Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 24

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Talking Tales: Tale 6, Chapter 2, World of Chorecraft

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 6, Chapter 2: Keys to the Castle.

This week, the Best Of Mobile Gaming comes to Pathfinder Second Edition!

I kid a little, but also not. To pick a mobile game I wouldn’t be TOO embarrassed to admit I’ve played, those whole scenario feels like something out of (let’s say) Clash of Clans. Oh, you want Fire Archers? Well, first you have to upgrade your Barracks and your Wizard Tower. And for some reason, we can’t quite explain, your city walls. THEN you can teach your archers to light their arrows on fire (which, if we’re being honest… fire arrows sound like something they could figure out through trial and error).

Thanks to John’s handy-dandy flow-chart (as opposed to the flat listing that comes with the adventure) we can break the work into four top-level tracks, not all of them are created equal in terms of tasks or time required. We’ll call them Exterior, Courtyard, Hall, and Barracks. Also, we don’t really start to get into this until halfway through the episode, but some of the tasks are restricted through the requirement of skilled laborers, of which the town has a limited number. (Specifically, two carpenters and only one mason. But oddly, LOTS of trappers, which we don’t seem to need at all… unless that comes later.)

So let’s start with a really quick summary:

  • Exterior: 4 tasks, 50 days, needs both mason and carpenter
  • Courtyard: 3 tasks, 20 days, mason
  • Hall: 8 tasks, 72 days, carpenter and sage (purifying the shrine)
  • Barracks: 2 tasks, 20 hours, carpenter

Skills-wise, the mason is going to be the big sticking point, because none of us have that skill and there’s only one in the town. Also, two of the mason tasks on the Exterior track – Repair Wall (18 days) and Repair Main Gate (12 days) – are some of the most time-consuming tasks on the entire board. Carpenter isn’t nearly as bad; both because the tasks tend to be shorter and the town has two of them. The sage tasks are buried several steps deep in the Hall path, so we won’t really need one until the late stages. Also, the requirement is only to be Trained in Religion, so I know Nella has that, and Thorgrim probably does as well. So we don’t really NEED a sage and could do it ourselves if we had to. Unless the town sage has a lot better roll, in which case we might want to use them to avoid releasing a bunch of demons on the fort.

Money-wise, if you add it all up, there are something like 170 or 180 person-days of labor to do all the tasks, and we have 147 gold, so we’re going to have to find some additional funding sources, or do some of the work ourselves. Or maybe both. It’s not an insurmountable gap, but it’s a gap. On the plus side, maybe there are other opportunities to unearth treasure – I mean, there’s a dungeon right in the keep. On the minus side, Steve has also mentioned that there might be costs for resources such as stone and lumber. So it’s in the ballpark of doable, but there are still some details left to flesh out.

We also get what sounds like a timeframe for completing our tasks. Our kinda-sorta ally Mask Narsen has to go on a mission back to the capital, and he’s going to be gone… a month-ish. Nobody actually comes out and says “be finished by the time I get back”. But it feels like that’s the intent here – that we should be wrapped up (or close to it) by the time he returns. (I feel like the “about” a month is meant so the GM can slice days off the end if the players finish early, so the players don’t end up spinning their wheels for two weeks if they have a party of skill monkeys and get lucky on their rolls.)

I feel like I should clarify one aspect of the mini-game which is explained both a little poorly and well after we get started. There is a provision to basically “take 10” (the First Edition term) and just assume a rate of work that assures proper completion. You can’t fail, but you also can’t critically succeed and speed things up. But here’s the thing — that “mode” can only be used on the tasks that have no skilled labor component: in essence, the four top-level tasks, plus a couple of other ones in the Great Hall track. If the job requires a skilled worker, you have to risk the roll. However, it does mean that moment where I was finishing off Thorgrim’s 2 hours and failed my roll twice, I should’ve been allowed to take the mulligan and just finish it the easy way.

(Which would also be my advice to any players who might end up playing this down the road. Always take the mulligan on the last day of work if it’s available. You don’t want to eat an entire extra day cleaning up 1-2 hours of the previous day’s failure, both in terms of planning the logistics, as well as the sheer psychological frustration of having to waste a day fishing for one hour of labor.)

We also have two secondary tasks, but they’re short, don’t cost money, and are fairly well-covered by our skills. They’re the definition of “fit them in when you can”. There’s planting the spy plants, but that’s basically a one-day task with Nature as a skill. So… that’s got Nella written all over it. (And in fact, skipping ahead, we end up knocking that one out in the first few days.) The other is befriending enough townsfolk to the point where we can recruit them as allies by giving them the coins. We’re also pretty well-positioned here as we’ve got a party full of faces – Thorgrim (champion) and Nixnox (sorcerer) should have decent Charisma scores, and isn’t Ducker a champion too? It should be easy to reach a point where if we have a workflow blocked, just send a face-off to town to work on the recruiting drive. (I thought the goal condition here was three recruits, but I honestly can’t remember if I actually heard that or am just imagining that.)

The first few days are fairly non-descript. We make most of our rolls, fail one or two, but are in pretty good shape overall. All the first-level tasks are knocked out, and we start working on specialized jobs. At this point, we start to hit the first hiccup in our strategy, which is that unlocking the dungeon freaks all of our workers out and they won’t come back to work until we clear it out.

So what are we dealing with here? Is it basically one room, or is it a three-session slog that’s going to cost us multiple lost days of labor? Putting on the meta-game hat, the fact that it’s a Society game means it’s PROBABLY on the shorter side, but you never know.

And that’s actually where we’ll leave off for next time. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

Talking Circus S1|23: Kitchen Nightmares

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|23: Flurry of Flames.

Before we get into this week’s show, I wanted to take a brief detour to last week’s Talking. Vanessa Hoskins pointed out that I got a little sloppy in my use of pronouns with regards to Ateran last week. (Steve has since fixed it on the site, so you won’t see the mistakes if you go there now, but I went back to the original Word doc, and… yeah, she’s correct). It was certainly unintentional, but I did want to acknowledge the mistake and apologize. The frustrating thing is that I usually make an effort to double-check when it comes to Ateran – especially when context-switching between Rob (the player) and Ateran (the character) – but clearly I neglected to do it this time around. So… sorry for that; I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

We pick up in the middle of a short downtime after the battle against Smiler, The Ghast That Got Away. Healing, looting, and even time to fit in a few character moments.

First up, we have poor Hap. She’s already been questioning the whole adventurer lifestyle, but now she’s got a potentially lethal sickness, and most of the team’s attempts to help are just making her feel worse. And when it comes to Alhara, there’s an added layer where she feels like Big Sis should’ve done more to protect her. Ateran digs their self a deeper hole through their overly clinical explanation of the disease and relative lack of a bedside manner. Then Alhara attempts to wade in with “push through it, and it’ll get better” optimism combined with what I’m sure she intended as light-hearted teasing to lighten the mood, which totally backfires. So now Hap’s in a pretty dark place. Strong roleplay by Loren here – Hap as a freaked-out teenager being confronted with her own mortality out of the blue was good stuff. I also liked that she was able to roleplay frustration at a tactical decision in a way that didn’t break immersion and get into game mechanics. “WHY DIDN’T YOU MOVE ONE SQUARE TO THE LEFT, ALHARA?”

Fortunately, Darius is there to save the day, with a moment that manages to be genuinely wholesome and touching. And… when it comes to Rob’s riff on Stone Chicken Disease, funny as well. I mean… that’s kind of been Darius’ role in the party – the big-hearted goof who lifts everyone else’s spirits – but he really works overtime here.

I will admit it was a little weird because the group has been letting the collective hair down the past few episodes, going out of character a bit, and getting silly. Honestly, they’ve almost sounded more like our Black Lodge group the last few episodes. Getting back to serious roleplay relatively out of the blue caught me a little off-guard. Or maybe I’m just naturally grouchy and cynical, and warmth and authenticity are just weird to me. Darius manages to figure out that the key to talking Hap down from the ledge (at least for now) is to remind her of all the good she can do to help others with her powers, and he’s able to get Hap moving forward again.

Next, we have at least a short-term resolution of The Ateran Situation, as Alhara has it out with them about killing the evil priestess. Part of this went as expected: Ateran got to make the case that the priestess was planning to continue the fight, but only they could detect it because of the nature of their magic. But then Rob pulled something that surprised me – the idea that Ateran did it because Darius and Hap were thinking of getting THEIR hands dirty and they (Ateran) didn’t want that to happen. For all the talk about how Ateran is an outsider and doesn’t always get the other members of the party, this was a nice sign of growth, that they would want to save Hap (in particular) the struggle of having to take another life… even one as deranged as the priestess appeared to be. You also wonder if there are hooks in Ateran’s backstory that shed light on that choice, that we’ll learn about later…. maybe Ateran had to take a life and regretted it later?

I don’t think this situation is totally resolved; at least Vanessa was not playing it as such. It didn’t seem like she was totally buying Ateran’s explanation, though she got enough to keep moving forward and not dissolve the party on the spot. So… stay tuned to see if Ateran can dig their self the rest of the way out of the doghouse, or if this has just changed the party dynamics for good.

With everyone’s personal issues at least temporarily dealt with, exploration of the dungeon resumes, and the party stumbles across a dining hall. (Who puts a dining hall this close to the dead bodies? Even for a medieval fantasy world, that’s gotta be some kind of health code violation.) A bunch of quasits… probably not a big deal, our gang has dealt with them before… and a humanoid with a cleaver who is serving as a cook. The cook looks like she might be tough for all of one round, but then everyone pretty much lands their attacks and it’s all over – Vanessa trips the cook, Darius fires a Stunning Fist, flaming birds, elemental toss, and there’s a smoking crater where she used to be. By the end, it’s almost to the point of showing off, when Vanessa is grappling and shoving quasits into pots instead of just stabbing them.

Things show signs of getting a LITTLE interesting when the quasit under the pot a) turns into a wolf and b) heals up. Do we finally have a fight on our hands? Ummm… never mind. Ateran throws another chair, and the wolf crumples as well. Fight over, and a fairly easy one at that. Really the only downside is we didn’t get to see what Alhara’s brand-new magical trident does. Guess that’s going to be a mystery for another day.

After a bit of top-up healing, the exploration continues. There’s a pantry with a bunch of snacks, so if the party wants to just quit the circus and live here, they’ve got options. Then they come to a room with tons of doors, but one of them has been ripped off the hinges and there are noises coming from that direction. So Alhara decides to take a shot at stealthing… something we haven’t really seen her do much of. And she may never get a chance to do it again, as she critically fails right in front of TWO of the same demons where ONE almost wiped the party back at the church. (Granted, they’ve leveled since then, but still…) So this episode was easy, but next week is shaping up as a bit of an ordeal.

While you’re waiting for next week, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. And this week, maybe send some thoughts and prayers to Alhara, because it sounds like she might need ‘em. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 6, Chapter 1, The Ultimate Fixer-Upper

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 6, Chapter 1: This Old Fort.

Well, the Erik Mona/Vortaris Live Episode Sojourn is over, and it’s back to “normal” episodes. Also, we return this week from Questing to full-length adventures.

This time out, our special guest is Jefferson Thacker (aka Perram) from Know Direction. I know Steve has done a lot of stuff with Perram in other venues – they did a live event that wasn’t recorded, Steve appeared on KD’s show, etc. – but I don’t think he’s ever been featured on one of our games before. And personally, my only first-hand interaction with Perram was when he served as the moderator/master-of-ceremonies for our PaizoCon live event back in 2018. So… been a while.

Perram’s character is Ducker Nightshade… he’s definitely a halfling, I’m pretty sure I heard him say he was a champion, but of course, the thing that really sticks out is the accent Perram has chosen: he’s gone full “up the holler” Appalachian with him. Which is… unusual… for a fantasy setting, you have to admit. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I disliked it, but it did catch me off guard a little.

Now, I’m just going to come right out and say it: you’ll notice I don’t talk a lot this episode. There are two main reasons for that: one intentional, one not.

The intentional part is that when we have a new guest, particularly one we’ve never played with before, I usually like to give them some space to see how they’re going to play. I’m deferential that way. When it’s someone we already know like Vanessa Hoskins or Rob Trimarco… OK, jump right in. Since it was our first time playing with Perram, I was more inclined to let him have the floor.

The other reason is that I wasn’t feeling all that well when we recorded this session. Frankly, it was one of those things where I faded fast after dinner, but I didn’t want to call off at the last minute and screw up everyone’s schedules. So I tried to tough it out and probably shouldn’t have. 20-20 hindsight, I guess.

We start… yet again… on a ship, only this time it’s really just transportation from Point A to Point B. OK, there’s a little bit of interaction with the other passengers, but we don’t get attacked and no gambling mini-games. The refugees from Lastwall seem like really obvious candidates to be our first workers, but despite being chased out of their home by the Whispering Tyrant, they seem strangely reluctant to accept the offer of a job and a place to live. For the moment, we won’t worry about that.

Then we reach port and have to deal with the guards, and now we’re at a point where the situation with the family reaches critical mass and we have to do something. Unfortunately, the harbor guards are going to sell off the kid to the Razmiri priesthood unless we can vouch for them. Which leads to this week’s episode of Adventures in Crappy Skill Rolls! Chris fails Diplomacy. Perram fails an attempt to Intimidate. I fail TWICE, burning my hero point in the process. All this for two workers and two kids who aren’t likely to do us any good. But FINALLY, Seth gets a decent roll, and we’re able to get them past the guards and into town at a cost of three gold. Hard to say whether that’s going to be a little or a lot until we get a better sense of the overall budget. (And whether there will be opportunities to earn money elsewhere.)

Next up we get our mission briefing from Mask Narsen (all sorts of COVID jokes I’m just gonna leave on the table there), who actually seems to be a reasonable guy for a worshipper of an evil deity. It’s funny because I now understand some of this better having read the Lost Omens Legends book for my review. Razmir is a really powerful (evil) wizard who’s been masquerading as a god and has built up a following. However, Razmir views the Whispering Tyrant as probably the single biggest threat to his power, so at least on that specific front, he’s capable of cooperating with good people to preserve his power. So, not to guess too much into the motives of someone who calls themselves “the Living God”, but Razmir probably feels like having Pathfinders manning the fort would serve as a first line of defense if Tar-Baphon ever gets frisky and decides to attack.

(BTW, bonus points to Chris for his passive-aggressive pissing contest with Mask Narsen. I had forgotten about that, but it was a pretty funny moment.)

We also get an introduction to the town, but this seems like it’s going to mostly come into play later. I think the big takeaway, for now, is getting a sense of where the skilled craftsmen are when we get past grunt labor and need to hire specialists. For now, put a pin in it.

So now we go visit the fort, and we start to get an idea of the full scope of the project. Which is… basically… everything. The walls have holes in them. The main keep is in disrepair. The roof is shot, but you can’t even get up to the top level to fix the roof because there are no stairs. The well is damage, so there’s no supply of water. And ohbytheway, we also have an evil shrine to contend with and may have monsters living somewhere in or around the fort.

So the main thrust of this adventure looks like it’s going to be base-building rather than traditional combat. We have a certain amount of time (currently not specified), a finite amount of money, and we can either hire labor or do it ourselves in cases where we have the right skills. In addition to whatever labor we have to hire out, there are also potential costs for materials, and for lodging up to the point where we can get the fort into a livable condition. Unknown is whether there will be opportunities to add to our budget by… essentially… doing side quests.

At the very end of the episode, Steve presents us with a full task list. I mostly want to save that for next week because – mild spoiler – John taps into his Game Designer Kung-Fu and spends the week between sessions putting it into a more coherent “flowchart” format that makes it easier to discuss. For now, I can give you a first glance assessment: there are something like 180 or 190 work units, so we’re clearly going to have to do SOME of the work ourselves or find some alternate sources of income because our 147 gold isn’t going to totally cover it. And that’s even before any materials or lodging at the inn.

So that’s where we’ll pick it up next week – we’ll break the task list down in more detail and get to work. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S1|22: Turn Off The Dark

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|22: The Rule of Ghoul.

This has to be one of the weirdest episodes of Roll For Combat ever. Although we got a few ghouls for an appetizer, the main combat of the episode went basically unresolved and the big bad ghast (I assume that was the point of Steve describing the one attack as “ghastly”) got away. In fact, most of the action came from just navigating the environment – falling rocks, no light, etc. – and dealing with the sickness. And we end the game with a little light violation of the Geneva Convention as Ateran murders a captive prisoner, the boss from the previous episode that they had previously tied up. Then again, we all know how Ateran has been on edge because of their feelings about druids, and the session did start with Hap joking about slitting her throat, so maybe the signs were always there that this was going to end badly.

Hmmm… maybe murdering prisoners is how the evil clown from the other circus got his start…

On to the game. First and foremost, it was good to get that reminder about “Learn a Spell”. Loren was just doing a regular Identify, but it’s good to get into that stuff. “Learn A Spell” is kind of a compromise between the First Edition poles of either “you get access to every spell on the list” free-for-all and the overly restrictive “you get these five spells and that’s all you can EVER do”. As a general skill, any caster class can do it. One of the interesting features is that you can either learn the spell from a scroll or spellbook OR you can have someone teach you the spell through conversation. So theoretically, one way to learn new spells is just to study with NPC casters, if the GM allows it. The thing that’s a bit risky is that if you fail the check on Learn a Spell, you can’t try again until next level. Oof.

Another thing I found interesting was Loren was going back to the First Edition version of Produce Flame, and I was a little surprised Steve let her do that. If you’re new to Pathfinder with Second Edition, Produce Flame used to be kind of a hybrid between a light spell and a combat spell. You basically got a blob of fire on your hand that lasted for 1 minute per level, which you could either use as a light source, or you could use as a ranged attack, with each shot consuming one minute’s worth of fire. Looking at the plain text of the rules, Second Edition took away the secondary usage and just made it a combat spell, but I guess Steve let it slide a little.

I will say, lighting has not traditionally been this big of a problem in our adventures. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve had major issues with lack of light source. I think the biggest thing is that a lot of fights tend to be in rooms that are either already lit, or are at least fairly open spaces where all of the party’s (and enemies’) light sources can combine to make lighting mostly a non-issue. Even most “dungeon” crawls are usually something semi-civilized like a castle or a tavern or something, so there’s some type of human activity. Also, at least in our other group, we tend to be fond of darkvision races, which gets around the problem entirely. And more as a personal choice, if I’m any flavor of caster, I’m taking Light as one of my cantrips anyway.

The one notable recent exception to “no light, no problem” that I can remember was Emerald Spire – not only was there an entire level that was dark narrow passages like this, but most of it was also difficult terrain. And did the enemies have darkvision? Of course they did! That was a freakin’ nightmare.

On the other hand, all of this business with the light sources did give us the moment of the night: Loren discovering AFTER all the dust had settled… “Oh, I do have light!”. That’s just fantastic.

At the end of the episode, we have the somewhat shocking (but maybe not) resolution with the evil priestess from the previous session. I think it was inevitable that some sort of renewed fight would break out – she seemed to be stone-cold crazy, so I don’t think she would’ve just let herself be walked back to town. On the other hand, it was a little surprising to see Ateran lose it and just off her like that. They are usually so calm and collected; if there was going to be an emotional outburst, I would’ve put my money on Hap.

It’ll also be interesting to see how they roleplay this going forward. Both Vanessa and Loren were both showing various levels of disappointment (bordering on disgust in Alhara’s case) and Ateran’s still getting over the hump on being the outsider of the group. One hopes this doesn’t set them back too far in their personal relationships.

I think what’s messing with me as we end the episode is the ambiguous note it ends on. Generally, Steve tends to end either on a natural stopping point in the story, or at least on a fairly well-defined cliffhanger – i.e. combat is about to start and that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. So the idea that there’s still this undead Super-Ghoul running around, they don’t know where it is, and we don’t really know if it’s going to attack them five minutes into next week’s show or we won’t get a resolution for 2 or 3 more weeks… that’s a little weird and atypical, and I’m still processing how I feel about that.

But… my feelings aside, that IS where we’re ending this week. Next week, I guess we’ll see what happens with their battle against the undead. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 5, Chapter 2, Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 5, Chapter 2: Sea Monster Sushi.

Welcome to Part 2 of the PaizoCon special episode. There’s a certain serendipity – planned or not – in running our previous “convention” episode at the same time GenCon is also going on. Though it’s also a little confusing and I fully admit I started typing “GenCon” and changed it to “PaizoCon” as I was writing the intro.

For the record, I’m not ignoring Steve’s announcement about the new adventure… I just figured I’d wait until there’s more to report. Also, because of scheduling snafus, we haven’t actually started playing it yet, so there isn’t even much to drop vague hints about yet. To quote Mister Incredible: WE’LL GET THERE WHEN WE GET THERE.

We resume action in the aftermath of stepping on to the sunken ship and into the waiting pseudo-pods of the mold – though I managed to avoid that particular fiasco by hanging back. I knew SOMETHING was going to happen, but I assumed it would be a more conventional ambush, rather than mold. So everyone else gets to deal with the virtual ConCrud, while I gingerly clear the decks with fire. (Lest I be portrayed as a coward, I’m pretty sure one of either Vortaris or Nixnox didn’t go on the enemy ship at all, but I can’t remember which one.)

Once that’s all subsided, we do a little search of the ship looking for the gorget and figure out it’s below decks. Which are… (wait for it)… UNDER WATER. Of course they are. Needless to say, John is ecstatic that his underwater combat feat might prove to be useful, while Nixnox’s already-evident frustration at another water-based adventure escalates to full-fledged panic. Our strong swimmers investigate, and the corpse we need turns out to be wedged in the jaws of a sea beastie.

Again, here’s where I expected an ambush. Part of it is that Pathfinder Quests are short, so you expect something to happen quickly, but I fully expected that the creature was going to be the fight… that it was just taking a nap or had gotten stuck when the ship went down and was going to conveniently wake up when we started tugging the corpse loose. Well, it turns out the folks at Paizo aren’t QUITE that devious – it’s just a skill challenge to get the body out before you drown. But still, that’s an effective little challenge as is – Thorgrim is the only officially “strong” person in the party, and holding one’s breath underwater got a lot harder between editions.

Quick rules digression, which we sort of explained but sort of didn’t: In First Edition, you could hold your breath underwater for a number of rounds equal to your Constitution SCORE. Now it’s 5 rounds plus your Con MODIFIER. So it went from something that’s likely to be well over a minute even for an average person to “over 30 seconds is pretty exceptional”. Arguably that’s more realistic: it’s actually pretty hard to hold your breath in deep water, especially if you’re thrashing around exerting yourself. But still, it’s a bit of an adjustment. It’ll especially be interesting to see how that plays out in underwater combat situations, if (when) those ever arise.

Who am I kidding? We’ve had water adventures almost every time. Of course, we’ll have to deal with that at some point.

Now here’s where being Level 3 would’ve been enormously useful. If I was Level 3, I’d have the upgrade to the Level 2 version of Wild Shape, which gives me “real” forms including a shark form. At that point, I could’ve Wild Shaped into a shark and either tugged at the corpse or eaten away at the creature (gross… yes… but possibly effective) until the sailor’s remains broke free. But since I’m still on the starter version, I can only turn into small creatures, which didn’t really offer much help here. Level 1 Wild Shape is mostly for roleplay flavor, maybe a little bit of recon work (though even that’s limited by the fairly short duration).

So Peepers and Thorgrim get the actual job of freeing our target, and Nella and her unimpressive strength are mostly there for moral support and casting Light. At first, it looks like we might end up with some drowning victims, but they finally get the body free and we’re able to drag it back to the dry part of the ship.

And then, as we’re bringing our spoils back… THAT’S when all hell breaks loose.

I have to admit, at first, I was still thinking it was going to be a BIG sea serpent – perhaps the one in the basement of the wreckage had a sibling. Or my other thought was kraken-esque tentacles – that we’d never see the actual creature, just fight off a few Grabby Boys Of The Deep. But I suppose either of those would’ve been creatures WAY outside our challenge level, so what we actually got were more ordinary-sized sea serpents. Now, they weren’t trivial – they had a charge attack, and they could also use the water to move around and attack from unexpected angles. Basically, as the front-line fighters charged all the way over to the port-side rail, one of the serpents went underneath the ship and came up in the middle of our back line. Oops. I suppose we could quibble about animal-level creatures using advanced tactics, but whatever. Made for a more exciting encounter.

Fortunately, the snakes were not that tough in terms of defenses – nothing special on armor class or hit points – and we were able to make fairly quick work of them and secure victory. And Vortaris even got the death blow and some sweet lovin’ from the captain of the ship. Good for you, Vortaris! Hope that doesn’t mean he just recruited an admiral for his eventual Fleet of the Damned when he goes full lich…

And hey, we finished on time! See we can do it when we put our minds to it.

So that’s our PaizoCon romp in a nutshell. As usual, Erik Mona was lots of fun to play with: Vortaris continues to crack me up as a character, and I hope we get to see him again down the road. But it’s also fun having the live audience to interact with – we get a little bit of that with our Patreon subscriber channel, but nowhere near to the scale of a convention appearance. It’s gratifying to see hundreds of people listening in and following along live… even if they do mostly vote for Mr. Peepers and continue to encourage his impulsive streaks. Makes for good listening, I suppose.

Next week, we return with a new adventure (back in “the studio”) with a new special guest, so I hope you’ll join us for that. I won’t spoiler anything, except to say it’s going to be an actual adventure and not a quest, so expect it to unfold on more of a 4-6 episode timeline. As always, while you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week.

The Sideshow S1|21: We Come In Peace, Shoot To Kill

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|21: No Mercy For Old Men.

This week, the players attempt to fight Gygax’s First Law of RPG Gravity: combat is (and will probably always be) what the system does best.

Since it’s the eve of GenCon, I’ll give you the ten-cent history: Gary Gygax and his friends (Dave Arneson among them) were into tabletop wargaming (anyone remember Avalon Hill?), and around the time Lord Of The Rings got big with hippies, they decided they wanted a set of fantasy wargaming rules so they could have wizards and dragons and armies of orcs and elves fighting instead of Panzer divisions and cavalry. From there, they borrowed a pinch of what game designers would now consider “legacy games” and decided their commanders were distinct individuals with their own lives between the war campaigns, and then they started sending their commanders on adventures without the armies. That’s what eventually became First Edition D&D.

If you really want to drill all the way into this, I’d recommend checking out Jon Peterson’s Playing At The World. Peterson gets all the way in the weeds with first-person interviews and also by delving into the newsletters and other correspondence Gygax and his collaborators were exchanging at the time they were building this stuff. I’ll warn you the tone is a little dry and “academic”, but it really gives you a full picture of how this whole thing sprang into existence.

Sorry… book plug done. The reason I mention all of this is that while TSR/Wizards and Paizo have made admirable efforts to beef up the “social interaction” side of the game over the last few decades, it can still at times be an exercise in pulling teeth to do anything other than draw weapons and start whaling away. Which is kinda what happened here – the two sides went round and round for about 10 minutes and then we had the moment from the Conan sequel where Conan (played by Rob in this case) says “ENOUGH TALK” and throws a dagger into dude’s stomach.

For the record, sorry Steve, but I was on the player’s side on the dispute with the two guards. If you break it down, the players were offering them a BETTER deal than what they were insisting upon. The players were offering to let them leave WITH their weapons, and the guards were digging in their heels on the idea that they should give up their weapons first? In an area that’s potentially a hot spot for undead activity? If they really wanted to get as far as possible from the ghouls in good faith, they should’ve jumped all over the party’s offer. Frankly, given that there were reinforcements on the way, it doesn’t seem like their faith was that good in the first place. Seems more like they were trying to stall for time and get some help.

Of course, the battle itself is a total afterthought, thanks to Hap critting on a Burning Hands that hits all three targets. Two of the three dead immediately, the other basically on his last legs, and finished off with the next attack. So much for a peaceful resolution, I suppose. Not even a chance to render them unconscious.

Next, we have the fight with the person that we’ll assume for the moment is the boss… at least this time, she’s unambiguously evil – both in her own actions, the defaced holy symbol and in the fact that she’s got a demon riding shotgun. Only much to Steve’s chagrin, we don’t really get to see what she can do: Alhara manages to evade her first big spell, and the melees basically pound her into the ground before she can do much else. Including yet another crit, this time by Rob. Team GM just can’t buy a break tonight.

It’s funny… I had never really thought about it before now, but Steve’s got a point. As a GM, for the story to progress and the game to continue, the GM ends up bearing the burden of losing. Over and over again. Maybe you push the party to their limits, but at the end of the day, you usually end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. And you can be the most party-friendly GM in the world, and I imagine that would get a little tedious after a while. I mean… the guys who play for the Washington Generals probably take some satisfaction in helping the Harlem Globetrotters put on a good show, but deep down I bet every one of them wants to cut loose one night, play a legit game, and just run the Globetrotters off the court.

In a setting like that, I guess one of the few comforts would be that you get to test-drive different creatures and use powers that maybe the players don’t even have access to. You lose, but you get to lose with style. But if the party lands a crit or two and beats your enemy’s ass in basically one turn… you just get to take the beating and watch the players celebrate.

As an aside, the best one of these I ever participated in was a sub-boss battle in Iron Gods. It was an archer who was going to be taking free shots at us as we worked our way up a winding staircase. There were a few places to take cover, but it was probably shaping up to multiple rounds of misery. But I landed a Hold Person spell, and then Steve failed three straight saves to break free. So while the archer was stuck in stasis, we full-round moved up the steps and coup-de-grace’d the archer without him ever firing a shot. Not very sporting, but effective.

Back to action, the party ties up the witch and does a little healing, which brings up the abstract question of the evening – how effectively can one “tie up” a caster? Now, the easiest of the three to deal with is material components: if you take away their stuff (including their holy symbol/focus item), they can’t cast any spells that require stuff. But that doesn’t take away as much as you would think – a lot of lower-level spells are just Verbal and Somatic anyway. As far as Somatic, the rules explicitly state a caster can’t do Somatic gestures while restrained, so Somatic is meant to be more than “wiggle your pinky”. So on the surface that suggests you could actually tie a caster up pretty effectively. However, that’s assuming you’re some expert at tying restraining knots and or securing them somewhere that would be hard to escape from. If you leave someone unattended while you explore the rest of a dungeon, what’s to say they can’t break free of their bonds and escape to fight another day? I have a feeling we may yet learn the answer to this question.

In the meantime, our party of intrepid adventurers continues their exploration, and basically finish the session by roughing up an old married couple. Nice. For the third straight combat, a crit shortens the fight quite a bit, though at least this time they were explicitly doing non-lethal damage, so they didn’t kill anyone. I don’t usually feel sorry for Steve (rooting for the GM is like rooting for the dealer at a casino), but yeah… 0-for-3 with each fight basically lasting one round was a pretty miserable evening.

And still no sign of the undead that they’re supposed to exterminate. Watch… that’s when all those 20s will turn to 1s. But I guess we’ll find out next week. As usual, feel free to drop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show, but also, if you’re reading this Thursday, I hope you’ll drop by virtual GenCon tonight and check out our live Black Lodge session. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Pathfinder Lost Omens Legends Review: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Lost Omens: World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Gamemastery Guide, and Bestiary 2.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Three Ring Adventure and our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast.

Paizo’s new hardcover, Lost Omens Legends, hits the streets in time for GenCon, and I have to admit it presents a bit of a challenge for me as a reviewer.

Let’s start with the basics of what it is: Lost Omens Legends is an introductory guide to many of the major NPC luminaries of the Golarion setting – political leaders, world heroes, wise scholars, and powerful mages, and so on. If Lost Omens Gods & Magic introduced us to the gods themselves, this book introduces us to the movers and shakers of the material world. Furthermore, there are several overarching stories going on in the current world of Golarion’s Inner Sea, and many of the characters in this book are the central figures of those over-arching stories. The aftermath of the wizard war between Geb and Nex. The ongoing undead threat posed by the Whispering Tyrant, Tar-Baphon. The general society-wide battle over the future of slavery in the Inner Sea region. Lost Omens Legends offers up deeper portraits of the people at the heart of these stories.

So here’s the dilemma…

With any book, there’s always going to be a trade-off between lore and mechanics. Imagine a 1-to-10 scale: a 1 would be all lore and no rules content (“we converted the entire Beatles’ catalog to Elvish so you can use them as bard songs!”) while a 10 would be all rules content and no lore – basically a professionally bound set of Excel spreadsheets.

Generally, my sweet spot tends to be in the 6-7 range. Don’t get me wrong… I like adventuring in a world that feels authentic and lived-in and appreciate the creativity Paizo puts into the campaign setting. But at the end of the day, I like it when my rulebooks have… well… rules. When I look to add stuff to my collection; I want to know what tangible impacts it’s going to add to the game – new monsters to fight, new abilities for my characters to try, cool treasure to find, and so on.

Lost Omens Legends? We’re talking maybe a 2-and-a-half. Yes, they throw in a feat here and a magic item there associated with the various luminaries detailed in the book, but the vast majority of it is roleplay flavor.

Not that that’s a bad thing per se. For GMs, it’s probably a great tool. If you create your own content, there’s a lot of fertile material for generating stories here; even if you’re “just” running existing Paizo adventure paths, a GM can roleplay situations better if they know who the players are and how all the parts fit together at the macro level. And, OK, there’s a subset of players who get into the lore far more than I do and will really enjoy this content for what it is. In short, it probably belongs on someone’s shelf. But if I’m being totally honest, it’s not something I would feel a strong need to own.

Let’s dig into the content a little deeper by using an example: the abolition movement. Slavery was outlawed in the city of Absalom by the acting primarch, Wynsal Starborn. Starborn is acting primarch, but actually wants his bro Ulthun II (previously the Watcher-Lord of Lastwall until it was overrun by the Whispering Tyrant) to take the job, while Ulthun thinks Wynsal should just take the job permanently. The pro-slavery forces are primarily represented by Abrogail Thrune II, ruler of Cheliax, and she’s got the Hellknights in her corner enforcing order. The leader of the most distinguished order of the Hellknights is Toulon Vidoc, who is mostly an ally, but sometimes he and Thrune butt heads because he believes in punishing ALL crime, including some of Thrune’s corrupt underlings. There’s also an underground abolition group, the Bellflower Network, run by halfling siblings Magdalene and Martum Fallows; and there’s even a masked pro-abolition vigilante called the Sapphire Butterfly, a former actress who now attempts to assist the Bellflower Network and overthrow Thrune. One of her gambits is to leave evidence against Thrune for Vidoc to find, so… we’ve even got the beginnings of a “Commissioner Gordon and Batman” frenemies thing going here. Lost Omens Legends gives us character sketches of all these dramatis personae – who they are, what they believe, who their allies and enemies are, and so on.

It’s not ALL Game of Thrones levels of palace intrigue, though. You also have a case like master alchemist Artokus Kirran. Kirran is the inventor of something called the Sun Orchid Elixir, which is basically a potion of immortality. In his story, we learn that he basically produces only six vials of it every year, that each vial sells for 60-80 THOUSAND gold pieces, and that the sun orchids that fuel the thing are fairly rare. He’s not explicitly tied to any particular nation or story, but on the other hand, who wouldn’t want an immortality potion? (Possibly even including really rich high-level players?) So on some level, he can be relevant to any story.

You can see how these pieces can be wielded in the hands of a GM who knows what they’re doing. If your characters are low level, these are probably just abstract names you hear talked about at the local tavern, but as the characters become more formidable, they might actually interact directly with some of these folks. Maybe the Sapphire Butterfly enlists the players to go on a mission to dig up some evidence against Thrune. Maybe there’s rumors of a new source of sun orchids and the players have to go investigate whether it’s true or not – if not directly for Kirran, maybe for a competitor who’s trying to develop their own version of the Sun Orchid Elixir or to corner the sun orchid market and force Kirran to give them a vial. There’s a lot of raw material that can be turned into viable stories by the enterprising GM.

Some of my favorite parts aren’t the people themselves but the little nuggets of “flavor” within a character description. In one of the sidebars for Abrogail Thrune, it mentions that she has a pit fiend named Gorthoklek as an advisor. OK, that’s kinda cool, but where it gets amusing is the rumors that it’s the pit fiend that has to talk Thrune out of HER more extreme impulses. Similarly, there’s Jakalyn, the Blood Mistress of the Red Mantis Assassins. An anonymous messenger turned up requesting a contract on Tar-Baphon himself – you know: a lich and the next closest thing to a god. She imprisoned the messenger and eventually found out the request came from Razmir, so she’s currently deciding between killing Razmir in retaliation, or maybe going through with the contract and killing Tar-Baphon anyway. Gotta respect that level of professionalism.

What sort of hard content is available, you might ask?

First, I will warn you: no stat blocks. It’s pretty clear Paizo doesn’t intend for you to actually fight any of these people. Though, if your party goes full murder-hobo, most of them do come with a class designation, so a forward-thinking GM could probably just assume them to be Level 20 and whip up a character sheet of the appropriate flavor. But if you’re playing official Paizo content, it might be awkward to get a mission from someone you killed six months ago. So maybe just don’t do that, mkaaaaaay?

Abrograil Thrune II has the ability to grant demonic “Thrune contracts”; basically, she’s a mortal who’s entrusted to make contracts on Asmodeus’ behalf. They function as an innate magic item with both a passive and an activated effect. BUT, there’s a few drawbacks. First, Thrune has the ability to override the contract (usually once per day): for example, the Infernal Healing contract triples the healing you normally get from resting, but Thrune can override and prevent any healing from rests for one day. The other is that if you die while under the effects of a Thrune contract, your soul goes to Hell. ALWAYS READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS.

There’s an alchemist, Kassi Aziril, who’s a “scientific healer”, who has lots of interesting healing gear and feats associated with her. From her, you can get access to vaccines (immunity to a disease from a specific source/creature, +2 to saves against the same disease from different source/creature) and addiction suppressants. You can also get a feat that lets you use Medicine instead of Crafting to craft medical gear and an expansion of Battle Medicine which removes status effects as well as healing damage. The barbarians of Numeria, as represented by Kevoth-Kul, have access to a crafting material called sovereign steel (an alloy of cold iron and skymetal) that has magical resistance properties. There’s also a spy named Avarneus, who has a bunch of medieval non-magical Q-Branch gear: invisible ink, a recording device that etches sound into wax cylinders and can be hidden in a book, a bracelet that can either shoot a single dart or can be expanded into a hand crossbow, and my favorite – a pair of goggles that can pick up the fumes of a particular brand of incense (which you would presumably mark a person you wanted to track with). So it’s not that there’s nothing there: it’s just scattered around and there’s not as much of it as some of us would like.

In general terms, the book is organized alphabetically, though some entries end up being a two or three-for-one: sometimes there’s a secondary character who’s so closely aligned with the primary character that they get included in the entry. The halfling siblings who run the Bellflower Network are an obvious example of this; another would be the aforementioned barbarian Kevoth-Kul, and his sometimes-girlfriend/second-in-command Kul-Inkit. However, there are tools to help navigate. First, each person’s write-up has a little block at the end where they mention what other people you might want to read up on. Furthermore, the end of the book has a very useful mini-index where the relationships of the major storylines are represented visually as flowcharts: Person A is battling Person B; C and D are helping A; E is thinking about joining B; F is waiting to see who wins so they can sweep in and approach the winner with an offer, etc. So if you’re a GM working with a particular story, you can see at a glance which NPCs would make sense to include in your shenanigans and which would be coming out of left field if they made an appearance.

So that’s Lost Omens Legends in a nutshell. It’s certainly not a bad book, I just think its appeal is a little more selective than most Paizo official releases. GMs who roll their own content and people who really get deep into the lore of the Pathfinder world will find this book a welcome addition to their collection; others (like myself) are going to find it a little light on practical application.

Pathfinder Second Edition Advanced Player’s Guide Review: Choose Your Own Adventurer

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Lost Omens: World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Gamemastery Guide, and Bestiary 2.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Three Ring Adventure and our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast.

Confession time. As someone who almost always sits on the player side of the table, I’ve grumbled my way through the Gamemaster’s Guide and two Bestiaries muttering “what’s in it for me?” under my breath.

The Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition does NOT present that problem. It’s ALL about the players. Five new ancestries, four new classes, a vastly expanded archetype system… for those of us who get so distracted making new characters that they forget to actually play the game – this book’s definitely not going to help that problem at all; in fact, it’ll just make it worse. Now when I say “new”, I suppose we can be honest and say that a veteran of First Edition will recognize most of what’s in here from First Edition, but I’m going to mostly write about everything as if it’s “new”-new since you never know who decided to take the plunge with Second Edition and doesn’t have that background to fall back on.

It’s tempting to skip ahead and start with the new classes since that’s probably the “big deal” to many players, but I’m going to maintain sanity and follow the flow of the book for now. So let’s talk ancestries. I should start by saying two things. First, I’m trying to break old habits and not just reflexively write off ancestries I don’t personally think I’d like (cough-kobolds-cough). We can thank Starfinder for that: I decided to play a ysoki largely as a goof, and Dr. Tuttle Blacktail turned out to be one of my favorite characters ever. But I’m also gonna say that on the POSITIVE side, I can barely contain my excitement that the tengu made the cut here – I LOVED my Bird Buddies in First Edition and can’t wait to roll one. Not so much that I’d get reckless and suicidal with my current Society character (among other things: Steve would probably kill me if he had to get new artwork done), but the gears are definitely turning.

At any rate… let’s take a quick look at each of these.

PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE (ANCESTRIES)

Cat folk (as opposed to “Cat People” which is a more obscure and VERY 80’s David Bowie track) have DEX and CHA as bonus stats and WIS as a flaw, so they’re going to make good rogues, bards, and such. Stature-wise, they’re not a “small” race, but more like elves – on the small, lean side of human norms. One thing that amused me is that they worked the old “cats always land on their feet” adage into the fabric of the character and catfolk take reduced damage from falling. I also like that they have catfolk names and names they use with outsiders that loosely correspond to pet names – so if you want to call your catfolk “Mr. Mittens”… well, that’s just their public name, and they still have a more dignified one for polite catfolk society.

Kobolds are dragonfolk, but runty ones – they actually ARE a small race. Like catfolk, DEX and CHA are their bonus stats, but their negative is CON, so you want to be a little more careful about putting them on the front lines. One thing I noticed about these guys is that some of their feats revolve around people underestimating them or not taking them seriously – for example, there’s a feat called Cringe where you can make an enemy feel sorry for you and pull back on an attack, doing less damage. On the more formidable side, they do have to end up getting access to a lot of dragon-y things – bite attacks, a poison tail, innate magical ability, even a scaled-back breath weapon – as either heritages or ancestry feats. And there’s also a path to be oddly good with snares.

Orcs are… orcs. I suppose once the half-orc heritage existed, it was inevitable that a whole-orc would come along to fill out the roster. Their main ability score is STR, and they (along with tengu) trade not having a second stat bump in exchange for having no flaw. Most of their feats are geared toward toe-to-toe combat, though there’s also a subset of feats that pertain to training beasts, so they might play well as rangers or druids too.

Ratfolk, also know as ysoki, are smart and nimble (DEX and INT), but STR is their flaw stat. They make good casters, rogue-likes, and such. Their feats are an interesting grab bag – some underground/dungeoneering type skills, a lot of skills that take advantage of kinship with regular rats (able to speak with normal rats, the animal messenger spell, even an ability to disguise one’s self as a regular rat, etc.). And then there’s the cheek pouches: ysoki can store items in their cheeks for easy access, which is moderately useful (it’s generally only an item of Light Bulk unless you take additional feats) but it’s GREAT roleplaying flavor to be able to, say, stash a wand in your mouth to sneak it past guards.

Lastly, we have my personal favorite, the tengu. I don’t know… I’m just attracted to the idea of bird-based humanoids. Their bonus stat is DEX, and like orcs, they trade lack of a flaw for their second bonus stat. Now, tengu are generally flightless, but you can take the Skyborn Tengu heritage that gets them the equivalent of a feather fall ability, and there are feats you can take to get more of a full flying form at higher levels. They also have a smattering of electricity-based feats and have an affinity for swords, such that normally-exotic swords like katanas and temple swords are familiar to them. Annnnd… oh dear… I’d better move along before Nella starts wandering precariously close to cliffs.

Now, when I say there are five new ancestries… that wasn’t quite the whole story.

SWISS-ARMY SCIONS (VERSATILE HERITAGES)

The Advanced Player’s Guide also introduces us to the concept of Versatile Heritages. You know how half-elf and half-orc sneak in the side door as human heritages? Well, imagine heritages that can be applied to ANY ancestry in place of a “normal” heritage, and that’s what a Versatile Heritage is. Now, veterans of First Edition will recognize these as additional First Edition races, so by a First Edition measuring stick, there are five more choices we didn’t have before. We’ve got Changelings (part hag; also usually but not exclusively female), Dhampir (mortal spawn of vampires), and Planar Scions (aasimar, tieflings, and duskwalkers – half-angel, half-devil, and… we’ll come back to what duskwalkers are). So instead of just being “a Tiefling” you can be a “tiefling human” or a “dhampir catfolk”.

At first glance, I’ll admit I was a little thrown by this. Over the years, I had a Tiefling rogue I was kind of fond of (though he mostly appeared in computer-based games like Neverwinter Nights), and my immediate knee-jerk reaction was “why is Noem being reduced to a second-class citizen”? But then I thought about it, and as a roleplaying mechanism, it may actually be more powerful this way. Those separate ancestries like aasimar and tiefling have always kind of been “half-something”, so acknowledging that a) lets you be more flexible about what the other “half” is and b) lets roleplayers really dig into how they wish to identify. One Changeling might want to deny their hag side and blend in as an elf; another may proudly be “yeah, my mom was a hag, catch these hands… errr… claws!”; a third may not really be in touch with either “side” of themselves and just feel like some oddity set loose in the world. In some ways, I feel like it’s a more versatile roleplay tool than just saying “if you’re part vampire you’re cut off the other half of what you are and the vampire-ness becomes your entire identity”.

I also wanted to stay on Duskwalkers for a second because of the lore: they’re the one entry here that’s not “half-something”. Their background gets into the mythology of Pharasma and The Boneyard. Sometimes the guardians of The Boneyard (psychopomps) can’t decide what to do with a soul after death: reincarnate it into a new form or send it on to its final destination. In a select few cases, they basically punt the decision and bring it back as a Duskwalker. Think of it as an earthly enforcer of the cycle of life and death – they’ve got lots of little perks that make them effective against undead. But of course, they’re also outsiders, including gray or blue skin that makes them look half-dead, so you’re giving up “fitting in with society” to make that happen.

OK, we’re almost up to the new classes, but before we get there, there are a few smaller sections to cover. I hate glossing over, but we have a lot to cover. We have a few new ancestry feats for the Core Rulebook ancestries, a few new common backgrounds (in a very Sweeney Todd twist, the “Barber” background gives you Surgery Lore and the Risky Surgery skill feat), and perhaps the most interesting concept: Rare Backgrounds. These are backgrounds that are a little more exotic and require a GM consult before taking. Some of them have more powerful benefits than your normal skill bumps, but some also come with drawbacks as well. The most intriguing one I saw here was the Amnesiac – where you don’t actually know your character’s own backstory but the GM does. That’s evil, and I love it.

WELCOME TO THE CLASSY CLUB (CLASSES)

OK… we’re here. New classes. Obviously these aren’t TOTALLY new because they conducted a playtest, and even within our show, we’re actually using the playtest version of two of those classes. But here they are… the final versions, released into the wild.

First, we have the Investigator. I’d describe it as a little bit of rogue, a little bit of alchemist, and a LOT of stuff that is skills-based that doesn’t really fit ANY of the other classes. Everything flows off the concept of Investigations and the core skill “Pursue A Lead”: think of it as an intellectual Smite target. Once the Investigator is on an active case, they start getting bonuses to rolls if it’s related to the investigation. On the combat side, it can make the Investigator’s attacks more effective in fights related to the investigation; in skill challenges, the Investigator becomes more effective at things like Sense Motive, Perception, and other “detective-y” skills. In combat, they’re never going to be mistaken for a front-line fighter, but they do have some alchemy skills and they have class tools (“Devise a Stratagem” and the “Strategic Strike”) that they use their Intelligence to attack with precision damage that increases as they level. But let’s be blunt: the Investigator is context-heavy and depends on your table’s campaign style. If your campaign style is primarily straight-up dungeon crawls, the soft skills mostly go to waste and it’s hard to see it filling much of a role unless your GM is REALLY generous about what constitutes an “investigation”. But if you’re doing campaigns that get into roleplay and palace intrigue and solving mysteries, an Investigator has a GREAT flavor and a really interesting toolkit for those.

The Oracle, at its heart, is a Charisma-based divine caster. Lore-wise, it’s a divine caster that doesn’t serve a particular god, but rather serves universal “Mysteries” like Battle or Flames. In addition to a general repertoire of divine spells, an Oracle has specialized “revelation spells” related to their Mystery which they can cast from a separate pool of focus points. The good news is those focus points regenerate every short rest, so you have almost-constant access to some pretty powerful tools. The bad news is you have to manage the downside effects of those spells, which can get pretty severe, and never totally go away until you take a full 8-hour rest. Just to pick an example, your Flames oracle starts with a “vision” of flames that just makes it hard to see past 30 feet, but if their curse gets all the way to the Major level, they generate a 4d6 flame aura (actual fire, not “holographic” flames) that damages friend and foe alike, and also damages themselves for 1d6 per round… unless they use one action each turn to actively suppress it. In addition to all of that, they also have a package of class feats that focuses on ties to mystical knowledge – some of the classic metamagic feats like Reach Spell and Widen Spell, things like a premonition that lets a party member roll twice for initiative and take the better result, or an always-on Detect Magic ability.

Next up we have the Swashbuckler, which Vanessa Hoskins is playing in our Extinction Curse show. How best to characterize this? Half rogue, half bard? A rogue with 38 pieces of flair? Essentially it’s a nimble DEX-based fighter that uses skill-based moves to generate “panache”, that both has passive benefits and can also be used to power other abilities and finishing maneuvers. Mechanically, it’s reminiscent of the rogue in World Of Warcraft, except that panache is binary – you either have panache or you don’t. The default finisher you get at Level 1 applies precision damage, but you can also use finishers that stun, apply bleed damage, or other effects. The class also has a general focus on movement – Acrobatics is a core skill and several feats combine movement and attack into a single action – and a lesser focus on luck, where you have abilities that let you roll twice and taking the higher result.

Lastly, we have the Witch, which is also represented in our Extinction Curse show by Rob Pontius’ Ateran. Like the Sorcerer, the Witch can originate from any of the sources of magic – you’d think occult would be a natural fit, but Witch backgrounds are varied enough that you can have a Witch of any of the four magical traditions. The Witch has a couple of interesting features. First, the Witch’s familiar is basically a living spellbook – it holds the Witch’s full array of spells, from which the Witch selects the day’s specific choices, and it can learn new spells from reading scrolls or talking to other familiars. There are also several class feats that allow Witches to “beef up” their familiar in interesting ways. Second, the Witch’s main class feature is the Hex spell: these are usually (but not always) sustained spells that the Witch can cast and sustain over multiple rounds to enact various effects on friends and enemies. Less “Big-N-Boomy”, more “stand there and watch the bad guys melt away”, though they can certainly still have a few big bombs in their conventional spell arsenal. Like some of the other caster classes, Hexes run off a pool of focus points instead of spell slots, so they can be replenished through short rests.

The section on character classes closes with a brief revisit to the classes of the Core Rulebook. Most of this is just adding a few extra class feats, and… everyone’s going to have their own favorites. I personally kind of like the Druid’s Verdant Weapon, which is a seed that can grow into a weapon of the Druid’s choosing and then shrink back down. That’s pretty damn cool, flavor-wise. But two things stand out. First, sorcerers get a few new bloodlines – genie, nymph, psychopomp, and shadow. But perhaps more interesting, the Champion class finally puts a stake in the ground on evil champions – the Tyrant (Lawful), Desecrator (Neutral), and Anti-Paladin (Chaotic). Obviously evil characters should be used with caution in general and can’t be used in Society play at all, but it’s a welcome and necessary addition to the overall fabric of Second Edition.

There’s also a very brief section that adds a few new familiars. Not much to say here except that a “Spellslime” is now an option. If you don’t think my next caster is having a slime familiar, you don’t know me very well. I SHALL CALL HIM “SQUISHY”, AND HE SHALL BE MY SQUISHY!

But look, we’ve arrived at the stealth star of this book – a dramatic expansion of Archetypes.

WELCOME TO INNER COAST CUSTOMS (ARCHETYPES)

Up until now, “archetype” in Second Edition had mostly been synonymous with “multiclassing”. There were a few fairly specialized archetypes in the Lost Omens World Guide (Hellknight, Red Mantis Assassin, etc.), but most of those had fairly specific entry criteria. But with the Advanced Player’s Guide, the world of archetypes is DRAMATICALLY expanded and takes it in all sorts of interesting and flavorful directions. (Though in fairness, four of the entries are the multiclass archetypes for the new classes we just discussed above.)

The Beastmaster, for instance, provides an easy way to bolt an animal companion onto any character. Is it going to be as dynamic as a ranger that specializes in the bond? Of course not. But if you want a monk who happens to have befriended a giant toad (guess whose kid is re-watching Naruto at the moment?), it’s an option.

Or maybe you want to be a cleric that just happens to be REALLY good with a shield. The Bastion archetype has you covered – it’s JUST shield-related skills, such as adding block to characters that wouldn’t normally have it, the ability to treat a shield hand as a free hand for the purposes of casting spells and retrieving items, and so on. One of my favorites is the Medic: it gives you things like increased healing on Treat Wounds, the ability to use Battle Medicine a second time on the same ally, the ability to combine a Stride and a Battle Medicine into a combined action, and at Level 16 you can even try to raise a recently-dead (three rounds) teammate solely with healer’s tools.

It’s not all optimized for combat, though. You can also be an Archeologist, where you can get access to a few information-gathering spells even if you’re not a caster, you can use Society to decipher writing, and various Knowledge and Lore bonuses are available. Or you can be a Celebrity (Golarion has Instagram influencers?) – which can give you benefits earning income, can modify certain persuasion-based checks because people are drawn to you, and such.

I should mention that some of these are gated in one way or another so that it doesn’t turn into a free-for-all. For Eldritch Archer, for example, you have to already be an Expert with some sort of bow, and it isn’t even an option until Level 6. Dragon Disciple doesn’t have a level gate but does require some sort of draconic influence – a draconic sorcerer, a dragon instinct barbarian, or a kobold with the dragonscaled or spellscaled heritage. So this isn’t just “everyone can be whatever they want” anarchy – there’s some degree of thought about who should be walking around with some of these abilities. There’s a general restriction that if you go into one archetype, you have to put at least two additional skills into it before you can do another, so you can’t do some ridiculous thing where you mix-and-match from six different archetypes to make a complete Franken-character.

It also feels like a system that’s really easy to extend as needed. Want to make… I dunno…. a blitzball player from Final Fantasy X? Create an archetype that has some water-breathing and swimming skills, maybe a few ranged attack bonuses, and you’re basically an honorary member of the Besaid Aurochs. Minus the Tidus Laugh, which you have to supply yourself.

YOU’RE THE REST… AROUND (THE REST OF THE BOOK)

The remaining chapters are comparatively short, but we’ll take a brief look at them. First, we have some new Feats for the taking, and I’ll just toss you a couple of quick favorites to give some of the flavor. First, there’s Lead Climber, which allows a good climber to basically use their skill to make it easier for people that follow them – set ropes, point out handholds, etc. Pilgrim’s Token is a nice simple Level 1 Religion feat that gives you a token that breaks initiative ties in your favor. But my favorite is Risky Surgery, a diabolically amazing Medicine skill – you do an additional 1d8 slashing damage to the patient, but then you get a +2 on the Treat Wounds, and if you succeed, it becomes a critical success.

The next chapter is spells, and there’s really two parts to this. There’s a solid 14 pages of new additions to the main spell lists, and there’s some fun stuff there. I will say it’s mostly lower-level additions – just skimming, I saw ONE 7th level spell, and only a handful higher than 5th. My personal favorite here is “Vomit Swarm” where you basically shoot a cone of bugs out of your mouth that sting people in its path for 2d8 of damage. The other half of the spell chapter contains the focus spells which is almost entirely the new content presented in this book – Oracle revelations, Witch hexes, spells for the evil champions, and the new sorcerer bloodlines. Other than that, there’s a HANDFUL of monk, bard, ranger spells, but the vast majority of this part is enabling the new classes. At the end of the chapter, we add a surprising number of rituals – from a fairly low-level ritual called Heartbond, which allows two people to know each other’s rough location (distance and direction) through a two action concentrate; to Clone, which basically prepares a clone of a character’s body which the character’s soul can use as a new home if the original character dies. (Annnnnd… we’ve officially crossed the streams with Altered Carbon.)

Last, we have a brief section on items, magical and otherwise. The non-magical items seem mostly like they exist to enable the new content of this book – lots of detective tools and a few exotic swords for tengu to play around with. Though… I gotta say… two magical words: “sword cane”. The magic items were a nice mix: personally I liked the Earthsight Box. It’s a box full of sand with dwarven runes, but if you activate it, the sand forms into a 3-D tunnel map of everything in 60 feet in any direction. It’s not explicitly stated, but since it reveals tunnels and “voids in the earth” when underground, it sounds like it might also be a decent secret passage detector.

But anyway… that’s the Advanced Player’s Guide. I just gotta say I really loved this book. Not just in a superficial “I’m a player, give me toys to play with” way… though, yeah, also that. But I think what really leaps out to me is that the things I appreciated most are NOT the things I expected to like going in. New classes, new ancestries… of course it’s going to be fun to play around with those. But things like Versatile Heritages and the expansion of Archetypes really made the light bulb turn on and started to really show where Second Edition is going as a system. I think you’re definitely gonna want to add this one to your bookshelf. That aasimar tengu pirate isn’t just gonna roll itself!

Talking Tales: Tale 5, Chapter 1, The People Have Spoken

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 5, Chapter 1: Water Water Everywhere.

This week’s Talking (and probably next’s) is going to be a bit weird just because of the circumstances… it’s a review of a live show some of you have already heard live, so I’m more self-conscious than usual about telling you things you might already know.

I suppose I’ll start by pulling back the curtain a little on the pre-game, and get into what, if anything, is different about doing a totally live show like this? I think there are two major things, and they’re both fairly positive changes.

First, when you’re in a live setting like this, you’re very aware of being “on the clock”. You’ve got a window you’re supposed to fit the show into (even if there was no one on after us, you still have to expect that some people planned for three hours and might need to bail when the clock hits 3:01), and you also know in the back of your head that Steve can’t go back and take out the dead spots and make you sound more interesting than you are. (Take a starting-to-be-tedious 15 minutes of discussion and boil it down to a tolerable 8 or 9). So some of the Paralysis By Analysis and 10-minute rulebook digressions tend to fall by the wayside. For our group, that’s huge.

The other is: I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I see comments flying by in the chat and other indications of a live audience, I’m much more aware of the need to “entertain” with my character choices. In a normal session, where maybe we have a couple of people on the Patreon chat, it’s not like I don’t care AT ALL, but I do tend to play tactically first and foremost. Fairly by-the-book, make the “right” decision whether it makes for good podcasting or not. In a setting like this, I tend to open things up a little more and do the thing that will make things happen – good, bad, or indifferent.

I have to admit Erik Mona gave a fantastic summary of the previous adventure… we probably do need to hire him to recap all our adventurers as Vortaris. That said, I ended up finding the chronology a little hard to keep straight in my brain – at the time we recorded this, we had played the first Vortaris adventure, but it hadn’t “aired” yet. So he had to summarize that one, but without actually spoiling anything major. So we’re talking about that one in the future tense, but also in the past tense, and frankly, my brain started to overheat trying to figure it all out. It was like that one scene in Spaceballs when they were watching the VHS tape of their own movie. “So when’s it going to be now?

I know it’s probably unrealistic given Erik’s busy schedule, but I find myself hoping we get to see more of Vortaris down the road. I find there’s “different” in a way that’s interesting and “different” in a way that’s just annoying or contrarian – “I’m just going to mess with other people in the name of ‘roleplaying’ my character” – and I think Erik has a good feel for where that line is.  Or… I was only half kidding: maybe Vortaris can be the villain of an adventure down the road once he assembles his undead army.

So the adventure begins with a mission debrief and then we’re off on the high seas (yet again – poor Nixnox). As with a lot of these Society adventurers, the game starts with a low-stakes social interaction, in the form of the card game. That tends to be a by-design feature. If you think about the role Society occupies, you figure these get played pretty often at conventions, sometimes with tables full of strangers. Jumping right into battle before you know who’s a grizzled veteran and who’s sitting down at a table for the first time might get people killed, so you give them a non-lethal activity to get to know each other first.

Two things – other than John’s supernaturally good luck — struck me about the dice game in hindsight. First, he figures it out right at the end, but Chris spent most of the game misunderstanding the rules – he was thinking you just had to get 12 or over when it had to be EXACTLY 12. So he was going aggressive and making bigger bets than the odds warranted because he thought any suitably high enough third roll would be a winner. Right at the end, he figures it out, but… oops. The second thing I noticed is that if you didn’t win on the opening roll, a 6 was the sweet spot for the first roll because it gives you two outs on the third die – a 1 gives you 7 and a 6 gives you 12. Any other roll would only leave you with 1 win condition – a 2-5 could go for 7 but not 12; a 7-11 could go for 12 but already overshot 7.

After the dice game, we get our first real test, and it’s a skills challenge. The bad news for Nella is that none of the things she could be doing are things she’s all that good at. A 14 DEX means a +2 for Acrobatics, but that’s canceled out by her armor penalty. Fortunately, though, Nat 20 saves the day!

The dynamic of having the crowd vote on things is something new we tried this time out, and it ended up being kind of fun way to introduce some randomness into the situation. I’m not sure I would want the vox populi deciding on anything that was truly life or death, but for something silly like the card game or even the storm, it adds a nice little dimension to things. It does tend to reward the players who play… flamboyantly?… so at least early on, I wasn’t getting many votes because Peepers and Vortaris were getting the lion’s share of the positive attention, but those are the breaks. File it away as a learning opportunity for next time. WIN THE CROWD, MAXIMUS!

As we end the first half of the adventure, we roll up to the shipwreck that’s the destination of our mission. I don’t know about anyone else, but I felt like it had “trap” written all over it, which is why I decided to hang back a little when the boarding party went aboard. And sure enough… MOLD. I was expecting something more humanoid, but that’s certainly an option.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Thanks for listening (potentially TWICE in this case) and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S1|20: Blood-Red Carpet

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|20: The Wind And The Waves.

Well, it finally happened. We all joke about COVID-19 making so life so weird and time so fluid that you can forget what day it is, but this week it actually happened to me. I went out to walk the dogs this morning, started thinking about my day’s schedule and where I was going to fit the final polish of my review of the Advanced Player’s Guide, and the brain kicked in: “Yesterday was Thursday, weren’t you supposed to write a Talking Combat?”.

Oops.

So… no, I wasn’t donating a kidney or fighting crime dressed as a giant bat; I just forgot what day it was. My bad.

So this week we pick up with the “assault” on the hermitage, though it starts out fairly pleasantly, with Hap knocking cheerfully on the door like she was the local Girl Scout troop on a cookie run. And then Druids-But-Not-Druids start swinging on them. How uncouth!

First, let’s discuss this whole “it turns out they’re not really druids” business. I’m sure it might feel to some of our listeners like it was a bit of bait-and-switch to have Ateran complaining about druids for weeks and then it turns out it’s really some combination of “priests” of unknown abilities. But it’s not something I’m going to lose a lot of sleep over.

First and foremost, this feels like one of those things where there’s the brand and the generic concept, like someone who refers to every soda as a “Coke”. There is the Pathfinder class called the “Druid” and that means specific things in terms of game mechanics. But there’s also the layperson definition of a “druid”, which is “Do they have some sort of magical power and screw around with plants and animals? Then they’re a druid.” If you’re some sort of farmer who sees a spell cast once or twice a year, those two might as well be the same thing. So if it helps square the circle in your brain, imagine that the bumpkin townspeople don’t really know the difference between a “druid” and a cleric who happens to be wearing a green cloak and acts chummy with the local squirrels.

Having said that, I will say that Second Edition kinda blurs the lines on this stuff a little, anyway. Thanks largely to the implementation of the sorcerer as a class that can choose from any of the schools of magic. If you duck your head into our Black Lodge campaign, we have my character Nella (an actual druid) and Seth’s character Nixnox (a primal sorcerer) and they have a LOT of overlap in their spell list. I’m sure they’ll grow into more distinct entities as they get more into their signature powers – for example, right now I don’t use Wild Shape because it’s largely useless in combat at low levels – but we had a Level 1 fight where Seth and I were both casting the same spells: Produce Flame and Heal. If some random townsperson was watching from afar, they might think we were both druids too.

It actually dawns on me that, intentional or not, this could be a way to combat metagaming as a GM – let your NPC’s be wrong about stuff occasionally as a way to throw the party a curveball. As players, we’ve gotten into this routine where – unless it’s specifically a “palace intrigue” story and we’re given hints to expect deception – we accept our missions from the NPCs and just assume everything they tell us is accurate. But strictly speaking, there’s no reason it HAS to be. I suppose you’d have to factor in the experience level of the “quest-giver”: I’d expect the head of a local Pathfinder Lodge who’s been adventuring for 20 years to have better intel than the drunk guy on the corner stool of the local pub. And you’d want to limit how far you take it – you don’t want to have the party waste an entire session lost in the wilderness because the NPC didn’t really know where the bandit camp was. Creating some “fog of war” through selective misinformation? Cool. Derailing entire sessions and wasting people’s time? That’s a quick way to kill a game.

So the fight gets going, and I think what struck me was the style – it was basically a battle of knock-out punches. Mostly big swings for big damage on both sides, which led to a pretty quick battle. Normally you end up chipping away (or outright missing) a lot more – this fight felt like those YouTube videos of Russian slap-fights where they just take turns slapping each other as hard as possible and see who drops first. Unfortunately, in this case, the first to drop was Alhara, but the last of the (presumably) barbarians was close behind, so no long-term harm done.

On a roleplaying level, I’m interested to see where Loren takes Hap with this increased reluctance to actually harm people. We always bake in the assumption that adventurers are true believers – committed and fired up to go do good and right wrongs (or at least fired up to go make money); it continues to be fun to see someone who’s actually kind of ambivalent about the whole adventuring experience. One of these days, I’d want to take that to its ultimate conclusion and try playing a full pacifist – buffs and heals, no offensive abilities whatsoever – but it would probably have to be with a different gaming group. I think the members of the Black Lodge group would probably shoot me out the airlock if I ever tried something like that.

For our big Rules Question Of The Day, you can count me amongst those who thought Battle Medicine and Treat Wounds were the same basic thing and belonged on the same timer. Honestly, I thought Battle Medicine WAS Treat Wounds, just FASTER. I didn’t really get the distinction that Treat Wounds was more of a multipurpose ability. Cue that NBC “The More You Know” graphic…

So once the fight is resolved and everyone’s back on their feet, we resume exploration and free the mayor. It’s a little fun here watching Steve navigate the terrain of what the mayor would and wouldn’t know based on how long ago he was kidnapped; I think I caught at least one slip-up and Steve had the mayor mention something from the second circus performance. Or he said, “people are talking about it”… so, wait… your captors went into town and checked out the circus and then talked about it when they got back? I’ll put it this way: even if Steve got it right and I mis-heard it, that’s what I’m going with now. I’m now imagining the master druid of the enclave rolling their eyes and saying “FIIIIIIINE, you can go to the circus tonight. But you have double shifts next week!”

The exploration continues, and we end the action this week at a Big Ominous Door. What’s behind it? REAL druids? The creepy clown from the other circus? A storage room filled with bacon where Darius will give up his adventuring and live out his days? I guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

And yes, next week’s Talking will be back on Thursday. Promise.