking the things you really wanted. (On the other hand, I know there are going to be a few players who are gonna be pissed because they had a meticulously crafted build that got them that feat by Level 9 and think it’s arbitrary they have to wait for Level 12 now.)

The one sort-of exception is skill feats, where you need to have a specific character level, and in some cases, need to be trained to a certain level in a skill. There are some surprisingly useful things hidden in the skill feats. Treat Wounds is a heal you can get through the Medicine skill that doesn’t require magic. Trick Magic Item gives you a chance to use a magic item even if it’s not normally something you could use. There’s also Recognize Spell, which lets you identify a spell as a reaction as it’s being cast.

The real intriguing ones are the high-level Legendary skill feats. They don’t kick in until you reach Level 15 and achieve Legendary in a particular skill, but… whoo, boy. Legendary Linguist in the Society skill lets you come up with a pidgin language in real-time. For ANY language. Legendary Sneak, in Stealth, literally gives you a chance to hide in plain sight. But the best has to be Scare To Death, for the Intimidation skill. As the title says, you have a chance to scare an enemy so bad it just up and dies.

A View To A Skill (Skills)

Technically, we’re now going back a chapter, but let’s talk about skills. I’m not going to spend a lot of time about the skills themselves – they’re mostly the same ones that have been around since First Edition and even before: OK, what used to be called “Knowledge” is now “Lore”, Climb and Swim are now lumped under “Athletics”, and “Handle Animal” is now a specific action you can take under “Nature”, but the  broad strokes won’t be surprising to anyone. I should mention that Lore is more open-ended than Knowledge was – Knowledge had specific categories; Lore can literally be anything. (OK, not motorcycles, because they haven’t been invented yet. But you know what I mean.)

I wanted to spend my time talking about some of the surrounding logistics of the skill system.

First, the math associated with skills has gotten a whole simpler. The days where you put ranks into skills every level are gone. Now skills only have five levels (or, four plus “untrained”) – Trained, Expert, Master, and Legendary – and the bonuses associated with those levels are simply +2, +4, +6, and +8 respectively. You also get your character level IF you’re trained in the skill, but not if it’s untrained. Additionally, instead of getting a certain number of skill ranks every level, you just get skill advancements at certain points during character leveling.

This is one of those areas that at first, I thought it was TOO simple, but then I thought about it, and this may actually work out better in the long run.

First, it represents the difference between choice in name only, versus engaging, interesting choice. In First Edition Pathfinder (or Starfinder for that matter), it was feast or famine – you were either a low-skill character who only got enough skill points to put points in a few core skills and nothing else; or you were a skill monkey and had so many choices it became silly once you put a few points in INT. I just leveled Tuttle in our Starfinder game, and he gets something like 10 or 12 skill choices per level and… if I’m being honest, choosing his skills isn’t that interesting. “Here are the seven skills I take every level, here is the cluster of skills where I round-robin between them, and then I have one or two points to be stupid and bump up against things I’m never going to be good at anyway”. It’s choice in name only.

Second, the math is a little flatter. The highest skill bonus you can get is 8 plus your ability score modifier, so there’s no more “I roll a +32 for 44”. With the math being flatter, the GM doesn’t have to ratchet up skill challenges to stay ahead of the players who can roll highest, which means the lower-skill players don’t get left as far behind. You’re still out of luck if you’re TOTALLY untrained in a skill, but maybe that’s as it should be.

The other thing that’s new and neat is that there’s now a formal means of using skills to make money during downtime. It was always supposed one could make money with a skill, but mostly left to the imagination. Pathfinder 2 formalizes it. Officially, it’s most commonly associated with Craft, Lore, or Perform, but if you and your GM can come up with a job you could perform to earn money with another skill (e.g. use Nature to work as a stable-hand), it’s within the GM’s discretion to allow it. You work with the GM to determine what jobs are available, the GM sets a DC for the work you’re doing, and you roll to see how well you do the work. You still get paid SOMETHING even if you fail your check, but passing the check and being more proficient in the skill let you earn more.

One more thing I feel is worth mentioning is that the concept of “Take 10” and “Take 20” – saying “we’re going to do XYZ until it works” – is basically gone. On one hand, Take 10/20 was sometimes a really convenient short-hand and moved action along, but it was arguably prone to abuse and sometimes broke the immersion of storytelling – yes, there’s a creature on the other side of the next door, but he’s going to ignore us while we search for twenty minutes.

The main reason it has to go away is because of critical successes and critical failures, which now apply to many skill checks. This is a little bit oversimplified, but a natural 20 or making a skill roll by 10 or greater is a critical success and a natural 1 or missing by 10 or more is a critical failure. Since there’s always a possibility of a negative outcome, the system can’t really accommodate the Take 10/20 like it used to. Having said that, it can still exist in the GM’s mind – if there’s enough time to perform a skill in a leisurely fashion, he or she can give a bonus to the roll that accomplishes most of the same thing.

Don’t Forget Your Spare Underwear (Equipment)

As with skills, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the charts of equipment themselves. You don’t need to read 300 characters on the fact that yes, “50 feet of rope” is still a thing. I’ll more talk about the systems that exist around equipment, and particularly those that have changed from First Edition.

One of the biggest shifts is a small one, but I’ll mention it – the silver piece has basically replaced the gold piece as (pun semi-intended) the coin of the realm. Things don’t really cost any more – starter gear, in particular, is the same once you move the decimal. But it does mean that find a few gold pieces is more of a big deal than it was before.

Let’s also talk about encumbrance. If you’ve been following Starfinder, Pathfinder 2 makes use of the “Bulk” system from that game. There’s no more “I’m carrying 230gp of weight”. Most items have a bulk value – either a number, L (for “light”, with 10 light items counting as 1 bulk) or some items are light enough to have no bulk. Your carrying capacity is really simple: 5 + (strength modifier) to be encumbered; 10 + (strength modifier) and you can’t carry anymore.

I will discuss ONE specific class of item here: shields. In Second Edition, shields go from a passive bonus to an active defense system. It used to be that if a shield was equipped you got the bonus to your AC automatically. Your abstract tin can gets a little stronger. Now you have to actually raise your shield to get the bonus; however, if you do, not only do you get the AC bonus, but even if you get hit, the shield can take the damage. Up to a point… shields do have hardness and enough damage will eventually break a shield. I have to admit this part worries me a little – at one point we were joking about fighters having to carry a wagon of extra shields through dungeons with them. It’ll be interesting to see how often shields actually break and need to be replaced “in the wild”.

There’s also a revamped crafting system, but I don’t think a lot of people are going to be crafting off-the-rack stuff so we’ll come back to that when we reach the part of the book that deals with magic items.

Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat (Spells)

Again, I’m not going to spend time on individual spells for the most part. I’d rather talk about the ways magic has changed in Second Edition. I feel like “flexibility” is the theme here; casters can now get more out of spells and use them in more interesting ways.

One example is scalable cantrips. In prior editions, low-level casters would eventually reach a point where they’d run out of “good” spells and would be left with either cantrips that didn’t scale (that Level 8 creature laughs at your 1d3 Ray of Frost) or abandoning their core skills and using melee or ranged weapons. With Second Edition, cantrips scale, so a caster always has SOMETHING he or she can do. A cantrip’s never going to be your BEST spell, but it’ll at least keep you in the fight.

Another nice change is the concept of heightening. A lot of spells – particularly, but not exclusively direct-damage spells – can be more powerful by putting them in a higher spell slot. Note that this can be either +N levels, or a spell might have specific tiers (2nd, 5th, 8th). Let’s look at healing, for example, there’s no more Cure Light, Cure Moderate, Cure Serious where you have to learn each one. Now you have “Heal” and it’s 1d8 per level of the spell slot you put it in. I’ve oversimplified this a LITTLE –  there are some circumstances where a caster would have to learn both the regular and heightened version of the spell – but for the moment, know that it’s there and it can be a pretty powerful tool for expanding a caster’s arsenal.

Heal also demonstrates another way in which magic can be more flexible through the use of actions. Some spells can have different effects depending on how many actions you spend on them. With one action, Heal is single-target and has a range of touch. With two actions, it’s a ranged single-target heal. With three actions, it becomes an area-effect channel. For another example: Magic Missile – more actions simply means more projectiles.

My hope is that this will actually lead to more interesting caster characters because the flexibility will free up spell slots for other things. Now, you don’t have to spend half your spell slots just to keep your best damage or healing spells current; that should leave players with more spell slots for utility choices.

There are two other small things I wanted to mention. Burying the lede a little, we also have Level 10 spells! Now, there aren’t a LOT of Level 10 spells – only four or five per magical source. That’s partly because they’re really powerful, but partly because heightening reduces the need somewhat: some of your Level 10 spells are just going to be heightened lower-level spells. But there are some cool things here. Each source gets a catch-all that amounts to “any lower-level spell, whether you know it or not”. Arcane casters can stop time. Primal casters can turn themselves into a kaiju or turn their party-mates into a herd of mammoths. Divine casters can turn themselves into an avatar of their god or raise the dead. Like I said… cool stuff.

The last thing I wanted to mention is focus spells and rituals.

Focus spells are the way non-casters like Monks and Champions get their powers, but they’re also available to regular casters through feats, for which they’re almost like a cantrip on steroids. It’s a spell that can be cast with a separate set of points (focus points) instead of spell slots, and you can get back at least one point by taking a 10-minute rest. So it’s another way to get a scalable (it always casts at half your level) repeatable spell without using spell slots.

Rituals are spells that are powered by skills rather than magical power (and also have a cost in material components). Rituals are non-combat activities, lasting hours or days, but the requirement to perform a ritual is usually a primary skill and one or more secondary skills. Magic is not strictly required, though, for a lot of rituals, the primary skill might require ranks in one of the magical arts. To give an example: a Resurrect ritual requires Expert-level Religion as the primary skill, with Society and Medicine as the secondary skills. So a group of fighters who happened to have the right skills could perform a resurrect ritual, but a Cleric is far more likely to have Religion trained to the right level.

Golarion For Dummies (The Age of Lost Omens)

This is the base-level world-building chapter – it introduces you to the places, factions, gods, etc. Not that this stuff isn’t interesting, but a) except for deity restrictions for divine-flavored characters, it doesn’t really impact gameplay, and b) spoiler alert – there’s also going to be a whole sourcebook on this stuff (The Lost Omens World Guide), so I’ll spend my review energy there. Moving on.

Everyone Was D20 Fighting (Playing The Game)

This chapter is mostly, but not entirely, How Combat Works.

Let’s start with the single biggest and possibly most polarizing change. One thing that immediately leaps out what Paizo has done with the action economy. In First Edition, you had a Batman Rogue’s Gallery of actions – full-round, standard, move, swift, free, Clayface – and figuring out the basics of what you could do each round got a little convoluted. Now, pretty much everything is just an action, and you get three of them. (I say “pretty much” because Reactions are still a thing and the free action still exists for REALLY simple interactions, but everything else is an action.)

Now, I know that sounds overly simplistic at first glance. I’ll go ahead and concede the point because that’s how I felt when I first heard it. But here’s the dirty little secret. They didn’t really lose the complexity, they just moved it to the other side of the equation. Everything’s an action, and you get three of them, but some spells and attacks can have different effects depending on how many actions you put into them. As I mentioned in the chapter on spells, a spell can do different things based on how many actions you pump into it. Yes, you can take three attacks, but you get a -5 to hit for each extra attack you make (or -4 with finesse weapons), so there’s some cost-benefit there. Raising your shield is an action, so if you want to get that extra attack in, you lose the AC bonus from your shield. You still have interesting choices, you just lose the sometimes-tedious terminology. Where the rubber meets the road, I’ll say that 90% of the time, it’s a wash and the other 10% of the time feels like you’re making tactical choices that matter rather than figuring out how tightly you can pack a suitcase.

Another thing that could be a bit of a game-changer is that the Attack of Opportunity seems like it’s going to be a lot less of a dominating force. In First Edition, EVERYONE could do attacks of opportunity and combat generally devolved into a dance of five-foot steps because nobody wants to eat an attack of opportunity. In Second Edition, Attack of Opportunity is a specific skill, and not everyone has it. On the player side, fighters get it automatically as a class skill at creation, a couple of the other melees can take it as a class feat (Level 6 seems common), but other classes would have to get really creative with multi-class feats to get there. I haven’t had a chance to inspect the monster lists in great detail, but anecdotally, it seems like the same goes for enemies too – there might be a few enemies who have the ability, but it won’t be universal. I feel like this could open up the battlefield in interesting ways and make combat a little less “line up and take swings until someone drops”.

I mentioned it in the skills chapter, but I’ll bring it back again here – the role of critical successes and critical failures has expanded. Now the definition of a critical success is exceeding a DC by 10 or more, and a critical fail is defined by failing by 10 or more, and a natural 20 or natural 1 just adjusts the degree of success up or down one level.

It may seem like it’s a small semantic difference, but it does have some implications for combat. First, it puts a lid on crit-farming because if a natural 20 would be a miss, it doesn’t generate an automatic crit anymore, it just generates a regular hit. Similarly, it should better capture the flavor of (to use a wrestling term) “squash matches” where one side is way overpowered. Now, the more powerful side will get a lot more crits and end the fight more quickly. Fun if you’re the Level 10 party fighting Level 1 kobolds and can crit on a 13 or 14. Not so fun if the party runs across an adult dragon and they’re the ones getting critted over and over.

Hero Points also become a formal thing in Second Edition. I know this was already pretty popular as a house rule – if you roleplay well or come up with something clever, you get a re-roll in the bank for when you need it – but Pathfinder Second Edition formalizes it. Now you get one Hero Point at the beginning of each session and can earn more through interesting play choices (but can only hold 3 at a time). As far as spending them, you can spend one point to re-roll (but you HAVE to use the new roll), or you can spend all your points to stabilize from dying. Moral of the story: ALWAYS keep a spare Hero Point around, just in case.

Shall We Play A Game? (Game Mastering)

This is another chapter I have to admit I glossed over a little because it’s mostly information for novice GMs sitting down at a table for the first time. There are a few useful nuggets in here, including a lot of sample hazards (aka traps), but most of it is 30,000-foot “how do I start a game” information. The trap stuff is kind of cool – traps get increasingly difficult to both spot and deactivate, so only trained people can even do it, and some traps even require multiple steps to deactivate safely.

Medieval Q-Branch (Crafting & Treasure)

I feel like this is a chapter that’s going to be one of the most polarizing ones. Basically what we’ve got here is all your old favorite magic items (yay!) along with a bunch of restrictions about how you can use them (boo!). GMs who saw the weak spots in the system and know magic items had the potential to break the game will probably either outright like these, or AT LEAST understand the necessity of them. Players will mostly be annoyed at the new levels of inconvenience; it’s really just a question of how much.

Take the concept of investing. Most magic items other than consumables need to be “invested” once per day – think of it as bonding with the character. Weapons and armor are in the middle – if you don’t invest, you still get the pluses, but you lose any special abilities. However, you can only invest 10 items per day, and if you take one off, it loses its investment and you have to do it again to re-use it. GMs will see it on a check on players bringing the perfect magic item for EVERY situation; players might see it as a hoop to jump through.

Similarly wands. Wands don’t have to be invested, but you can only use the wand once per day. You can use it a second time (and the spell will go through), but you have to roll a DC10 “flat check” (i.e. no modifiers, just the die roll), where failure overloads the wand and it’s destroyed. I get why wands had to be checked a little – our group was notorious for buying Cure Moderate Wounds wands in bulk at the Golarion equivalent of Costco (Who is this powerful mage, “Kirkland”?) to the point where out-of-combat healing became trivial, so… I GET it intellectually, but I can’t say I’m thrilled by the idea.

On the other hand, they’ve also added a new consumable class of magic item: the talisman. Talismans are cheaper, one-shot magic items that can be affixed to weapons or armor but disintegrate after use. And they can be affixed to a piece of gear with a single action, so it would appear you can add a talisman in combat. Scrolls for fighters, sorta? A fairly straightforward example of this is a Potency Crystal, which makes your weapon a magical weapon, but only for one turn. The single-use makes them kind of underwhelming, but they’re flexible and also fairly cheap, which might play well with the new crafting system.

Told you I’d come back to it.

Crafting is a little more of a process in Second Edition than First. You don’t just roll out of bed and say “I’m making Baba Yaga’s Hut today”. First, you have a recipe, and recipes for rare items are just that… rare. They won’t be available in every hardware store in Golarion; they might be treasure prizes on par with wizards’ spellbooks. If you’re a crafter, your other option would be to figure out how to make one through reverse-engineering. Yes, you have to disassemble a perfectly-good magic item in working order, hope you learn how to make it, at which point you could then reassemble it. Except if you fail, you don’t learn the recipe AND you might lose some of the materials in the process. There are higher-level skill feats that help with some of this, but it’s still a non-trivial thing. So making magic items is going to be harder to do, but more of an event when you do succeed.

Weapons and armor are interesting because magical enhancements now operate on an almost MMO-ish system of runes. There are “fundamental runes” and “property runes”. Fundamental runes include the potency rune, which represents the plus, and either a striking rune for weapons which grants extra damage dice or a resiliency rune for armor that grants bonuses to saving throws). Property runes are things like adding typed damage to weapons or adding charges of invisibility to a piece of armor. You can only have one of each fundamental rune; the number of property runes is determined by the potency rune (aka you can have as many properties as pluses).

The neat thing is the runes can be upgraded or transferred, which… I don’t know how people feel about it as a game mechanic, but as a storytelling thing, I like a lot. One of fantasy’s great tropes is of named weapons (particularly swords) that go through their wielder’s journey with them, and this rune system makes that a more viable path. Gandalf didn’t sell Glamdring to a vendor because he found a better sword in the next dungeon.

I’d also note just in passing that the highest “plus” I see on a magic item is +3… the days of +4 and +5 weapons seem to be gone. Then again, if you can get a +3 AND additional damage die, maybe that’s better overall. I feel like weapons and armor will be versatile enough we won’t miss the pluses all that much.

In Conclusion

Well, that’s a wrap on this first look at the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook. I recognize everyone wants something different from their gaming table, so I’m not going to get too carried away telling you whether you “should” or “shouldn’t” make the switch. I know some people have a lot of time invested in their number-crunchy First Edition games, and if that’s what floats your boat… cool.

Having said that, I’ll give you a quick “here’s where I stand” to sum things up.

Here’s what excites me about Second Edition:

  • Magic seems far more flexible and casters are probably going to be more fun to play. Yes, a lot of that centers on damage and being more effective at blowing stuff up, but I feel like it’s going to free up spell slots to use on utility spells as well, so casters will be more dynamic in general. But also… blowing stuff up.
  • So far I’ve really liked the three-action economy. We haven’t played a LOT of Second Edition yet, but it feels like it adds interesting choices to the game, and it’s a lot easier to remember.
  • Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with it from Starfinder, but I like the ABC character creation system. It’s flexible while being fairly simple, while still helping to define the “story” of your character. I actually think that’s pretty neat.
  • I like the fact that two people can create two different characters that might be the same race and class but might play remarkably differently. I appreciate a system that can accommodate different playstyles like that.
  • It’s a small thing, but bringing some structure to downtime by being able to work at a skill is a welcome change. Right now, downtime just amounts to milling about aimlessly.

Things that… I won’t say I “hate”, but the jury’s still out:

  • The rules on magic items. I get why they need to exist – I’ve seen and sometimes been guilty of the excesses they were attempting to curb – but they still might end up being a little heavy-handed. It’s discouraging to get a shiny new toy and not be able to use it. It’s the one piece that overtly reeks of micromanagement.
  • It’s a small thing, but shields being an active defense is a mixed bag. It adds a tactical element, but it’s also easy to forget to do, and the issue of shields breaking is something that needs data from the field. If you lose a shield every 3-4 sessions, whatever; if you lose one every other fight, that could get tedious.
  • Is the feat-ification going to be TOO silo’ed? This will probably affect my group-mates more than it will affect me (I tend to play fairly simple character concepts), but I do wonder what’s going to happen when someone wants to create a really customized build that was possible under First Edition but is impossible in the new system.
  • Talismans aren’t really doing it for me at first glance. I don’t know that it’s a bad idea – I just don’t like consumables in general (beyond healing potions) and another class of consumable is kinda shrug-worthy to me.

What I will say is it feels like they preserved most of what was appealing about the Pathfinder experience, while still performing some cleanup and making it more inviting to new players in the process. If a gaming system like that sounds appealing to you, Pathfinder Second Edition is probably worth checking out.

Pathfinder Second Edition Bestiary Review: Back-to-Basics Beasties!

Make sure to also listen to our one-hour discussion of the Pathfinder Second Edition Rulebook on the Roll For Combat podcast! Also, make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook.

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

Dragons and demons and orcs… oh my! It’s the Pathfinder Second Edition Bestiary! We here at Roll For Combat got our hands on an advance copy and we’re here to give you some first impressions now that we’ve had a chance to take a look.

It’s funny because part of me is writing this review under protest. There’s the book I knew Paizo would make, and frankly, the book they HAD to make. But there’s also the book I secretly hoped it would be, even though it was unrealistic.

Let me spend a few lines howling at the moon lamenting The Path Not Taken. As I was waiting to get my hands on this, I’ve been thinking back to last year’s Starfinder Alien Archive, and I have to admit that book was one of the most refreshing RPG supplements I’ve seen in recent memory. I thought it was a beautiful balance of still being a bestiary book while still throwing in interesting nuggets of other stuff. Oh look, here’s stat-blocks for making this creature into a player character! Here’s an inset that gives you a set of goggles you can make from the eyes of this creature! Here’s a couple of paragraphs of world-building talking about the planet where they hunt this creature for sport! It stuck to its core mission and never forgot it had to deliver a package of creatures, but it also ended up being a lot of other things in an entertaining way. I love that book.

Truth be told, part of me was hoping the Pathfinder 2 Bestiary would be a swords-and-sorcery version of that book. But… snapping back to reality, I knew it wasn’t going to be, and I know there are valid reasons it had to be that way. I won’t say there’s NONE of that content (for instance, I did see a poison associated with an underworld race called the Caligni), but it’s pretty rare.

Starfinder was being built completely new from the ground up. They could afford to take risks and do things differently. With Pathfinder, they’re doing a refresh on an existing game system with a decade of inertia and an existing fanbase with prior expectations – most of the risk-taking is already baked into the core rulebook, so there’s something to be said for making the REST of the content familiar and reassuring. For making their Bestiary look like the six other Bestiaries they did for the original game. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel; they already reinvented the CAR, and the wheel just needs to fit on it.

Here’s what this book REALLY needed to be. A cross-section of what most people would consider the “essential” creatures, revamped so they’ll work with the new system. Period. End of story. On that front, the Second Edition Bestiary delivers EXACTLY the book most players are going to want it to be – around 350 pages of what amount to Pathfinder’s Greatest Hits, with a few deep cuts and some new material sprinkled in. And grousing aside, mostly the book I want it to be too. Because at the end of the day, what we really want is to be able to drop classic monsters into Second Edition games and have them play like they’re supposed to play. If that means I have to take my dreams of 20 playable races and weird creature-eye goggles later… that’s what it means.

My first big concern was what creatures would make the cut for the first Bestiary since original Pathfinder had so much to choose from. It’s odd that a 40-year-old book holds such influence over me, but personally, I’ve always come back to the AD&D Monster Manual as the gold standard – that weird mix of old-school mythology, Tolkien, and whatever late-night bong rips gave us the Mimic. That was the book that defined the hobby for me, so if those creatures (minus the TSR Product Identity, of course) aren’t front and center on day one, the whole enterprise feels like it’s on shaky footing. I was a little worried that Paizo might get a little weird out of the gates and we might end up with the Well-It’s-Mostly-Blue-But-When-It-Rains-It’s-More-Purple Dragon and Werepenguins. But I’m pleased to report an initial glance at the table of contents seems like they had a good finger on the pulse here. If they put this book in a quantum-tunnel and sent it back to Teenage Me, Teenage Me would approve of this book. (Though OK… Teenage Me would have also been disappointed at the relative paucity of scantily-clad ladies – I wasn’t the most sophisticated teenager.)

But if you’re looking for a book that passes the Traditionalist Test, this book delivers the goods. Chromatic dragons of all conventional hues. Orcs, goblins, gnolls and other cannon-fodder humanoids. A healthy supply of undead. (Or is that an unhealthy supply?) Giants! Hydras! Even the horribly impractical yet somehow-fantastic gelatinous cube is here. I don’t necessarily want to go line-by-line, but it looks like they hit on most of the big names of fantasy gaming. If any of the weirder stuff made the cut, it’s just a mild sprinkling.

(One caveat: if they had wanted to consign the Rust Monster to Bestiary #934, they wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me.)

That’s not to say there’s NOTHING new in here. I kinda like the Nilith, which is basically a demonic tree sloth – except that it moves at normal speeds and has mind-affecting powers. Then there’s the Quelaunt, which looks like someone decided your average Area 51 Gray Alien needed an extra arm and leg, claws, and lack of facial features to be even more creepy. Its power-set revolves around fear powers. And claws. I think my personal favorite at first pass is the Skulltaker, which is an undead that one would describe as a sentient tornado of bones. As a neat flavor thing, it also can draw on the memories and experiences of all the bones that comprise it, so it has perfect Lore knowledge. Not a were-penguin, but cool stuff.

(Note: I did searches on the online Bestiaries and didn’t see any references to these three. If they’re buried in an adventure path or sourcebook and I didn’t see them… my bad.)

The artwork is top-notch, as it always is in Paizo books. In fact, I feel bad that I sometimes take it for granted. One of my low-key favorite things about the resurgence of fantasy-themed gaming as a hobby – when you add Pathfinder, D&D, Magic The Gathering – it’s a wonderful time for fantasy art. We’ve come a long way from getting one Dragon Magazine cover a month. This book is no exception, though by necessity it’s a more functional art style focusing on just images of the creatures rather than action scenes or panoramas. If there’s not a picture of EVERY creature, it’s certainly a large majority of them.

The creature information is organized in a nice, clean, familiar fashion. In general, a low-level or simple creature’s stat block may be about the size of a long paragraph; a complicated high-level creature may take up the majority of a page. You can almost think of the first part as a creature’s non-combat stats – perception and vision, languages, skills, bonuses to ability scores. This is usually followed by any passive abilities – auras, attack of opportunity, things like that. Next come the basic combat stats – hit points, armor class, any weaknesses or immunities. They’re almost set off as a dividing line in the middle of the block. Then we’re into the combat info. The creature’s speed is listed, followed by all the creature’s attacks and combat abilities – number of actions they require, damage dice and type, any other effects. My only minor logistical complaint is that some reactions are listed up top amongst the passive effects while others are listed amongst the combat moves. I’m not sure if there’s a distinction I’m missing that makes it all make sense, or if it’s just an inconsistency that snuck into the final product.

Some pages have sidebars with additional content, but the content of those sidebars is a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s very rubber-meets-the-road stuff like a creature’s spell list or how to manage a particular power as GM. Other times – particularly with the humanoid races – I’ll give it credit for approaching the world-building that I liked in the Alien Archive. There are times where it’s precariously close to filler text – there was some blurb that mentioned that a particular creature (one of the giants, I think) might have exotic treasure. I SHOULD HOPE SO.

One of my ongoing concerns about Pathfinder Second Edition has been attacks of opportunity – I’m worried that we won’t have ‘em and the critters will. For my own personal curiosity, I wanted to see how many creatures get attacks of opportunity, and… it’s actually not that many, and they’re mostly high-level creatures. I didn’t do anything scientific; just a quick scan. Giants get them. Dragons get them though they tend to only get them for their bite. A few lower-level creatures get them, but it’s far fewer than I expected. So at least at low levels, one should be able to operate without a lot of fear of attack of opportunity.

On the other hand, I have noticed that the powerful high-end creatures seem to have ways to push the edges of the three-action limit. The first isn’t really a way “around” – they just tend to have a lot of passive auras and reaction abilities, which don’t technically violate the three-action rule; it’s just a pain in the ass. At the more dodgy end of the spectrum, I’ve seen a few creatures that have abilities that amount to “hey, these three things count as a single action; sucks to be you”. But again, this is the stuff in the deep end of the pool that’s really SUPPOSED to push a party to its limits, so maybe it’s OK.

In conclusion, Pathfinder Second Edition is a bit of a grand experiment, but if you’re going to take that leap, the Bestiary is pretty much an essential book to have. While I realize everyone’s going to have their pet favorite from Bestiary 4 that didn’t make the cut, Paizo packed most of the Fantasy RPG All-Stars into one book to make this easy on us. So let’s go roll some characters and kick their asses, shall we?

Talking Combat 094: Game, Cube

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 094: Akiro The Zero.

This is going to be one of those weeks where I’m going to go off the beaten path a little. The fight itself mostly circles the same themes we’ve talked about before – space combat is kind of a slog, we don’t like the way Resolve points work in boss fights (but this is prior to discovering that we’ve been doing it wrong and Coup De Grace does actually exist). It was kind of fun to see an enemy Envoy in action (BIZARRO RUSTY), but not sure I can pull a whole column out of that.

I suppose I will spare a moment to apologize for the quality of my mic for the next few sessions, as – I kid you not – my dog ate my mic and I was using a backup I borrowed from work. Cliff’s Notes: son borrowed headset, left it on a low table, and I have a dog that’s chewy when it comes to home electronics. Debated killing one or both; settled on buying my son his own (lesser) headset and declaring mine off limits from now on.

Anyhow… moving on. This week, I think I’ll go for a Talking Combat first and write my first column that focuses (at least indirectly) on the show notes. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I can mention that yes, we’re doing Pathfinder Second Edition, and yes, I’m part of the crossover cast.

I’m not going to deep-dive on the new show itself because I’ve got to save some material to write about when those episodes start airing. SPOILERS! But it drives toward the interesting question of “how much gaming is too much?”.

You see… this will, at least for a time, be my third concurrent game, and there are times when I stop and ask myself if this is a good idea. Truth be told, I considered sitting out PF2, but I have to admit I’m psyched to explore the new rules and couldn’t say no. But it’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

First, there’s Roll For Combat: Starfinder. I’m pretty sure you’re all familiar with that one. If you’re somehow reading this column and not listening to the show… you’ve got some odd reading habits, that’s all I’ll say.

Next is my Dads-N-Kids in-person game that I’ve sometimes mentioned, which took a hiatus for about a year, but restarted about a month ago. (With one less kid, but that particular kid spent most of the sessions looking at his phone anyway.) It’s a 5E campaign, kind of a hybrid of homebrew and off-the-shelf – our GM uses existing modules as a starting point but tweaks them to his liking. Or he’ll use the maps from an existing module as the setting but write the story himself. In that game, I’m playing a Warlock – my initial thinking was to go with a melee bladelock lean, but I may be chickening out and becoming more of a pure spell-slinger.

And now we have Pathfinder Second Edition. New game, new game SYSTEM, and… we’ll say “new-ish”… players. Rob has made multiple appearances on our show and Loren was a guest on one of the Society episodes. This is my first time playing with Vanessa, but she was our contest winner and played with Steve at PaizoCon.

I think the thing I’m already digging more than I expected is that each table is its own entity with its own flavor. And most importantly, each is fun in its own way.

The Starfinder table is probably the most power-gamer-y table of the three – we tend to be highly focused on getting from fight to fight, roleplaying is fairly light… the atmosphere is almost more like a WoW raid, but with a more engaging story. But it also has the ease of familiarity going for it – the in-jokes and stories from other campaigns that have accumulated over the years, we know each other as players and know what to expect, we can even step outside the game and talk fantasy football for 10 or 15 minutes.

It’s early yet, but the Pathfinder 2 table is a little less… intense?… which is a nice change of pace. I don’t know if because we’re comparative strangers and maybe more focused on being polite and not stepping on each other’s toes (or maybe it’s just fewer New Yorkers), but it’s definitely got a more mellow vibe. On the other hand, it’s also more oriented toward roleplaying which… I’m not generally great at, but I’m willing to give it a go. (Sorry, I’m really bad with voices. Know your own limits.)

The 5E game? Supremely casual. I’d almost say that’s more of a social gathering that happens to have a roleplaying game dropped on top of it. We’re dealing with newer players – in addition to the kids, our GM’s sister-in-law is an RPG novice who decided to join us – so we sometimes miss or fudge rules. We go slow. We crack jokes and screw around. If someone dies, we just get a new character sheet ready. (Suffice it to say it would probably make for a TERRIBLE podcast.) And… of course, the single biggest difference is that it’s a live game. It’s totally cool that the technology exists to play with people hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away, but nothing totally replaces rolling real dice at a real table.

Aside from the flavors of the tables, different is good just for difference’s sake. Play one character for… holy crap, coming up on two years… it’s good to mix in a little something else to break it up a little. We briefly played around with that when we were doing the Society shows; PF2 will be another way to freshen things up a bit.

So what’s the downside of three different games? Well, the first one, which you can surely guess, is simple scheduling logistics. If you add up the people (setting aside Steve and myself as duplicates), there are up to 14 different schedules to accommodate in a given week. (And that’s even without considering spouses, significant others, and other people outside the immediate bubble of the games.) It can be tricky to make that work week after week.

I have to admit there’s also a little bit of “which game am I playing?” confusion that sometimes creeps in at the edges. Not so much the characters – I haven’t yet mistaken Tuttle for a melee character and charged into battle – but three different systems (one of which is brand new) creates the occasional synaptic misfire on the rules. Advantage in the 5E game tends to be a big one – I’ll often forget what does and doesn’t give advantage for a few turns until someone reminds me or the light switch flips.

And, OK, there are weeks when 8-10 hours of gaming is a lot of time to be committing to any hobby. Not quite full-blown “burnout”, but in that direction. That one doesn’t hit me OFTEN, but I’d be lying if I said it NEVER happened. There have been one or two nights I’d rather futz around with my NHL19 expansion team or make a dent in my Netflix queue than roll dice.

If there’s one safety net to all of this, it’s that it’s likely to be a short-term arrangement. Dead Suns is meandering toward a conclusion, and the Pathfinder Second Edition adventure is supposedly fairly short. And even with the Dads-N-Kids game, that might become a less frequent thing when the kids go back to school in the fall. So if this somehow proves too much, I guess there will be opportunities to re-evaluate. In the meantime… anyone running a 4th Edition game I can get in on? (Kidding, kidding).

Well, that’s about all I have for this week. Next week should be an eventful one. Back in the Dead Suns world, our intrepid team has to go find the cultist mothership and hit the “Hey, Come On Over And Kick Our Asses” snooze bar. For the show as a whole, we’ve got GenCon and the official release of Second Edition, which should mean some bonus content – book reviews, bonus podcasts, and such. Some of that is on Steve to do before he gets on the plane to Indy, but some of that is my bailiwick, so I guess I’d better get to it. We’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Combat 093: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 093: Akiro The Hero.

It’s another week of Not Ship Combat on Roll For Combat, though as Steve points out, last week’s encounter was actually supposed to go the way it went and this week was the one that was significantly different from the way it was written in the book. This week we get to REPEL BOARDERS!

I get what John was trying to say about the fact that the enemy ship was able to sneak up on us, but at the end of the day, you can’t have it both ways. We were all fairly unanimous that we didn’t want to do ship combat, so Steve accommodated us and gave us something different to work with. If you ask the chef to make something that’s not on the menu, you don’t turn around and complain about it. So if that means the enemy vessel gets Plot Armor when it comes to being detected on sensors… whatever. As the guy on the sensors, it makes Tuttle look a little bad at his job, but I’ll get over that.

(Aside: I know there’s a minority of people on our Discord channel who like space combat, and if you do… cool. I don’t exactly HATE it, but I do think it’s a little under-baked and could use a little more fleshing out in future supplements.)

In Steve’s defense, I think part of the problem is that this is one of those grey areas in the rules. There are a few scattered mentions of boarding enemy ships scattered throughout the rules, and there’s even a transporter upgrade you can put on a ship. But they don’t really tell you how to manage that seamlessly. It’s a little unclear how you transition between the two modes – if you’re in ship combat and the crew of one ship or the other leaves their stations to board the other vessel, who’s running the ship? Or does it just fly in a straight line and you can take free shots at it. Or, at least for the bad guys, do you assume an army of red-shirts to keep the lights on while the boarding party comes over? But then what do the players do if THEY want to board a ship?

All of this kind of strikes me as fuzzy, so I can understand why Steve just did a hand-wave and let them sneak up on us. Blame it on the nebula, I guess. SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE, MISTER SAAVIK. So now we have an enemy vessel “parked” in our cargo hold and intruders on board. Yay! Specifically, one humanoid boss-type NPC, who appears to have some sort of mind-altering effects, and a bunch of minions who, ohbytheyway, are incorporeal.

Would. You. Look. At. That. Somebody put the Ghostkiller Fusion on his weapon! SERENDIPITY.

Now I swear on a mint-edition copy of Detective Comics #27 that I had no idea what was coming, but it’s quite the handy break. Incorporeal has always been one of my pet peeves, and we’ve run into ghostly enemies at other points in this adventure, so I just thought it would be a handy thing to have. The closest thing to meta-gaming was the consideration that it would also make my weapon magical (since we’re getting toward the levels where some creatures can’t be damaged by conventional weapons) but I could’ve done something trivial like Called and gotten that same effect. Ghostkiller was just a lucky bit of happenstance.

Just to set the stage in case it’s unclear, this fight is being held at a four-way intersection. Using the bridge as north, we came in from the north, the bulk of the minions came in from the west, and the boss is down the hall 30 or 40 feet in a room to the west (the aforementioned cargo hold). The bonus surprise minions came out of the wall into the south passage – we’re not totally flanked, but it did mess up my positioning in particular, as I had hidden in the south passage where I thought I was safe. Now I had two minions in striking distance when I had Mo, Akiro, and CHDRR between me and the other bad guys.

So battle starts, and my Ghostkiller gun draws a few oohs and ahs, but then it gets pushed off the stage by Akiro and his ridiculously powerful electrical attack. It’s exciting to finally see Chris cut loose a little. We’ve seen a few of his tricks back at Istamak (blowing up a battery, your garden-variety fireball), but it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe we should’ve had a magic-user in the party all along. Then again, maybe Chris should be casting something other than mirror image all this time, too. Door swings both ways.

The good news about this fight is that the minions don’t seem to have a lot of hit points, so if you can put damage on them, they go down quickly. Also, knowing the layout of our own ship, they’re boxed into a dead-end, so once we get down into the room, it’s Pinata Party Time. On the other hand, the damage rules for incorporeal creatures are going to slow things down AND there’s the fact that they can control the battlefield better than we can by going through walls. And there’s also the fact that the boss can play Whack-a-Mole with relative impunity. Yes, we did put a little damage on him early, but he seems to have the ability to hop in and out of the doorway – possibly aided by a Haste Circuit – so there are rounds where he can just take a shot at us and move so we can’t hit back. So… this doesn’t feel like a LETHAL encounter, but it does have the potential to be highly annoying.

OF course, that’s assuming we’ve seen all the tricks the boss can throw at us. If he’s got something worse, I may choose to revise my remarks at a later date. Or… next week, since that’s when the battle continues.

Before I close, one general show note: Steve mentioned I might be making it out to GenCon this year. I’d say that’s about 50-50 for now. I’d certainly LIKE to, but without throwing my personal life WIDE open to the world, there are moving parts regarding the fate of my dogs and how those I leave behind would fare without a car for a few days. I’m still rolling ideas around my brain, but… TBD. If it works out, it’d be cool to see y’all there. (And a fine opportunity to con a few new RFC T-shirts out of Steve by claiming I “forgot” the ones I already have. Shhhh!)

So, next week we should conclude the Battle Of The Sunrise Maiden – I don’t remember it being a three-episode sort of fight. How will it turn out? I guess you’ll just have to come back next week and find out. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord server and other social media and join the ongoing merriment. We’ll see you next week, and thanks for listening and reading.

Talking Combat 092: Ship Combat, Now With 100% Less Ships!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 092: The Power of Tuttle Compels You!

Here we go, off to Books 5 and 6! (I prefer to think of it in the same manner as Infinity War and Endgame – it’s really one story, just divided into two different chapters).

And we start with… NOT starship combat. I hate to beat the dead horse, but I’m firmly on the record agreeing with Steve on starship combat. There’s the beginnings of a good system there, and maybe it could be expanded into something more robust and fun, but as written, it’s kind of shallow and plays itself out after the first two or three ship combats.

My main complaint is there aren’t enough disruptive events. If you think about player combat, it can sometimes be susceptible to the same “lather, rinse, repeat” ennui, but the reason it generally doesn’t is that unexpected things happen to disrupt the routine. The enemy trots out a spell they hadn’t used before that changes the battle. The players come up with some creative use of their powers to turn the tables. Something changes about the environment – the room starts to flood, artificial gravity fails, whatever. I think those sorts of things are under-developed in ship combat – yes, you have crits, but that’s really about it. Maybe those will be developed in future releases; maybe the enterprising (pun semi-intended) GM can homebrew their own, but I think a little controlled chaos would add a lot to the system.

My other complaint has always been that some roles are more dynamic than others. Science is a fairly active role (especially if you pair it with Engineer and hop between the two roles), pilot is the most overtly tactical, but the other gigs can get stale fairly quickly. If you’re the Captain or firing a gun, there’s just not that much to do.

Parenthetically, my favorite “system-within-a-system” was the hand-to-hand combat rules from Top Secret. You had different attacks and defenses, chosen from across different martial arts (boxing, judo, karate, etc.) and the interactions between those attacks and defenses determined how the combat was going to go. If you choose a low block and I do flying face kick… you get kicked in the face. It had its flaws – there were a few super-moves that only had one or two defenses – but it was a clever little system.

So the fight itself… this struck me as one of those battles where the flavor of it was more alarming than the actual battle ended up being. You hear “swarm of nanites” and you envision this guy having resistances and being a lot tougher to put damage on. And I guess he did have some of that since CHDRR’s junk cannon didn’t really do anything to him. On the other hand, Mo and Akiro were both landing pretty solid shots throughout the fight, and it never felt like we were in that much danger. Though I suppose the attempted takeover of CHDRR was a big swing that could’ve caused the battle to go dramatically differently. What’s the worst case there… he takes over CHDRR, we have to kill CHDRR (90 points of damage, so several additional rounds of combat), and then we still have to finish off whatever’s left of Nanite Boy on the other end, without CHDRR’s help. If you put THAT fight in the script… well, we probably still would’ve won, but it would’ve been a much more interesting fight. Especially if I had roleplayed Tuttle as ambivalent toward attacking his own drone. Which I might have.

But nope. Tuttle comes through as a computer genius and saves CHDRR from hostile invasion, and the rest of the fight was relatively easy.

I did think it was a little odd that Steve would simultaneously play up the possibility of parlay, yet still attack us first. I guess I’d expect that an enemy that’s willing to talk would show that willingness by… you know… not attacking right away. But Nanite Boy started swinging in Round One, rendering most of the conversation moot. I guess they do things differently in this part of the galaxy.

Since Steve did a “show about the show” with his GM tip, I’ll also jump in with some “how the sausage gets made” comments from the player side, and as the person who writes Talking each week.

I will say first and foremost, the other players and I don’t have anywhere near the responsibility Steve does. As players, our commitment is basically the 3 hours a week we’re playing, and sometimes we might have some homework between sessions, particularly when we level up or when there’s a new version of the D20Pro software. But none of us get involved in the editing process… that’s ALL Steve.

Do we censor ourselves? I don’t know how the other guys feel, but for me, I think “compartmentalize” might be a better way to put it. We have a bit of a bullshit session before Steve starts recording that can be anywhere from five minutes to (on one or two occasions) an hour or longer, and we kind of get all the other stuff out of our system during that pre-session chat, so when we do roll, we’re ready to focus on the game. But once we get going… no, not really. I generally play the game I’m going to play and rely on Steve’s judgment to edit wisely when we get too far off in the weeds or start acting like jerks to each other. I suppose the ONE concession is I try not to swear because maybe we have some kids listening and I don’t want “The Guy Who Plays The Science Rat On The Internet” to be who taught them to launch the F-bomb. “What is a legacy? Teaching F-bombs to pre-teens that you never see?

When it comes to writing Talking, I usually remember the “Spark Notes” summary of the week’s episode just from memory and can often start writing just based on what I remember (I know where we left off the previous week, so Steve just has to tell me where the new episode stops, and I can extrapolate). If it’s a Tuttle-centric episode and I mostly just want to talk about that (Aeon Tuttle, for instance), I can put most of the column to bed just based on that. Having said that, I do go back and listen to the whole show, both to catch the finer details (as Steve said, we’re doing these a month or two after they actually happened) and to listen to the intro and outro to see if the GM/PC tip or any of the “other” stuff has any hooks to play off.

The trick is always to find that balance – I don’t want it to just be a dry regurgitation of what you just listened to. That would be pointless. On the other hand, I don’t want to be so far in the weeds that I’m going onto 2000 characters about what I had for lunch three days ago. (For the record: Chinese takeout – beef and broccoli.) I suppose what I’m shooting for is something like the “director commentary” on DVDs: here’s what I was thinking when I chose to do this. Here’s where I briefly considered doing THIS, which could have been cool, but then I realized it would probably wipe the whole party. Here’s what Bob did three years ago that makes this line funny. Here’s where Steve edited out the two minutes of dead air where I forgot it was my turn because I was trying to multitask and play Overwatch in the background because there was a Symmetra skin I really wanted. “Allegedly”.

The GM/PC tip can be hit and miss because if I’m being totally honest, I don’t GM a whole lot. Occasionally for my Dads-n-Kids game, but not regularly. Some weeks, the general topic can still be a fertile one and I can still counter or add to Steve’s GM perspective with a player perspective. Other times, it’s something I really don’t have much of an opinion on and I just let it sail on by. Like… the “packing for PaizoCon” one… if I’m wearing pants and have a dice bag with me when I get on the plane, that’s about all you can expect from me.

I caught myself nodding along with Steve when he mentioned getting the sense of déjà vu, or making the same comment twice on re-listen. I have that happen a lot, right down to the specific wording. Though sometimes it’s the other way around and I get mad that I didn’t think of something at the time. Example: when we were talking about “Rusty’s Daily Affirmations” in last week’s episode, I could’ve sworn I went for a Stuart Smalley SNL reference there, but either I didn’t think of it, or perhaps Steve edited it out. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I’m much more aware of the other guys’ banter the second time around – I don’t know I miss stuff at the time because I’m locked in on what Tuttle is going to do next, but some of the things they said the first time, I barely remember them saying. So it can be like hearing it for the first time when I go back and listen.

Anyway, this is getting long-winded, so I’m going to wrap it up for now. Next week, since Steve already spoilered it just a bit, we’re going to have some more NOT SHIP COMBAT, so you’ll have to come back and see how that goes. In the meantime, drop by our Discord channel or other social media, let us know what you think of the show (as well as check out the community), and we’ll see you next week.

 

Talking Combat 091: In Rusty We Trust

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 091: Be The Best Rusty You Can Be!

July 4th. A day to celebrate freedom. I’m not sure the Founding Fathers realized they were going to bat for the freedom to pretend to be a space mouse once a week, but I assume they’d approve. Of course, for any of our listeners outside the US, it’s just Thursday, and hey… that’s cool too.

Aside: George Washington is a classic Envoy, Ben Franklin is clearly a Mechanic, Thomas Jefferson could also be a Mechanic, but we’ll put him down as a Mystic since he was the most esoteric of the Founding Fathers. John Adams, a Technomancer who infuriates his party-mates by taking nothing but utility spells. Hamilton’s probably a little too much of a hothead to be a second Envoy, so let’s put him down as a Solarian (with a curiously in-depth knowledge of financial systems).

Sorry, where was I?

So, welcome to both book five and Level 9. We start this week with… well, call it what it is… Rusty’s new and improved attempts to brainwash the rest of the party. So basically he can re-roll his Diplomacy roll if he wants, and we have to roll our Sense Motive twice and take the lower result for a chance to lie with impunity. We tend to think of combat as the engine that makes the whole game go, but that’s possibly overpowered. Then again (skipping ahead a bit) we forget there are people out there with high enough Sense Motive scores to see through Rusty’s cons… just none on THIS ship.

As I mentioned, as a roleplaying thing, I seriously considered dipping into Technomancer or Mystic as an extension of Tuttle gaining the Aeon subtype. “Tuttle’s awakening to the Call of the Universe turns him away from science and more toward the magical”… would’ve been neat to play around with that. And even though it would send me to Suboptimal Character Hell, I would’ve preferred to go Mystic rather than Technomancer – both to get access to heals, as well as to make Tuttle different from Akiro Jr.

So why didn’t I do it? I think it’s because of where we are in the adventure path. If this had happened in Book 3, and there was time to shape Tuttle’s character in the new direction, I absolutely would’ve done it. Take a few caster levels, buy different ability crystals, maybe a mnemonic editor… you could make it work. But when we’re about to enter the third act, with no real way to return… I just didn’t see the benefit of having a couple of first level spells, even heals.

Also, it would mean CHDRR would stop growing, and… as weird as it is, I felt a little guilty about that. Yes, Tuttle is “the character”, but at the end of the day, we’re a package deal and it feels unfair to sell his development out entirely.

So, mechanic level it is… even if it’s kind of a boring one. I get to move through difficult terrain; CHDRR gets to move faster, period.

I don’t usually worry too much about what the other guys are doing with their characters, but the back and forth between John and Chris about who’s going to be the tank and who’s going to get the good armor upgrades was pretty amusing. To summarize: John has the classic “tank” profile, but nine levels of being used as a piñata have stretched him to his breaking point. Chris wants the armor upgrades, but half his spells are about damage avoidance. Including invisibility – YOU CAN’T BE A TANK IF NO ONE CAN SEE YOU.

In terms of gear, I feel like I say this every level, but I thought about a melee weapon upgrade, since I’m still using my starter knife, but the cost-benefit just isn’t there. Truthfully I’d like to upgrade to advanced melee weapons and get Tuttle a lightsaber (or whatever they’re called in this universe), but I don’t have that option at this level.

So… JETPACK MOUSE! I think I said this last week, but there have been a few occasions where CHDRR’s jump jets have been Not Quite Good Enough for a given task, so I thought moving the game into three dimensions might help a bit. Besides, the mere imagery of Tuttle flying around like a goofball makes me smile.

Having my own null space felt like a bit of an indulgence at first glance, but there’s a method to the madness. That dragon drake pistol uses petrol as ammo. Well, two problems with that: first, petrol cells have a Bulk of 1 instead of L; second, they can’t be recharged off my suit or the ship like batteries can. So I’m going to probably have to carry a supply of four or five petrol cells on my person… you know, with my completely ordinary strength. And I don’t think having to run over to Mo to reload is practical either. Also, it’s just extra party storage, which never hurts.

The Ghost Killer fusion… the main thing was just making at least one of my guns a magic weapon by putting SOME sort of magic on it. The specific choice of Ghost Killer was more about longstanding pet peeves, even going back to Pathfinder. Incorporeal creatures just piss me off. If there was any real thought process to it, it was that we’re dealing with a long-dead civilization and the Corpse Fleet, both of which might have a ghost on their team. So screw it: I’M COMING FOR YOU, GHOSTS!

Speaking of equipment purchases. I do share some of John’s frustration with the Starfinder economy; it does seem like the market for weapons and armor is a little broken. Accessories, personal upgrades, and such… those are situational enough that you’re better off buying what you need rather than hoping it drops. But armor and weapons… there’s almost NO use case for buying the stuff, and that’s a little weird. Especially not with a 10% sellback price.

Speaking of potentially broken things, I loved the collective groan that swept through the team when I mentioned upgrading the Sunrise Maiden. At a meta-game level, new books tend to start with a ship battle, so I thought we should be prepared. More generally, we leveled up three times since the last time we did this, so we actually had enough build points to afford some decent weapons. But it sounds like Steve admitted he’s going to do starship combat a little differently going forward, so… never mind I guess.

Next week, off to the Gate of the Twelve Suns, where the endgame begins in earnest. We will probably NOT be fighting another ship, but I’m sure interesting things will be happening. Until then, I’m off to exercise my “freedom” to binge-watch Season 3 of Stranger Things in one sitting while eating as many Sweet Spicy Doritos as possible. So feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 090: Stop And Smell The Flowers

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 090: Stop & Shop.

I think the moral of this week’s episode is “stop and smell the flowers”. And not just because the Sunrise Maiden has a cargo hold full of them. (Or the Kish equivalent.)

I think sometimes we get so involved with getting from Point A to Point B that sometimes we short-change the “story” side of the game. Not so much “we = Team RFC” (though that’s also true to an extent) but “we = players of role-playing games”. Where’s the next bread crumb? Who do we kill next? This episode – or at least the first 20 or 30 minutes – was more about storytelling and the relaxed banter of the table, and you need a little of that in a campaign.

Which is also a nice dove-tail with Steve’s point about introducing kids to the game, now that I think of it. One of the cool things about bringing kids into this world of roleplaying tomfoolery is that they DON’T see it the same way we do. They don’t immediately reach for that mental manila folder marked BEST PRACTICES every time a situation arises. Yes, sometimes that means that they do “stupid” things from a tactical point of view that make the experienced player in me grind my teeth in frustration (cough-flying 40 feet in the air at Level 1 when there are archers around, and now we know falls from that height are fatal, don’t we?-cough), but they also do stuff that’s FUN because they’re doing it for the pure exuberance of the game. Which is why you don’t want to kill that by focusing too much on the rules.

Which brings me to “Oppressive Snail”. Yes, a potential band name if I ever practice my guitar enough to get any good, but oh so much more. When my son was MUCH younger… probably five or six… we were playing a 4E game, and he was playing a dragonborn fighter named (fitting, for a little kid) “Burns”. He just wanted to hit stuff with a sword and breath fire. But somewhere along the way, he decided for himself that Burns should have a spell called “Oppressive Snail”. Apparently, Oppressive Snail could summon a snail that could attack for him. BEHOLD THE SIX-YEAR-OLD MIND IN ACTION. Now I could’ve sat there and said “the fighter doesn’t have spells and doesn’t work that way”, but when the universe gives you shit like that to work with, you run with it. So basically, we turned it into some minor damage spell on par with his breath weapon, so basically, he could just use that or his breath weapon.

More generally, I agree with Steve about sanding some of the rough edges off the learning curve until they’re definitely hooked. In my Dads-n-Kids game, I’ve sometimes discussed, we don’t sweat encumbrance, or material components for spells, or even memorizing specific spells – we actually use more of an MMO mana system where you have mana cards that you can use to cast whatever spell you want. Yeah, purists will be angry that we gave wizards all the benefits of a sorcerer or arcane caster, but the point here is to get the kids to dig the game, so if letting them just cast Magic Missile 3 or 4 times does that… cool. As they get used to it, we do start to say… “hey, if you ever sit down at someone else’s table, the actual rule is THIS” so they don’t get caught unaware, but in the short term, get them to love the game first, and then focus on the nitty-gritty of rules.

SON, TODAY YOU ARE A MAN. (Pulls out a copy of 3.5 grappling rules.)

So, back to this week’s show. We party down with the Kish for a while. Hirogi gets sainted (for the love of FSM, WHY are you people saying “All Hail Hirogi” on the Discord? That’ll just go to Chris’ head…), Rusty has a harem waiting for him if he ever comes back (also assuming we save the universe and there’s a planet to come back to), and Tuttle at least gets acknowledged as a supernatural being (though I’d like to register a complaint that they spent their time hailing Talavet instead of Tuttle himself). Mo? Good at kids’ birthday parties. Which… the way John has played him, he’s a simple, uncomplicated, little-bit-world-weary guy… that’s probably a fitting legacy for the big lunk.

Now we have to decide whether we have time to go back to Absalom. I think the right answer here is yes.

There are two forces at work here, but they’re pulling in opposite directions. On one hand, yes the cultists have a head start on us. (As does the Corpse Fleet… have we heard from them recently?) That head start could be days, weeks… probably not months, but… “defense will stipulate” as the courtroom shows say. On the other hand, they have to figure everything out when they get where they’re going whereas we have to just show up and beat some ass. To use an analogy from academia (Tuttle would approve), the cultists have to actually do experiments and write a dissertation; we just have to show up and read the finished paper. That gets back SOME of the time we lost on the front end.

Also, detouring to Absalom is only a couple of days. This had always seemed silly and counter-intuitive to me, but then I had the sort of epiphany only an IT guy would have. Imagine a tangle of identical network cables, and you have to follow ONE of those cables end-to-end and untangle it. An annoying, possibly impossible task depending on how many cables we’re talking about. Now imagine all those cables are identical, except one that’s a high-contrast color like yellow or red. Still not easy, but becomes more doable. To me, outbound voyages or point-to-point travel are the random gray cables and returning to Absalom is the red one. Because… “magic-n-stuff”.

So we decide to go back to Absalom.

Character build? Sounds like we get into that next week, so I’ll do so then. I think Level 9 is a drone level, so it’s probably going to be anti-climactic compared to adding an ability crystal AND becoming a demi-god. Consider yourself warned.

Gear? I’m kind of settling on a jetpack and some sort of weapon fusion as the big-ticket purchases.

The jetpack because added mobility is nice and I’ve been frustrated at the number of times CHDRR’s jump jets were “right idea, but not quite good enough to do what I want”. I’d have to sacrifice one of my existing upgrades, but the environmental control is pretty situational anyway, and it can always be re-installed on short notice (I forget whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but either way… it’s pretty unlikely we’d get dropped into a desert by surprise.)

The weapon fusion… it’s this feeling that I can’t really afford a full upgrade, but I want to be a little more dynamic in my offensive capabilities. After poking the Armory with a stick, the Ghost Killer fusion starts to have some appeal. Incorporeal is one of those things I’m not sure we have a great answer for, and it’s always been one of my personal pet peeves. (After that battle at the security center, something that would affect swarms would also be tempting, but grenades can probably handle that.)

And then there’s poking the bear… upgrading the Sunrise Maiden. Our last outbound voyage sucked because we were seriously outgunned, and we now have two or three more levels’ worth of build points to play around with. Also at a metagame level, the writers of these adventure paths seem to love to kick things off with space combat. So… yeah, we probably ought to do that. Unless Steve were to do something crazy like re-write the beginning of the next module or something.

So we’ll come back next week and finish up the leveling process and get back out on the road. In the meantime, feel free to stop by the Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment (sigh… fine, you can say “All Hail Hirogi” if you feel strongly about it). Go out there and roll some 20s at your own tables, and we’ll see you next week.