Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 26

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The Sideshow S1|34: Nothing About Much Ado

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|34: It’s A Brand New Car!

You wouldn’t think so, but some of these combat episodes are surprisingly difficult to write about. Counter-intuitive, I realize, but true.

First, you’d think more action would be an absolute positive, in terms of having things to write about, but that’s not always the case. Action that advances the plot provides fertile ground for material. Action that gives us new monsters or powers or explores new parts of the rulebook lets us get into the nuts and bolts of the game to whatever level of detail is interesting. But sometimes it’s just “Week N+1 of fighting mostly the same creatures as last time” and that can be tough. It’s like being a rock-climber and having a flat rock face with no hand-holds to grab onto. And if I’m being honest, we had a little bit of that going on this week.

To finish the thought, boss fights are almost always the outlier in this respect. Boss fights almost always advance the plot, and the boss usually busts out a few new powers you haven’t seen before, so there ends up being a LOT to talk about. But this week, it’s like… “more xulgaths, only this one has an axe!” Eh.

Another thing is I find that the level of detail one needs as a listener and the level of detail one needs as a chronicler of the action are two different things. Don’t get me wrong: Steve and the players do their level best in fleshing out the “theater of the mind” aspect of the show. Vanessa in particular is GREAT at “dressing the set” for listeners and framing the action, and I’ve been trying to follow her lead on our Edgewatch show. For the level of “just a listener,” it’s easy enough to follow along. But sometimes if you’re trying to retain details as you go, it can all get a little opaque. As a listener, you just roll with it until you get your legs back under you, even if that’s the end of the fight. If you’re trying to write commentary and you lost track of whether there are two or three bad guys or how many times Darius critted and don’t want to rewind the last 20 minutes to figure it out… that’s a little tougher to deal with.

And look… some of that’s on me. If I were a more diligent writer, I’d take notes or even come up with some sort of “play-by-play” system to track combat more methodically. But that’s a tough call because I’ve always kind of approached this as a fairly spontaneous reaction to what I’m hearing, and I feel like there’s a danger of OVER-analyzing it to a point where I’m just listing off DPS stats for each fight like a human MMO mod.

The other thing is that I think roleplay is where this group really shines, and you don’t get as much of that in the combat episodes. More of a question of letting these folks do what they do best.

Or maybe all of the above is BS, and I’m just sullen and unmotivated this week because Cyberpunk 2077 moved its release to December and NHL 21 has a bunch of bugs that render franchise mode unplayable. Also a possibility.

Having essentially whined about the task, let’s talk about this week’s episode at least a little bit. The fight this week was fun enough; the creatures weren’t all that special, but it used line-of-sight in ways that kept the fight interesting. And hey, Darius punched a hole in a dude!

One thing was a little fuzzy to me, and you’re welcome to correct me on the Discord channel. There was that earthquake in the middle of the fight that basically knocked over everyone but Darius. Was that a creature’s ability, or was that an ambient environment effect? As in “this whole temple is unsteady and may collapse soon”? I’d been thinking the party had semi-limitless time to explore (as long as they got back in time for the next circus performance), but a seismic event that destroys the temple would put the whole thing on a bit of a clock. But if one of the bad guys did that… never mind. (I tried to go back and look for the moment but gave up after a while. See? Maybe I DO need to take notes!)

Speaking of being on a clock, how do we feel about long rests inside of dungeons? It’s one of those things that always struck me as a necessary evil of the game system, but can sometimes feel a little immersion breaking. You’re just going to lock yourself in a room for 8 hours and hope the enemies don’t notice their buddies are missing and come look for them?

If you remember the Plaguestone game, we wrestled with this a little in that campaign as well, but I think this game is a little different, and in ways that are more forgiving. First, there’s no running clock. In Plaguestone, Vilree was planning to destroy the town in a matter of day(s) and we HAD to stop her. There was a sense of urgency. Here, the xulgaths are just doing their thing and there’s no hard stop event that has to be averted. (At least none we know of yet, beyond getting back in time for the circus performance.) Also, there was more of a “high alert” vibe to the Plaguestone fortress where you had formal patrols that were expecting trouble; this just seems to be a lair where xulgaths come and go, so maybe they wouldn’t notice a missing compatriot for a few hours. Lastly, as Steve pointed out, the room the party is choosing to rest in seems to be one the xulgaths never discovered, so that might also work in their favor.

So we’ll break there, with the party catching the rare long rest, and that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, 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 week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|06: A First Day To Remember

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|06: Save the Penguin!

FINALLY! The Shift That Never Ends finally comes to a close, the zoo has been pacified, and we survive with enough experience to reach Level 2! And the final fight even ends up being a bit of a cake-walk, thanks to a couple of timely crits by Lo Mang.

This is a little weird. On one hand, this might have actually been our technically cleanest fight. I don’t think anyone even got hit. The three-action economy really seems to reward hit-and-run tactics when you can pull them off. On the other hand, it feels like if you pull back the curtain, we got there in spite of working as a team, rather than because of it.

Things started out a little rocky, with John basically “discussing” tactics by having Dougie walk out of the room the minute we opened the door. I mean, yes, his plan had merit overall: we probably didn’t want to line up in a straight line in front of a creature whose keeper just told us has a conical breath weapon that could one-shot us. So he wasn’t WRONG exactly, but there’s something a little stand-offish about waiting until the combat starts and then pulling a move that amounts to “we can either do things my way, or the three of you can fight it without me and probably die”.

It’s also another instance of “why did you decide to roll a front-line fighter and then get mad when people expect you to actually FIGHT things?”. I really don’t want to come across as telling anyone else how to play, but if you want to be in the back, maybe roll a character that belongs in the back?

Taking a bit of a detour into the show notes, I guess Steve let the cat out of the bag and you now know Dougie is a Ruffian Rogue. I had figured that out a few weeks ago, but in fairness, I also had another month’s worth of data points to work with than you guys did, so I don’t want to break my arm patting my own back here. I think Dougie showcases a key part of what I like about Second Edition. On paper, Mister Peepers and Dougie are both “rogues”, but they act and play completely differently. In First Edition or 5E, you’d end up with two characters that got most of the same tools at most of the same points in the character’s development. Here, they’re already distinct even at level 1: Peepers is more of the classic rogue archetype (albeit with a little bit of an impulse control problem); Dougie is almost closer to a barbarian, only without the rage mechanic. And that’s just at Level 1 – imagine how different they’re going to play once they get out toward Level 8 or 10 or something.

Getting back to the battle, my frustrations were probably more rooted in roleplay than tactics. Tactically, yes, charging this thing in its lair, with the kid in the middle of the likely battlefield, was probably a really stupid idea and would’ve gotten someone killed. But on a roleplay level, it presented two problems. First, as Seth mentioned, if we didn’t lure it effectively enough, it might just turn around, go back, and try to eat the kid. But there’s also a little disconnect that we have this thing confined to a building, but we’re gonna let it loose outside? I get luring it, but maybe lure it elsewhere INSIDE the building? I felt like luring it to the bend in the “L” would’ve given us options for spreading out and avoiding the breath weapon while still keeping it in the building if things went bad.

I guess that’s what I was thinking by using the desk as a barricade. Hit it a few times from behind the desk, retreat deeper into the building, set up a second ambush point, and do it again. But by the end of the round, I was the only one still there, so that plan went out the window fairly quickly. On one hand, I’m disappointed the desk turned out to be so ineffective as a barricade. I really thought it would be more useful than that. On the other hand, taken hand-in-hand with the three-action economy, that desk saved my personal bacon and basically bought us the time we needed to lure the ankhrav out of the building safely.

The other thing that’s generally frustrating was going 0-for-3 on the sleep darts. I thought being the one to wield those – especially with Devise A Stratagem – was the smart play. Lo Mang and Dougie were the melee types; Gomez had his own spells for ranged combat, so it seemed like a niche I could fill. But I just couldn’t get a roll to save my life, and either I had already used my Hero Point, or I wasn’t going to risk it when we had a foe that could one-shot us (I think I used it on the almiraj, but I don’t want to go back and listen to make sure).

So… it was a frustrating fight for me personally, but it was cleaned up nicely by Lo Mang doing back-to-back crits. Turns out it’s another critter with a powerful primary weapon but not a lot of hit points. Kid rescued, zoo officially under control, and we FINALLY get to go back to the barracks.

With one minor detour… to the site of one of the exhibits that’s mysteriously vanished. Just a building-sized attraction vanishing, no big deal. I’m already wondering if maybe setting the zoo animals free was part of the plot – create a distraction so that the authorities are dealing with that? It’s nothing we need to do anything about now, but it seems like the sort of thing that will come back into play later.

So we go back, and the rest of the episode is shopping and leveling. The shopping is fairly straightforward: +1 RUNES FOR ALL!  The one wrinkle was re-casting my sword cane as silver – I don’t know how much of an advantage it’s going to be, but it’s just cool as a roleplaying thing to have a silver sword cane. Basil doesn’t have the same “Fancy Gene” Brixley had, but he’s not totally immune, since he is supposed to be something of a rich kid. So at the end of this, most of my money is spent, but I have a fancy entry-level magic weapon and I’m starting to feel a little more like John Steed from the Avengers. (The British one, not the Marvel one.)

Leveling? We’ll get into that next time. I’m leaning toward a multiclass dip into a caster class, but there’s a couple of different ways to go with it, and as of this episode, I haven’t totally decided yet. So we’ll leave it there and pick it up next time. As always, 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 week.

The Sideshow S1|33: He Slimed Me

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|33: Good Job Mortals!

For a second I thought this was going to go down as The Week That Second Edition Broke Vanessa. When she started laughing like a victim of Joker Gas after the third wasted Nat-20, I honestly worried that we were going to be introducing a new party member while Vanessa went off for some Me Time for a few weeks. Or at least that we were going to get a solid 15 minutes of swearing at Steve. Fortunately, there’s redemption around every corner, as Alhara not only gets to break out her thievery skills that have gone unused since the very first episode, but she even gets to proposition Ateran for a roll in the hay that Ateran interprets FAR too literally. By the end of the episode, I think we got her back to a point where she’ll be OK.

It started with getting chippy with Loren about Hap not doing anything with her turn, which… I’m sorry, but I have to side with Loren on this one. Sometimes, your character just doesn’t know what happened, and as much as you’d like to metagame yourself into a position to take an action, it’s just not fair to do so. In our Black Lodge game, it tended to take the shape of Mr. Peepers running off and doing something stupid “off-camera”; in this case, it was Hap not noticing the rock-flinging test that revealed the gelatinous cube.  Steve is usually pretty fair about giving players the benefit of the doubt by hearing “sounds of battle” and such, but in this case, there really wasn’t any sort of cue to indicate a fight had started. So Hap starting to cast spells would’ve bordered on psychic abilities.

But no… the REAL culprit was the not one, not two, but THREE wasted Nat-20s against Gel Cube #1. Full disclosure, I slept through most of Stats 2 in college, but I survived Stats 1, and I was definitely awake for basic independent probabilities. For those of you scoring at home, rolling three 20s in a row has a 1-in-8000 (.05 x .05 x .05) chance of happening. If you add up every die we’ve rolled in the three-plus years of this podcast, I guess we might have rolled 8000 of ‘em and been due, but still… if I lost three straight crits, you’d probably have been hearing muffled sobbing for the rest of the session. Or the aforementioned swearing at Steve.

And of course, things get worse before they get better, as it turned out the gelatinous cube was really TWO gelatinous cubes, with the second one attacking pretty much right around the same moment the first one died. I have to admit, on first listen, I was in the same boat as Rob T. – I got confused and thought this was still the same cube. I had even heard the “creature death noise” but I figured it had some sort of “last attack” or was thinking “OK, the cube is dead but the characters were still in rounds until they break free”. But in a bit of a lucky break, I broke for lunch and lost my place, backed up a bit when restarting, so I heard the sequence a second time and got a better sense of what was going on.

I have to admit, I thought I was mostly prepared for the nastiness of gelatinous cubes from First Edition, but the suffocation bit caught me off guard. I knew they had the ooze properties, so I knew the party wasn’t getting any critical hits even as Vanessa was saying it. I also loosely remembered from First Edition and even old AD&D that both acid and paralysis were possibilities. The whole suffocation thing was either a new twist or one I had forgotten about. And in either case, it’s made worse by the fact that the suffocation rules are a lot tougher in Second Edition. In First Edition, the rule for holding your breath is 2 times your Constitution SCORE… so if you’ve got a 14 CON, that’s 28 rounds to figure out what to do. In Second Edition, it’s 5 + your CON MODIFIER, so that same 14 CON gets you 7 rounds (1/4 of the time). In both systems, the number starts dropping as you take actions or take additional damage, but 2E gives you a LOT less cushion to work with.

As an aside, when Steve mentions the breathing rules happening in the other game, based on the timing, I’m assuming he was talking about the PaizoCon special. In that game, there was a moment where Chris Beemer’s dwarf champion Thorgrim had to swim around underwater to retrieve a corpse from the jaws of a slain sea serpent because the corpse had a family heirloom we were hired to retrieve. That’s the last time I can remember us using the breath-holding rules.

The battle continues, and it’s starting to look dicey for a little bit, as Gel Cube #2 destroys the back ranks: Ateran is engulfed entirely and receives All The Bad Things while Hap narrowly avoids getting sucked in, but still takes a chunk of damage and suffers the paralysis effect for a round. (But not before casting acid resistance on Ateran… nice move there!) Fortunately for the party as a whole, the Varus siblings rise to the occasion and put enough damage on Cube #2 to save the day before anything truly bad happens. Whew!

We have some healing. We have some banter. We have romantic innuendo that mostly flies over Ateran’s head. (Though, I mean, who would want to get frisky on xulgath bedding anyhow? Ew.) And then the exploration resumes, and Alhara finally gets her moment of redemption for the episode, as Darius discovers a trap and she disables it. I’m trying to think… was it really all the way back in the second or third episode that she last used her thievery? Is there another incident I’m missing, or was that it?

With the trap disabled, Darius takes a peek behind the curtain… literally. There’s a curtain. And finds the beginnings of an actual temple structure. With multiple dinosaurs, and – at least based on smell – probably some more xulgaths to fight as well. There’s a little speculation about negotiation, but come on… we know where this is headed.

DINO-PUNCHING.

But sadly, that’ll be next week. As always, 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 week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|05: You Had One Job

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|05: Pathfinders For The Ethical Treatment of Animals

I’m going to start this week in an odd place, with a note on spelling. At least of proper names. This mostly comes up in relation to the creatures we face this week – the almiraj and the ankhrav. As well as, to a lesser degree, the names of the zoo owner and the veterinarian.

I’m always a little torn between being an authoritative source, the “paper of record” for Roll For Combat, weighed against the idea that this is meant to be a fairly spontaneous capture of my thoughts as I’m re-listening. I think what I’ve settled on is this: if it’s the name of a creature or spell or rule mechanic, I go back and check it. To whatever extent we’re explaining rules and such, I strive for accuracy in the nuts-and-bolts discussion. When it comes to proper names (people, town names, etc.), it depends on how much I’m going to talk about them. If they’re one of the major focuses of the week’s article, or I know we’re going to continue talking a lot about that person in the coming weeks, I’ll shoot Steve a text and ask him to get me a spelling. If I’m just going to mention that person once and forget about them, I don’t mind just taking a stab at what their name sounds like and hoping for the best. (Or I turn it generic and make it “the shop owner”, “the mayor”, or some other more abstract identifier.

At any rate, we start this week with Basil in the spotlight, as it’s time to do some detective work. Specifically, Remy (I guess we DID get a name for him) shows us where the veterinary and the menagerie owner’s trailers are and we do a little digging. (Surprise, surprise… right next to each other). In addition to a trove of critter-specific magic, we get multiple confirmations that yes, they were having an affair, and yes the guy (Knight) was close enough to leaving his wife to write the letter, though he didn’t send it. But clearly, they’ve been gone for at least the week everyone thinks they were.

Here’s one of those places where I have to suspend my tendency to metagame a little. Jason The Player knows that Paizo doesn’t usually put a lot of extraneous information in these adventures. If they were having an affair that we found like… three or four different bread crumbs leading toward… I suspect that’s going to become important at some future point. But in character, we don’t KNOW it’s relevant, at which point we’re really just digging around in someone’s dirty laundry, which is a little wrong.

It also does seem to be more than a coincidence that the one person who might have been able to detect and stop the corruption of the animals conveniently disappeared. Still don’t know the motive – did the wife find out about the affair and take her revenge, or was there some other play going on here? But one does wonder if maybe the doc was removed to get her out of the way so the zoo could be sabotaged. Also, who the heck LEAVES town right before the start of the big festival that’s likely to make this place busier than it’s ever been?

After our pause to investigate, we begin our sweep of the main building. First, we round up a few more survivors, which gives us both a better picture of what’s going on, as well as a side quest. For the former, it turns out that if a rust monster escapes, all those metal cages you’re keeping the other animals in become tremendously overrated. For the latter, we have a father whose kid has gone missing in… of course… the most dangerous part of the building. FAN-tastic!

We get ready, throw open the doors, and our well-made plan kinda goes off the rails, as the almiraj (“bunnycorn” would’ve been so much easier) is pretty much waiting to attack us on the other side. You know… the thing with the horn that can paralyze us, and if we die that way, it’s perma-death. Oops.

And then… oh, who am I kidding… I screw up royally by bleeding encounters.

The goal of running deeper into the room was to get around the penalties for cover when shooting the sleep dart – it was double doors with Dougie and Lo Mang in the two front squares, but since the almiraj was small, there was a 5’ gap to get past it on the other side. So to get a clear shot, I decided to just run past the bunnycorn and shoot from the other side. Simple enough, right? But that alerted the beetle to our presence, so not only was the second encounter activated, but I had two creatures between me and the rest of the party. And I followed that up by missing with the dart, not once, but twice (via Hero Point). Not my best work. 20/20 hindsight, should’ve waited a round and used Devise a Stratagem, but I thought the rabbit would be a bit tougher than it turned out to be. That, however, was our saving grace, as both creatures ended up being surprisingly squishy and didn’t last long. I don’t think I even got a second attack before the fight was over.

As a side note, you might have noticed a few places where we sounded a little confused during this battle: specifically, John thinking he had the blowgun and sleep darts, and me loading it even after I said I loaded it before we opened the door. To let you in on a little secret, the previous session ended right before we opened the door, so we’re not stupid, we just had a week of real time pass between those two events.

At any rate, battle won… nobody paralyzed, we’re in pretty good shape to finish this up. Eventually, we have the map filled into one room, which almost has to contain the ankhrav. The big thing here is the acid attack that the keeper warned us of – it’s a cone effect, so it could hit all of us, and we’ve been warned it can do a lot of damage. (Out of character, I went and checked… 3d6. As level 1 characters, that’s lethal with a good roll.)

I got a little bit frustrated with John here, and it’s something we also saw in Dead Suns with Mo Dupinsky. He chooses to play melee-first characters – he’s said on multiple occasions he likes characters that play “simple” – but when it comes time to actually do that, he gets frustrated that he’s the one in the front taking the damage. Not sure what to tell you, man. I thought I had a nice little plan with using the desk as a makeshift barricade at the east entrance… I don’t know if it’ll work or not, but if we can hold the ankhrav off and maybe miss the acid for a round or two, maybe that’s a workable strategic advantage. You can also hear John talking about circling around to the west and using the outer doors at the other end of the ankhrav enclosure, but two problems with that. First, it feels like it would require a level of coordination we don’t really have; we’d need magical communication so we coordinate opening the doors at the same time. Second, the doors might be locked, which puts us in a situation where the east team has started the attack and the west team has to run back around the building to rejoin the fight. At which point… divide and conquer from the monster’s point of view.

We do eventually come up with a compromise, but you’re going to have to come back next week to hear what it is. 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 week.

The Sideshow S1|32: Fortune Favors the Bored

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|32: Bare Naked Skeletons.

I’m going to apologize in advance that I’ve got a bout of the old writer’s block this week. Sometimes these writeups come easy and I have the whole thing, or at least large chunks of it, laid out in my head before I ever hit the keyboard. Other times, like tonight, I go off and watch the West Wing Reunion Special so I don’t have to feel guilty looking at a blank page in MS Word for 90 minutes. My recipe for getting out of that sort of funk is to just start writing… something… so apologies if we get off to a bit of a rambly start here. IT’S A PROCESS, DAMNIT.

(Also, Sterling K. Brown was fine as Leo, but I really missed John Spencer. Just Sayin’.)

The first thing that jumped out at me this week was a bit of serendipity as, despite the real life time jump of almost two months, Steve acknowledged one of my concerns from last week in this week’s episode. If you remember, last week I was fussing about the fact that the xulgath lair probably wouldn’t stop smelling bad just because you killed the xulgaths unless it was a spray or something. Or that if it was a constant smell, they’d eventually acclimate. Well, turns out Steve tackled that problem by combining the two ideas; ruling that the stink was strongest in the immediate vicinity of the xulgaths, but at a more “normal” baseline level that the party could tolerate when the xulgaths were not around. I’m OK with that approach. I just found the timing funny because they recorded this show in… August or September, maybe?… and the recording still managed to anticipate my major complaint two months in advance.

Of course, it turned out to not matter for the remainder of this week’s episode, as most of the rest of the episode took place in a fairly clean portion of the dungeon that bears all the signs of having been cleared out by a gelatinous cube. Floors that look like they’ve been freshly mopped? Yeah, that’s a bad thing. And of course, our party slowed their pace to a crawl trying to game out the cube encounter, only to get jumped by non-cubish things in the interim.

Look, I don’t begrudge caution. At least based on First Edition, gel cubes are nothing to trifle with. I assume they’re built similarly in Second Edition – hard to see because they’re transparent, have the usual slime-family immunities to crits and precision damage, and they have both paralysis and acid attacks. If there’s a saving grace, it’s that they’re criminally easy to hit. (But of course in 2E, that means more crits going to waste.) I’d also like to mention that they are also generally one of my favorite creatures just because they’re such a weird invention. “Yeah, let’s just have a random block of Jell-O schlep its way around the dungeon dissolving things with acid.” What demented wizard decided to whip that up in his or her cauldron?

OK, time for a quick aside here. I’m never sure whether to look up 2E statblocks on these monsters or not. This is where the “two hats” thing has its limitations. The blogger in me strives for accuracy, and when I’m summarizing a fight, it’s sometimes very good to understand what abilities the creature was doing, or what it COULD have done but didn’t get a chance to. But I am still a player at heart, and sometimes that feels a little dirty because it’s looking at the other side of the GM screen. I’m not sure I want to have TOO much information about creatures that maybe we’ll face somewhere down the line. I suppose I err on the side of looking it up because I’ll probably have forgotten by the time it becomes relevant. But I always feel a little guilty doing so.

But back to the dungeon crawl. This feels like one of those moments that was clearly smart dungeoneering, but made for slow going as a listener. Casting light on rocks and throwing them down the hall in front of you would TOTALLY work as a way to find a gelatinous cube. Heck, you don’t even need to get fancy with cantrips – just pick up rocks and toss them. But as a listener, I’ll admit it reached a point where I was rooting for a little John Staats trademark impatience to carry the day.

They finally find something, but it’s not the gelatinous cube. Instead, it’s a skeleton that I assumed was going to come to life and attack, but nope. That’s just the loot. For the fight, Paizo had slightly different plans: it’s an initial salvo of bat swarms, followed by an ether spider jumping into the action halfway through the bat fight.

I have to admit I’m with Steve – I thought that spider was going to be a LOT tougher. You look at the statblock, and it’s got poison, immobilizing webs, can shift into the Ethereal Plane as a single action… I’m imagining some pretty nasty hit-and-run tactics where it shifts ethereal, moves, and then pops up and webs or bites from some other direction and then shifts out again. But – noticing a trend here – the party got pretty lucky with their rolls and it ended up not being too bad. Looking at the stat block (Shhh! Don’t tell Steve!) it’s kind of a glass cannon; it has a lot of tricks, but pretty ordinary defenses for a creature of its level.

And just think. All that work for a suit of plate armor that no one can use anyway. That’s always frustrating. I suppose it’s still got loot value, but would’ve been nice to get something of more tangible benefit.

The dungeon crawl finally resumes, and FINALLY, the pebble trick works – one of their rocks flies down the hall and stops in mid-air. GELATINOUS! CUBE! Pop the popcorn! Oh, wait. It’s gonna be next week. OK, I’m getting the extra good popcorn for next week and we’ll see you back here then.

Before I close, a general “show note” of my own. At SOME point, I might try to dive in and give some thoughts about the RPG Superstar contest. I checked out a few of the top winners, but I do want to sit down and maybe write up some impressions. In general, some great stuff – I’m surprised at how well it came out.

Anyhow, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Pathfinder Lost Omens Pathfinder Society Guide Review: Would You Like To Learn More?

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

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our new Pathfinder Adventure Path: Agents of Edgewatch Podcast and our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast.

You never know who’s reading this stuff for the first time, so I’ll start with the basics: what IS Pathfinder Society?

And the answer is it’s actually TWO things.

First, there’s “Pathfinder Society”, the game mechanic, which I’ll introduce, and then we won’t talk about much anymore. Pathfinder Society Organized Play (the formal title) is primarily a way to create a level playing field for when people from different gaming groups sit down at a new table together – think conventions, game days at local gaming stores, and so on. In your home game, you might be a Level 7 with magic items in every slot; while I might be a Level 7 with the set of armor I started the game with, going without food to afford my first +1 weapon rune because my GM likes inflicting pain. Society Play creates a set of rules that keep everyone’s characters at ROUGHLY the same power level so that our Level 7s will be about equivalent if we ever play together. It also provides a really loose story glue for strangers to go on an adventure together – the Society picked you as a team and gave you this mission. And for some players, that’s all it is – the reason for the orc-slaying season.

But there’s also the “Pathfinder Society” as a story element and roleplaying entity within the Pathfinder game setting. In THAT context the Pathfinder Society is an organization of adventurers, knowledge seekers, and general do-gooders who band together to go on adventures. The Society is organized physically in the form of “lodges” (think: branch offices) scattered throughout Golarion, each one run by a “Venture-Captain”. Within the Society there are different factions that may have different goals, much like different majors at a university – one group might be adventuring to get rich, another might want to preserve knowledge, still, another might want to prove themselves in combat against the toughest opponents. And sitting atop all of that is the Decemvirate – a council of 10 masked individuals who run the Society as a whole.

But how does it fit into the actual world of Pathfinder? What are these factions? Where are these lodges? How much morally ambiguous grave desecration is involved? To ask the immortal question of Starship Troopers, “Would you like to learn more?”. If the answer to that last question is yes, Paizo has the book for you: the Lost Omens Pathfinder Society Guide. It’s actually completely indifferent to the first of those two definitions. There’s nothing in this book that explicitly mentions the rules of Society play. The focus of this book is more about applying the storytelling elements of the Society to regular non-Society games.

In terms of book logistics, it’s about 130 pages long. There are two primary sections – Factions and Lodges – with small sections at either end serving as the bread of the Society Sandwich. So let’s get into it, shall we?

The opening section (notwithstanding one page of new character backgrounds) is the history of the Pathfinder Society itself. The Society starts humbly enough, with a bunch of adventurers BS’ing about their deeds at a bar, and ends up as a worldwide organization that’s curiously meddlesome about what gear you can take out into the field with you. (Sorry… game mechanic creeping in again.) Among other things, this section serves as a stealth “catch-up” for First Edition players, outlining what’s been going on with the Society between editions. Along with the history, we also get a high-level description of the organization and its place in the world – their leadership structure and rules, who likes them, who mistrusts them, the means of joining and leaving, and so on.

The next chapter, and the first of the two big ones, covers factions within the Society. If you’ve never played a Society game, there are shades of the Hogwarts “houses” in Pathfinder Society, where you choose a faction aligned with your goals as a character. Only there’s no “evil one” and no “other one” where they put the kids who aren’t brave, smart, or evil.

Over the course of a decade of First Edition, there was a bit of “faction creep” and there are currently 14 different First Edition factions to choose from. In Second Edition, they scaled that back a bit – there are now four “official” factions that represent the core values of the Society and two secondary factions. (The in-story reason is that the Society had to re-evaluate things after the Whispering Tyrant wiped out a huge chunk of their agents.) The in-game factions are:

  • The Envoy’s Alliance emphasizes teamwork and diplomacy, building relationships within the Society and with the larger world. They arguably have the best backstory – their original faction was left to die by the rest of the Pathfinders not mounting a rescue operation for one of their missions; their leader survived and founded the “we’re not doing that again” faction.
  • The Grand Archive is all about seeking out and preserving knowledge. Their motto is probably “IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!” in Elvish runes.
  • The Horizon Hunters want to travel to unexplored places. They see gray on the mini-map, they want to fill it in.
  • The Vigilant Seal is the muscle of the Society, focused on protecting the book-nerds and diplomats, or just wanting to perfect their own combat skills. Action 1: me hitting you. Action 2: you hitting the floor. Third action reserved for drinking ale.
  • There are also two “lesser” factions – they have official recognition, but not on the same level as the Big 4. These are the Verdant Wheel (protectors of nature) and Radiant Oath (general “do good in the world”).

In terms of content, each of the Big 4 factions gets a few pages of general information (history, goals, and such), a profile of the faction’s leader, some gear unique to that faction, and a list of notable faction NPCs in the sidebar. The lesser factions… they just get acknowledged as existing. “S’up, Verdant Wheel!” I think my favorite piece of gear here is the “Bookthief Brew” – an item associated with the Grand Archive. You pour it over a scroll or two pages of a book, wait for it to dry, and then pull it off and it preserves the text (though not any magical effects). The Young People may not get it, but people my age will recognize this as Silly Putty. NOW STRETCH IT TO MAKE DICK TRACY’S CHIN EVEN MORE RIDICULOUSLY LARGE!

Along with the factions, we get sections on the other major structures of the Pathfinder Society.

First up are the three schools that offer training within the Society – Scrolls (pursuit and preservation of knowledge), Spells (magic), and Swords (combat). In formal Society Play, these are most useful as a source of consumable items at the start of each adventure, but in this book, we get additional character feats associated with each school (and spells for the magical ones) that can be added with the appropriate archetype. To pick an example, the Scrollmaster can take “Foolproof Instructions”, which allows them to create a scroll that an ally (even one not trained in magic) can use as part of their daily preparations. Or there’s the Spellmaster’s “Communal Sustain” which lets the caster transfer the ability to Sustain a spell to the person it was cast on for one round (presumably freeing the caster up to do other things). There are also some feats that can be taken by ANY Pathfinder Agent as well.

Next is a section on the Decemvirate – aka “the Ten”, the council of 10 that run the Society – and short sketches of about 30 NPC’s, some formal members of the Society, others just powerful allies, who are “people of influence” within Society circles. The Decemvirate themselves wear masks that both physically and magically conceal their identities, so their section is more about their leadership in general; the list of NPCs is more of a hard lore-dump a GM can use to create touchpoints for incorporating the Society into adventures that aren’t formally written with Society hooks.

Though OK… I can’t be the only one thinking it… you’ve got 20-some NPCs on that list. Wouldn’t be a total stretch to think some of those are actually members of the Decemivrate. JUST SAYIN’.

Moving on, we come to the next of the two BIG sections: Lodges. As mentioned above, think of these as the branch offices of the Pathfinder Society and local bases of operations where your characters can get missions, buy and sell gear, rest and recover between fights, and so on. The Grand Lodge in Absalom is the biggest and most prominent lodge, and where the Ten occasionally meet to conduct Society-wide business, but this section lays out 11 prominent lodges and a two-pager at the end lays out the basics of another baker’s dozen “lesser” lodges.

At a nuts and bolts level, the write-ups for the major lodges give you a history of the lodge itself and information on the sort of local affairs the lodge tends to get involved in, details about the Venture-Captain and other significant NPCs you might meet there, often a piece of equipment or two associated with that lodge, and a few other pieces of trivia. One of the most interesting things about the different lodges is the degree of local flavor they incorporate – it’s not like the equivalent of a big-box store where all the lodges are basically the same. The Exalted Lodge in Razmiran, which is mere miles from the Whispering Tyrant’s forces is basically a defensible fortress. The Lantern Lodge in the Chinese-influenced Tian Xia region is similarly influenced in its architecture. The Iceferry Lodge in the frozen north is more of a Viking longhall (and they have a pair of magic snowshoes as a gear option). And that doesn’t even get into the Grinning Pixie – a “lodge” that’s an actual pirate ship. The write-up for the minor lodges just gives you a brief description (repurposed cathedral, bait and tackle shop, mental hospital) and the name of a Venture-Captain.

(I should also mention there’s also a nice little callback here for people who have been listening to our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast show, as the Exalted Lodge featured prominently in one of the adventures we played through.)

The last section (about 10 or so pages) is “Pathfinder Society Options”. This is a bit of a grab bag of other “stuff” you can get by involving yourself with the Pathfinder Society. There are selections of both non-magical and magical gear, services that can be hired through a lodge (“fixer” and “researcher” being the two introduced here), even a selection of NPC trainers that can teach a character feats they likely can’t learn anywhere else and a few familiars. To pick a few examples of “generally cool stuff”: Pathfinder agent and pirate captain Stella Fane can teach you how to throw playing cards as weapons, turning you into Gambit from the X-Men, while Meleeka Sanvara is a monk who can teach other monks a fire-oriented stance which gives both fire damage and imparts fire resistance. The Society-themed magic items tend to be either wayfinders that have different effects from the basic wayfinder, or aeon stones to slot into them, though there are a few other choices as well.

In conclusion, the question I always come down to: do you need this book at your table? It’s funny. Going in, I assumed my answer was going to be “not unless you play a whole lot of Pathfinder Society Organized Play”, but I have to admit my preconception going in was completely wrong. This book doesn’t CARE if you play formal Society play or not; in fact, quite the opposite. It deals almost entirely with the Society as one of the dominant adventuring entities in the Golarion setting. Since Society adventures sometimes treat the Society itself as a black box (put mission parameters in, money and experience come out the other end), it’s actually nice to have a book that fills in those gaps. And it’s got some decent options for player characters as well. As a softer “lore” book, it may be better for tables where the GM brews their own content, but I think a lot of tables could find some room for this one on their shelf.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|04: We’re Going To The Zoo

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|04: Lions and Tigers and Owlbears. Oh My!

First, I’d like to remind everyone that this week’s episode is STILL part of the same day as the last two. Just thought I’d mention that. Fights 3-5 in the zoo alone, probably the 6th or 7th distinct incident. I’m not saying that as a complaint… more like… marveling at it. It’s just a little odd how this system works, I guess.

This week we actually have the return of the GM Steve intro, and I actually learned something in the process. I guess I didn’t realize that part of how Steve was handling loot was converting gear drops into a larger fine. I’m OK with that, but I guess I’ll start bragging about how we’re already making more money than the Circus Folk if that’s the case. It just makes things more fun when we finally get around to going shopping.

Speaking of which, not sure how you listeners feel about letting Gomez run off to buy potions in the middle of all of this. I can see both sides of the equation. On one hand, the “NYC” comparison has a point… you really can get almost anything at any hour in a big city, and Absalom is as big as cities come in the Pathfinder world. On the other hand, it does seem like it might take more than 10 or 15 minutes, so Steve might have been a touch on the charitable side with the timing. It does seem like maybe you’d be waking someone’s ass up and forcing them to mix potions in their pajamas. (And did we really bring our entire life savings with us on patrol? That’s a little weird.) At the end of the day, I see this as a temporary problem – once we get a little money in our pockets, we’ll probably build up a stash of group healing and probably won’t ever TOTALLY run out again. This was mostly just a byproduct of Dem Level One Blues.

(Also, later on, there’s a class feat I can take as an Investigator to help with that, but I’d be getting several levels ahead of myself to say more.)

Nevertheless, we heal up. To quote from Harmontown, THAT HAPPENS. And since we can’t move the owlbear out of the store, we at least lock up all the produce so it can’t eat any more if it wakes up. It’s a little unsatisfying as a story element to just leave it lying there, but at some point, the story has to go forward. Not sure you guys want us to theorize for 20 minutes about proper rope-tying.

Then it’s off to face our first fight of the new session… Rusty the Rust Monster! And I’m not gonna lie… it is pretty funny that we accidentally created a party composition that could pretty much go all-out against this guy with no ill effects. Spellcaster, monk, melee type who’s going weapon and armorless for… “reasons”… and me, who… OK, I have my sword-cane, but I also have a sap or I could even use my beak in a pinch. No metal armor, minimal metal weapons. About halfway through the fight, I had the thought of using the sword-cane while still in the scabbard (would it do bludgeoning damage?) but the fight was going well enough that I didn’t bother. I have a suspicion rust monsters don’t do a whole lot of damage because they’re meant more to damage your equipment and cost you repair bills than to really kill you anyway.

Embedded here, we get a little bit of stealth knowledge dump. First, the mural on the side of the menagerie’s fencing seems to give us a hint at what we might face as we continue into the zoo itself. We’ve got the cockatrice, owlbear, and rust monster covered. The same sign also mentions a big snake of some sort (Big Bertha), a rabbit with a unicorn horn (cheating and using knowledge from other editions, the Al-Miraj?), and something described only as “That Bastard”. As well as some more conventional zoo animals of varying sizes and lethalities. It’s like the previews at the movie theater, only we get to see what’s going to try and kill us next!

I think we’re also zeroing in on John’s character. I’m starting to settle in on a Ruffian-build Rogue. (The real short version is rogues come in STR, CHA, or DEX varieties. They all still get Sneak Attack damage, but they achieve it in different ways and have different secondary specialties.) That would allow John to use Strength as his primary statistic, and it also lets him use a wider variety of weapons to get “kapow damage” (basically any simple weapon). Though just as an FYI, the maul he picked up during the rust monster fight wouldn’t be eligible for that because it’s a martial weapon. Keep in mind neither Steve nor John have actually confirmed this, but that’s where I’m putting my chips for now.

With the rust monster dealt with we finally enter the zoo grounds proper. A brief bit of exploration leads us to fight #2 of the session, against a pack of hyenas that are raiding a concession stand. This fight ends up being tolerable because FOR ONCE they’re enemies with fairly “normal” to-hit modifiers (I think I glanced at the dice and saw they were in the +5 range), and they end up missing a lot. WE JUST MIGHT SURVIVE THE NIGHT.

The snake, on the other hand, was not as forgiving. First, thanks to a little impatience on Seth’s part, it got the drop on us and put a lot of damage on Gomez early. (The rest of us were still up by the concession stand cleaning up the hyena fight and Seth just decided to go check out the lake which was a good 30 or 40 feet northeast. So it took a round of mostly movement and positioning just to get in the fight. But the other bad news is this thing actually COULD hit is. Pretty well in fact.

But then… CRITS TO THE RESCUE… as both Lo Mang and Basil come through with crits to salvage the fight in our favor. Granted, Chris’ crit was something north of 20 points and mine was like… 6 or 7 when you added the precision damage. But hey, I’m treating them as equally valuable contributions. It’s the old baseball adage of “a line drive in the box score”, applied to tabletop RPGs.

Speaking of which: on a personal note, my damage rolls were largely TERRIBLE this episode. The good news is that I was hitting pretty reliably, thanks to the (net) +2 from Devise a Stratagem. The bad news is I counted at least three times I hit for minimum damage. I think ONE time I got a 4 or 5 on one of the hyenas, but that was about it.

Also, speaking of Devise a Stratagem, you’ll notice I’m shamelessly stealing from our Circus brethren by trying to provide some “flavor” to my Devise a Stratagem attacks. That’s one thing I really like about that show – all of them really, but the casters in particular, really describe the flavor of what they’re doing. Hap has all sorts of pyromaniac bird effects, Ateran has their incantations. So it’s a two-fer: I wanted to try and come up with something like that for Basil because I appreciate what they’re doing, and it also captures some of that same vibe as the Downey and Cumberbatch versions of Sherlock Holmes where they show the intellect gears turning. We’ll see how it goes… I don’t think I’ll do it EVERY time I attack (maybe once per opponent or something). But if I find myself noticing the same two or three weaknesses all the time and it starts getting repetitive, I might ease back on it. They can’t ALL have missing scales like Smaug.

With three fights in the book, we resume our reconnaissance of the outlying buildings before tackling the main facility. And FINALLY, we make some headway on the investigative front, as we find one of the animal handlers hiding in the maintenance shed. (Somehow we never got around to asking his name. Oops. Maybe we’ll get it next episode. CUT US SOME SLACK! IT’S OUR SECOND DAY ON THE JOB!) There are two main takeaways from talking to this guy. First, it’s pretty apparent that someone poisoned the animals’ water supply to drive them crazy, and that’s the source of the black gunk – there’s no real security on the maintenance shed, and the water does seem to have been tampered with. The other is that the owner of the zoo (Archibald Knight) and the chief veterinarian (Minera Frum) were a) having an affair and b) have gone missing within the last week or so. Not sure if that’s related or just gossip, but it’s something else to investigate. Did the vet do this? Was the vet removed so she wouldn’t detect it? Did the circus owner’s ex-wife find out about the affair and decided to sabotage the circus? Or is it just coincidence that they’re not here? Certainly, both of these leads point toward the doctor as the next person to talk to, so I also slap a Pursue a Lead (another one of my main class skills) on her.

Pursue a Lead is pretty nice and has two major effects. First, it gives me a +1 to any Perception or skill check related to investigating that target. Pretty open-ended and very useful. The other thing is that if she turns out to be a bad guy and we have to fight her, my Devise a Stratagem would become a free action against her.

And hey, if we go to the vet’s trailer, there’s also a bunch of free stuff related to animal care and handling. We might not be able to use all of it – Gomez is our only caster, and he might not have access to the right traditions, but it sounds like there might be some tools worth grabbing.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Check out the doctor’s trailer to stock up and get more info, followed by tackling the main building. As always, 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 week.

The Sideshow S1|31: Picky Points And Pocket Paladins

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|31: Conga Line of Death.

The tower! Rapunzel, Rapunzel! We’re going to the tower! (If any of you AREN’T imagining that line delivered as Johnny from Airplane!, the RFC Movie Club has your next assignment for you.)

I’m gonna begin this week’s column with a few Picky Points. I fully acknowledge none of these are particularly disruptive to the game, they’re not the difference between life and death… I just find myself scratching my head a little. Yes, I’m gonna be the whiny guy who points out continuity errors in movies for a few minutes. (“You see, when they show the wide shot of activating the time portal, Cap is standing to the LEFT of Black Widow, but when they go to the wide shot, he’s standing BETWEEN Black Widow and Hulk!”)

First, is it just me or did the climbing seem like it was a little too slow? I think what’s leaping out at me is that since default land movement is 25 feet, that makes default climb speed 5 feet. So if you don’t crit, you’re looking at eight rolls to climb a 40-foot ramp, and that seems excessive. Could it be that’s supposed to be in combat rounds and maybe it’s supposed to be fewer rolls in exploration mode? Or maybe that should be the speed on vertical surfaces and inclined surfaces should be a bit faster. Looking at it in real-world terms. If you have six seconds (a round), how much of a vertical surface could you really climb in six seconds… probably not a LOT more than 5 or 10 feet. But even a 15 or 20-foot flight of stairs seems like it would be doable in six seconds. I don’t know. It’s not enough to spend a LOT of time on, but I can’t be the only one (including a few of the players) who thought it was a bit much.

While we’re on the topic, it also seems like a mildly impractical design to have a ramp going 40 feet up to the entrance and then stairs immediately going back down once you get back inside. At least for a place of worship. For a military outpost… yeah, make those invaders give themselves heart attacks climbing up and down steps while you shoot at them. But as a religious facility? Just put the door at the bottom where it belongs. COME ON, PEOPLE.

I also feel like the whole “xulgath stank” sickness thing needs some clarity, even beyond Steve making them roll multiple saves, which I covered last week. My daughter was big into animals so we went to a lot of zoos over the years, and I’m here to tell you that an elephant cage still smells like an elephant cage, even if the elephant is outside in the yard. So I guess what I’m saying is… are the xulgaths spraying some additional odor or is their habitat just rancid? If it’s the latter, shouldn’t the party either be continuously sickened or eventually get used to it and not have to roll saves at all? If it’s an additional odor source… yeah, that ebbs and flows. If it’s the olfactory equivalent of background noise, you’d think it would either be always on or the players would get numb to it.

Again, none of these are ruining the story for me… just the places my overly analytical mind goes wandering to.

But OK, let’s stop nitpicking and get onto things I do like about this episode.

I mean, first… dinosaurs. Granted, just wimpy “glorified lizard” raptors; not anything cool like a triceratops or a T-Rex. But it’s a start, and we’ll take it. My inner five-year-old is pleased.

Next, between this scenario and the final fight in the druid hermitage, I’m really digging the increased commitment to using environmental challenges in the fight. I feel like this is a bit of a Second Edition thing… the three-action economy and removing attacks of opportunity have opened up adventure authors to get a little weird with their battlefields in ways that either might not have been possible in First Edition. (Or, might have been possible, but wouldn’t have been as interesting as everyone would just five-foot step their way through it.)

I think one of the things I like about environmental hazards is that it’s a way to more gently fine-tune the difficulty in what’s already a pretty swing-y combat system. We’ve talked plenty of times about how there are more, and more painful, crits in 2E, so if you just make the enemies tougher, that can make an encounter quite a bit more deadly. But if you make the battlefield a little harder to navigate, add some low-level environmental status effects… that feels like a more subtle way of doing things. It’s harder, but not “potential TPK” levels of harder. An elegant weapon for a more civilized GM.

Having said that, mild spoiler alert: check back with the Edgewatch show in a month or two, and you’re gonna see me swear up a storm about environmental challenges. Bookmark this page under “hypocritical takes that did not age well” and I’ll see you in a few months.

The other thing I really like about this episode is we’re finally starting to see the power of the healing system in Second Edition, with Darius’ growth into the role of Back-Door Paladin. (Bow-chicka-bow-wow!). Can we use “Pocket Paladin” instead? Oh wait, that’s not really a lot better. In fact, possibly worse.

It’s no secret that at low levels, healing has been frustrating in Second Edition. Potions only heal 1d8, with no floor, so sometimes you roll a 1 and waste 4 gold. There aren’t really many dedicated healer classes – a Cleric with the healing font gets a couple of extra spell slots dedicated to healing spells and can take feats to make their heals more effective, but for a Druid or divine Sorcerer to carry enough spells to pass as a healer, they pretty much have to sacrifice ALL their utility. Even the once-trusty wand, the staple of First Edition, is only usable once per day without running the risk of blowing out your wand. (And wands are pretty expensive compared to the loot you get at low levels anyway.) There are out-of-combat options, but they tend to be a little time limited by the cap on how often you can receive Treat Wounds – if you happen to have hours to rest between encounters, you’re sort of OK, but if you’re in a story where time matters, an hour is definitely out and even multiple 10-minute breaks start to bend the immersion a little. Think about our final assault in the Plaguestone campaign: we’d basically do a room or two, and then go hide for an hour while we topped off with Brixley’s Lay On Hands, even knowing that the evil alchemist was ACTIVELY planning the demise of the town we were protecting. Something always seemed off about that.

But as Darius has grown as a character, you can start to see the promise of the system, as feats are starting to narrow that gap quite a bit. We’ve been seeing the usefulness of Battle Medicine for a while now, which lets you perform the healing portion of Treat Wounds while in combat. Now Darius gets Continual Recovery, which lowers that temporary immunity for Treat Wounds from an hour to 10 minutes. That puts his healing on a rough par with a Champion’s Lay On Hands, though the champ gets a fixed amount while Darius gets a variable amount. Eventually, he could also take Ward Medic, which would let him heal multiple people with the same 10-minute window – 2 if your Medicine is Expert, 4 if Master, 8 if Legendary. Add in that his Medicine will naturally climb and make the check easier as he levels up, and you’re eventually looking at a system where after-combat heals will become almost trivial… as long as someone in the party puts the feats into it.

Having said all that, in-combat heals will still be at a bit of a premium, but both Hap and Ateran have spells that will help, and access to better consumables will fill in the gaps quite ably. We were doing the math on the Edgewatch show, and while 12gp for a Lesser Healing Potion seems expensive when you’re a low-level character, it’s really just the equivalent of buying three minor healing potions and buying a guarantee that at least one of the rolls will be a 5.

Terrain aside, the fights in this episode didn’t seem that difficult. There was a brief “oh crap” moment when the gargoyles were resistant to Darius’ punches (since he’s traditionally been one of the best damage-dealers), but the rest of the party picked up the slack and took care of business. And I mean… come on… they’re made of stone, so you had to expect something like that. Xulgaths… we know from last week’s fight that the rank-and-file aren’t that tough; check back when we start bumping into their bosses. The dinos were a little trickier since they handle the terrain easily and have attacks of opportunity as part of their arsenal, but they still didn’t seem to have all that many hit points.

You know what I bet has a lot of hit points? A T-Rex. Just Sayin’. I swear I feel like a kid opening presents on Christmas, and if I don’t get a Real Dinosaur, I’m gonna lose it. T-Rex. Triceratops. I’ll even accept a pterodactyl in a pinch. So I guess we’ll convene back here next week and see if I get my wish. As always, 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 week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|03: Fowl Play

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|03: Panic! at the Zoo

Welcome back to Agents of Edgewatch. This week, the Patrol That Never Ends leads us to the outskirts of a traveling menagerie where there are reports that creatures have escaped. Of course, it can’t be a nice safe petting zoo with baby goats and lemurs… maybe an otter for John. NOOOOOO… it’s gotta be a cockatrice and an owlbear. (And that’s before we even step foot on the zoo grounds proper.)

The cockatrice was a special little treat to me because in my position of Resident Blogger: I got to listen to the Three-Ring Adventure group ALSO have a cockatrice fight, and got to hear the number that thing did on poor Darius in that show. So I know how much of a pain in the butt that Slowed condition can be if you fail a save. I don’t want to say I was “terrified”, but I’ll admit I was a little bit nervous.

You wouldn’t think it, would you? Coming from a First Edition mentality, still having two actions sounds like a lot, right? But Second Edition tends to reward “hit and run” tactics, so having that third action available after your attack can be really handy. Especially for casters where most of your spells are going to be two actions, and then if you’re slowed you can’t move at all. Ugh.

That fight ended up being not-so-bad though. First, because Steve refined the rules for cockatrice… venom?… between the two sessions so that getting it wasn’t QUITE so horrible, but also because we mostly just laid back and plonked it down from range. You can’t bite what you can’t reach. Granted, Dougie drew the short straw of staying in melee range with it, but the rest of us got to lay back a little. And since it was staying in melee range with Dougie, his being slowed didn’t really cause much of a problem. The one place Slowed isn’t terrible is if you’re just planning to go toe-to-toe anyway: at that point, you’re just giving up a -10 third attack.

So we get past the first obstacle but there’s no time to rest as screams and random other sounds of ruckus draw us forward to the second fight of the session. OWLBEAR TIME! Yes, we have an owlbear tearing up a produce vendor’s shop.

First, let us just pause to bask in the joyous madness of the owlbear, one of fantasy gaming’s greatest “weird” creations. Yeah, dragons and pegasi are more elegant and have a richer tradition in the fantasy setting, but there’s something so endearing about the late-night drinking session that led to “well, you see… it’s basically a bear right?… but it’s got the head and wings of an owl!” Who doesn’t love an owlbear? COMMUNISTS. That’s who.

What we don’t love is FIGHTING an owlbear as Level 1 characters. Because this is one of those creatures that if it crits, stands a legit chance of one-shotting us. I find that across Pathfinder products (Starfinder AND Pathfinder 2E) brute-type enemies follow a pattern. At low levels, they’re some of the scariest enemies because they can do so much damage in a single swing. But as they level, they stop being scary because “low armor class” plus “big reservoir of hit points” without much in the way of special abilities is mostly just an exercise in chopping the tree down as fast as possible. But it’s particularly dangerous in 2E because they also tend to have high attack bonuses for this level, so their third attack is still coming in at something like +4 or +5.

Which is why I REALLY wanted to do more of a hit-and-run fight, but two things were inhibiting that. The first was guilt: Chris and John in particular were standing toe-to-toe, so I started to feel like I would’ve been letting the team down if I ran away after attacking. Even if it would’ve been the tactically smart choice.

The other is that popping in and out of range would’ve deprived me of my Investigator class combat ability and made me a LOT less effective in melee. Which… let’s talk about that and clean it up because we had some trouble in the moment.

There are technically TWO abilities to get into here – Devise A Stratagem and Strategic Strike. Part of the problem is that the wording on DaS is a little goofy, so let’s start there. The (paraphrased) wording is “roll a d20, and if you attack that target later, you MUST use that roll but you can apply your INT bonus instead of STR or DEX”. It mostly sounds like “use your INT to attack” but it took me a little while to figure out what the missing piece is – multiple enemies. If you’re facing multiple enemies and you get a crap die roll for DaS, or if the battlefield shifts and it becomes impractical to attack the DaS attack, you can still downgrade to a normal DEX-based attack against a different target. That’s why the wording is more like loading it up as a pre-attack. But in a single-target fight like this, there’s nowhere else to go with it, and it basically boils down to “use your INT to roll the attack”. And like I said, it doesn’t apply here, but if you’re fighting the target of a declared lead you’re pursuing, Devise a Strategem becomes a free action. That’s got “end-of-chapter boss fight” written all over it.

Having sorted that out, the other piece is Strategic Strike, which applies rogue-like precision damage. It’s 1d6 to start, and it escalates as you level. (The Forensic investigator also has a feat option to add bleed damage.) That part’s not COMPLICATED in any way… it’s just on a different page and I didn’t have it in front of me the first time we went through the sequence.

One thing I thought was kind of interesting about this fight was the arm-chair quarterbacking from the shop vendor. I’m trying to decide if that was Steve giving us hints or just roleplay flavor. At various times, she seemed to suggest both trying to rescue her before attacking the owlbear and also hinted at luring it out of the shop. Seth seemed to pick up on those ideas but Chris and John rendered both moot by leaping into the fray. I do wonder – if we’d gone the rescue route, would it have been a viable strategy to just lock the owlbear in the store and move on? Or were we always doomed to fight it?

Not surprisingly, the owlbear fight proved to be a little bit tougher, but we did ultimately survive. And we get a bit of a lead to follow as, during the fight, I notice some black gunk on the owlbear’s beak. Poison or something? Something to look into as we go, I guess. On the downside, everyone except Gomez is a little bloody, we’ve burned through a lot of our healing stock, and… we haven’t actually set foot on the menagerie property itself. And yes… it’s still all part of Day Two. Are we going to survive our first week on the job?

But that’s the question for next week. 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 week.

The Sideshow S1|30: A Formidable Scent, It Stings the Nostrils

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|30: Alhara: Warrior Princess.

This week, I have a bit of a dilemma to confront: the difference between listening to the show, and writing about the show.

As a listener, it’s kind of nice to take a break for a week. We had a LOT of stuff happen over the last few weeks, so it’s kind of nice to have an episode where you just put your feet up (real or virtual) and relax with a fairly low-consequence fight. You can’t have your foot on the gas ALL the time, or you’ll burn out. (Heh… it’s like an anticipation vs. excitement mechanic for the show itself!) So a “down” episode is needed every now and then. Unfortunately, down episodes don’t always lend itself to strong opinions, so as the Designated Chronicler, it’s a bit tough to come up with a thousand words about a butt-whupping.

To be a little meta-gamey at the outset, the first fight of a new story section is almost always a warm-up fight of limited danger. Dead Suns… Plaguestone… most of our Black Lodge games… it’s kind of a thing Paizo does. (In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s fairly standard in the RPG world.) I feel like the goal is to “set the stage”… both in terms of building the danger level as you go, but also to give the party a fight to assess where they are at the start of a new section of the story. Yes, the bad guys COULD roll three or four crits in a row and make it unexpectedly tough, but the numbers are usually on the side of a squash match.

(If you’re unfamiliar… I’m outing myself as having been at least a casual wrestling fan here. A “squash match” is where they put the Big Name up against a nobody in a match that lasts less than a minute just so the Big Name can put in SOME sort of appearance to keep the fans happy. Not the sports with the ridiculously long racquets. I don’t know crap about that.)

So… a band of xulgaths that are lax enough to let our intrepid band sneak up on them and get a surprise round even though they’re ostensibly supposed to be defending the outer perimeter? Definite squash match, and that’s pretty much how it goes.

Except for the xulgath stink of course. I’m glad Steve corrected this in the pre-game comments because it just sounded wrong to me that you have to make five saves. I mean, if you get attacked by five… say BITES… yeah, I can understand having to make five different saves. Five different points of contact, after all. But if you walk into one continuous cloud of nastiness… OK, it’s five creatures, but you’ve only got one nose. Had I been a player, I would’ve been arguing this one a little more strenuously. Still… if it’s this bad OUTSIDE, I shudder to think what it’s going to smell like inside the enclosed area of the tower. (Cue up the “Sex Panther” scene of Anchorman.)

One thing I noticed about this fight – it was nice to see both Alhara the character and Vanessa the player get some of their mojo back this week. During the exploration of the hermitage, Alhara drew the short straw from the luck gods quite a few times, and Vanessa sounded like she was getting a little fried. I remember her getting dropped in the two consecutive fights before the finale, and even though she remained upright in the final fight, she still lost a round or two getting knocked into one of those moats. But this time around, she was able to get back to doing what she does best and was even able to bring back some of the Greatest Hits she lost when she had to square up the Playtest version of the swashbuckler with the Go-Live version. Level 4 Alhara is shaping up as kind of a badass.

Though… OK, the whole party was a little silly this week – “agile vomit”, “Golarion’s ass”, “PAJAMAS!”, the general return of poop-related entertainment – maybe they went to Happy Hour before recording this week’s show.

Another thing I liked was Rob P. sneaking a little bit of character development for Ateran in there by trying to talk down the clearly-evil xulgath prisoner after the fight. It was a nice call-back to the argument with Alhara after they (accidentally) killed the druid. I mean, I kind of assumed it wasn’t going to work out, but it was nice to see Ateran trying to adopt some new ways of doing things. (Though “I cannot blame them; I’m sure they feel subjugated” suggests they’re not ALL the way there yet.)

I’m glad we eventually got clarity on the whole issue of Hap’s bonus damage. On one hand, 2 extra damage isn’t a big deal, but I suppose it’s good to get it worked out now, in case it’s important down the road when it’s 7 or 8 damage, or when it’s a crit and it’s doubled. I’ll say that Loren’s interpretation sounded more correct to me – I took it as “you have to cast the spell, as opposed to casting it from a scroll or wand, but yes, cantrips count”.

After the fight, it turned out to be good that Darius and Alhara used non-lethal damage and they were able to take a prisoner because they got at least a little bit of intel on what they’re likely to face inside the tower. So it looks like there are about 20-some xulgaths, some with dinosaur pets, demons (hopefully not the ones from the church) and a demon-worshiping priest is leading the whole operation. That’s assuming the prisoner was telling the truth, but we’ll take it at face value for now.

So… with all that dispensed with, it’s time to climb the tower and invade the xulgath lair. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!