Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 14

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Talking Combat 106: A Stephen By Any Other Name

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 106: Crush! Kill! Destroy!

If you’re gonna have a super-sized episode of Roll For Combat, that’s how you do it, I suppose. Special guest, big boss fight, crazy cliffhanger… it’s almost like the season finale of a TV show, except we get to come back next week and do it all over again!

First of all, props to Stephen Radney-MacFarland (SRM, from here on out to avoid confusion with “Our Steve”) for coming on and playing the boss for us. It’s certainly not that Our Steve does a bad job of running the game, but it’s always nice to have somebody come in and mix things up a bit. Especially someone with a personal connection to the source material who can throw in an extra spoonful of the author’s original intent.

Speaking of mixing things up, one stylistic difference I noticed is that SRM had a much more direct approach to combat than Our Steve does. Steve tends to play “fancy” in combat – I don’t know if it’s a sense of theater to make a better show, or wanting to play Vulcan 3D chess, or that Steve is just genuinely curious to see what all the special abilities do, but he’s very much about getting into the deep crevices of the enemy statblocks. Lots of positioning, lots of using special abilities. SRM, on the other hand, was much more about getting in faces and doing full attacks – there’s an unsentimental streak to him. Then again, some of that may have just been making use of the available tools – we know from our pal Rusty that Envoys tend to not have a lot of extra tricks, and a dip in Soldier wouldn’t have changed that much. And the robots were likely pretty simple security drones. So maybe this is just a Keep It Simple, Stupid fight, and would’ve played out much the same no matter who was driving.

Speaking of those drones… time for the other call-back to previous episodes. A few episodes back I mentioned there was one thing we mocked that turned out to be useful, and one thing we forgot about entirely.

The “thing we forgot about entirely” was the Sovereign Helm. Remember that? It’s a helmet that allows the user to assume limited control over technological constructs. It’s only a round-by-round thing (move action to use, and then a move action to maintain control) and once they make a save, they’re immune for 24 hours, aka the rest of the fight. But being able to make the robots shoot at each other or at the big boss might have been a fun little game-changer.

Then again, as I’m writing this (and looking up the item for reference) it also dawns on me that using the Sovereign Helm would’ve come at the expense of issuing commands to CHDRR. Or, I could’ve issued commands to both, and then I wouldn’t have been able to attack at all, which… while it would’ve been kind of a cool Professor X moment controlling an actual multi-robot army, would’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul in terms of total damage. So maybe it wasn’t the great lost opportunity I thought it was, or at least maybe someone else in the group should’ve been using it, even though it superficially seemed to be a Doctor Tuttle item.

The one thing I forgot about this fight until re-listen is how close CHDRR came to buying the farm. Yep, he literally finished the fight with 1 hit point. Again, I think the main culprit here was SRM’s more direct fighting style. Steve tends to go after the players first, and while he doesn’t ignore CHDRR entirely, CHDRR is usually only hit by area damage or, sometimes he ends up a target when Mo chickens out and leaves him up front by himself. So I’ve gotten in the habit of parking CHDRR near the front (but distant enough to mitigate area attacks) and picking adds off as best I can. (In these situations, my optimal play is looking for a chance to set up the line effect on his Junk Cannon.) SRM, on the other hand, was having none of that and gave CHDRR a good pummeling pretty much from the start – I moved CHDRR up into Standard Supporting Position, and SRM’s response was “have a few punches in the face”.

If you want to get cynical and meta-game, the boss battle at the end of an adventure path would’ve been a fine time for one of CHDRR’s noble sacrifices, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that. Based on how the episode ended, it’s unclear if I’d have the full 24 hours needed to rebuild him, and I don’t think we want to go through Book 6 without my trusty sidekick.

While all that was going on, we also got to witness Mo’s jetpack heroics. Full disclosure: I also had a jetpack and briefly considered going airborne as well – first as a flanking maneuver to get behind the boss, and then I thought about joining the chase. But a few things held me back.

First, I was a little worried about the possibility of the jetpack suffering a critical failure and falling to my death. So… #1, Cowardice. Second, by the time I thought about doing that, the drones were starting to overrun us (and CHDRR, in particular, was showing a lot of red), whereas Mo was basically locked in a 1-v-1 with the boss, and seemed to have his situation reasonably well in hand. Staying put seemed like a better use of my efforts. Third, I kinda realized that if events unfolded such that it came to any sort of mid-air grapple, I’d be TOTALLY screwed – I put a +2 bump in STR to manage encumbrance, but I’m not a grappler by nature. So I pretty much decided that was Mo’s situation to take care of and stayed on the ground.

(Also, as it turns out, Mo’s haste circuit was a difference-maker I didn’t have anyway. Given the head start the boss got, at best I could’ve kept pace and maybe fired from a distance, but I don’t think I ever would’ve caught up. Or, maybe I might have gained 10-20 feet per round if my “Fleet” applied to all movement forms, but then we’re getting into the jetpack only having 20 rounds of charge.)

Anyhow, we finally end up winning the fight and return to Moon Six to clean up and destroy the Stellar Degenerator, only nothing’s ever that simple because, of course, it isn’t. I wasn’t as vocal as Chris, but I also thought the AI’s plan sounded a little sketchy because the first few steps of using it and the first few steps of destroying it sounded like they’d be the same plan. Some of this is 20/20 hindsight, but wouldn’t it have been easier to induce some sort of system overload that destroyed the ability to open the gate at all, which would leave the Stellar Degenerator safely sealed in the demi-plane? Or is it just “too many redundancies/beyond your technical capabilities” and move on.

So we go with the AI’s plan – Rusty because he wants to steal it for himself; the rest of us because we don’t have a better idea – and everything shortly goes to hell. Literally and figuratively. The long-forgotten Corpse Fleet returns (though if you’ve been reading these columns, I’ve been WONDERING when they’d show up again), dropping a huge fleet into the system, and at roughly the same time, the control system gets all hosed up so we can’t close the demi-plane again, leaving the Stellar Degenerator free for the taking. And the AI that was going to help us fly the SD into the sun disperses itself into the planetary defenses. So we can destroy the Stellar Degenerator – all we gotta do is traverse an entire enemy armada, and then pilot it into the sun without the AI’s assistance. Oh is that all?

But hey, we’ll be Level 11 when we go on this suicide mission, so we’ve got that going for us.

Luckily, this isn’t TV so you don’t have to wait six months to find out; just come back next week, as the adventure resumes in Book Six. While you’re waiting to feel free to drop by Discord or other social media; give us your feedback on the show or just join the RFC community. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 12: Dude, Where’s My Sidequest?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 12: The Cade & Prue Variety Hour!

We start this week with a dispatch from our Department of Random Weird Stuff. I was running a little behind this week and had a fairly small window in which to listen to the show, so I experimented with listening to the show at 1.5x speed for the first time.

Two observations. First, Manic/Flustered Celes gets even more manic and/or flustered when sped up. I highly recommend it. We really need to find a way to just record Vanessa that way all the time. (Then again… I am also easily amused, so your mileage may vary.) Second, Sped-Up Steve sounds even more gleeful and bloodthirsty when trying to kill us. It’s almost like he’s in a barbarian rage, albeit a weirdly cheerful one. Oddly, Cade, Prue, and myself don’t really sound that much different. Maybe we’re actually slow-talkers in real life and speeding up the playback just gets us to socially-acceptable speeds.

So it’s our second week of Sidequest Spectacular, and basically we’re at the point where everyone now has one but Brixley. Now that Cade gets his quest to teach the teenager to fight, it also retroactively brings a clearer focus to the Sir Kent/undead subplot. When we first met Sir Kent, I thought maybe he was part of the main plot – that the “undead” he saw was going to turn out to be Hallod’s hideout, and he was a breadcrumb for that. Now, it’s clearer to see “oh, hey that’s Prue’s sidequest, and it looks like everyone is getting one”. So selfishly, I’m spending a good chunk of this episode in low-key “what about MEEEEEEE?” mode, but I figure we’ll get there. I give it another episode or two – then I go on strike.

I could pout and point out that Brixley is equally capable of teaching the girl to fight – also short, also uses a finesse weapon – but my combat strategy depends on hiding behind much better armor and a shield (which she doesn’t have), so maybe it’s for the best that she learns from the squishy guy who can dodge a blow. Also, I would’ve been a train wreck at trying to sneak the swords past her mom. HERE ARE YOUR SWORDS, MA’AM (clank-clank-clank).

I enjoyed listening to the middle stanza where we cool back at the inn because it represents a general loosening up of the gaming group. I think the first few episodes, we had to figure out our dynamic and get to know each other a bit. Speaking only for myself, I had never played with Vanessa before, I had done ONE session with Loren (one of our Starfinder Society one-shots), and a few more sessions (plus gaming live at PaizoCon) with Rob. So while there was no directive to act a certain way, I think there’s a natural tendency to dial back a little when joining a new group until you figure out other people’s playstyles. To the extent that making a bunch of Dad Jokes about ghost-themed bar drinks is the official “over the hump” signpost… cool.

And in saying that, I don’t want to abandon quality roleplay and turn this adventure into my tight five at H.P. McChuckles. (NOW HERE’S THE THING ABOUT ORCS… AM I RIGHT, PEOPLE?) I genuinely LIKE that this is something different than the Dead Suns group and we do things a different way. I fully admit I swim in the shallower end of the role-play pool, but I do like giving it a shot. But that ability to get silly for a few minutes is still something I like about the hobby in general, so it was nice to finally hit that level of goofiness in a way we hadn’t before – or at least not for an extended period.

The tail end of the episode revolves around the Sir Kent storyline, and eventually, a fight against a ghost. As I listen to that fight, I’m somewhat struck by how good our luck was on that one. First, we generally had fairly good party composition to deal with an incorporeal creature. We had a melee who could create magical attacks (Prue), and we also had a caster (Celes), though the ghost died before she got a chance to go on the offensive. And if we’d really needed it, we had a talisman available as well, which could’ve given someone a round of magic weapon. But then some of it was also getting lucky with rolls – the creature rolled really low and missed all of its attack rolls, and then Prue rolled close to max-damage to make it a one-hit fight. I don’t get the feeling we would’ve been in danger of a TPK, but that could’ve gone a lot worse than it did.

In fact, in our gaming past, it HAS gone worse. Back in the pre-podcast days, our Carrion Crown game got seriously waylaid by our inability to hit incorporeal. I think we spent 2 or 3 sessions because we didn’t have the tools for the job. I was a druid but most of my spells were utility spells, Bob was a Pally, but Smite doesn’t bypass incorporeal, Chris was a caster but also mostly utility – one cast of Magic Missile was all that he had to deal with incorporeal. In fairness, it wasn’t “just” incorporeal, there was also an element of phasing through walls to avoid taking hits. But the principle remains: incorporeal can suck if you don’t have the right tools for the job.

But that was then, this is now, and the one big ghost is no match for Prue’s many little ghosts. How it connects to Sir Kent and where we go from there? (And whether Brixley gets a quest of his own?) I guess we’ll have to find out next week. Until then, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and… tell us what you think of the show, share your best ghost-themed mixology ideas… whatever you like. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 105: It’s A Dead Man’s Potty

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 105: Do NOT Go In There!

If you remember a few episodes back when we leveled and divvied up treasure, I dropped a hint that a couple of things would become relevant in later episodes and I’d circle back when we reached that part of the story, right?

Well, this week’s episode is one of those. After merciless ribbing about Akiro’s cowardice for taking his teleportation spell, it turns out that Chris’ “cowardly” teleportation spell ends up saving Tuttle’s life this week.

Well… don’t I feel like an asshole?

I feel like the audio didn’t really convey the full gravity of the situation Tuttle found himself in. The fight began at the door of the bathroom, which was about 15 feet down a blind corridor, and if the creature had stepped out into the hall, Tuttle would’ve ended up basically trapped in a dead-end with the Marooned One between him and the exit. So not only was he going to have to break a grapple (a fairly monumental task as is given the strength disparity), but he was about one round from having some really awful choices. Even if he got free before the creature moved into the hall, he’d have to run past and eat an attack of opportunity. If the creature got into the hall, there would literally have been no escape and his only other option would’ve been to run deeper into the dead-end and find somewhere to hide. Which not only might have been futile but could’ve even caused encounters to bleed, which would just hasten his demise.

So yeah, I was looking at being pretty screwed for a few moments there.

But then, Chris saves the day with the perfect tool for the job. Not only was I free of the grapple, but we ended up nice and save a good 50 or 60 feet away (and with Mo in between to run interference). I mean, he’s gonna be insufferable about it and I may come to wish the Marooned One had killed me before it’s all over, but for now, Tuttle lives to fight another day.

Once we got the creature out of the cul-de-sac and were able to fight it in the open, it actually became a fairly easy fight through a combination of luck and sensible tactics. Certainly, the luck was in Mo landing almost 100 points of damage – half the creature’s health – in a single round of attacks. The tactics were as Steve described, playing a game of “keep-away” – staying far enough away that it became difficult for the Marooned One to do a full attack of re-establish the grapple. Without that, it was mostly hitting with its comparatively wimpy knife. To be fair, I think Steve probably gives us more credit than we deserve for Ender’s Game-level tactical thinking – I don’t know that it was a coordinated tactic as much as it was four selfish people practicing self-preservation and trying to pawn the problem off on someone else in the group in a way that happened to resemble a strategy. But if Steve wants to give us credit… ummm… yeah! Just like we drew it up on the chalkboard!

I also think we were helped by the fact that it was an almost entirely offense-oriented fight. I did notice the Marooned One didn’t seem to have much in the way of resistances (or we got lucky and didn’t have those damage types) and wasn’t that hard to hit with Bob’s Envoy bonuses. So it was really just an all-offense slugfest, which tends to favor the side that has more total attacks. I’ve noticed that it tends to be when resistances or fight logistics take damage off the table that things get their messiest. (See also: the boss on Istamak, who was on an elevated catwalk for the first half of the fight, and also hitting us with a slow effect.)

I was a little surprised Steve let you all in on the dirty little secret of this week’s episode. Yes, Steve basically “steered us” to take that fight and put the remainder of the compound on hold for a week so we could get the author of this book on the show next week. Guilty as charged. As he said, it’s a function of having special guests – it would be weird to start an encounter in one voice and end it in another. It is what it is.

Now I know some people would argue that by the letter of the law, it’s not the GM’s job description to be steering the game to the desired outcome. There’s a little bit of “Want to be run through your session on rails? Play a JRPG” sentiment, that players ought to be making these sorts of calls for themselves. On the other hand, what absolutely IS in the GM’s job description – doubly so when we’re packaging this for a podcast, and especially when we’ve only got three hours once a week – is time management. The GM is the one person who has at least a rough sense of where the logical breaks are, and massaging the flow of the game into the available timeslot so you get a satisfying session is something of a greater good that should be considered.

It’s something that’s explicitly accepted in convention settings. You have a two or three-hour window, so the GM will figure out ways to slow down or speed up to fit the game in the window as best as he or she can. I think if there’s a difference here, I think that time management is usually something that’s done more subtly, and not explicitly spelled out. A GM might speed things up by removing an encounter to get the party to the next major plot point before wrapping up for the night; they might also slow things down by making a locked door or the search of a room take a little longer. NPCs can give out information quickly or slowly. The GM might add or remove a few hit points to make a fight longer or shorter. It might even be as subtle as making the description of Door A more enticing that Door B to get people to pick the one they want the party to choose.

Here? OK, Steve said, “don’t go south yet because I have something in mind for that part of the book”. But does that really spoil anything important? We still don’t know what we’ll be facing… in either direction. We don’t know if the “surprise guest” is the boss, a friendly NPC, an inexplicable reappearance of Meats and Lasko, it could still be pretty much anything. As long as the essence of the encounter is not being spoiled, I see no problem with doing a little air traffic control on the session to make things fit together more seamlessly. We’re all adults here.

So yeah, next week we’ll get to see what that big surprise actually is, and hopefully, continue to work our way toward the capture or destruction of the Stellar Degenerator. Still got a universe to save, after all. I hope you’re enjoying the adventure so far, and hope you’ve had a chance to drop by Discord and join the ongoing conversation. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Plaguestone 11: Celes Karvasalon, Mother of Turnips

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 11: Gather Information For Old Men.

This is a little bit of a tough episode to write because it’s already a bit of a short one, and then most of the action is the Celes and Uncle Targie Show, and I was mostly reduced to cracking jokes from the wings. Which… that’s fine, it’s what I do, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of fertile material to discuss.

Our progress on the main questline is to find the drop point shown on Hallod’s map. Yep. That’s pretty much it. Uncle Targie is able to point us in the right direction, and we eventually make our way there. The bad news is there’s nothing new to be found there – nothing that really drives the story forward and… channeling my inner Chris Beemer… no loot. I suppose I was hoping his final payment was still there waiting to be found, or that maybe we’d find another bread-crumb to the location of the evil mastermind V, but… nope. Just your average hollow tree you’d find out in the wilderness.

The more interesting plot development was finding out that Celes is actually related to Targen and Dalma somewhere several generations down the family tree. Celes Karvasalon, Mother of Turnips.

Now, I was not sure how I felt about side-quests when the possibility first raised its head. There’s something a little MMO-ey about the whole thing. I DO NOT WISH TO GO COLLECT EIGHT SPIDER LEGS. If we’re being honest, I was worried it might be some combination of immersion-breaking and/or tedious.

As it’s unfolded though, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed this little detour from the main story.

The biggest reason, hands down, is Vanessa’s roleplaying of the situation. She’s KILLING IT with Celes’ reactions to all of this. In another set of hands… OK, I’ll be honest, even in my hands… it might be “OK, I’m the Lost Scion of Turnip-Town, gimme my loot, moving along”. But Vanessa has been really bringing it to life and pulling it off the page. And I admit that’s drawn me further into it as well – if she’s gonna bring her A-game, I figure I ought to at least get in there and work off of it a little as well. My take on Brixley’s reaction so far has been “benevolent troublemaker” – he likes Celes and wouldn’t say anything truly mean, but he also thinks it’s high comedy to watch buttoned-up, aristocratic Celes come to grips with being a distant relative of the Turnip Bumpkins, so he’s going to LIGHTLY push a few buttons for now. Cayden Cailean, Shit-Poster of the Gods.

I think another reason this side quest has come alive has been the sense of personalization. I don’t know how much is written into the adventure path and how much was ad-libbed by Steve, but there’s a difference between generic side quests for the sake of busy-work (oh, hi, Mankrik’s Wife!) and side-quests that are written to be specifically tailored to the party and write their stories deeper into the fabric of the main plot. There’s a difference between “go to the run-down mansion and find a magic item” and “go find proof that Celes may actually be distantly related to all of this”, and I do think that difference draws you in and engages you. You also see shades of that in Prue’s interaction with Sir Kent – since they were both at Lastwall, it’s a little more powerful than “some guy thinks he saw undead, send Car 17 to check it out”.

I also mentioned “immersion-breaking”, but I think that can swing both ways – it can be a positive or a negative. Yeah, there are times where you want to put your head down and plow through the main story to reach the next plot point, and it wouldn’t make much sense to go crawling off into the weeds. Look at our Dead Suns Starfinder game. Most of that game has unfolded on a tight clock chasing the bad guys to a common destination, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to go wandering off to investigate someone’s family history in that one. But there are other times where you’re stuck beating your head against the same obstacle or flat-out don’t even KNOW where to go next, and it can be nice to step outside that for a session or two and do something else just to freshen things up. (See also: the “Return of Meats and Lasko” side mission from Istamak.)

This brings me to a little bit of a digression – how to find that balance between the main plot vs. side missions and general completionism. In other words… how much of a hurry to be in. There’s a temptation to be a completionist in games like these – wring every last point of experience and coin of loot out of a section of the story before you move on. And that’s a compulsion that video game RPGs have doubled down on over the years. Be Link! Break every vase! But there are times when that doesn’t make a lot of sense from the roleplaying side of the house. When Pippin knocked the bucket into the well in Moria, Tolkien didn’t have the Fellowship of the Ring clear three or four more rooms before yeeting out of there. Sometimes the plot tells you to move, so you move.

(Yes, “yeeting”. I speak teenager.)

It’s a question we recently wrestled with on the Dead Suns side of the house as well, as we literally bypassed a sub-boss because the story dictates the bad guys are ahead of us and we decided we didn’t have time to waste taking out the trash. But there, we had visible indicators that the bad guys were ahead of us (we could get partial statuses from computer systems and logs, an NPC AI was TELLING us how far ahead they were), and the consequences were truly dire – like “snuff out all the life on multiple planets” dire.

Here in Plaguestone, it’s a little harder to tell. On one hand, Hallod’s note mentions a “final shipment” which is somewhat suggestive of impending badness – it hints that V. has enough corpse blood to complete her plan, whatever that is. On the other hand, all we know about her plan so far is “well, things get progressively more crappy, and the animals around town get a little more aggressive and spit acid”. It’s not exactly Ozymandias dropping a fake space alien into Times Square to murder thousands. (Unless that’s the endgame on all of this: Colour Out of Space in the town square, roll initiative.) And frankly we also don’t really have a firm next step – we have a few soft leads, but no big neon arrow directing us to the next destination.

I do think this is one of those places – both generally and specific to our group – where the GM can put a subtle hand on the wheel and steer things where he or she wants the story to go. That’s definitely how Steve has handled us over the years. If there’s time to spare, Steve will practically shove side-quests in our faces, but it’s still our choice whether to do them or not. If we’re running behind, Steve will start to sound increasingly incredulous when we want to spend our third day in a row shopping. (He’s particularly fond of the phrase “Now I WILL tell you…” as a doppleganger for “maybe you should be doing something else now”). It doesn’t have to be quite so overt though; one could always have weird atmospheric effects (mild tremors, sudden storm) or an NPC soothsayer proclaiming the end of the world to hint to the players that they need to get things moving again. Or on the other side, the NPC with the side-quest could look progressively more distraught or bounty signs could start popping up around town.

Well, that’s all theory. Here in the actual game, we’ll continue to grind out the side quests and see how things shape up. More turnip jokes for Brixley, more low-grade indignity for Celes, and let the wind in our sails carry us to our next port of call. Until next time, we hope you’re enjoying the show, and you’re welcome to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.


Talking Combat 104: Pleased To Meet Me

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 104: Bizarro Tuttle.

First and foremost, I feel like I have to mention that it is taking all (and I mean ALL) of my willpower not to demand Steve do an episode where he runs us through a session of Wendy’s Feast of Legends. Cynically, there’s probably a few free burgers for us if we do it, and I would love to see someone really go all-out roleplaying “the Order of the Baked Potato”. Also… imagine the T-shirts! Then again, it probably doesn’t work with D20Pro. Pity.

Let’s start this week with a bit of a “show note”. I’m still deciding how I’m going to handle The Sandstone Secret special episode. Part of me feels like it would be fun to listen and offer some thoughts from the 100% listener perspective for the first time since for once I’m not playing and don’t know what happens. On the other hand, I also think that would be more fun for me than it would be for you… ergo, a little self-indulgent. Part of the value of these Talkings is to give a perspective from the player side of the table, and… I wasn’t a player for that one. (Originally, I WAS going to be in that episode – had a monk rolled and everything – but I had scheduling conflicts arise and didn’t want to push the already-busy Paizo folks back just to accommodate me.) And I also have a couple of book reviews to get cracking on as well. If I do write it, I don’t know if I’ll give it a separate by-line, or just make Talking Plaguestone super-sized this week (“Talking Stones, Plague And/Or Sand”). I guess we’ll see.

Either way, the space side of the house will be business as usual, and this week, we battle against Bizarro Tuttle.

The first thing that dawns on me is that we basically forgot about Zaz’s sister Xix somewhere along the line. If you remember a few episodes ago, the female ysoki Xix was one of the encounters that we elected to bypass back on Moon Six. (All those Six/Xix puns. Lost… like tears in the rain…) And frankly, there were so many gaps in the recording schedule that at one point I actually forget that and speculate about finding her somewhere else in this complex (unless Steve edited it out). Listening to the episodes now, I kind of realize, but as we were recording, I totally forgot.

It struck me as a neat little touch that they used the twins as a way to showcase the two mechanic types – I believe the scans suggested Xix had a Drone, and Zaz has the Exocortex build, so you would’ve had a chance to see both in action. It also means that technically, Xix would’ve been the true Bizzaro fight because we would’ve also had a Bizzaro CHDRR. Dang it… maybe we should’ve taken that fight after all! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!

The fight didn’t really last long enough to showcase it well, but the Exocortex Mechanic plays much more like a soldier or operative. If you’re new to Starfinder, the Exocortex build is more like the “Mister Hyde” Alchemist build from Pathfinder. Instead of upgrading your drone and having it fight for you, your upgrades buff you into a more formidable fighter. You immediately get an additional weapon or armor proficiencies at Level 1, you have a “Combat Tracking” skill that bumps your base attack bonus against a specifically-marked foe, and after Level 7, you can even start putting a subset of drone mods onto yourself. I briefly thought about going that direction with Tuttle, but a) I thought the drone mechanic looked more interesting, and b) if I wanted to play a front-line fighter, I probably would’ve done Solarian.

Having said that, the concept sounds pretty badass, but we kinda beat him down so quick Zaz basically turned into Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. A couple of lucky max-damage (or close to it) dice rolls, and things mostly became a walk in the park. But then, after a brief interlude to start questioning Zaz, it turns into Murder Hobos 2, The Sequel, as we kill our second surrendered prisoner of the adventure path.

(Take a few seconds to imagine me rubbing my temples in exasperation if you like.)

Going back and listening, the first thing I noticed is how UN-flustered we all were compared to when Hirogi murdered that other guy back on Castrovel. Back then, it divided the party a bit – harsh words were exchanged and some of us felt legitimately bad. This time, it was far closer to a collective group shrug. I don’t know if it’s that we’re coming closer to the end and just want to keep things moving, or maybe it’s that our naivete has worn off and we know the cultists better, but it just wasn’t that big a deal.

As a roleplaying decision, non-committal seemed like the right way to play Tuttle on this one. Tuttle is Lawful Neutral so he’s not obligated to be a complete goody-two-shoes in a situation like, but I’d still see him a little squeamish about actually executing people. Even deranged cultists. In addition to the general “I didn’t sign up for this” vibes, Zaz is still a fellow ysoki and nominally a Man of Science, so he’d probably feel at least some sense of kinship with the guy. Not crazy about the biker bar fashion sense though. THAT’S NOT HOW A RESPECTABLE SCIENTIST DRESSES.

The other missed opportunity here was the chance to have a Flying Rodent Slap Fight. I haven’t really had a chance to use my jetpack, so when Zaz went airborne, I thought long and hard about it. It would’ve been great theater. If anything held me back, it was actually the residue of my Dads-and-Kids game, where one of the kids flew up 40 feet in the air, took a critical arrow hit that knocked him unconscious in midair, and the resulting fall killed him. Granted, those were level 1 characters, but that misfortune was still fresh in my mind.

And frankly, though it wasn’t a deciding factor at the time, I’m realizing now that if I went up against an exocortex mechanic in any sort of melee fight, I’d probably get stomped. So it’s probably just as well I kept both my feet… paws… whatever… on the ground.

So there you have it. One more sub-boss down and the search continues. I suppose if you want to look for signs of progress, we’ve dealt with their best technical people – one dead, the other abandoned back on Moon Six – but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. Could be others, could be they already did the “hard part” of the job. But… we’ll find the answer to that question next week.

As usual, feel free to stop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show and join in the ongoing festivities. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 10: It’s-A Me, Brixley!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 10: Shopping Spree!

First, my apologies that this is somewhat late and somewhat short. Hockey season starts tonight, and if there’s one thing I love almost as much as roleplaying games, it’s hockey.

For an episode where not much happens, I had a lot of fun with this episode because it was silly. Even if a good portion of the humor came at Brixley’s expense.

For better, worse, or indifferent, Plaguestone has had a different vibe than Dead Suns. It leans more heavily into roleplaying. It takes itself a little more seriously. I don’t mean to suggest that’s a bad thing, but I’m a goofball by nature, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment.

So to just clown around and trade jokes for a little bit… it was a nice change of pace. Even if the latest indignation is to be compared to beloved videogame characters. (For the record, Rob, Loren, and Vanessa are all funny people in real life when the tape’s not rolling; we just mostly play it straight on this version of the show.)

As far as Brixley’s decision to take Quick Jump, thereby turning him into the third Mario Brother… I went back and took another look at the available choices, and I’m sticking with my guns on this one. The Level 2 skill feats are largely not that powerful anyway, and “things that enhance mobility” seemed like a good way to go with it. At the time, I did briefly consider just going with an extra five feet of foot speed (Fleet), but something about jumping seemed handy. The way it works is that horizontal and vertical leaps usually require a running start – 10 feet of run-up and (perhaps more importantly) an action, making the total leap a two-action move if you do it in combat. Quick Jump doesn’t add any distance to your jump (that’s Powerful Leap) but you can do your normal jump from a standstill; the whole jump takes a single action and you don’t need the extra 10 feet.

If we’re being truly honest, the most practical skill feat choice would’ve been one I couldn’t take: Quick Repair. Quick Repair lets you repair an item by spending one minute working on it (and at later skill levels, you can even do it in combat), which… for a guy who lives and dies by the durability of his shield, it would be a pretty smart thing to be able to do. But alas, I’m not trained in Crafting, so I guess I’ll file that away for some future level. Besides, for the moment, I can always mooch off Prue.

My class feat, Divine Grace, was an easier choice and one that’s more immediately obvious in its uses. At this level, an extra 10% chance to make a save can be huge. If I seemed lukewarm on it, it’s just because I’m an instant gratification guy and get more excited by active abilities than passive ones. Give me flying swords of light, angelic wings… I want my dump-truck full of JRPG special effects, is what I’m saying. Also, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it does take a reaction to use, so it may at times come down to having to choose between the Divine Grace or blocking an attack.

The other Level 2 choices here were more situational – you basically have a choice of “oaths” against dragons, fiends, or the undead that would increase the damage on your Retributive Strike against those enemies. Useful if we knew we’d be facing that particular enemy (dragons at Level 2… boy I hope not!), but this adventure mostly has a “humanoids and corrupted woodland critters” vibe to it so far, so none of those leap out.

Speaking of class abilities and Retributive Strike, in particular, it also dawns on me I probably missed a chance or two to use Retributive Strike in the fight against Hallod. Basically, if an ally within 15 feet takes damage, as a reaction I can give my ally resistance to that type of damage (2 + level, so not a huge amount) and take a melee attack. I’m forgetting how the fight played out without going back and listening, but I suspect I lost a free attack or two. We certainly took the damage, the question is whether I was within 15 feet when it happened. I was probably too far away to help Cade when he got dropped, but I probably missed at least one chance to use that when Hallod hit Prue.

The other main change from leveling – Lay On Hands is a flat six HP per level, so it heals for 12 instead of six. I don’t get a second cast yet – you don’t get to add focus points until higher levels.

There’s not a lot of plot meat to be dispensed this episode, but we do get a little bit, as we learn the likely identity of “V” – the witch who cursed the town all those years ago had a daughter that went missing and was largely forgotten. I don’t know if they mean “witch” figuratively or literally, but either way, that certainly sounds like someone who might know a thing or two about alchemy. And if her daughter learned her tricks and is out for revenge… there you go.

So we’ve got that to follow up on, and we still have a few of our side mysteries – Celes’ possible relation to the mayor and Sir Kent’s haunted house remain on the to-do list. And somewhere in our travels, we have some magic runes that we need to transfer to different equipment if we can find someone capable of doing it. And now we get to do all of that as Level 2 characters!

Buuuuuut we’ll have to save it for next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel to discuss the show, partake of the general frivolity, and of course post your Super Brixley Bros Photoshops! Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

Starfinder Alien Archive 3 Review – Now With 100% More Space Otters

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path, as well as our Pathfinder Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone Actual Play Podcast.

Sorry if we’re a little late getting around to it because of the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, but let’s not forget Starfinder, which has been our bread and butter these past two years at Roll For Combat. In fact, Paizo just recently released another truck-load of creatures in the form of the Alien Archive 3.

First things first. PAIZO GAVE ME MY SCIENCE OTTERS. To paraphrase Teri Hatcher in Seinfeld: they’re the Brenneri and they’re fabulous!

Review over. Great book. Must buy. 10/10. Thanks for reading.

OK, got that out of my system. But seriously… back in my review of Alien Archive 2, I asked for otters as a playable race, and Paizo delivered. I’m not going to be so egotistical as to think they did that specifically FOR me (lots of people think otters are cute), but I certainly know what my next character is going to be. The real question is whether that’ll be next adventure, or whether I’ll get reckless and get Tuttle semi-intentionally killed coming down the backstretch of Dead Suns so a heretofore unmentioned Brenneri colleague can finish his research.

Back to the review. There’s something about this book that’s a little… esoteric?… this time around. The first Alien Archive was the bootstrap for the game system… there were certain monsters that kinda HAD to be there. Staples of sci-fi, carryovers from Pathfinder, playable races that filled holes in the world-building. The second book had a couple of broad themes that tied the book together – it was heavy on sci-fi versions of common beasts and it also put a lot of pages into fleshing out (pun intended) the world of undead creatures.

With Alien Archive 3, it’s a bit more of a free-for-all, for better and for worse. This collection of creatures feels a little more improvisational and… weird. It doesn’t really have an overarching “theme” or anything like that. It’s not like “we’re gonna focus on this one Pact Worlds planet” or “we’re doing fire creatures this time; tell the printer to stock up on red and orange ink”. So… my internal grump feels like it’s a little haphazard and thrown together. On the other hand, it’s more fun and weird – they let their freak flag fly a little more on this one.

As someone who rarely GMs, playable races tend to draw my eye first. I already mentioned the otters, but we’ve also got camelfolk (Dromada), birdfolk (Espraksa – not to be confused with Bird-Person from Rick and Morty), turtlefolk (Telia) and walrusfolk (the Morlamaw – where they first appeared in a Society adventure and were available as a boon). Getting out into the weirder end of the pool, we also have the Raxilites, little radish-people that look like Pokemon and will give the skittermanders a run for their money in a Cute-Off; there’s also sentient squids (the Ijtikri) and sentient velociraptors (Hanakan), complete with short little arms. I think my favorite just on a “how would that even work” level is the Spathinae: a “humanoid” race that’s basically a swarm of insects that can take humanoid form. Not only that but they supply us with our second Rick and Morty reference of the piece – It’s One-Million Ants!

There’s good stuff in the non-playable category as well. There’s a Stridermander, which is a natural predator of the Skittermanders – imagine a larger, meaner, centaur version of the Skittermander and you’re in the ballpark. There’s a high-level entity called the Time Dimensional that can play all sorts of weird tricks with time – always has a Nat-20 during initiative, can Dimension Door mid-round and resume its actions in the new place, and it has powers where it can either freeze an individual creature or stop time on the entire battlefield (but it can’t take offensive actions during the freeze). The Oracle of Oras is a giant tree which doesn’t sound all that imposing, except that has followers that live in treehouses in its branches, and it can cast a lot of crazy buffs on those followers. And ohbytheway, it’s also a travel mechanic because an Oracle of Oras can teleport up to six creatures to any OTHER Oracle of Oras in the same star system. Also, you know tardigrades, right? Those little microscopic critters that have been around since the dawn of time? Well, AA3 gives us the Giant Space Tardigrade, which a) is exactly what it sounds like and b) can be used as a spaceship.

Believe it or not, it gets weirder. Someone decided to create the concept of the Weaponized Toy. The lore plays around with the idea of arms dealers disguising combat drones as toys to get them past Pact Worlds security, so… it’s basically killer jack-in-the-boxes or killer game systems. Also, there’s the kami – spirits that merge with objects and become anthropomorphic versions of that object. Think Transformers. There’s a diminutive version (the tsukumogami) which is a kind of cute nuisance and the gargantuan version (the chinjugami) which will wreck your day.

As with previous volumes, the creature descriptions also intermingle general world-building, and also provide items, feats, spells, and other player-relevant features. The Yithians are a good example on both fronts – in one of the more dark-but-cool pieces of world-building, the Yithians escaped their dying homeworld by mindswapping with other creatures in the galaxy, leaving random strangers trapped in their former bodies on their about-to-be-dead planet. The Yithians also come with a spell-block for a spell called Mind Swap, which lets you… well… swap minds with a target for an hour per caster level.

It seems to be a staple that every book has a “crunch” part where they introduce some sort of extension to the ruleset, and AA3 is no exception. For this volume, Paizo is introducing companion creatures to the Starfinder system. Starfinder didn’t really have to deal with this out of the box since they don’t have a Druid or Ranger class, but I suppose it’s natural that eventually, people would want to have pets. So Alien Archive 3 has an appendix which sets up a rules framework and gives some sample pets you can add to your games. The good news is it’s not class-specific; anyone can have a companion creature as long as you have ranks in Survival. And one of the options is a pet ooze, and… come on, who wouldn’t want that? The bad news that pets are fairly limited, functionally. It looks like it operates on similar principles as a mechanic-drone dynamic – you have to give up some of your actions to give a companion creature the ability to do things – but you pretty much have to take feats to unlock anything but the most basic interactions. (Example: it requires a separate feat just to enable the companion creature to take an attack of opportunity.)

The remaining appendixes are the “usual” stuff – creatures by CR, creatures by type, creatures by terrain. The one new entry here is a breakdown by Pact World planet, so if you’re planning an adventure on, say, Verces, you can immediately grab a list of some of the most common creatures on that planet.

In closing, I’m not sure what to make of the Alien Archive 3. My reaction is generally positive – it certainly delivers another volume that follows a fairly successful recipe; “more of the same” is fine when “the same” is already pretty good. But the specific creature selection is maybe a little on the goofy side and might not fit equally well in every game. If you’re cool with that – and particularly if you feel a strong need to make an otter PC who wanders around with an ooze buddy – definitely check it out. If you’re just getting started, it’s probably okay to start your game with the first Alien Archive and work your way up to this one.

And just in case Paizo IS listening: three words for Alien Archive 4. “Red Panda Solarian”.

Talking Combat 103: Fat Mech, Little Dwarf

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 103: Ain’t Got Time to Bleed.

Two years. It’s pretty crazy if you stop to think about it.

(pushes glasses up nose) “Well actually, we recorded for a few weeks to build up a stash of raw footage before we started putting anything out on the Internet…” [SLAP]

Sorry, where was I?

First, just to fill in my corner of Steve’s history, I probably joined the online version of the group in the 2011 timeframe, and at that point, the group had moved into Pathfinder. Carrion Crown and Iron Gods were the two major adventure paths we ran, though we also fit some smaller stuff in there (Emerald Spire, even tried a Society adventure or two) and had JUST started Strange Aeons when we decided to assemble the Action News Team for Starfinder. In terms of the technology, I’ve always been impressed with D20Pro, though Steve always complained that there was a lot of work on the back end loading everything into the tool. We tried a few sessions with Roll20 – it did a few things better, but most things worse. Voice chat was always a bit of a crapshoot until we landed on Discord, which has been pretty stable. I remember Skype being pretty tetchy, a few weeks of dabbling with Ventrilo, maybe one or two others… before finally settling on Discord.

As far as the choice to start the podcast, I don’t know that I ever flat-out refused to do it, but I was probably a little bit on the skeptical end.

First was the Starfinder game system. In my heart of hearts, I’ve always been a swords and sorcery guy. I was raised on the Rankin-Bass Hobbit adaptation (“the greaaaaaatest adventurrrrrre”), John Boorman’s Excalibur, and AD&D. The grand total of my experience with sci-fi role-playing games was a few underwhelming sessions of Gamma World, and of buying the rules for Traveler but never really getting around to playing the damn thing. Sci-fi gaming has not traditionally been in my wheelhouse, though I dig it as an overall genre. If we’re being honest, I mostly agreed to play because the rest of the group seemed enthusiastic about it, and I didn’t want to be the killjoy. I figured I’d give it the first book of the adventure path and see how things went.

The second: I’m an introvert by nature, and that need to be in “perform” mode was a little daunting. When we’re just playing for ourselves it doesn’t matter if I, say, doze off during a session. ALLEGEDLY. If you’re recording and putting it out there on the Internet, there’s more of a need to be “on”. And OK, I’ve seen comment sections – feedback scares me. I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to put our sessions online because I was leery of having people tell me I’m playing my character poorly and my jokes aren’t funny. I’m a delicate flower that way.

But here we are. Two years later, and it’s actually been a lot of fun. The things I was worried about weren’t that big a deal – Starfinder has been pretty great (and I’m glad to see they’re bringing some of the ideas into Pathfinder Second Edition), and it’s been fun watching you guys enjoy the show and interact with it. And even when we screw up on the rules, you’re pretty cool about it, so thanks for that.

I’m trying to decide what my favorite moment of the past two years has been. There’s a few to choose from. There’s the original goblinization of CHDRR, certainly, courtesy of John Compton. The first Meats and Lasko session with Rob Trimarco and Jason Keeley was a blast. The battle against the swarm on Istamak was a thrill just because it was so cool to have the perfect piece of technology that I’d been sitting on for 2-3 levels. And of course Aeon Tuttle – you could go a whole “career” and not roll a 00 on a Loot Box of Wonder/Deck of Many Things.

If there’s one mild negative… criticism… whatever, it’s the scheduling. When you’re playing for own pleasure, if someone can’t make it or you just don’t feel like playing, it’s cool to cancel and pick it up next week. With the ebb and flow of recordings, there have been a few times where our footage reserves got low and we HAD to play to stay out in front of things. Also, it can just be tough to get five schedules to sync up perfectly, and sometimes someone has to “take one for the team” a little. (Conventions season and the winter holidays can be tough in particular.) Not gonna lie, there were a few sessions in there where it felt like playing to feed the beast… those were a bit of a drag. But currently, that’s not an issue. We’re at least a month ahead in Dead Suns, and even Plaguestone has a few episodes in the can. So right now, we’re green, Corbin Dallas. Super green.

With Talking, the challenge is mostly just a matter of keeping it fresh and coming up with new things to say. When I first started writing these, they kinda wrote themselves because it was a new rule system. There was enough new material that just explaining how things worked and giving impressions on how it compared to Pathfinder was a column within itself. (In a bit of déjà vu, I’m seeing the same dynamic play out in Talking Plaguestone.) Two years in? Not gonna lie, it’s a little tougher… you all know how the rule system works, I’ve told a lot of my best stories, I’m even starting to repeat my pop culture references! I don’t want to just regurgitate the play-by-play, but there are weeks where I struggle to come up with much more than that.

Take this week. Kind of a straightforward conclusion to last week’s fight. Thought that dwarf would be tougher, but we kinda mopped the floor with him. The interesting dynamic here was our first real introduction to powered armor. Here’s what I noticed, and why I think it went so easily for us: most of what powered armor really gives you is a better armor class and strength bonus, which is primarily good for melee. It doesn’t especially improve ranged combat, and it doesn’t give additional hit points. So offensively, the machine gun was something of a suboptimal use of the tool; defensively, he’s HARDER to hit, but the dwarf on the inside was just as squishy when you land a shot. And we didn’t seem to have any trouble landing shots.

Next week, it gets interesting though. Remember back on Moon 6, I said that there was one thing that we kinda blew off that would turn out to be important, and another thing that would’ve come in handy but we completely forgot about? I think next week, we hit one of those two incidents. So there will be a chance to see us eat a bit of humble pie in this next episode if I’m remembering things right.

I’m gonna wrap things up there for this week. Thanks for the lifers who have stuck with us for two years, and thanks to those of you who jumped on the train once it was already moving. It’s been fun sharing this experience with all of you. Feel free to stop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening.

Talking Plaguestone 09: Crit Me, Baby, One More Time

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 09: Crit Happens.

Today we learned that boss battles are TOUGH in Second Edition.

And for what it’s worth, it’s not just us. We’ve been hearing this from other people who have been playing through this adventure – there are quite a few people who had a tough time or even a TPK on this fight. I’ve been thinking about this battle for a while, and I think this is a byproduct of how the math interacts with the new system.

Think about it. Usually boss battles are set to a CR that’s a little higher than your cannon-fodder creatures. And that usually means they have higher to-hit rolls, right? (NOTE: At the end of the episode, Steve mentions Hallod’s bonuses were +11 unarmed and +12 with his kukri.)

That’s going to create two challenges in the new system. First, the -5 penalty for multiple attacks isn’t as much of a deterrent if it’s a boss who already starts +11 or +12 against the party. His second attack is as good as our first attack, so bosses are probably going to hit on follow-up attacks more frequently than the party will. Second, and more relevant to this fight, a boss that’s at +11 or +12 is going to have a  better chance to crit (at least on the first attack) in Second Edition than in First Edition. PF1 gives you a crit on a 20, so a flat 5% chance. In second edition, even with my AC of 20 (with shield up), Hallod could’ve critted on an 18 with the kukri, and I think Cade and Prue have lower ACs than I do. If I had my shield down, make it a 16 or higher to crit: a whopping 25% chance.

I do get the feeling this fight might’ve been easier if we’d had a stronger ranged component in our arsenal. If you think about the battlefield, it’s got tripwires and difficult terrain to prevent advances but it’s also got crates and barrels to hide behind. It kind of made for a slow initial advance, and Hallod was able to pick us off one-by-one for a few rounds before we got all three melees up in his face. I think of Cade in particular – we lost the strategic advantage of his sneak attack because nobody else could get up there to create flanking for him.

Frankly, it feels like grinding him down from behind cover might have been a good tactic to employ here. Unless he can fast-load his crossbow, he would’ve basically gotten one attack per round and we would’ve had 3 or 4. But we don’t really have a strong ranged element in our party – Celes has her Produce Flame, Cade has his slingstaff, but I don’t have anything and I don’t think I’ve seen Prue use a ranged weapon either.

Speaking of ranged weapons: WHO PUTS TRAPS ON A PERFECTLY GOOD BATTLEFIELD? (Oh wait, a rogue, that’s who.) This whole fight got off to a bad start when Prue sets off a trip-wire and eats a crit from a concealed crossbow. Celes heals her and got her back on her feet, but it kind of threw our tactics out the window from the jump.

And if ALL of that wasn’t enough, Hallod can also do attacks of opportunity, making it even harder to navigate the fight. Poor Cade gets to be the celebrity spokesmodel for Getting Unexpectedly Punched In The Head, and then the rest of us have to tread lightly so we don’t do the same.

On the plus side, we get to really put our hero points to good use, between reviving from death and re-rolling crappy attack rolls. I have to admit I was a little iffy on the Hero Point system at first, but it’s starting to grow on me. Though I find myself wishing there was “anti-hero point” where you could force an enemy to re-roll… hmmm… I don’t know… one of Prue’s two crits, maybe?

We also got to see Brixley’s shield eat a few attacks, and I’m starting to feel a little uneasy about this system. Basically, my shield – a STEEL shield – was able to take all of TWO hits before it was broken. That seems a little… off. I don’t exactly know how you’d change it… more hardness? maybe a save to resist the breakage?… but I’m still concerned about reaching a point (not necessarily this adventure but in general) where I have to carry four or five shields around at all times. (Or maybe I invest a skill train in Crafting so I can fix on the fly.) To be fair though, I got through every battle leading up to the boss fight without taking ANY shield damage, so I don’t know if it’s a general issue or just another wrinkle that specifically comes out in boss-fights.

So Cade gets knocked out on an attack of opportunity, Prue eats her second crit of the fight and is down, and it’s down to Brixley tanking and Celes chucking fire from afar. Even with the shield, Hallod’s first batch of attacks on me took about half my health and broke my shield, so this was basically one round from turning even worse than it already was. I thought about using Lay on Hands to get someone back up (Prue would’ve physically been closest – I would’ve had to eat an AoO to reach Cade), but it did feel like Hallod was close to going down, so I decided to push through, and… whew. Just made it. BOSS DEFEATED.

Well, sub-boss, anyway. After the fight, we get a little more plot, in the form of a letter Hallod was carrying. It turns out Hallod was not the alchemist but was just an errand boy for “V”, whoever that is. We also get some treasure (mostly stuff for Cade, but still… stuff is stuff), and we have enough points to level next time we have a chance to rest. Huzzah!

Next week, we’ll return triumphantly to town, rest and recuperate, hopefully level up, and maybe start to take a further crack at figuring out who “V” might be. We also still have a few side mysteries – finding out whether Celes is really related to the mayor and investigating the house Sir Kent thought was infested with undead. Until next week, feel free to drop by our Discord channel, let us know what you think of the show, and join in the online shenanigans. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 102: Let’s All Go To The Lobby!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 102: Grenade Expectations.

The French have this great expression: “l’esprit d’escalier”… “the spirit of the stairs”… that captures that sense of thinking of the perfect thing to say after you’ve already left. For those of you who want me to stay in my lane and provide a reference more grounded in pop culture – the “Jerk Store” episode of Seinfeld. (Though I went all the way to French V in high school 30-plus years ago… my lane goes to mysterious places.)

I have to admit, as I was listening to this episode, I was struck with a bout of that because I realized I had the perfect tool for this situation and didn’t think to use it. Scoutbot. (I’ve played enough Rainbow Six Siege to know better. OPFOR DETECTED!)

Here’s the thing. Scoutbot has a time limit (one minute per level), the bot has a damage limit if it’s attacked, but there’s no range limit specified. So the 200-300 feet down in the elevator would have not been a problem, as long as it got there in 10 minutes. (On the other hand, contrary to what I thought, it doesn’t actually fly… not sure where I originally got that.) So if I was thinking properly, I would’ve pulled the old Die Hard standby and sent the Scoutbot down on the elevator to see what was waiting for us at the bottom. (Feel free to listen to the rest of the episode imagining Mo writing the names of cultists on his arm with a Sharpie.)

Now, I know it wouldn’t have been a perfect solution. The elevator door still opens as normal, which would clearly attract attention. We’d have a quick rules-lawyer break about how quietly it moves and how easy it is to see, but at the end of the day, they’d probably destroy it and be just as ready for us when WE came down. And strategically, the single point of entry renders it somewhat moot: it would’ve been a more useful tactic if we had the option of choosing a different entrance. But it would’ve been a pretty handy use of a resolve point, and even if it only survived a round or two, we might have gathered some intel on their strength and the layout of the room before we ever set foot on the lower level.

Instead, we plow forth into a sea of grenades. Yay! On the other hand, they’re pretty weak grenades. In fact, at first, they’re pretty weak ENEMIES. Base-level cultists, shades… nothing we haven’t seen before. You don’t want to take things too much for granted, but at first, this feels like a warm-up battle: you just leveled and got your new powers, let’s see what you can do with them.

It’s not a new power, but I have to admit I’m still a fan of Akiro’s trick with the exploding battery; it’s basically all the power of a grenade, but at the cost of a battery, which is dirt cheap. That’s a pretty good bargain. (Alternatively, it’s Fireball, but with a physical object to focus the spell’s power on.) I’m sort of envious – the Mechanic can do that with a weapon, but the damage is nowhere near comparable, and destroying a weapon is even less cost-efficient than grenades themselves. Don’t get me wrong, rigging a phaser to explode has a lot of Mechanic flavor (I just re-watched an episode of Next Generation and a bad guy did that) but the results just aren’t there. WHERE’S MY 9d6 DAMAGE?

But then things take a turn for the more serious. First, we get Berserker Cultists. Not sure if they’re any harder to kill, but they definitely hit harder while they’re alive. And then, just as we’re getting a handle on that. BOSS FIGHT right at the end of the session. Setting aside that I haven’t been the hugest fan of including Pathfinder core races in Starfinder, a dwarf in power armor is pretty dang cool. As long as he doesn’t kill us, that is.

Before closing for the week, I’ll take a moment to reflect on Steve’s point regarding bleeding encounters, and the realism of killing enemies in adjacent rooms without them noticing anything. (We’re almost back to the glory days of GM-PC Tips!) It’s a tough call. If you went with TRULY realistic acoustics, you probably couldn’t fight something on the same level of a dungeon without alerting everyone and their mother. So at some point, you probably have to suspend disbelief a little bit just to make for a playable game. On the other hand, I’ve been in games where people took long rests with enemies right on the other side of a door, which is a little immersion-breaking in the other direction. So we slaughter Goblin Troop A, and Goblin Troop B never thinks to check in on them? They don’t have dinner together? Nobody goes and checks when Grugg fails to show up for the nightly card game?

As far as that Emerald Spire story Steve told, it was basically accurate. Maybe not ONE long fight, but we certainly didn’t stop for a true rest, and probably didn’t have more than 5 or 10 minutes even when there was a pause in the action. Though I think at one point I remember clearing a few empty broom closets.

In that particular game, I was playing a rogue, so my job was fairly easy and there weren’t a lot of resources to manage. Just stab whoever is closest. The main frustration was the running fight didn’t leave a lot of opportunities to set up Sneak Attack damage because the bad guys tended to be down-range. I think John played a Paladin, and Bob was playing an archery-based monk. I feel like maybe Chris didn’t play that one because he was busy with WoW raids, but I’m not 100% sure who our fourth was or what character they played.

There were two main problems that conspired to turn it into a bit of a… well… “cluster-something”. First, the front gate of the complex was an easily defensible position with arrow slits that took a lot of initial effort to overcome. So there was some concern that if we retreated to take a long rest, the remaining bandits would just retake the “front door”, and we’d have to do The Hard Part all over again. If I remember correctly, I feel like we were pinning our hopes on finding a back door which would make it easier to come and go, and then we’d go heal… and things just got out of hand. (Full disclosure: the back door DID exist, but we didn’t find it until the whole level was cleaned out.)

The second was bad tactical luck. In one case, we chased the last runner from one encounter into a new group; in another, one of our guys was looking for a place to grab a quick heal potion and opened the door to another NPC area we hadn’t cleared yet. In fairness, based on the rooms around it, we REALLY thought it was likely to be just another storage room, but that turned out to NOT be the case.

Much to my surprise, we did survive. We pretty much burned through every spell and special ability, and most of the party was at death’s door (I want to say whoever was playing our fourth dropped and had to be revived with John’s Lay on Hands), but we made it. Definitely a fun night of gaming – that one was basically three hours of non-stop action, without being a fairly static slugfest; very fluid, almost a chase dynamic to it all.

If only we’d been recording back then. Ah well.

Anyway, enough wandering down memory lane. (Unless Steve follows through with some Year Two content, in which case, MORE wandering down memory lane.) Regardless, we’ve got to get back to saving the universe and fighting Dwarven Colonel Quaritch, but that’ll be for next week. Until then, drop by our Discord channel or other social media and join in the ongoing shenanigans. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.