Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 14 of 22

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Talking Combat 072: A Quest For Fun

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 072: We’re Not in The Drift Anymore.

Hey, who wants to see the Pact Worlds’ second largest ball of twine?

The start of week’s episode feels vaguely reminiscent of taking a family road trip somewhere. We’re all varying degrees of testy from having been in the car too long. Rusty and Hirogi are the parents up front, doing their “Are you sure you’re not tired? I can drive!” routine and arguing over the proper folding of the map. Tuttle is the plucky younger kid, either playing his game system (CHDRR) or trying to come up with little road games to pass the time like finding a license plate from every state. Mo’s the sullen teenager who’s just done with the whole experience and would be sending pouty Snapchats to all his friends about how miserable he is, except we have no cell service this far out.

To wit: I was getting a little frustrated at John when it came to whether to fix the ship or not. One second, he said he didn’t want to do it because he didn’t want to spend the money; then he said he didn’t want to do it because we weren’t going to get attacked again, and then – possibly the real reason – is that he considered the whole thing a waste of time and just wanted to move the game along.

The middle of those was simplest – that’s a level of meta-gaming I’m uncomfortable with. If the argument for not fixing the ship was “we’re not stopping to fix the ship because we’re already days or weeks behind the cultists, and the shields will regenerate”… it’s a risky move, but it at least has a game context. If your argument for not fixing the ship is “Paizo never throws more than one starship event into each module” – that’s the very definition of meta-gaming.

More generally, it was frustrating to me because even though I was the one who originally floated the initial figure (I think I said 100UPB/5 hull or something?), I kinda KNEW that sounded wrong and it didn’t take that long or cost that much. So I was searching the rules for the right figure as this was all happening; I just couldn’t find the page fast enough, and John continuously demanding we move on wasn’t helping. I get that we all had a little cabin fever from space combat that lasted (pre-edit) something like 5 or 6 hours over three sessions, but 5 or 10 minutes to get a rule right wasn’t going to kill us.

And as it turns out, five hours of game time and a couple hundred UPBs is almost nothing, so might as well patch everything up. There you go.

So we arrive, and surprise, surprise… we fall immediately into party-based combat. Hostile locals rather than the Corpse Fleet or the cultists at first glance, and it’s pretty quickly obvious these guys don’t represent much of a challenge. Archaic weapons? Bows? Six damage on a crit? We didn’t accidentally warp back into a Pathfinder campaign, did we? (And a level 1, at that…)

It actually felt like the environment itself felt like the biggest threat – I forgot we were on an elevated platform hanging over nothingness until that guy tried to bull rush Mo. If he had fallen, could we have jumped back in the ship and retrieved him, or would he just be gone? Now I’m almost curious.

It’s weird that Steve seemed to be trying to make us feel guilty for beating on these poor guys… I mean, bows or not, they did attack us first. That’s pretty much all the justification I need. Also, in a “kidding-but-not-kidding” way, I’m not prepared to accept a guilt trip from a guy who openly roots for the monsters to kill us in most other fights. MAYBE YOU COULD JUST GIVE THEM AN AZLANTI WARSHIP WITH MUCH BETTER WEAPONS THAN OURS, STEVE!

Speaking of which, I have a confession to get off my chest. It may be my fault the Sunrise Maiden’s weapons are so crappy. I think when we did the refit at Level 6 I got confused and thought the Sunrise had a Small frame when it has a Medium. Theoretically, that means we have access to heavy weapons, right? But since I had the wrong frame in my head, I think I shot down Chris or John when they proposed something from the heavy weapons list. Granted, they cost more PCUs and build points, so we would’ve probably had to sacrifice some shielding, but we probably could’ve packing a little more heat. Something to address next time we re-fit.

I’m going to close with a little bit of discussion of gods and alignments, to branch off of Steve and Perram’s Roll To Assist segment.

I will say that by and large, I’m indifferent toward religion in these types of games. Roleplaying a deeply devout character generally doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me; I’m usually just looking for enough of a MacGuffin to power my spells. I don’t play a lot of divine casters in general… not really my thing. Or if I do, they’re the Golarion equivalent of people who only go to church on the big holidays.

Where the rubber meets the road, my alignment tends to be Chaotic Good or Neutral Good, so I get a lot of mileage out of Desna. There’s nothing about her in particular except that “luck and travelers” sounds pretty adventure-y to me, so she’s probably my go-to when picking a deity. In this campaign, Triune seemed like a better fit for Tuttle, and I did have a lot of fun playing my Gorum-worshiper in Iron Gods, so I’m not opposed to mixing it up a little, but it’s not a big motivator to me.

I don’t think I’ve ever run an evil character. Just something I’ve never had any interest in doing. I’m weird enough to sometimes feel bad about the fake actions of my fake avatar; I like being The Good Guy. Even making Tuttle Lawful Neutral feels like a bit of a concession.

The funny thing is it’s even worse when I’m playing RPG videogames; in computer-based RPGs, my choices hew a lot closer to Lawful Good. Maybe it’s because you’re acting out someone else’s writing, or because you’re usually constrained to two or three choices and the “chaotic” option reads as “asshole”, but I can’t bring myself to be a bad guy or even an annoying guy in computer-based games. In live-table games playing off other real people, there’s more nuance and you can shade it the way you want.

That’s about all I have for this week. Next week, we’ll get to explore our new surroundings a little and hopefully find out who the locals are and why they want us dead too. (Does anyone ever like us?) Maybe we’ll even start making up some ground on our Pact Worlds competition and start unraveling the mystery of the doomsday weapon. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and share your thoughts about the show and join the PaizoCon contest. We’ll see you next week, and thanks for listening!

Talking Combat 071: Shocking Developments

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 071: Ship Happens.

This week’s going to be a little tricky. I have to thread the needle of another column about starship combat, without necessarily repeating myself from last week too much. I can’t promise zero repetition, but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum. The good news is that the second half contains a few specific developments that change the contour of the fight a little, things that would’ve been spoilers if I had gotten into them too far last week.

Like the energy clouds, for instance. Last week, I think they played more of a passive supporting role: they created some level of visual impediment, but since nobody actually parked in one, we never got to see what the lightning might do. This week… oh boy. I didn’t bother figuring out what the DC must have been – BOB! MATH! – but 0-for-2 on our cloud rolls was pretty painful. Meanwhile, it seemed pretty close to automatic for the Azlanti ship to hide in there… right up until it wasn’t. Somehow that’s how the dice go, I suppose.

Aside: “BOB! MATH!” is destined to become the “AZIZ! LIGHT!” of Roll For Combat. Or perhaps the “KOWALSKI! ANALYSIS!” Pick your cultural reference of choice.

Speaking of near-automatic rolls: one thing I didn’t really notice last week but was very aware of this week was the difference in skill levels between the crews. Last week my focus was almost entirely on weapon strength – their guns hit a lot harder than ours. This week it was far more obvious that part of the problem was that the Azlanti had close-to-automatic rolls while we had rolls that were 50-50-ish propositions. The initiative rolls were the one place where things were pretty even; shooting, actual piloting skill checks… they had a lot of wiggle room while we had to be close to perfect.

Part of the reason I didn’t notice it at the time is that when we’re in the throes of ship combat, I tend to get a little tunnel vision and focus mostly on my stations. I’m all about which systems are glitched, managing our shields, and if it feels like we get the upper hand, only then do I look for opportunities to contribute offensively (target specific systems, goose our speed with Divert, etc.). When we’re in a slugfest like this, I’m pretty much in a defensive bubble; I honestly couldn’t even tell you at any point during the fight how much damage we DID, just what we took. The gunnery rolls, the actual piloting tactics, whether Bob or Chris is piloting or captaining… it might as well be Miss Othmar in Peanuts. WAH WAH wah WAAAAAH!

Getting back to the action, this fight had two main turning points, one of which I sort of discussed last week and one of which would have been a spoiler had I brought it up last week.

The first was the fact that they had a LOT less shielding than we did, so we were able to get into their hull points quicker. I almost feel a little bad mocking Hirogi for wanting so many shield points – turns out that pretty much saved our bacon on this fight. If they had 65 or 70 shields (I’m not going to go back and check), that’s only about 16-18 per quadrant, and I didn’t get the sense Steve had the Azlanti doing much (any?) rebalancing as he went. DO YOU EVEN SCIENCE OFFICER, BRO? So yeah, our shots weren’t as powerful, but we were taking meat off the bone fairly quickly.

The spoilery one gets kind of lost in the shuffle and only gets a brief callout, but it was also clutch in its own way: the fact that their torpedo launcher eventually ran out of ammo. One could argue that the damage of the turret and the damage of the lasers was a wash, but a) losing the turret deprived it of four-quadrant coverage, and b) I think the turret was shooting against a lower number to hit since we put resources into AC but didn’t do anything about TL beyond what Sunrise Maiden 1.0 originally had. And as you heard for yourself, this really played into the endgame; once we took that starboard gun down, we actually had a legit blind spot where we could shoot at them and not take return fire.

Though this is one of those places my memory is a little wonky… I thought we had two or three rounds where it had no starboard gun, but that gets back to the aforementioned Tuttle Bubble. Maybe I’m thinking of when it was glitched rather than when it was actually broken. Or maybe it felt longer because there was one of those 10-minute arguments about where to position the ship that got left in the editing bay.

We also got to see the first use of my new Level 6 power “Overpower”. Basically it lets you do Divert to three systems at the same time by using a resolve point. It’s a decent ability, but it doesn’t change the fact that the underlying Divert actions aren’t that game-changing – heal a whopping 7 points of shields, change a damage roll of 1 to a 2, +2 speed (OK, that’s genuinely useful), or +2 to Science rolls (more handy if you have a separate Science Officer and Engineer – if one person’s doing double-duty, not so much). Still, at the point in the fight I used it at, it seemed like the right call.

In Steve’s post-game, he took us to task a little bit for not thinking of boarding or being boarded. I’ll meet him in the middle on that one. I actually did initially think that surrender might have been the right play, but events kind of overtook us before I could present it as a serious option. I’m not sure it would’ve ever occurred to me to board them, though. I suppose some of that was the general mystique of the Azlanti – if these guys are so tough and technologically-advanced, that’s a suicide mission, right? Though in fairness, I’m also going to give us a pass because of unfamiliarity with the ruleset – we already only play starship combat once every 2-3 months, and the rules for boarding are even on the outer fringes of those rules. Also, some ships like the undead “motorcycles” don’t even make that a viable option.

I also just don’t know the nuts and bolts of how it works: Do we beam over? Throw on our suits and do an EVA? (Oh God, it’s going to turn into the battle scene from Moonraker!) Does anyone have to stay behind and mind the ship or can we all go? Can they keep firing on the Sunrise Maiden while we’re making our way to their bridge? So many questions. Guess I gotta crack a book and check it out.

I wanted to say I was pleased with the amount of conversation that last week’s column generated on our various social media haunts. I was, however, a little surprised so many people want to do away with ship combat entirely. I guess I feel like there’s something iconic about a good space battle that would make me reluctant to throw the baby out with the bath water. Can you have compelling sci-fi without starship combat? Sure. Blade Runner? No ship combat. Doctor Who? Generally no ship combat. Even half of Trek episodes don’t ever take the Enterprise to yellow alert. Looking at Paizo’s published material, some of the Society adventures don’t even touch ship combat and are none the worse for it. But it does seem like a concept worth preserving, even if that translates to “for the time being, house-rule the shit out of it until it improves”.

At the end of the day, I suppose one way to look at it is that it’s a mini-game within the larger game that doesn’t totally click. You wouldn’t throw Witcher 3 in the garbage because you’re not digging Gwent.

Well… either way, we’re done with it for the time being. Next week we get off the Sunrise Maiden and begin our explorations in the Nejeor system. Cultists! Corpse Corps! Other people starting with the letter “C”? Who knows who else might be waiting for us? I guess you’ll have to tune in next week and find out. In the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and join the ongoing merriment. And don’t forget about the free trip to PaizCon 2019 contest (listen to the show for details)! See you next week and thanks for listening!

Talking Combat 070: Ship Out Of Luck

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 070: Never Give Up, Maybe Surrender?.

First: the trivia contest: OOOH! I KNOW THIS ONE!

I’ll start with a bit of a confession based on Steve’s recap. I always get a little twinge of awkwardness when Steve talks about our 100-some years of gaming experience. I mean, it’s true on a technical level – I did pick up my first D&D game somewhere in my late single-digits or early teens and the other guys have similar timeframes, but still… it makes me feel so old to have it spelled out like that. Starts making me feel like the old hunched-over guys from The Dark Crystal, just kinda shuffling along in decrepitude.

Which then opens up the intriguing possibility that there’s some Skeksis gaming group out there somewhere and when one of them drops dead, one of us will turn to dust. Continuing the logic of this scenario, I prefer to believe that if we ever meet them, we’ll morph into some group of super-gamers that roll natural 20s every time we pick up the dice.

Sorry. Imagination getting carried away. Back to our previously-scheduled suicide mission.

After doing out last round of “are you SURE you packed the bug spray?” and “did everyone go to the bathroom, because this car isn’t stopping until we’re at the beach” pre-departure checks, we’re finally headed off to Nejeor. Huzzah.

One thing that excites me at a very high level is an extrapolation from the various Paizo interviews Steve has done – there’s been this sense that Books 1-3 were a little more generalized because the Starfinder rules were still being finalized as they were writing the adventure path. That’s not meant as a criticism of the books or those authors; just a statement of fact that they didn’t necessarily have access to all the paints on their palette when they started working. Books 4-6 is where the rules had been finalized, so I’m hoping that gave the writers more room to cut loose creatively and open up the throttle on the weirdness.

But not yet. Our first taste of the bold new world is… space combat! We almost immediately (real time not game time) run into bad guys who want to blow us up. At a meta-game level, not surprising. As Steve says, space combat seems to be a popular opener or closer in this adventure path, and bad things tend to happen when we get on the Sunrise Maiden, man. Bad things. I was kinda hoping we wouldn’t see starship combat so soon, but whatever.

I’m finding the battle interesting because it’s playing back differently from how I remember it in a couple of different ways.

First, I guess as a minor rules thing, I thought you couldn’t fight while in Drift mode. I think I drew that conclusion from the power requirements in the shipbuilding rules – it looked like your power core wouldn’t have enough spare juice to power your other systems if you were in Drift mode. In the grand scheme, it’s a storytelling thing; I don’t think it especially impacts the game mechanics one way or the other. But it was a little odd.

More importantly, at the time we were originally playing through this, I actually thought taking this fight head-on was a mistake. I really thought we should’ve been looking more closely at surrender; that maybe the Azlanti guys themselves were the next piece of the puzzle, and that by going peacefully with them, maybe we would convince them we were doing good deeds and they’d help point us the right direction.

Listening to the playback after the fact, boy do I feel like a schmuck. These guys had the knives out from the get-go. If we had surrendered, we’d probably be crushing rocks on some deep-space prison planet. Well, everyone except Rusty… he could probably talk his way out of it. And they don’t seem like they’re wired for peaceful altruism. It feels like even if we surrendered and pled our case, they don’t seem like the types to say “yeah, sure, go save the galaxy”. If anything, they seem more like a THIRD group that would want the superweapon for themselves. Wouldn’t that have been fun?

So two months later, I think we probably had to take this fight. Point conceded.

The other place where my recollection parts ways with a second listen is this: for the last month or two, I’ve been remembering it as being pretty obvious from the get-go that we were overmatched, but listening to it again, I didn’t think we were doing TOO bad for ourselves UNTIL they scored that first crit. Yes, the torpedoes hit hard and the quantum property didn’t help and we could never position ourselves to make use of the flak thrower… all true. But we weren’t doing too bad those first few rounds, and even though they had better guns, we were at an almost equal advantage on shields – we had more than twice as many shield points as them. So somewhere in here, the hope is we might get into their hull points while they’re still chipping away at our shields. Knock on wood.

And then our dice went ice-cold and theirs got that crit. (A double-crit, since it was the crit itself AND hitting a 20% damage threshold). That’s where things start to get hairy because we’ve got the minuses themselves AND I probably have to start time-slicing between balancing shields AND trying to fix systems here and there.

One of our listeners asked on Discord if we were aware of the Level 6 actions. I can’t speak for the others, but for me, the answer is “yes, but I didn’t see a great opportunity to use them yet”. The Science action (Lock On) is to give a +2 to ALL gunnery actions in a turn, and the Engineer one (Overpower) is to use the Divert ability on three systems at the same time. I think in the early stages of this fight, I’ve been focused mostly on keeping our shields relatively balanced and keeping damage off the hull – as the fight goes on, I might use some of the other actions more aggressively. Particularly at the extremes – if we’re winning and they’re not hitting us as much anymore, maybe we go more offense-oriented to finish them off. If we’re losing, there will eventually be no more shields left to balance anyway.

I don’t want to be too much of a broken record, but I’m mixed on ship combat overall. The first couple of times we tried it, I really liked it, but I’ve since cooled on it a bit. It’s not terrible, and still makes an OK diversion every once in a while, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges.

The first thing is it’s kinda slow. As Steve mentions, this fight ended up taking 5 hours, spread over 2 or possibly even three sessions. I originally thought that was just an after-effect of playing online and a limitation of our tools, but having also played space combats at PaizoCon and at my local game store… nope, it really is that slow. Maybe some of that is still learning curve – when people know the rules and their actions better, it’ll move more crisply – but maybe that’s just how it is.

I think it also depends a lot on which role you play – I think some roles are pretty engaging and fun; I think other roles are… we’ll be kind and say “ill-defined”. They all fit sci-fi tropes, but they maybe don’t all fit the game system equally well. Pilot is always engaging because it’s the most directly tactical role. In this campaign, as the main Science Guy, Tuttle can have fun because he can bounce back and forth between two stations, but I wonder how I’d feel if our group had two science types and I was sitting at the same station every round. At my local gaming store, I played the Captain role, and if I’m being honest, I actually found that really boring. Though maybe it’s more fun if you channel your inner Rusty and start bossing people around – I wasn’t going to do that with a group of strangers.

The other thing: space combat doesn’t feel like it contains enough disruptive events. In conventional party combat, you have spells and magic items and terrain and other things that can shape the battlefield and force you to adapt to changing circumstances. The bad guy casts a fireball you didn’t see coming. Your rogue sneaks around to the other side of the fight and changes the dynamic of the battle with a timely back-stab. The room is slowly filling with lava and starts restricting movement. So far space combat hasn’t shown a lot of that – in this fight, we’ve got the variable of the lightning clouds, and maybe the self-destruct might come into play, but that’s about it. The party equivalent of a lot of space battles is two fighters standing in an empty arena banging on each other with swords until someone falls over.

On the other hand, I don’t want to put that all on Paizo’s shoulders. Maybe that’s something GMs and even players can take up the slack on. Want disruptive events? Find ways to use the system to create them. The classic “mirror image” spell could become “sensor ghosts” that work the same basic way. Want the classic Trek cloaking device? Maybe you can create one where you can go invisible for X rounds, but on the round, you enter and leave cloak, your shields are completely down and ANY damage goes directly against the hull. Maybe you can do an emergency fire of the Drift engine, which lets you move to a different position instantaneously, but the ship has to take a crit for doing so. Make the tropes work for you, instead of just lamenting that they’re not there.

Looking at this situation we’re in now, I can think of a couple different ways to spice that up. Maybe just make the clouds move randomly each turn – you think you’re safe behind a cloud, and oops… it moved and you’re out in the open again. Or – and this isn’t a spoiler, I’m just thinking of it now – what’s wrong me as the player trying to come up with “resonating shield harmonics” (or some such twaddle) so the lightning clouds RECHARGE the Sunrise Maiden’s shields? Maybe it’s long odds – maybe Steve’s ruling is “you give up your engineering action for two rounds, and you still only have a 50-50 chance, but if it works, the lightning recharges your shields instead of damaging you”. But there’s a disruptive event that creates interesting moments. All I’m saying is you don’t have to wait for Paizo to write it for you; as the player, you might not even need to wait for your GM to write it for you.

I guess that’s my long way of saying I understand people’s expressed frustrations with the space combat system, but I also see a framework that can be improved upon, and could really become something interesting with a little TLC. All it takes is a little…

IMPROVISATION. Which is what Steve and Perram were talking about! See what I did there? (Let’s pretend I did that on purpose.)

Having performed that feat of mental gymnastics, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead for this week. Next week we continue and… maybe?… hopefully?… see how this combat ends. Someday maybe we’ll release the Director’s Cut where we find out Tuttle is actually a replicant.. oh crap, spoilers. In the meantime, duck on into the Discord channel and join the fun. And don’t forget about the free trip to PaizCon 2019 contest (listen to the show for details)! See you next week!

Talking Combat 069: The Vast And The Curious

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 069: Stairway to Seven.

This week’s Talking Combat may be a little ragged because my brain is not cooperating. It might be that the polar vortex has slowed down the electrical impulses in my brain; it might be that I’m overloaded from my son dumping Kingdom Hearts lore on me all week. Most of it sailed over my head, but I managed to pick up that there’s there’s like 11 different games that cover different platforms and genres, the bad guy’s usually a guy named Xehanort, but he’s different every game, and that Donald Duck never heals you when he’s supposed to. Clearly, I need to churn out a Prima Guide.

With all of this going on, I suppose a transition episode is a welcome respite.  And hey, I got to Google the word “interstitial”! If you were wondering: it’s related to small spaces such as a) the fluid-filled parts of the human body between the organs, or b) the spaces between grains of sand in sediment. The judges will allow Steve’s proper usage of the word. Cue the NBC “The More You Know” logo.

The unspoken subtext of this week’s episode is “Jason Talks About Doing A Lot Of Things And Then Forgets To Actually Do Them”. Some of this is schedule – i.e. this is when people started disappearing for the holidays and the time between sessions increased – but some of this is that I was just indecisive and ended up not doing anything. Paralysis by analysis.

For all the talk about shopping, I go through about three different versions of my shopping list while we’re talking, but then ended up hoarding most of my loot and not getting any of the things I discussed. I think I grabbed a few healing serums and a grenade or two but mostly held onto my credits. Despite Steve telling us we wouldn’t be back. Truth told, Tuttle has fairly modest needs, but I hope that doesn’t prove to be a mistake.

I’m pretty sure it won’t be. Not a fatal mistake anyway. It’s not that I don’t trust Steve saying we wouldn’t be back to Absalom. I’m sure it’s 100% true that that’s where the story goes. But I do feel like there will be other ways to acquire gear. OK, uncharted planets aren’t going to have a store that takes Pact World credits. We won’t have the limitless options of saying “I want that” and you get it. Granted. But weapon and armor drops will always continue to be a thing – the limited upside of two groups having a head-start on us is it’s two groups worth of resupply waiting for us when we get there. If we’re talking about investigating an ancient civilization, I feel like maybe at worst, the drops are going to get further away from tech and move toward magic, and then you’re bumping up against the two-item limit, but I think stuff will be there.

The other thing I forgot about was whether to purchase the personal computer (different from the ship computer). I wasn’t so worried about additional pluses – when you add all my skill levels and class bonuses and the data jack upgrade, I’m getting near +20 on computers. From a dice-roll perspective… I’ve got this. I was more thinking from a “minimum threshold” perspective. There have been certain data modules that had a hard requirement of a certain-level computer to even ATTEMPT to decode. Now you can metagame and assume the adventure will provide a way, or one can actually roleplay and assume we’d want to have resources to deal with that. Also, in a joking-but-not-really sense, Tuttle would probably geek out at having a really nice laptop. So you hear me mumble something about going back and looking at the rules in more detail, but… yeah, never actually did that. No Alienware for Tuttle.

Or maybe I just abandoned the plan when I couldn’t get the rest of the party to split the costs.

On the other hand, I do have a bright shiny new AI for CHDRR, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s not QUITE as good as my original read – I don’t really get a full turn for both characters; it just adds a full attack to the options I can choose when I’m still taking my full turn. So the “1.5 Moves” dance continues, but having CHDRR slug it out with full attacks is now an option, where it wasn’t before. Still an improvement; just not the one I thought it was when we were recording. I am still correct that Level 20 is when CHDRR becomes (basically) an autonomous party member.

That’s the passive benefit of leveling up (as well as the “Tip Of The Tongue” Scholar ability which allows me to re-roll a knowledge check once per day). The only real active benefit beyond hit points and skills increases is that CHDRR has Enhanced Senses (darkvision, +2 to Perception checks). We’re getting out toward the no-man’s land where the low-level enhancements are underwhelming but the next enhancement tier doesn’t open up until 11th level. I thought about maybe another (or different) weapon mount or an upgrade slot for CHDRR’s armor (haste circuit!), but push comes to shove, having another party member who can see (and fight) in the dark felt like the most immediately useful thing I could buy. (And if I were to take the Camera at some future point, the Enhanced Senses would work with the camera as well.)

I have to admit, compared to Hirogi never missing on his trick attack or John getting all sorts of defense upgrades, I felt like “the robot can see in the dark” is a little underwhelming. But that’s the life of a skills monkey I guess.

Two other small observations:

  1. How did I not make a “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!” joke when Mo mentioned taking a point in Life Science? Either I did and Steve cut it, or I’m slipping…
  2. Wondering if we should also “level up” the Sunrise Maiden. Technically, unless you want to completely overhaul the frame, the ship levels up like a character does as long as you’re in space-dock. It’s only 5 or 10 extra points, but every little bit helps, especially if it’s our last chance to do so for a while.

With that, back to the frozen (and “Frozen”) misery of real life. See you next week when we head off for deep space. Until then, stay warm, everyone.

Talking Combat 068: Back to Life, Back to Reality

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 068: Life After Undeath.

Yay! We survived!

When the vampire re-coalesced, I honestly thought we were in big trouble – I know, that’s the point of a cliffhanger, right? Like some of you, I envisioned a scenario where she still had half her hit points left and vaporizing was a tactical decision to trick us.

Luckily… no. Just a last-ditch effort to save herself by getting the drop on us. And OK, taking out Mo and Rusty in the kinda-sorta surprise round was a good start for her. She almost made it work. Fortunately, Hirogi took care of business, and we live to fight another day.

I have to admit something here that surprised me a little. I’ve made no secret of my distrust of the undead over the year-plus since we started this thing. Carry-over from Pathfinder; nothing to be done about it. And yet… I have to admit I actually felt a leeeettle twinge of guilt when we started shoveling her dust into the acid pit. It was a kind of a gruesome way to go… even for an undead. I mean, it was the right play from a gaming standpoint – the acid seemed like the sensible way to keep her from regenerating over and over, so… had to do it. But yes, I actually felt a little bad about it, which I would not have expected. WE’VE ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON AND GROWN AS PEOPLE.

We then pause for a brief interlude for loot, but there’s nothing particularly exciting for Tuttle. That’s OK… I’ve actually been getting comfortable with Tuttle as a low-loot kind of guy. Besides, I’ve still got CHDRR and we do have a lot of credits to go shopping with. (We never did resolve the whole necrograft question — wonder if we should stop back there on the way out of town?)

The better news in terms of the overall campaign is that we get our next breadcrumb, in the form of the next star-system we have to visit. A place called Nejeor, which caused me to stifle a few jokes about Cardiassians and the wormhole. Then again, if Steve’s going to throw DS9 references in there with his “Dr. Bashir”, I feel like that’s fair game. And we also get to advance to Level 7, which I presume we’ll cover in next week’s episode.

Now Steve claims we’re moving a little bit faster. I did a little digging, and it’s true. Not a LOT, but faster. Book 1 was about 23 episodes, as was Book 2. That would make this one 20 or 21, depending on whether you count the ship-building episode as part of Book 3 or some sort of separate entity like the Star Wars Christmas Special. I’ll be candid and admit it doesn’t feel shorter, but some of that is probably because we took the holiday off. Pass-fail, we’ll take credit for it.

Now let’s talk about Steve’s GM tip. This is one of those ones where my head and my heart diverge.

My logical brain accepts that letting the bad guys live is a very useful storytelling device, gives you more opportunities to role-play… all that good stuff. Those NPCs are opportunities to flesh out your world, and it breaks up the action so it doesn’t get repetitive. I do want these games to be more than mindlessly slashing through wave after wave of enemies, like it was a Theater In The Round interpretation of Diablo.

But at the end of the day my heart is a combat gamer’s heart (with a possible dash of Klingon mixed in) – I tend to want the closure of killing bad guys. An unkilled enemy feels like a task left undone, even if you get useful information or a good roleplay moment out of it. So I get what Steve’s point is here, but I do have a little natural blood-lust that rises up. I will say though, that playing Tuttle acts as somewhat of a check on it because… well… he’s just not that strong a fighter.

Apropos of nothing else, I would take a moment to second Steve’s appreciation of the No One Lives Forever series. It was a stealth game that had the same sort of “James Bond send-up” 60s spy retro vibe that the first Austin Powers movie had, but with the added advantage of 100 percent less Mike Myers. (Though the protagonist, Cate Archer, could’ve easily been played by Elizabeth Hurley.) Steve’s mention even inspired me to go on a bit of a research trip and check Steam and GOG, and… nope, can’t get it anymore. Doing a little reading: there are three different companies that might own the rights; none of them actually know if they’re the company that DOES own the rights; but they’ll all line up to sue anyone who does try to remake the game whose rights they may or may not own. Untangle THAT puzzle, if you will. All of this is prelude to “it’s a good game; if you ever see a copy on eBay, might be worth grabbing.”

Sorry, I realize we’ve officially got a little far afield if we’re talking about 20-year-old out-of-print video games, but… you live by the dated pop-culture reference, you die by the dated pop-culture reference. Next week, we’ll level ourselves up, maybe do some shopping, and begin the next leg of the adventure as we try to catch up to both the cultists and the Corpse Fleet. Hopefully you’ll be back to join us; in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and join the reindeer games.

Me, I’m off to engage in some Grade-A schadenfreude by watching the documentary about the Fyre Festival. Suckers!

Talking Combat 067: You and What Army?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 067: Bone Field Advantage.

It’s Boss Battle Time. Or at least I think it is. I thought the marrowblight was supposed to be the boss battle, and look how that turned out.

When I said we were going to get ambushed on the way back… I was kind of kidding, kind of not. Steve did mention that some of the clues at the Skin Shack looked like they had been staged, which made ambush at least cross my mind (I mean… that is why I said it) but that could also be the bad guy framing someone else or sending us on a wild goose chase while they do something else. Grading pass-fail, I was thinking it more likely we could salvage the broken datapad when we got back to town, and that would take us to the next stop in the grand tour. Or that Trux herself was a double agent in league with the Corpse Corps and she was sending us on errands to get us out of the way.

Instead: Chinese vampire and skeleton buddies who come popping out of the bone piles at the side of the road.

I am not sure why Bob was so insistent about the idea that we should be allowed to run away. I mean, I get it… in the real world, you’re walking to a place that’s 5-10 miles away, you could take a multitude of paths, so there’s a level at which a choke-point encounter is a little contrived. On the other hand, if you’re tourists in someplace new, you’re likely to take the shortest, most direct path, and we didn’t really say “we should take a different route back in case we’re being tailed”. So walking through the bone canyon because we’re tourists and don’t know any other way back isn’t THAT much of a stretch.

Also: meta-game for a second – it’s the boss fight. This is kinda what we do.

So the battle starts and perhaps befittingly, I’m on rear guard cleaning up the trash. The other guys were saying “everyone get up to the boss” but realistically, a) I don’t think I’d be any more effective against the boss up close than I would be at range, and b) I was a little worried that if we didn’t try to slow the skellies down some, we’d get trapped on the stairs, and that seemed like a recipe for disaster. Also, as the battle unfolded, it turned out my sonic weapon was one of the most effective tools for fighting them.

Having said that, you’ll note that I did move toward the stairs with the rest of the team. First, there was a bit of an outcropping in the canyon walls that provided cover from some lines of fire, so moving to the stairs meant only 2 guys had clear shots for the first few rounds. But also, the only thing worse than getting caught on the stairs between two fights would be a “worst of both worlds” where everyone else was caught on the stairs and I’d be fighting 3 or 4 skeletons on the lower approach all by myself. So I kinda-sorta cooperated with the “orders” even though I was still lone-wolfing it in spirit.

Well, I guess I had Bob helping me with trash detail. I know this because I keep stepping into his shooting lanes and getting my wrist slapped. I think it’s mostly an “old habits die hard” thing from Pathfinder where there aren’t a lot of committed bow users, so you have melee or casters who can put their spells anywhere. Starfinder is a little more oriented toward ranged combat. You’d think I’d pick up on that after a year playing, right?

I am kicking myself a little because this might have been the perfect opportunity to use my teleportation puck, and I didn’t think of it. I don’t know how many of you have played this and/or seen the encounter map, but the canyon path is blocked by a muck-pit (acid, I assume) with a small uneven “stair” on the left side. Too far to jump, since there’s an “over” and an “up” component. Your choices to get up to the vampire’s ledge are actual flight if you have that tech, or climb stairs that are difficult terrain while under fire, potentially from both sides of the obstacle. If I were thinking, I could’ve just chucked the puck up onto the ledge and had Mo beam himself up there so he could get up in the boss’ face faster.

Sigh. What might have been…

On the other hand, the person who throws the puck is the operator, so I would’ve had to find a way to give Mo the puck or get myself within touch range, both of which would’ve taken a few extra rounds during which Mo could’ve just been running up the stairs. So maybe it wasn’t THAT much of a missed opportunity.

So the fight proceeds, and we eventually prevail. OR DO WE? (Cue dramatic music). I did not expect the vampire to pop back to life, but I suppose I should’ve gone with the old “if you don’t see a body” rule (see also: every time the Joker “dies” in a Batman comic). And of course it takes out half our party in its Surprise Round 2.0, so Hirogi and I have our work cut out for us when we come back next week. Since Winnie-the-Pooh references became a part of our zeitgeist after last week… “oh bother”.

As far as Steve’s GM tip, I think my attitude toward “giving out story” has changed as I’ve gotten older. Younger Me appreciated the unfolding of a mystery and having to figure things out for myself. Some of the games I played when I was younger, exploring the world was part of the allure. I really didn’t mind just bumbling around until we figured things out. You’re staying up later than you should goofing off with friends… what’s the rush?

Older Me? I’ve got a job, kids, I only get three hours a week to play… I hate to sound like some suit-wearing management consultant, but I want to be efficient and goal-oriented when I play. I want things to move along. Yet, at the same time, I still want to feel like I/we earn the plot points we get – having a zeppelin fly over with a banner saying PUT THE GEM IN THE STATUE’S EYE SOCKET is a little too contrived. I think the real goal should be avoiding a single point of failure. Even if it’s a published adventure and you have to write it in yourself, come up with a Plan B or even Plan C for getting the players where they need to go, but still try to let them find it unless it’s been 2 or 3 hours and you’re starting to lose the table to frustration.

At the end of the day, the completed story is the thing people remember about a campaign months after you finished playing. If you have to fudge a scene in Act Two to make it happen, fudge away.

Well, that’s it for me. Next week we find out if Tuttle and Hirogi have enough tricks up their sleeve to finish off the vampire, or whether the Starfinder Society is gonna need some more FBI guys. Hopefully, you’ll tune back in next week, and in the meantime, feel free to pop on over to Discord and join the conversation over there. Thanks for listening (and reading)!

Talking Combat 066: Better Bones And Gardens

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 066: Hey Dupinski!.

OK, so where did we leave off?

Right. You take your flour, and you add a little bit of cumin, paprika, and a little garlic. And then you want to take your chicken and roll it around in that mix… make sure the whole thing gets coated, okay?

I’m sorry, what?

Oh. Wrong blog. RIIIIIGHT… the talking rat, weird robot thing. Keep rolling… we’ll go again and fix it in post.

So, we’re back from vacation at Roll For Combat after a couple weeks of rest and relaxation over the holidays. Obviously, I didn’t get a chance to do any writing, for which I mostly blame Gamestop’s 2-for-1 used game sale. (And, to be sincere for a second, the fact that my daughter caught a last-minute flight home for the holiday break.) So… I rested. I relaxed.

Returning to where we were in the game, we beat our way past the 40-foot-tall guard dog, and now we have to attack the house itself. At first, I figured the occupant(s) have to know we’re coming, don’t they? But then again, if there’s no atmosphere, there’s no sound, so if they didn’t look out a window… maybe we still have some element of surprise.

On the other hand, we can’t use the door because Butchie The Wonder-Mutt flopped its dead carcass right down in front of the door.

Which leads to our second problem. When Steve first described this structure, I have to admit I (and the rest of the guys) thought he was describing a glorified tent. When I hear “skin stretched over bone”, that sounds flimsy. I figured we could cut a hole into the “fabric” and let ourselves in fairly easily. And the artwork on the map didn’t particularly discourage that; it looked like a big circus tent. Albeit one with rather macabre aesthetics.

But if you think about it, “skin stretched over bone” equally applies to something dense like the structure of a ribcage, and – at the risk of turning this a little ghoulish and serial killer-y – you can’t just cut your way through that with a pocket knife. What you CAN apparently do is cut just enough of a hole for the people inside to start shooting at you. Which they do.

So now we have a choice between Stubborn and Go With The Flow. I get that using our best grenades (and a fairly expensive resource to boot) for wall demolition isn’t exactly ideal, but neither is 20 rounds of hacking away at a wall under constant fire, hoping the other guys miss a lot or run out of ammo. The Flow is saying “blow up the damn wall and get in there”.

(Note that “The Flow” sometimes gets a little close to metagaming, which one likes to avoid. The Flow is that voice in your ear whispering “that’s why the previous enemy dropped grenades in the first place”. It can be a tough needle to thread, separating the path that’s easiest to take from the path the person who wrote the adventure “wants” you to take. Then again, they probably wanted us to kill the Big Boi a little further away from the door. “Just Sayin’” as the Young People say.

We do have the rare good idea of being sneaky and blowing the wall on the other side from where we were originally hacking, to try and restore a little surprise. Actually, it seems to have been cut, but we briefly discussed trying to coordinate explosions on both sides simultaneously, but I believe we decided we wanted to make sure we poked one hole large enough to get us in rather than waste our grenades on two smaller blasts that might still require further effort to clear.

So we’re in the room, and this is one of those fights where I was quite content to hang back… even more so than usual. The big problem was the amount of damage CHDRR had taken in the previous fight – I did heal him some, but he was still probably about 1/3rd health where one or two solid shots (or a crit) could’ve taken him out. As I’ve said before, noble sacrifice at just the right moment is baked into drone rules; getting killed stupidly is not. This isn’t as dire as Castrovel because we’re still near a population center – we could theoretically return to Trux’s office and lay low for a day while I fix him, but no need to be dumb about it. So CHRR and I sit back and take our shots from a distance.

Standing in front of Bob, of course. I seem to have a knack for moving right into other people’s shooting lines.

I have to admit I thought this fight would be tougher. The marrowblight just looks tough – lots of pointy bits – and the flow of the adventure felt like it was driving toward this as the big bad. But I don’t know if Mo’s armor is just that good, or Steve was rolling poorly, but I never felt like we were in all that much danger. Does that mean we still have another fight yet to come? Or is it just a “those are the breaks” fight where it went a little better than expected? Or maybe even large pointy humanoids are a cakewalk after fighting giant alien livestock.

The last thing I wanted to touch on is Steve’s discussion about the Rule of Cool. Overall, I’m a fan. I think we get so enamored of the system that we sometimes forget that this is a framework for storytelling as well, and the best stories don’t always fit the system. It’s kind of an interpretation of the improv “Yes, and…” mindset.

However, I do have a few cautionary points.

The first is that I think the players should be the ones INITIATING the “off-roading” from a rules perspective. If the GM decides to do it, it runs the risk of rendering the entire rule framework arbitrary; if the players choose to instigate it, it becomes more of a collaborative thing. I think the GM then decides the success or failure conditions, but let the players come up with the idea. “I am asking you to let me do this weird thing; what odds can you give me?”.

The other caveat is that it’s vulnerable to exploitation by a me-first showboat player. In the wrong hands, the Rule of Cool is an invitation for one player to dominate the game. Some of it is the personalities of the players; some of it is the match between the skills of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. In a melee-focused game, Tuttle doesn’t have the same options in combat that Mo or Hirogi does. If it’s heavy on social encounters, Rusty might be the only one who can really take advantage. I think if the GM is going to allow Rule of Cool gaming, he or she needs to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to be… well… cool, or push back a little if one person is hogging the spotlight.

But with those cautions in mind, indulge! Do fun things! Otherwise, you’re missing the point of roleplaying games, and Yahtzee has much simpler rules.

Well, that’s about all I have for this week. Next week, with combat in the rear-view mirror, hopefully, we can get back to unraveling mysteries and figuring out where the Corpse Fleet (and the cultists) have disappeared to. We’ll see you then – in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and join in the reindeer games.

By which I do not mean a Starfinder game with a crew of sentient reindeer-people. Though, that might be cool, depending on whether antlers could be used to equip extra items. Hmmm… let me see if I can get a Rule of Cool ruling on that…

Talking Combat 065: Let It Glow! Let It Glow! Let It Glow!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 065: The Year of Rolling Dangerously.

So I guess we’re going to leave 2018 on a bit of a cliff-hanger. Yes, we survived the fight against Radioactive Space Cow, but we still have to find the marrowblight behind the mini-crime-wave, so clearly, there are hijinks (and probably battles) yet to come.

Listening to the fight one more time, this strikes me as one of those battles that was rough for me personally, but not for the group as a whole. I had to contend with two main problems – the fact that I couldn’t hit on anything less than a 15 or 16 (I’m not going to go back and calculate the exact breakpoint, but it was a pretty high number) and the fact that CHDRR basically got neutralized in the first two rounds of the fight. I don’t want to complain too much: to an extent, I signed up for that when I took the Mechanic class instead of something more offense-oriented. That said, it’s still a little frustrating in the moment. That double attack where I hit both shots… I’d have to go back and listen again, but that might have been my only damage for the whole fight.

I did think it was odd at first that any halfway decent armor basically nullified the ellicoth’s radiation effect. If you’ve gotten this far in the adventure, you presumably have upgraded from your starter suit, so on the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a little bare-minimum “you must be THIS tall to ride this ride” penalty for people who severely neglected their gear.

If you think about it, it’s pretty common for GMs to build in a certain degree of low-level gate-keeping into adventures, just to keep the players honest and encourage well-rounded play. Put a trap in a key location to trip up the party that went without a skills monkey. Throw in social encounters so you have at least one face of the party. Throw in a room with a physical separation (chasm, balcony, etc.) in case the party was dumb enough to travel without ranged weapons or casters. I suppose you could see this in a similar light. “Here’s a radiation effect that’s only a problem if you optimized entirely for offense and neglected defense.” I don’t know if that was Paizo’s explicit intent, but it kinda works out that way where the rubber meets the road.

Hindsight being 20/20, hearing Steve make the explicit dog comparisons, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t make more of an effort to understand the creature’s motivations. On the other hand, when the thing basically lays 50-some damage on you in 2 swats of a tentacle… to quote Conan The Destroyer, “ENOUGH TALK!”

Could we have bypassed this encounter entirely? Gut says no. I mean, go back to dogs… I could probably get a strange dog to take a treat from me or maybe even puff up and get one to back off a little if we met on neutral ground. But if I tried to go into his master’s house, it’s probably On Like Donkey Kong. So I feel like even if we “reasoned” with the ellicoth in the short term, things would’ve blown up when we tried to enter the hut. So… Radioactive Space Cow and whoever or whatever is inside the hut. I’ll go ahead and take the outcome we got.

Not going to lie, though. It is annoying the corpse managed to park itself right in front of the door. That’s going to be potentially annoying. Can we bust through the sides? Can we remix our Castrovel exploits and climb up to the top and go in through the roof? Are their people inside, and if so, did they not hear the fight or do they have guns trained at the door like the opening of Star Wars? (Or is that the end of Rogue One? Time is a flat circle.)

Good questions, but questions that can wait until 2019.

I’m not going to do a year-end retrospective, because I wrote one when we hit one year/Episode 52 doing the show, and not a lot has changed since then. The only tweak would be that we didn’t dig into the Pathfinder Playtest as much as I thought/hoped we would. Ah well. Time and tide wait for no man.

As far as the show going on break, Steve mentioned I may or may not write something, but I haven’t really decided yet. Unlike Steve’s big escape, it’s more that my holiday plans haven’t really fully gelled yet. My daughter caught a flight home from grad school, which is cool but also threw things up in the air a little. My brother may come into town but he pretty much never tells anyone until he’s in the car. There may or may not be a day trip to see extended family across the border in Ohio. And I have to make time to sell bodily fluids to afford Hamilton tickets since Pittsburgh is the touring company’s first stop in 2019. The one thing I do know is I don’t have to work (yay, working in higher ed!) but the rest is a bit of a moving target.

(OK, I have to set aside time to kick my kids’ asses in Smash Bros. So that’s two things. But other than that.)

On one hand, there’s some appeal in breaking free of the episodic structure and writing something a little more off the beaten path. Don’t worry – it would still be somewhere within the roleplaying game space; I wouldn’t jabber on about my cute things my dog did or why my fantasy football team didn’t make the playoffs. On the other hand, Steve’s not wrong that churning out a weekly column can sometimes be a trying thing and sometimes involves a creative definition of “Thursday”, so the time off might be welcome.

I think the net of it is this: I’m probably also going to take the rest of the year off, but don’t be totally surprised if the muse (or boredom – po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to) strikes me and I whup something up. Or… the kids might kick MY ass in Smash Bros and then I’d need to have something to do while I spend the rest of my vacation hiding in my room in humiliation. If this is it for the year, hope you all have great holidays and get whatever present you’ve had your eye on, and we’ll see you next year. Peace on Absalom, and goodwill toward humanoid races. But not undead… Still, don’t trust those guys.

Talking Combat 064: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Balloon Of Death

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 064: Pleased to Meet Kaiju.

Hoooooooly crap.

On one hand, this ellicoth isn’t viscerally creepy the way some of the more horror-infused monsters have been. A big dumb cow-ephant doesn’t really give you bad dreams for the next few days the way some of the other creatures might. No larvae, no brain-melting acid… walk in the park, right?

On the other hand… 20-foot reach? Basically hits on anything greater than a 1? LOW damage is about 20? Basically, it’s a Macy’s Thanksgiving Balloon of Death. Any chance we brought harpoons and tow cables? No? Pity.

What’s compounding the problem in the early stages is that we don’t really seem to be settling into any sort of plan. It’s a little hard to place people without the battle map, but we had a distinct difference of opinions. Bob seemed to be maneuvering as if we were in full retreat. I was trying to do more of a guarded withdrawal since we had to move in such a way to avoid hits. Mo sounded like he actually wanted to go the other way and retreat into the hut if that was possible. (Though… isn’t the marrowblight in there? Yeah… bleed encounters… that couldn’t possibly go poorly.) Hirogi was coming from the other side of the building so he was actually fairly safe and was treating it as just another fight. I know, he’s got trophies on the brain again.

Frankly, I liked my idea of splitting up even if it was met with skepticism. I figured if we each picked a compass direction, maybe we could figure out a way to ping-pong it back and forth between us… while at any given time, 3 out of 4 of us would be safely out of range. (Sucks to be the one in range, though maybe that person could double-move to stay ahead of it.) But at least early on, it didn’t seem like that idea was getting much traction, and I will admit I hadn’t considered that the terrain might become difficult or impassable if you stray too far off the road.

Also not good: two hits basically took CHDRR out of the fight. On some level, CHDRR is expendable, and if his dying serves the greater good, I’ll do it. That said, I’d prefer to save his heroic sacrifice for a moment when it means something, not when we’ve barely put 20 points of damage on this thing. Also, not to be too meta-gamey, but if CHDRR dies, I’d need 24 hours to repair him, which puts him out of commission for the marrowblight. So for the moment, I’m going to have to pull him back to the edge of the fight and crit-farm from range.

One thing that dawns on me: I’m just glad we’re not playing this encounter with Pathfinder Playtest rules. Pretty sure critting any time you exceed the hit threshold by 10 would turn this into a massacre.

So, I don’t know how this is going to go. On one hand, it hits like a truck; on the other, it doesn’t seem especially fast for its size, and it has so far only attacked once per round. And while it hits me on any number, maybe the people with better armor are a little harder to hit and it might actually miss once or twice. One can hope, anyway.

The fight makes up the bulk of the episode and is going to continue into next week, so there’s not a lot more to be said about it for now. I did want to briefly go back to John’s confrontation with Wynetta Trux – on re-listen, was John just being exasperated, or did John actually think Wynetta was sand-bagging us on purpose, or that she might even be in league with the Corpse Fleet? I think he was just roleplaying exasperation on Mo’s part, but there’s a few moments where it played like the latter.

THIS IS WHY YOU LET THE FACE OF THE PARTY BE THE FACE OF THE PARTY. There’s a reason you never saw the A-Team sending B.A. Baracus to ply people for information. Face… maybe Hannibal in a pinch.

As far as Steve’s GM tip, I figured I’d talk a bit about how I handle imagery for my characters.

For informal games, I’ll usually just grab something off the Internet, as I suppose a lot of us do. Yes, I have a monk who is represented by Future Liu Kang (“Old Man Liu-gan”?) from Mortal Kombat X, and there was a sorcerer who was a particularly appealing Jace Belerin card from Magic The Gathering.

For characters that are going out in “public”, I like to put in a little more creative legwork; since I’m not any sort of artist (I peaked at stick figures for the most part), I’ll often fall back on character creation tools from video games. Neverwinter 2’s creator tool was a nice one for a long time, though a bit low-res and you got more of a general body look than any facial detail – for facial detail, possibly something like Dragon Age or I think I even used The Sims 3 once. Or sometimes I’ll reverse-engineer the process by going to my local game store and buying a miniature and letting that drive the character I make.

Of course, the caveat on all of this is that it’s easier for the fantasy environment because it’s more established. It can be tough to find anything for Starfinder because the races are so new. OK, humans and androids are easy enough. Ysoki and vesk have some analogs (rat-man/lizard-man) in other universes, though they tend to be holding fantasy weaponry and wearing fantasy armor. But Shirren? Kasatha? Races from the newer books? There, you’re kinda on your own, which, I suppose, is another reason to spring for character art if it’s a character you’ll be using for a while.

I did take a quick listen to Steve’s interview with Rob McCready about the new playtest classes, but I feel like I’m kinda stuck in the middle – I don’t want to just regurgitate what I said last week, but until we actually sit down and play them, I’m not sure I have a ton of new things to say. My main takeaway: comparing them to Pathfinder classes is a bit of a no-no. I also hoped to hear more about the “other” stuff in the Character Operations Manual, but if it’s too early, it’s too early.

Next week, we should get the rest of this big fight against the ellicoth. After that… I guess we’ll see what Steve decides as far as taking a holiday break. Ironically, right when Steve goes on vacation is when my schedule slows down for the year, so I’m game for whatever. Perhaps it’s time for TUTTLE AFTER DARK: A FREE-FORM EXPLORATION OF THE HUMAN SOUL. Jazz music! Bad poetry! UTOPIAN MANIFESTOS! It’ll be like when Dylan went electric, man!

(There, that ought to get Steve cracking on editing the next few episodes…)

Well, whatever Steve decides about the holiday slowdown, we’ve got a new episode next week at the very least, so we’ll see you back here for that. In the meantime, hope you get a chance to drop by the Discord channel, whether it’s to playtest the new classes, or just to drop in on the reindeer games. See you out there in the Drift.

Talking Combat 063: Take My Breath Away

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 063: Ghouls Are People Too.

I’d like to start this week by expressing relief at Steve’s GM tip. When I first heard it, I thought he was going to do something crazy like argue that we should do away with dice in favor of having 12 listeners vote on whether our attacks hit. “Sorry Tuttle, the jury didn’t find it compelling that you’ve been practicing with that pistol enough… MISS!” Comparatively speaking, court as a roleplay analog is a fairly benign landing spot. If you want to get pedantic, it’s an incomplete analogy as the GM represents both the judge and the prosecution in an RPG, but there are some similarities… the phrase “rules lawyer” didn’t materialize out of thin air, after all.

I have to admit I don’t know how far to get into the new classes – we don’t really deal with “breaking news” very often here on RFC. On one hand, they represent a Thing That Is Happening in the larger Starfinder community, and our Discord channel is already kicking them around. On the other hand, it would feel kind of egotistical to get too far out in front of the other guys’ opinions or (potentially) interviews with Paizo people who actually worked on the classes, if Steve is going to be doing those as he says. Also, I don’t want to get repetitive – it would suck to do a deep dive and then realize that’s what we’re talking about next week too.

For now, I’ll leave it at first impressions.

  • Biohacker might be fun for someone else, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy the playstyle. It’s on the more subtle side of things. Access to heals immediately creates a niche for it in the game, and I like the class ability that gives you a free scan of any creature; I just don’t think it would be my thing.
  • Calling a vanguard a monk is an oversimplification. It’s got some similarities (unarmed striker, “entropy” is kinda like ki) but it’s also got differences (can wear heavy armor, entropy is powered up by taking hits). So it’s not a nimble striker that’s supposed to avoid hits – more of a brute that’s supposed to take hits because it pisses him off. (Now I’m imagining that moment in any Hulk Hogan match where the opponent starts slapping Hulkster to no effect, as his eyes bug out as he hulks up and gets more angry.) The vanguard also formally (re-)introduces shields to Starfinder – yes, the people of the Pact Worlds forgot how to hold a piece of wood or metal in front of their face for thousands of years and just now remembered – so maybe Chris will want to re-roll his fake paladin in the Society game.
  • The Witchwarper is a sorcerer-like caster (including CHA as a primary stat) that has a lot of cool flavor – things that play around with movement and terrain, elemental damage types, etc. – but some of its best abilities run on Resolve Points, so juggling heals/staying alive with unleashing its best powers could get dicey. The single most interesting thing I saw was “Lessen Injury” which allows you – as an interrupt – to lower a damage roll against you or an ally to the lowest possible value. So a 15-point 2d8 could become a 2. It doesn’t work on “extra” damage (crit/sneak attack/etc.), but that’s potentially crazy-useful stuff.

If you put me on the spot, I suspect Witchwarper is probably the one I’d want to try first. Some interest in Vanguard, but if we’re talking close combat, I have this feeling that Solarian already scratches that itch better than Vanguard is going to. Biohacker? Eh… let someone else have that one. Logistically, I don’t think we’re going to have a playtest for the show: not to put our business in the street, but people’s holiday plans are making it tough to fit in our regular sessions, much less extra sessions for a side game. But I do think we’ll be coming back to these after everyone has had a chance to look at them in greater detail.

Meanwhile… right! We had a show this week! Easy fight, rocky week with our people skills.

After poor Mo got beaten to a pulp by the ghouls, it was nice to have a fairly easy fight. I did like the “take your breath away” effect – it had a neat little sci-fi flavor… almost like creating a little mini-black-hole in your lungs. I did find myself wondering if the breath effect got worse with successive fails – maybe you get oxygen-deprived and start attacking other people or pass out if you fail two or three in a row – or if it was just an extra source of damage. The former, if true, could actually get pretty hairy. The latter… not really that big an issue. It seems like they’d make a pretty good boss challenge for a lower-level party – harder to hit at lower levels and the fort saves would be a little harder to make.

I also cracked up that Tuttle got to kill steal while Rusty and Hirogi were having their pissing contest about who was doing more damage. There was something fitting about that, and it actually harkened back to our Carrion Crown campaign, where I was a notorious kill-stealer. Stylistically, I was imagining the opening scene from the first Lethal Weapon where Riggs puts four or five shots in a guy while doing a little barrel roll on the ground. So we’ve got Lethal Weapon AND Lethal Weapon 2 represented – perhaps next week Tuttle will have occasion to explain how they fuck you in the drive-thru. (Or better yet, maybe we can just forget everything Joe Pesci did after My Cousin Vinny.)

Speaking of abrasive Joe Pesci roles, our people skills this episode could’ve used some work. It was oddly difficult to get information out of someone whose life we had just saved, but we somehow managed that herculean feat. And then Mo decided to yell at Wynetta Trux for… reasons. I mean, yeah, it was a little odd she’d get so ornery about having clean up bodies that we had to face doing work on her behalf, but jeez… overreact much, Mo? We’re already facing an uphill battle being agents of the living on an undead planet; probably don’t need to make things harder by alienating the one person who’s on our side.

(General aside: I thought our stint on the reality show all the way back in Book 1 would confer some sort of benefit or grease the wheels for us when we arrived here, but… nope. Reality TV celebrity is just as fleeting in the Pact Worlds as it is in real life.)

Well, hopefully next week, we can talk Wynetta down from being offended (that’s a Rusty job if ever I heard one) and get some information – remember that she was supposed to be researching that bone spur for us, right? So hopefully we can put that together with the new clue we found and that’ll give us a path to follow. I’m still not crazy that it almost has to lead to fighting a marrowblight, but we’ll jump off that cliff when we come to it. So, see you next week, and in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and talk about the episode, the new classes, or whatever else floats your boat. (Unless you’re late-career Pesci fans, in which case we’re gonna have issues. My review of The Super was so harsh it almost got our college newspaper’s press passes revoked.) See you next week.