Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 11 of 12

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Combat 016: Say Yes To The Stress


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

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

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

“I’m going to steal all the loot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did I say yes?

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

But back to this campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Combat 015: Natural 1 is the Loneliest Number

starfinder explosion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Christmas


Santa Jason presents a very special edition of Talking Combat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Combat 013: Live, Dogs, Repeat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Combat 012: Always Spay and Neuter Your Space Dogs


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 012: Who Let the Dogs Out?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Steve’s rules tips, but I’ll throw my two cents about whether Steve is “for the monsters” or not.

There’s Rational Me, and there’s Emotional Me.

Rational Me recognizes that what Steve is “for” is good story moments and that sometimes comes across as being pro-monster. Steve gets excited when something interesting is about to happen, and a lot of times, what’s “interesting” is the party getting pushed to its limits by an encounter. So he’s not explicitly pro-monster; he just knows some big moment is coming and gets excited to see how it all plays out. The fact that it occasionally comes across as being happy we’re about to die? Pure coincidence.

Emotional Me? Full disclosure – Emotional Me sometimes wants to reach through the screen and strangle him. Every time he says “you’re not going to like this” with a gleeful twinkle in his voice (usually right before a crit) I lose a few millimeters of enamel grinding my teeth waiting for him to get it over with. Basically, I turn into Arnold in Predator: “JUST DOOOOO EEET! I’M RIGHT HEAAAAAH!”.

To summarize: most of the time, I recognize that Steve’s not bad, he’s just drawn that way. But sometimes, in the moment, I forget. We’re only human. Or ysoki, in this case.

So anyway… on to the game action. Dogfights. Last week, it was a Snoopy vs. Red Baron space-combat dogfight; this week, it’s actually fighting against space dogs. DO YOU EVEN WORDPLAY, BRO?

Big picture, it’s nice to see some actual monsters. Up until this point, we’ve been dealing mostly with humanoid types, so there’s been a little bit of a nagging feeling that we haven’t been squeezing every last drop out of the sci-fi setting. The undead guys pushed the envelope a little, but space dogs that hibernate in cocoons and then come out to feed? Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about.

I’ll also admit it’s nice to get back to the concept of a “dungeon” crawl, which is what this sweep-the-ship mission is shaping up as. Mixing it up with the gangs and investigating the murder was fun, but there’s nothing like exploring a labyrinth room-by-room, kicking asses and claiming treasure.

And yes, it dawns on me that those are two almost completely contradictory sentiments – on the one hand, I want more of the unknown regarding what we’re fighting; on the other hand, I want the familiarity regarding the general structure of the mission. Don’t ask me to explain it rationally — I’m not sure I can.

Anyhow… the good news? Well, the space puppies don’t seem to have any sort of ranged attacks, so selfishly, it’s mostly a matter of keeping Mo or CHDRR between Tuttle and the dogs. And definitely put me down as pro-“creatures whose husks are a form of currency”. I tip my cap to you, Paizo.

The bad news: they’re resistant to fire, so my gun isn’t much good, and space rabies. Yeah, yeah, I know… “void death”… it’s SPACE RABIES, dammit! I REALLY don’t want to have to get in there and mix it up with the knife – aside from the damage itself, to borrow from Austin Powers, fortitude saves aren’t my bag, baby.

The fight doesn’t go too badly, but it’s a little unnerving that Mo seems like the only one able to score major damage against them. I’m not sure how it’s going to go if we run into more of them at a time – picking them off one or two at a time seems tolerable, but “packs of 3 to 11” gives me a little shiver down the spine.

Grenades seem like they’d be the great equalizer in this sort of fight, but they only do 1d6 of damage, and if they’re strength-based, that’s going to be kind of rough for everyone except Mo.

And that doesn’t even count for the disease – if we start failing some fort saves, we could find ourselves in a mess pretty quick. I’m not sure which is scarier – the disease itself or the lack of tools to deal with it. I know they de-emphasized the role of a dedicated healer, but disease seems like one of the few places where it would still be nice to have one.

At least we now have some sense of what happened on board the ship. I assume the space dogs killed the crew, or maybe there are survivors locked in some other part of the ship that we have yet to discover. The fact that controls are locked out on the bridge makes it feel like maybe someone was waiting to be rescued, but I guess we’ll just have to work our way to the bridge and find out. Though that still doesn’t explain how the dogs got on board. Accident? Did someone smuggle them on board to scuttle the mission?

So there’s our marching orders for next time – continue to work our way to the bridge, try and find further signs of what happened, maybe look for survivors. I assume while doing all of that, we’ll also come across Gevalarsk Nor’s cargo and more detailed information about the Drift Rock in the process. We still have a job to do, after all.

As usual, feel free to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts. Are you looking forward to getting your first disease?  (Boy, let me find another way to phrase that….) Do you have a GM who’s a little too pro-monster for your liking? Give us a holler and join the conversation!

Talking Combat 011: The First Starfighter


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 011: Spaceship!

I’ll start, as usual, by adding a few comments to Steve’s GM tips, regarding how far one should “dumb down” powerful bad guys. When you combine an enemy, who is a lot higher level and hits a lot harder with the perfect information the GM has access to… yeah, sometimes it can feel a little unfair. And up to a point, that’s part of the challenge – beating those long-ish odds is how you get that sense of accomplishment; that’s where that story you’re still remembering months later comes from. But sometimes, the party just doesn’t have the right mix of skills or something gets missed along the way to that pivotal encounter, and asking players to charge into a slaughter because that’s what’s on the page doesn’t make sense either.

As a player, I guess what I look for is one of two things: either give me an honest chance to win the fight, or offer me an “out” – either find a way to drop a hint before the battle that this is going to go badly, or maybe offer a window during the fight where the bad guy lets up and gives the party a chance to run. If I ignore the hint and get killed… that’s on me for being stupid. But if I walk into a buzzsaw encounter with NO indication and no way to get out of it, that doesn’t just kill the game currently being played, but it can feel arbitrary and sour the player-GM relationship overall.

The fight Steve mentioned in Carrion Crown was a slightly different problem insofar as it reached a boring stalemate. We couldn’t beat the guy because he could phase into the wall and even when he was in the open, we didn’t have enough tools to hit incorporeal creatures consistently (I think we had access to Ghostbane Dirge, but at one round per level, it just wasn’t enough). On the other hand, the bad guy couldn’t finish us because he ultimately couldn’t leave the room he was in, and all we had to do was run back down a hall and rest up. To frame it terms of my model – Steve DID give us the out, but then instead of trying something new, we kept coming back and trying the same basic thing (with a few small variations) a few times in a row. So I actually put that on us as the players, but Chris did not see it that way at the time.

So… spaceship combat.

Maybe I’ve been guilty of overselling it a little, but I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to this because, more than anything, this is what’s new about Starfinder. I mean, yes, some of the various D&D editions have rules sketched out for vehicle combat, but they tended not to get used too often because, for the most part, vehicles tended to be too far outside the fantasy box.

Yet, while it’s new, there’s also something classic about it too. While we were playing this session I had flashbacks to some of the old Avalon Hill wargames my brother and I used to play – Bismarck leaps to mind as one I played a lot – as well as games like Car Wars and Ogre. Similarly, some of the older naval combat games I played on the PC… The Ancient Art of War At Sea, Sid Meyer’s Pirates, and so on. Yeah, it’s space instead of water, and there’s not nearly as much emphasis on setting up a perfect broadside (at least until Steve gives us the keys to Galactica), but it felt familiar in that way.

What didn’t feel familiar? Being excited about going second. It’s a weird sensation. There, I said it.

Since Day One, there was never really any doubt Tuttle was going to be the engineer/science officer, so I studied those rules pretty carefully. “Science Rat” was the character concept; might as well lean into it all the way. My initial read was that the Science Officer is the more useful position early in fights, and Engineer becomes more useful later once you start taking damage. I think that’s still basically accurate, with a few minor revisions, as well as just learning to play it smarter.

I do think Engineer remains mostly a role to shift into once the fight has started to develop. Two of the three skills (Patch and Hold It Together) revolve around mitigating critical damage, which… if you don’t have any damage to fix, you’re standing around with your thumb up your butt. But in fairness, the third skill (Divert) is pretty evergreen – among other things, you can use it to increase speed (engines), regenerate shields (shields… duh) or change 1s to 2s on damage rolls (weapons). And you get to scream CANNA GIVE YE ANYMORE, CAP’N!, which never gets old. Or maybe it will. I plan to find out at some point.

The science skills? Scan is pretty much an opener for a round or two and then you probably never use it again. It’s good to get some initial information about speed, hit points, weapons, etc. but it’s the definition of diminishing returns. If you’re scanning the contents of the cargo hold while people are shooting at you, you’re doing it wrong. (Tuttle had to get four doctorates to get that nugget of knowledge and you’re getting it for free. You’re welcome.) Balance Shields – basically equalizes the remaining shield points between all four quadrants — seems like it could be more useful on a more powerful ship; on the Hippo, where we’re only shuffling 5 points of shields per quadrant around? Not so much.

To satisfy my curiosity (and maybe yours), I took a look ahead at the advanced skills to see how they change the dynamic. Basically, each role gets new unlocks at 6 and 12 ranks in the core skill (Computers and Engineering). But they also cost a Resolve point, which the basic skills don’t.

For science officer: 6 ranks of Computers gets you Lock On, the reward being a blanket +2 to any gunners that turn; 12 gives you Improved Countermeasures, which gives a chance to force the enemy to roll twice and take the lower roll on gunnery checks.

For engineer: 6 gets you Overpower, which is a Divert you can apply to three systems at the same time, and 12 gets you Quick Fix, which removes ALL critical damage to a system for one hour.

Anyway, back to the action. I do think one “mistake” I made was that I should have been using the Science Officer ability Target System a lot more aggressively. Refresher: Target System increases the crit range from natural 20 to 19-20, but (more importantly) lets you choose the critted system, rather than rolling at random. Wasting two crits on the bad guy’s sensors was a tough way to learn the lesson, but I think hitting his engines to slow him down or weakening his weapons would’ve been far more worthwhile than those few rounds Tuttle jumped on a gun in the mid-fight. Especially since it was a front-facing gun, we could only fire if we won initiative.

I also probably should’ve read the rules on gunnery a little closer. I didn’t realize it took RANKS of Piloting, so I didn’t think to take a level of Piloting at Level 2. I have to think about whether that impacts my character build going forward – on one hand, it might be worth pushing more into Piloting to keep up as a gunner; on the other hand, it wouldn’t go up THAT much faster than Base Attack Bonus, so maybe it’s not an urgent need compared to other skills I could be taking.

So anyway… we won, and at a broad-strokes level, I don’t really feel like we were ever really in that much danger in that encounter – I assume that was by design, since this is going to be a lot of players’ first exposure to ship combat, but it felt like a “get your feet wet” encounter where things were meant to be stacked in the party’s favor. Yeah, the other ship was faster than us, and that was a little annoying, but it didn’t hit very hard, and the Hippo’s 360-degree turret kept us in the fight every round. It really felt like he would’ve had to hit a LOT of lucky rolls to put us in any real danger. Still, even lacking much real danger, it was still fun, and I look forward to the next time we get to do it.

Next up: quarantined derelict spaceship where one of the airlocks was open to space. There can’t possibly be anything bad aboard, right? (Let’s be honest… we all grew up with Alien as a formative experience… I’m waiting for the arrival of face-huggers until proven otherwise.)

Anyhow, that was our first taste of space combat. I hope it wasn’t too hard to follow and you guys found it interesting. Feel free to drop us a line with any questions or comments, and we’ll see you next week on board the Nostromo… err… Arceon.

Talking Combat 010: We’re Rusty the Baliff


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 010: Quid Pro Cronut.

Unfortunately, I accidentally scooped Steve and talked about leveling in last week’s Talking Combat, so I really don’t have much to add to his pre-game commentary. Oops.

I will chime in a little on “bleeding encounters” a little bit since I might be the person who first mentioned the term. (FYI, the term relates to fighting more than one encounter at a time… hence, “bleeding” one “encounter” into another.) I’d like to clarify Steve’s assessment of my personal courage level – yes, our group does a fair amount of it, but within that, I’m by far the most conservative/cautious member of our group. I’d probably rank it as Chris/John/Bob/me, though Bob is the most variable one – sometimes he’s almost as aggressive as Chris; other times he’s more of a slow-player like me.

For me, it’s all about getting a good flow, and not sitting at either extreme. At one end, you’ve got “OMG let’s rest after every battle” (coincidentally, also the approved method for playing Neverwinter Nights). I’ve been in groups like that, and it breaks the flow of the game and makes your character feel weak and completely un-heroic. I AM AURENDOR THE KINDA-BOLD-BUT-DON’T-MAKE-ME-FIGHT-MORE-THAN-FOUR-ORCS-TODAY-BECAUSE-I-JUST-CAN’T-HANDLE-THAT. At the opposite extreme, bleeding encounters and biting off more than you can chew can be a whole lot of fun and generate some great moments… right up until you wipe the entire group. I don’t think we’ve had a TPK any time recently, but we’ve definitely lost a man or two in our travels by being a little too cocky.

For the record, in the game I play with my son, we had a lot of these early on (though they are learning). Three teenagers who ALL want to be the focus of the action = three people opening separate doors at the exact same time? To paraphrase Tommy Wiseau: “Oh, hi ghouls!

Turning to this week’s action, I have to admit I find our role in this upcoming expedition a little ill-defined. We’re not actually the ones doing the arbitration, so it’s not like we’re the ones who decide who gets the Drift Rock. Even if we wanted to influence the outcome by tweaking the evidence – you know… just spit-balling here… screw over Astral Extractions for murdering Kreel? That’s going to be tough because there’s a camera watching our every move. Yet both factions are treating us like VIPs and trying to “the best bribe is no bribe” us as if we’re the ones with the power to swing it their way. It’s an odd position to be in. Essentially, this is the People’s Court; we’re Rusty the Bailiff.

Also under the heading of “a little odd” were the roleplaying choices Mo and Rusty made. Hirogi is Hirogi – always out for a buck. (Though some of that is more Chris as a player than Hirogi.) My play on Tuttle is that he’s open to a meticulously-worded contract (he’s Lawful Neutral, after all), but he’d also want to throw some passive-aggressive shade at the Astral Extractions people based on what’s happened so far. That’s part of why he mentioned the “rumor” about the gangs; I wanted to see what sort of reaction it might get. But I didn’t expect Rusty to be so chummy with the miners – he’s struck me as a bit of a snob up to this point – and I definitely didn’t think Mo, the streetwise gangster, would side with the monolithic corporation. My image of him is shattered. Then again… they did have donuts.

Overall I still find myself rooting for Hardscrabble and hope we find evidence that resolves the dispute in their favor, but I will admit I’d misjudged the scope of Astral Extractions’ malfeasance. I had this image of some totally mobbed-up corporation where even the janitors would be wearing Downside Kings colors and pushing carts of stolen goods down the hallways. I even was a little worried they’d confront us about the shootout with the Downside Kings, or at least do some low-grade menacing about what would happen if we don’t rule their way. I didn’t really factor in a gigantic organization that mostly had no idea the backroom deals were happening (or else they do a great job of hiding it). As the player, I’m still not all that swayed and hope there’s a chance to stick it to The Man; as the character, Tuttle could possibly be convinced that Astral Extractions had the legal claim and that it was just a couple bad apples that did that whole gangland murder thing.

I hoped the meeting with Jabaxa would be more useful than it was, but it was kind of a wasted trip. Maybe the “call us if you need us” membership cards will come in handy at some point, but probably not immediately since we’re heading to a theoretically dead spaceship. The only tangible takeaway is that it forced us to be resourceful and come up with a way to have private communication even with Nor’s camera rolling. Thank goodness for lashunta telepathy!

I’ll close with a brief reaction to part 2 of the interview with Erik Mona. I felt a little out of my depth with part 2 because a) I have no prison stories (heh), and b) full disclosure: I never played Age of Worms. On the other hand, I do have a story of… well, not ruining a friendship, but a story of having a good friend stop talking to me for about a week.

It was actually because of Top Secret, the spy game that TSR created shortly after D&D really took off. Our team (myself, my brother, and my friend Chris-But-Not-RFC-Chris) got captured and were in the back of a limousine with an armed guard. Chris, being the team’s tough guy and nominal meat shield (he had several mid-90s scores in the physical stats) went for the guy’s gun, and I…

Oh boy, this is awkward. I went for the car door and escaped. (I honestly forget what my brother’s character did, or maybe his character wasn’t there and it was just the two of us.)

Chris eventually disarmed the guard but took a few bullets in the process. His character survived the encounter, but he was NOT happy that I bailed on him and didn’t speak to me for about a week afterward. And yes, looking back, 47-year-old me recognizes I was a complete bastard and probably deserved a month of the silent treatment for being such a coward. It’s all good; we’re still friends today, but yes… it happens.

Getting excited for the boys to leave the safety of Absalom and step out into space? Got your own stories of friendships almost coming to blows? Drop us a line and let us know. Look forward to hearing from you, and see you next week!

Talking Combat 009: Better… Faster… Stronger…

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 009: Dead Man’s Party.

This week’s episode is a veritable Thanksgiving feast of stuff to talk about – the recap of the story so far (if Steve is considering Christmas gifts, I’d totally be down with having the voiceover guy record my voicemail greeting), the interview with Erik Mona, and of course the progress within the campaign. But I’m going to actually start with what largely ended up on the cutting-room floor – leveling.

Time for a Dirty Little Secret from behind the scenes: Steve does give us a little heads-up a session or two in advance of when we’re going to level, so we can have our Level N+1 characters ready to roll. It’s a concession to the fact that we only play once a week and our game time is at a premium – we don’t really want a play session to grind to a halt while we stare blankly at the rulebook and mumble incoherently about what feat we’re going to take. Trust me, as listeners; you don’t want that either.

I suppose there might be purists who might be worried that we might abuse that knowledge and start meta-gaming it, but it hasn’t traditionally been much of an issue. We’re pretty good at policing ourselves, and even if we’re not, Steve is willing to drop the hammer (or a wandering monster) on us if we ever try to take undue advantage. Besides, I think anyone who plays a formal adventure path probably has to deal with this, as it feels like Paizo designs these things to have the experience points line up with major story breaks, anyway. You’re pretty likely to level after a boss fight. It is known, khaleesi.

So I figured I’d use this opportunity to talk a little about leveling – both my general philosophy and specifically how I chose to handle Tuttle 2.0.

As a general plan, I place an undue importance on combat survivability at low levels, almost to the exclusion of anything else. I’m not a power-gamer, I respect that the game is more than just a series of battles, but I also don’t want to be the most interesting character concept in the morgue ( a distant cousin of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In The World). So up until level… let’s say 4 or 5, if it’s not related to doing more or taking less damage, I’m generally passing. One of these days I’ll challenge myself to do a complete soft-skill build from Level 1… BUT IT SHALL NOT BE THIS DAY.

So how does that translate to Tuttle? Well, Cliff’s Notes: Tuttle gets a new mechanic trick at even levels; CHDRR gets a new drone mod at odd levels. It’s a little more complicated than that with some additional class and theme abilities that layer on top, but those are the broad strokes. At level 2, Tuttle’s most appealing choices are:

    • Energy Shield: Temporary hit points. More hit points are always good, but it’s INT modifier + Mechanic levels, so… 6 points. Basically, that buys me one extra hit when I don’t plan on being a front-line fighter anyway. And since it only goes up one point per level, it’s not going to scale.
    • Overcharge: Allows you to add 1d6 damage to an energy weapon but at the cost of 3 times the charges. Among other things, I like the fact that it can be your weapon OR someone else’s. It’s also got a scaling issue, but it’s appealing in the short term.
    • Overload Weapon: You basically rig a weapon to explode, which you can either throw like a grenade or leave it in a trapped state for the next person to fire it. Now… thematically, I LOVE the idea; there’s something wonderfully “mad scientist” about turning your gun into a bomb, and it’s very in-genre: how many times did someone set a phaser to overload on Star Trek? I’m just not convinced it’s financially practical at low levels to turn a 300-credit pistol into a 60-credit grenade. What can I say: I’m a cheap bastard.
    • Repair Drone: Mechanics get a heal that restores 10% of the drone’s hit points with a 10-minute rest; this turns it into 25%. Clearly, this will be valuable at some point; I’m just not sure that point is now because the difference between 2 HP and 5 HP isn’t really screaming “must have”.

Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to the fact that Tuttle hasn’t really done much damage in the first two fights, but I decided that Overcharge is the play here. Yeah, Overcharge itself doesn’t scale well, but there are higher-level versions of it that can upgrade it to 2d6 (Improved at 8th level) and 4d6 (Superior, 14th).

Not much to say about shopping: I already got my spare gun, and I didn’t really use any of my consumables, so I’m mostly going to save my money for something bigger down the road. I do buy a trap detection kit since it turns out that’s NOT part of my mechanic rig, and an extra healing serum just in case, but that’s it.

CHDRR’s rebuild was easy enough. The only real question there was whether to stick with the name CHDRR or start coming up with more cheese-based acronyms for each rebuild. Bob, in particular, was egging me in the latter direction, but that felt like it would require far too much effort and run the joke into the ground too quickly – OK, I can probably make “brie” and “gouda” work, but then fast-forward to CHDRR’s 9th rebuild when I quit the game in frustration because I can’t come up with technobabble that spells out CAMEMBERT. Welcome to the Darkest Timeline.

Besides, if our Discord channel is to be believed, CHDRR has fans now. Who am I to stand against the vox populi?

So, back to the game action, and that brings us to our encounter with our new Eoxian benefactor, Gevalarsk Nor.

Undead. As a normal part of everyday life. To quote Mr. Horse from Ren and Stimpy, “No sir, I don’t like it!” (In fairness, I never really warmed to the idea of playable undead in World of Warcraft either. Nobody tell John.)

Look. I know Starfinder is going to be different, but getting all chummy with the undead is going to take some getting used to. I’m old and set in my ways: too many fantasy tropes, too many seasons of The Walking Dead. You will not convince me that beneath that mild-mannered bureaucratic exterior, Nor isn’t planning to harvest our organs. I’m fully expecting his “special cargo” to be a foul-smelling crate that’s leaking blood out the bottom, at which point Tuttle will do his best Wile E. Coyote impression and leave an ysoki-shaped indentation in the bulkhead of the Arceon trying to escape.

But that’s Jason the player talking. Tuttle the character grew up in this universe and accepts undead as Just Plain Folks, so I guess I’m duty-bound to go along with it from a role-playing standpoint. Nor’s the guy willing to pay the bills and give us a ship for the next stage of our investigation, so off we go. I’m also hoping that even though we don’t directly control the outcome of the mediation, this will lead to a chance to take Astral Extractions down a peg, but we’ll just have to see.

From a gameplay perspective, I have to admit I’m excited where this is going next. First, if we’re headed out into space, that may mean we get to start playing around with space combat, which was really interesting in our test session. Also, at the risk of meta-gaming, going out to the Arceon sounds like it might shape up as something more like a traditional “dungeon” crawl and I’ve missed that sense of structure a little bit.

I’m probably not going to comment on it in great detail because it’s Thanksgiving and I have to go stuff my face with turkey, but I really enjoyed the first part of Steve’s interview with Eric Mona, and I highly recommend it. In particular, I found it pretty interesting to get a sense of how Starfinder achieved critical mass and went from “project for a rainy day” status to an actual release. A few takeaways:

    • I do agree with the point about fantasy being an easier sell because the tropes are more well-known – I think I said something similar in my review of the Alien Archive. “Fantasy” is a pretty known commodity and Tolkien casts such a long shadow that any tweaking usually comes at the periphery – playing around with how magic works (I’m looking at you, Brandon Sanderson) or making the core races a little different for flavor (dwarves and gnomes becoming a gateway to gunpowder-level tech). “Sci-fi” is a lot broader field to cover – Star Trek is not Doctor Who, and neither of them are Battlestar Galactica – so there are a lot of different expectations to meet, and one game probably can’t meet them all. Having said that, I think part of the reason sci-fi games have a bad rep is that the early efforts just weren’t that good. Thinking about my first experiences with sci-fi RPGs, Gamma World wasn’t different enough – it was D&D wearing a spacesuit – and Traveler was TOO different and open-ended; it was more like a rough sketch of a system that expected the players to fill in too many blanks. Here’s hoping Starfinder finds that sweet spot of “familiar, yet different”.
    • It’s easy to see these decisions solely from the customer perspective – “I wanted this and, yay, they made it” – but it’s quite interesting to hear about the business side of these decisions from Paizo’s perspective. And frankly, I appreciated Erik’s candor in admitting that there was an element of… not “stagnation”, exactly, but admitting that the market was ready for something new and not just “Bestiary N+1”. And his willingness to admit they don’t always read the market right (the underwhelming response to Pathfinder #100).
    • I’m a big supporter of the “cantina” vibe – the sense that when in doubt, something should be playable. I suspect that will create challenges for GMs as the game expands, and it might reach a point where it’s daunting to new players to have 40 or 50 playable races to choose from at character creation, but I still think it’s the right direction to go with it.
    • To reiterate what I said above, I’m still not convinced on the whole “undead as good-ish guys” thing. Maybe I’ll get used to it, but for now, as the Young People™ say, I’m Not Here For It.

Well, that’s it for me. A very happy Thanksgiving to our US fans; I’ll see you on the other side of my turkey coma.

Talking Combat 008: Chedd’s Dead, Baby

Talking Combat 008

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 008: Payin’ The Cost To Beat The Boss.

Well… that was disappointing.

Not the boss battle itself, obviously. We won, and all the sentient humans were still standing at the end, which is how you want things to end. So in the grand scheme, we did pretty well, particularly considering it came on the tail end of two other mini-fights. But I’ll admit that while CHDRR isn’t shaping up as the front-line fighter I hoped he’d be, I didn’t expect him to be quite so… squishy.

Tactically, putting CHDRR in the way was the right call. When Hatchbuster… well… busted through the hatch… Hirogi and Mo were still getting their legs back under them from the previous battle. The gameplan was that maybe CHDRR would hang in there two or three rounds and buy them time to heal, get into position, whatnot. Getting steamrolled in (basically) one shot was NOT how I envisioned it playing out.

I’m still sorting out how protective I’m “supposed” to feel about CHDRR and how bad I’m supposed to feel about his “death” (temporary though it may be). On the one hand, CHDRR is not fully sentient (yet); he’s “just” a piece of equipment Tuttle gives orders to. On the other hand, CHDRR does have his own identity emerging within the game, and it’s kind of hard to imagine Luke Skywalker ordering R2-D2 to stand in front of a laser blast and take one for the team. (Threepio? Maybe. R2? Never!)

To compare and contrast, look at Pathfinder. You have creatures from summons that are disposable by their very nature. They show up for a few rounds, they do their thing, and even if everything goes great, they disappear. There’s no attachment beyond the momentary visceral thrill of dropping an owlbear on someone’s head. On the other hand, there are companions – wizard familiars, animal companions, the summoner’s eidolon – that are true independent entities and are pretty integral to the main character’s identity. CHDRR is certainly toward the latter half, but – maybe this is a function of how he’s always under my control – he’s not all the way there, for whatever reason. Maybe I’ll feel a little differently when CHDRR gets access to the more advanced AIs and feels more like an independent companion, but for now, he’s more of a tool than a true companion.

(Please don’t tell him I said that. I don’t want to hurt his interaction subroutines… err… feelings.)

I also think if you meta-game a little and look at the rules, I think the game designers pretty much intended for the drone to take one for the team every once in a while. It’s inconvenient to replace a drone, but it’s not truly painful. You don’t have a credit cost, and the time factor is reasonable. Yes, you need downtime – can’t rebuild in the middle of a run-and-gun dungeon crawl – but it doesn’t completely grind the campaign to a halt. There are no real provisions for how much of the drone needs to be salvageable or details about where you get the parts to rebuild it… it just kinda happens. The idea that the drone’s mind is downloaded onto your datapad also gives you some cover to feel like “your” drone is still alive. Add all that up, and I think developer intent is on the side of letting the drone eat a shot or two occasionally.

At the end of the day, you know what REALLY made me feel better, though? Thinking about R2-D2. If you think about Star Wars, R2 is basically a smoking husk when Luke returns to Yavin, but R2 goes on to get a medal and appear in every other movie in the franchise. If R2 can do it, so can CHDRR.

Besides, until I completely submerge CHDRR in swamp goo on Dagobah or force him to serve drinks to an international gangster, I’m still a more caring drone owner than Mister Fancyman Jedi. LETTING A SWAMP MONSTER SWALLOW AND SPIT OUT YOUR R2 UNIT VOIDS THE WARRANTY, DUMBASS.

If I’ve shed my guilt about CHDRR, I do have one more (minor) sin to unburden myself of. Remember in the intro to last week’s podcast when Steve was talking about GM mistakes? Well… in re-listening to prepare my write-ups, I found a small one. If you remember a few episodes back, Tuttle was supposed to give his gun to Mo before going into the club, but at some point in the Hatchbuster/Ferani fight I just kinda… decided I had it and started firing. Micro-wormhole? Quantum reality shift? Tuttle only did 2 points of damage, so it didn’t really prove instrumental, but still… oops. Chalk it up to splitting the combat over multiple sessions.

I was momentarily disappointed by the loot we got from the fight, but it makes a certain amount of sense that street thugs are gonna lean more toward the soldier-ly gear. One of these days we’ll get around to raiding a science lab (hey, I bet Astral Extractions does sciency stuff!), and it’ll be Tuttle’s day to come away with the best toys. For now, I’ll take some cash and a grenade and not sweat it.

With the Kings taken care of, I see two possible paths forward. Either the datapad gives us a new lead, or someone (perhaps it’ll be Jabaxa, or maybe just the Starfinder Society) decides that we’ve proven ourselves reliable and give us a new mission. Personally, I expect it’ll have something to do with the quarantined spaceship, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ll close today with a few thoughts on the “show vs. tell” debate. I’ll put it this way. I’m not philosophically opposed to the whole “theater of the mind” thing, and I absolutely appreciate a GM who can render scenes in minute detail; the problem is that GMs who are good at that sort of thing doesn’t exactly grow on trees and someone who does it badly can make the game even more confusing. Or the ultimate sin… boring.

Some of it’s a function of the fact that as an adult, my time is at more of a premium, and I don’t know that I have 20 minutes for Steve to describe every stalactite in excruciating detail like I did when I was 13. Don’t get me wrong… I wouldn’t want a GM who half-asses it either – “there’s like… a monster, and stuff” – but there’s a certain level of detail I’m willing to sacrifice at the altar of Father Time if other visual aids convey the same information quicker. Except for PowerPoint. I’ll flip the gorram table if Steve ever drops a slide deck on us.

But also… I’ll say it. Sometimes, I think we get a little TOO nostalgic for the Good Old Days. Yeah, we did all that stuff in our heads when we were growing up, but part of the reason is we had to because it was a niche hobby and we didn’t have the army of content creators we now have. You had to describe everything because it was exceedingly unlikely that Larry Elmore was going to show up on your porch and paint it for you. Now, gaming is much more mainstream, and you’ve got first-rate talent willing to put their talents to use. We’ve gone from modules that have one or two line-art sketches to modules that have full-color illustrations of every major character or setting. That’s progress, folks – might as well make use of it!

(For those who disagree, Episode 9 will be available through our special acoustic-coupled 1200 baud modem service.)

Don’t get me wrong. The core of what I love about the roleplaying experience is still what it was when I started 30ish years ago. I love the companionship of the gaming table. I still think the appeal of the role-playing game is creating a collaborative story as much as it is rolling dice and consulting tables. I do think the best moments sometimes occur when you throw the script out the window and do something no one expected. But I do also think we’re sometimes guilty of waxing rhapsodic about our unpaved roads and chamber-pots when we have (comparative) superhighways and indoor plumbing at our disposal.

Think I’m full of crap? Think I let CHDRR die too easily? Feel free to drop a line and give me a piece of your mind. You can find me on CompuServe at….